Protecting essential public services in a challenging financial climate is the priority in East Lothian Council’s proposed budget for 2023/24.
Councillors will meet on Tuesday to agree spending plans for the year ahead, with difficult decisions required to plug an £18.9 million funding gap.
The proposed budget has been developed by the council administration working in conjunction with the cross party budget working group and will be voted on at Tuesday’s meeting, subject to any amendments requiring consideration.
It is proposed that council tax will increase by 7% to help maintain local services, with promotion of existing support for individuals and families who are financially vulnerable and impacted by rising household costs.
The increase will represent an annual increase of £93.92 for a band D property, which equates to a weekly increase of £1.80.
Savings and charges
It is proposed that the household waste (green bin collection) service will change from a two weekly to three weekly service by April 2024. This reflects the focus on increased recycling of household waste through the weekly recycling service that will continue to operate around East Lothian.
It is proposed that a charge will be introduced for the garden waste (brown bin collection service) by April 2024.
Council departments will be asked to make savings across all areas.
After a freeze in previous years, it is proposed that rents for council tenants will increase by 5% with plans for continued investment in council housing as well as modernisations to existing properties.
‘Mounting’ financial difficulties
Council Leader Norman Hampshire said:
“The scale of the mounting financial difficulties facing councils nationally is unprecedented and East Lothian is not immune.
“Councils are continuing to deal with very significant external pressures such as rising supply and energy costs, inflation, interest rate rises and the cost of borrowing. Income has not been keeping pace with the cost of delivering services, at a time when East Lothian is one of Scotland’s fastest growing areas.
“Most of our revenue budget comes from national government with council tax income representing less than a quarter of funding.
“In East Lothian, our grant from central government is the third lowest in Scotland per head of population. There is no recognition within the grant received of East Lothian’s increasing population and the rising costs that arise as a direct result, including the staffing and running of new schools. At a time when we are delivering significant growth, this is putting huge pressure on our budget.
“East Lothian Council takes its obligations and responsibilities seriously, we are in a climate emergency and for local government to play the role that it needs to deliver a Net Zero Scotland, more not less funding, without spending restriction, needs to be made available to councils.”
After adjustments to funding and stripping out the delivery of national policy obligations, grant funding for councils is set to fall by around 1% in real terms.
Councillor Hampshire added:
“With a funding gap of £18.9m, through these proposals we are asking council services to deliver efficiencies of £6.738 million. We are also proposing to draw on £7.378 million of the council’s reserves – a position we will not be able to maintain in the years ahead – and will look to make use of fiscal flexibilities.
“We are – very reluctantly – looking at difficult decisions including a proposal to increase council tax increase of 7%. Despite the other measures, this is necessary to maintain the important services valued by our communities.
“I know this will be concerning for individuals and families and we will do everything we can to support people who need help. If you’re on a low income, there may be funds available to help boost your income, this includes Council Tax Reduction. Even if you’re working you may still qualify for help so we’re encouraging people to check. If you can get online and are able to check this yourself, we have a benefits calculator on the council website, just visit www.eastlothian.gov.uk/entitled-to
“If you can’t get online, you can pick up a copy of our ‘Helping with the cost of living crisis’ leaflet from a local council office or library. We can also send one to you, just phone the main council line on 01620 827827 and ask for Financial Inclusion. Our Financial Inclusion team can also provide advice and can link in with other council services and local agencies on your behalf.”
In terms of other budget proposals, Councillor Hampshire added:
“There is proposed growth in Education spending of just over £9 million, however, the increased cost of delivering the service is estimated to exceed this additional investment.
“Other proposals include changing the green bin service to three weekly - as a result of the reduced tonnage as our recycling service has developed – the introduction of a garden waste collection charge.
“It’s very likely pressures will continue to build in future and so the council will need to look at how we further reduce costs and innovate to protect and maintain high-quality public services. This includes reducing building costs through our asset review, energy efficiency and increased digitisation of services.
“These are very difficult times but I can assure residents that your council will continue focusing on the areas that matter most – including tackling poverty, growing the economy, giving children the best possible start in life and supporting older and vulnerable people.
“Finally, I would also like to thank council employees who do a fantastic job. They have a strong track record of innovation and building on improvements to services, which will continue to be our biggest asset in dealing with the challenges ahead.”
Papers for Tuesday's meeting are available online.