Concern at the lack of transparency following Midlothian Council budget meeting

Friday March 3rd 2023

Business Gateway Midlothian Fairfield House

This View has been written by the Midlothian Federation of Community Councils, the umbrella group for the 15 Community Councils in Midlothian.

The Midlothian Federation of Community Councils (MFCC) is extremely concerned at the lack of transparency following the Midlothian Council budget meeting on 21 February 2023. The initial news release indicated multiple proposed cuts would be re-evaluated and reconsidered by June 2023. The news release was replaced by a less detailed statement leaving many questions unanswered.

MFCC has requested and been promised clarity on the cuts still under consideration. However, over a week later we are still waiting.

We are aware that there are as many as one hundred proposals being considered by Council Officers and Councillors, without consultation and with no transparency.

Councillors and Senior Officers have a duty of “Openness” as noted by the Standards Commission for Scotland, requiring them to “be as open as possible about your decisions and actions, giving reasons for your decisions and restricting information only when the wider public interest clearly demands”. MFCC are concerned that instead of openness there is secrecy and silence.

These proposed cuts include the annual small maintenance grant that allow Community Councils to operate and the CLLE (Communities, Lifelong Learning & Employability) Department which provides vital support to the fifteen Community Councils in Midlothian. This could mean Community Councils can no longer operate and there will be no organisation to represent the views of the local community.

The failure of the Scottish Government to address the crisis in Local Authority funding in the 2023/24 budget is unacceptable. John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy claims funding has increased but the additional money he quotes is ring fenced for Scottish Government flagship policies, which means the cuts fall disproportionately on other vital services. Even where funding is provided for Scot Gov priorities, it is often insufficient. In Midlothian, the flagship Early Learning and Childcare 1140 hours’ Policy is underfunded by around £3 million pounds. Music instrument tuition is funded at £260,000 when the overall cost in Midlothian is in excess of £700,000. It doesn’t take a forensic accountant to realise this underfunding is unsustainable and the result is vital services being axed.

In addition to the underfunding by the Scottish Government, Midlothian Council will this year lose around £3.2 million of council tax raised in the county through the COSLA “floor”. A complex mechanism that compensates councils with reducing populations, effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul, but leaving Midlothian residents facing even bigger cuts to vital services. The “floor” is a symptom of the chronic underfunding of local authorities and must be axed immediately.

Robert Hogg, Chair of Midlothian Federation of Community Councils said “It’s time our MSP’s, Council Leader and Cabinet Secretary for Finance addressed this underfunding and find a long-term solution. Midlothian cannot abandon its most vulnerable residents because our leaders bury their heads in the sand”.

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