East Lothian Councillors debate the Miss Fortune of their finances

Wednesday December 15th 2021


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

The name of a council’s new finance boss sparked an unusual debate during a meeting – after one councillor said he could not use her title.

Sarah Fortune, who was appointed East Lothian Council’s executive director of council resources in August, was presenting a report on the local authority’s financial strategy for the next five years, when her name became the topic of discussion.

SNP councillor Stuart Currie apologised for using her full name when addressing her saying: “I have come to the view that referring to our chief financial officer as Miss Fortune might not be the best way forward so I am going to call you Sarah Fortune if that is okay going forward.”

However his remark led to Provost John McMillan commenting: “I think it is our good fortune to have Sarah Fortune in that finance role with her keen advising.”

The light moment came as councillors were asked to approve the council’s financial strategy for the next five years which has been updated in the wake of Covid impacts.

The strategy, among other things recognises that – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – the council must review how it uses assets such as buildings to support the way services are delivered, and maximise its income.

Councillor Currie had raised concerns about ‘top slicing’ funds to put into reserves in the plans for future budgets instead of using 100 percent of the money available on services.

He said: “We are as a result using 98 percent of our funds while using two percent to bolster reserves.

“Reserves are sitting at £35million. I have seen detailed documents of what is earmarked for specific purposes and where it is earmarked for Covid it needs to be used as soon as possible, not sitting in a fund.”

However following the meeting council leader Norman Hampshire defended the moves to maintain reserves,

He said: “It is important for councils to hold reserves as a measure of financial security.

“While we have previously used reserves to help balance the annual budget, this is not seen as a prudent practice in terms of managing recurrent expenditure.

“We need to be able to maintain reserves in order to be resilient and ensure we are delivering effective financial planning in the interests of communities who depend on our essential services.”

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