Published 02 August 2022

COUNCIL Leader Martin Rooney has delivered a stark warning about the funding crisis facing local authorities, with an estimated £14 million budget gap looming in West Dunbartonshire.

Councillor Rooney has written to Deputy First Minister John Swinney – also standing in as Finance Secretary for Kate Forbes, who is on maternity leave – and laid bare the dire financial outlook for councils as he issued an urgent plea for more money for local government.

As the cost of living rises dramatically, so too are the demands on Council resources and employees.

The projected financial shortfall in West Dunbartonshire factors in the increasing costs facing the Council for the likes of fuel, utilities, pay and materials and also takes into account the Scottish Government’s ‘flat cash’ settlement to cover the 2022-26 period.

The Scottish Government provides around 85 percent of the Council’s funding and Councillor Rooney warns that West Dunbartonshire and other local authorities are facing the prospect of cuts to vital public services unless more money is made available. 

Councillor Rooney said: “West Dunbartonshire Council needs additional financial assistance from the Scottish Government with closing the £14m budget gap in 23/24 and with funding fair pay for all of our local government staff.

Without the Scottish Government’s financial support, local residents will be faced with the prospect of the loss of public services. In addition there is the real possibility of industrial action impacting on communities over the coming months affecting services such as waste collection, early years and schools as trade unions fight for fair pay for Council workforces across Scotland.

“Council services are vital to our communities and provide a lifeline for the most vulnerable, and we need investment to ensure they are protected now and for the future.”

Councillor Rooney’s letter to Mr Swinney is in full below…

Dear John/Kate,

Fair Funding for West Dunbartonshire Council  

I am writing to you to seek your assistance with achieving fairer funding for West Dunbartonshire Council.

As you know, West Dunbartonshire is one of Scotland’s smallest local authorities and accounts for 1.6% of the Scottish population. It is also one of the least well off areas of Scotland. The Council has some of the highest concentrations of poverty in Scotland and of the lowest 20% of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 40% of these fall within West Dunbartonshire.

Overall life expectancy is poor in comparison with Scotland as a whole. Female life expectancy is the third lowest in Scotland behind Glasgow City and Inverclyde at 78.8 years; and male life expectancy is third lowest behind Glasgow City and Dundee City at 74.1 years.

The population mid-year estimates for 2020 was 88,340. This is a decline of 590 people or 0.7% on the previous year (88,930 in June 2019). This is the third greatest percentage population decline of all Scottish local authorities. In fact, the picture of declining population in West Dunbartonshire has been a consistent trend over the previous 10 years (a 2.7% decline from 2010-2020) and 20 years (a 6% decline from 2000-2020). In contrast to Scotland as a whole, the population of West Dunbartonshire has been declining steadily (6% since 2000).

The West Dunbartonshire Council budget report in March showed that excluding COVID cost & funding, the Scottish Government had received a Scottish Government Block Grant increase of 10.6% in cash terms. The Block Grant increased from £36.7 Billion to £41.8 Billion over the three-year period. This represents a £5.1 billion increase. In addition, the Scottish budget was front-loaded with a 7.7% increase for 2022/23. This is a £3.9 Billion increase this year. However, the Scottish Government has given local councils “flat cash” which is a real terms cut.

You will be aware that under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 Section 226A, the recognised Trades Unions gave notice of their intention to hold a ballot for industrial action. The industrial action ballots relate to a trade dispute with COSLA in 2022/23 for those employed on Scottish local government terms and conditions. As this dispute relates to the national pay settlement, it is not specific to West Dunbartonshire Council.

The proposed industrial action would include staff who provide services to the running and operation of our schools; all members working in early years and members working in waste and recycling services. There are around 80,000 local government workers in Scotland providing essential public services to local people on behalf of the Scottish Government.

There is genuine anger in the workforce who feel undervalued and ignored. I know you agree with me that local government workers provide an invaluable service and this was highlighted throughout the public health emergency where some of them were recognised and rewarded for their efforts. Unfortunately, there were local government workers who although they had worked continuously throughout the pandemic, they did not meet the Scottish Governments criteria for the additional £500 financial recognition.

West Dunbartonshire Council, like all other councils in Scotland had budgeted for a 2% increase in staff pay for 2022/23. This was a reasonable assumption at the start of the budget process but the sharp increase in inflation over recent months meant that the 2% was likely to be rejected by the recognised trades unions, and it was.

At the COSLA Leaders meeting in June the Leader of Glasgow City Council proposed a 5% increase in pay but this was conditional on the Scottish Government fully funding the additional 3%. Unfortunately, it appears that to date, no formal offer has been submitted to the SJC, for their consideration. My understanding is that this is because the Scottish Government haven’t yet agreed to fund the required 3% of additional recurring funding.

Without the Scottish Government financial support, local residents will be faced with the prospect of the loss of public services as trades union members take industrial action affecting such things as waste collection, early years, primary schools and secondary schools. This is wholly unacceptable and could have a devastating impact on the learning and achievement of young people in Scotland.  

West Dunbartonshire Council needs additional financial assistance from the Scottish Government to help fund the local government pay rise. The previous SNP administration had left the council with a number of unfunded burdens for future years and had used up the councils “free reserves” in setting the 2022/23 budget. This left the council with a forecast budget gap of £14m for financial year 2023/24 which to be frank, we will really struggle to close without a massive negative impact on both the quality and quantity of services we provide on behalf of the Scottish Government. West Dunbartonshire needs assistance with closing the £14m budget gap and with funding fair pay for all our local government staff.

I hope that this information is of use and look forward to receiving your response and support with these matters so that together we can protect local jobs, services and properly reward our staff for their dedication and professionalism in delivering on local and national priorities.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Martin Rooney, Bsc.Hons