MSP responds to bluster or misinformation accusation

Thursday May 9th 2019

Colin Beattie

Colin Beattie, MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, has written a letter responding to comments from Midlothian Council’s Acting Leader, Jim Muirhead.

I note from councillor Jim Muirhead’s comments the continued confusion in the minds of the ruling Labour group on Midlothian Council as to who actually distributes funding to Scotland’s Councils. The councils collectively through their representative body COSLA (Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities) have agreed a funding formula for the money provided by the Scottish Government for Local Government. Indeed it was the present Leader of the Council who signed off on behalf of Midlothian council back in 1999. So it was considered a fair division back then.

Now our Labour group are saying it is no longer fair. Indeed if you look at past years distributions received by Midlothian and compare increments received from COSLA most recently, these have increased substantially until in 2019 they were allocated 5.98% overall. To me that seems like the formula is probably working by gradually adjusting payments in favour of Midlothian.

As far as I am aware Midlothian’s Labour administration has made no representations to Labour controlled COSLA to have the formula changed to better reflect Midlothian’s perceived needs. I’m not sure why? Instead they are asking the Scottish Government to either give Midlothian a “special” status and hand over money directly bypassing COSLA or for the Scottish Government to intervene with COSLA and forcibly overturn a democratically reached agreement between Local Authorities. Neither of these options are credible and appear to be simply political posturing.

The Leader of the Council, councillor Derek Milligan, invited me to meet him to discuss Midlothian’s funding “crisis”. I listened for an hour to threats to close libraries, leisure centres, schools, and almost every other service which the council provides. At the end of the meeting I told councillor Milligan that my priority was for the people who elected me and that regardless of party affiliations if he could give me the ammunition I would camp on the Cabinet Secretary for Finance’s door to get a solution if need be. He agreed to do so.

A few weeks later I had still received nothing. I followed up with a gentle reminder. In response I received a lengthy diatribe which enclosed a copy of the Scottish Government’s budget with the comment that everything was contained within that. Really? I felt that was somewhat contemptuous and did not seriously give me the information I needed to effectively support the Labour group’s assertions.

I wrote again to councillor Milligan requesting proper information to enable me to take a position. To date I have received no response.

Councillor Milligan commented in his letter that I clearly did not understand the figures. He is quite correct. I still don’t have a clue what data is supporting his hypothesis. I am happy to receive data no matter how complex or difficult. For 23 years I was an international banker in the Far East and latterly, before I become political, I worked for an investment bank in the City of London. I think I can cope with unravelling and understanding Midlothian Council’s budget issues if they are honestly and openly made available. Perhaps the long suffering public might appreciate that openness as well.

Make no error I am not saying that Midlothian Council cannot use more money. After years of Tory austerity all our Public Services are suffering from tight funding arising from the cuts to Scotland’s budget. With another £ 500 million in cuts due over the next two years no one can expect to be exempt from bearing part of the strain. All we can do is seek to protect the more vulnerable in our society. That is the duty of both the Scottish Government and Midlothian Council.

I will also repeat that my priority are my constituents. If I am armed with the information needed I will fight for more resources. I will even lobby COSLA on behalf of the Council – which the Labour Administration seem afraid to do for some reason. I cannot guarantee success but I will certainly try. However, at the moment I have nothing to fight with. Just assertions that the council has no money and needs bailed out.

You can read the original article that Colin Beattie MSP was responding to HERE.

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