Midlothian council leader takes aim at Rwanda costs

Wednesday December 14th 2022

Midlothian Council Fairfield House Main

Millions of pounds spent flying illegal immigrants to Rwanda could instead be used to support public services across Scotland, Midlothian’s council leader has said.

Councillor Kelly Parry took aim at the cost of the UK Government scheme as just “one instance” where priorities could be changed to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis.

And she told a meeting of Midlothian Council she was kept awake at night worrying about the impact of costs on local residents as they face a “perfect storm”.

She was speaking as the council’s finance boss warned the local authority faced a budget gap of more than £13 million next year.

David Gladwin told the meeting the council already faced a £12.98m deficit in the 2023/24 budget adding “in the last week the projected financial consequences in Midlothian of non domestic rates revaluation have become apparent adding a further £900,000 to this gap.”

The Scottish Government is due to announce its budget on Thursday, which will set out funding for local authorities across Scotland.

Councillor Parry, SNP, said she sympathised with the Scottish Government.

She told the meeting: “I do not envy them, much as I do not envy us our job because like us the Scottish Government have a fixed budget and do not have the ability to borrow for the day to day funding.

“We’ve seen our own budget in year not worth what it was at the beginning of the year because of inflation. The way the UK Government has acted and handled (its budget) and the money which has then not flowed to Scotland as a result is appalling.

“I saw figures the other day, £140 million is being spent trying to inhumanely ship people to Rwanda – £140 million.

“If you divided that up between 32 local authorities in Scotland that would be £4 million and that is just one instance.”

Councillor Parry added a recent report on the debt which the people in the UK had been put in by the UK government was equivalent to ‘£600 for every person” adding to the burden already on residents.

She added: “It keeps me awake at night, quite frankly, thinking about how all those things are going to come together and not in a good way.”

However Conservative Councillor Peter Smaill insisted Scotland was being treated well by the UK Government.

He said: “The block grant of £41 billion to the Scottish Government represents the highest settlement ever and it continues to be much higher than pre Covid levels.

“Strip out the Covid money Scotland is being treated very well by the United Kingdom.

“What I think is shocking is that against the advice of nearly everyone involved we have the proposal for adult/child social work at a cost of £1.2 billion, a completely unnecessary bureaucratic reform that is proposed by the Scottish Government, quite apart from the usual litany of ferries, of Prestwick, of BiFab and on we could go.

“I think if we, at a local level, could try to be efficient with our funds that is the only way forward but it does not need the case that Scotland is badly treated by the United Kingdom settlement.”

And Labour group leader Derek Milligan said: “I am not going to get into the bun fight about who is to blame for this, the reality is that it is not the taxpayers of Midlothian who are to blame and we really need to do the best we can to try and mitigate against it.”

Councillors noted the updated report and agreed to hold a special meeting in January where more detail of options would be presented ahead of its February budget setting meeting.

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