Funding figures spark falling-out at Scottish Borders Council

Stuart Bell and Shona Haslam, both Tweeddale East councillors on Scottish Borders Council.
Stuart Bell and Shona Haslam, both Tweeddale East councillors on Scottish Borders Council.

Figures appearing to show a £13m cut in Scottish Borders Council’s budget have sparked a falling-out between its ruling administration and opposition councillors.

The Conservative-led administration says it is being left out of pocket, pointing to figures published by the Scottish Government’s information centre showing that since 2013, the council’s revenue budget has been cut by £13m.

That equates to a 6% drop in funding, the equivalent of £135 per Borders resident.

Council leader Shona Haslam said: “These figures really demonstrate the challenges we face in the Borders.

“The council is being asked to do much more, with much less money to spend. A £13m cut in our day-to-day budget means we are having to make some tough decisions.

“We didn’t hear a peep out of the Scottish National Party when they ran the council about these cuts. Instead of criticising the current administration, perhaps they should tell Borderers why they stayed quiet when their budget was being slashed by their own party in Holyrood.”

“I’m determined to protect front-line services in the Borders from SNP cuts. That is why we are prioritising the things that really matter to Borderers, like investing in our young people, bringing back community policing and fixing our roads after years of neglect.”

However, the Scottish Government claims the figures exclude additional revenue provided to the council, including health and social care payments.

The Scottish Government also points to its 2018-19 funding settlement, which it says will provide local governments with an increase in funding for day-to-day spending and capital expenditure.

A government spokesperson said: “These figures exclude a number of important additional funding sources including £355m for health and social care and £150m of funding that is provided outwith the core settlement but which benefits local government.

“In 2018-19, our £10.7bn local government settlement will provide a real-terms increase in both revenue and capital at a time when the Scottish revenue budget faces continued real-terms cuts, showing that we have treated local government very fairly in the face of those.

“And with local authorities using their powers to increase council tax by the maximum allowable 3%, they now have access to an additional £251.9m for day-to-day spending on local services compared to 2017-18.

“As the report notes, local government funding will make up a third of the Scottish Government’s budget this year, showing our recognition of local government funding pressures and our commitment to supporting our partners in delivering vital local services.”

The figures quoted by the Conservatives were also criticised by the leader of the SNP-led opposition at the council, fellow Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.

He said: “I am dismayed by the local Tories. One moment the leader of the council expresses an interest in consensus politics, but the next she parrots the local MP’s repetitive negativity about the SNP. The public can see through this.

“The latest nonsense is based on a narrow interpretation of Holyrood statistics. Looked at over a longer period from 2010 to 2018, the Scottish Government’s revenue budget has been cut, by the Tories in Westminster, by about 5.8% and, in turn, the Scottish Government have cut their grant to local authorities by about 8% over the same period. In the Borders, we mitigated some of that through a small council tax increase.

“Although local authority funding was falling, the Scottish Government said two years ago that expenditure on local services would go up, and that is exactly what happened as more money went into new health and social care funds and £120m went directly to headteachers to help bridge the educational attainment gap.  

“Not all funding for local services comes through local authorities. It’s a pity the leader of Scottish Borders Council doesn’t seem to know this.

“I welcome the Tory leader’s desire to protect local services. I look forward to seeing this happening in practice.”