Warning of ‘real risk’ to Scottish council finances if coronavirus money is not shared

The Scottish Government has been told the coronavirus pandemic presents a “real risk” to the financial health of councils, amid calls for emergency funding to be passed to local authority’s “in full”.

Cosla, which handles council funding talks with Holyrood, has penned a letter urging that all money coming to Scotland as a result of cash for English local authorities be used in the same way here.

It follows warnings of potential cuts to council service and job losses at northern councils if money is not forthcoming.

Calls have now reached finance secretary Kate Forbes, having previously been directed at local government minister Kevin Stewart.

More than £1.6 billion has been issued to councils down south, meaning £155 million in consequential funding for Scotland.

Earlier this week, Aberdeen Central MSP Mr Stewart said all additional funding had already been pledged to the NHS, business support and charities.

Cosla’s resources spokeswoman Gail Macgregor said: “In relation to the UK Government’s announcement that an additional £1.6 billion will be made available  for Councils in England, Cosla has written to the cabinet secretary calling on the Scottish Government to pass the resulting consequentials for Scotland to local government in full.

“We have a good working relationship with Ms Forbes and we hope that our request has a successful outcome as we continue the fight against Covid-19.

The Dumfries and Galloway Conservative councillor added: “We already know the Covid-19 response is placing considerable strain on councils and presenting real risks and uncertainty in relation to finance.

“This additional £155 million would go some way to ensuring the vital work being done on the ground can continue in a locally responsive way, delivering essential services for the most vulnerable within our communities over the coming weeks and months.”

Yesterday, the P&J revealed fears Aberdeen City Council could be left with a shortfall amounting to tens of millions of pound due to a lack of income being generated during lockdown.

Co-leader of the Town House administration, Douglas Lumsden, warned potential cuts to services and job losses – ruled out during the budget-setting process only six weeks ago – would have to be considered again.

Officials are preparing to brief members on the potential financial impact of the pandemic on council coffers ahead of a meeting next month.

Mr Lumsden’s concerns were shared by Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson – who said his estimation of a funding gap only twice the price of construction work at Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens was actually “on the low side”.

Yesterday, finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “We are in regular contact with Cosla about funding and other operational issues associated with the Covid-19 response.

“A decision on any funding allocations will be considered by Ministers in due course.”

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