In an increasingly challenging financial environment, East Lothian Council has agreed a budget for 2018/19 focused on building a prosperous East Lothian.
The council faces multiple spending pressures at a time of unprecedented population growth, new policy obligations on the council, inflationary costs and increased demand for services.
Over 72% of the council’s income is made up of grants from central government. Despite late adjustments to the original funding settlement for Scotland’s local authorities, these pressures have left East Lothian Council with a funding shortfall in 2018/19, with total savings to be delivered next year amounting to £3.7 million. Further savings of £5.3 million are expected to required across the following two years. As a result, the council is having to reduce costs in some services and look for new ways of raising income.
Council tax – which provides just over 20% of the local authority’s income – will rise by 3% from April (the maximum allowable by the Scottish Government). This is just the second increase in the last 10 years.
In the face of these challenges, the council will continue to focus on its priorities and maintain the highest possible quality of services. This includes:
- Additional investment in adult social care, children’s wellbeing, school lunch clubs
- Investment in schools arising from increasing numbers of pupils
- A £263 million package of capital investment over five years in new or expanded schools, improvements to community facilities and local infrastructure including roads.
- Around £157 million for new affordable and council housing, as well as extensions and modernisations.
The council has been able to remove all of the unallocated service reduction targets which appeared in the draft Administration budget, as well as removing a number of other proposed savings such as a review of its Additional Support for Learning (ASL) provision. In an effort to secure reductions with minimal impact upon services, the council will continue its transformational change programme, looking at new ways of working and opportunities for income generation/commercialisation.
Some of the other ways in which the council is seeking to make savings or raise additional revenue include a 10p increase to charges for school meals to bring them in line with the national average, reviewing nursery staff provision and introducing charges for instrumental music tuition in schools (concessions will be applied). While the council would prefer to maintain adult wellbeing charges at lower levels, these will move towards national averages to help ensure that services are provided at the maximum possible level. The council will also maintain an appropriate concessionary travel scheme.
Depute Council Leader Norman Hampshire said:
“This is a budget which seeks to maintain the highest possible quality of services for the communities of East Lothian – in the face of mounting financial pressures, constraints and controls.
“In recent years, we have defended and protected the valuable public services upon which so many people locally depend. We have worked hard to help children achieve their potential, support older and vulnerable people, enhance the environment and build the local economy. These rightly continue to be our priorities.
“Scotland’s councils operate in an increasing challenging financial climate. In East Lothian, we have significant population growth, new policy obligations arising from national commitments, inflationary costs and increased demand for services.
“Over 72% of our funding is made up directly of Scottish Government grants. While there have been late amendments to 2018/19’s funding package, these fall well short of what is required. On top of this, a cap has been imposed on the amount of council tax income which we can raise. It means we have a real terms reduction in funding available and the requirement for us to deliver savings of around £9 million over the next three years.
“This has forced us to look for ways of reducing costs with minimal impact or raising additional income – doing things differently; doing more for less.
“In November, we launched a consultation and around 1,000 people told us about their priorities. We then presented draft plans and have sought to build consensus for a budget which protects services as far as possible.
“We have identified additional expenditure for adult social care, children’s services and school lunch clubs. We have identified significant resources for education and will be investing in improved community and sporting facilities, local infrastructure, roads and the economy. And we have earmarked £157 million for new affordable and council housing and modernisations.
“With funding squeezed and new demands/pressures, we will face more tough choices in the years ahead. That’s why we’re continuing to look at new ways of working and opportunities for income generation.
“Our priority is to continue protecting services as far as possible, while continuing the journey towards an even more prosperous, safe and sustainable East Lothian, that enables all of our people and communities to flourish.”
Originally published 13 February 2018