The financial implications for local services as a result of rising demand were highlighted to Scotland’s Deputy First Minister in a meeting with East Lothian Council representatives today.

Shona Robison, who is also the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, was welcomed to East Lothian, one of Scotland’s fastest growing areas, by political leaders on the council and senior officers.

It follows a letter from Council Leader Norman Hampshire requesting to meet Ms Robison to discuss ongoing financial sustainability.

His letter highlighted that resources available to the council are not sufficient to meet the recurring cost of delivering services in an area experiencing significant population growth, with council tax only making up about a quarter of the council’s resource base. Most of the council’s income comes from central government grant.

It comes at a time when new or expanded schools are being delivered in East Lothian, while the council is experiencing increased demand for services such as referrals to Children’s Services and increases in household waste.

East Lothian’s working age population is projected to increase by 8.6% (which is the joint 2nd highest in Scotland which has a projected increase of 3.3%). The county’s pensionable age population is expected to increase by 10.9% (which is highest in Scotland which has a projected increase of 3.7%). East Lothian’s school aged children is expected to increase by 17.1% during this same time period.

While the council has sought to be innovative in transforming services while working to support economic growth, Council Hampshire highlighted that the scale of recurring financial pressures to support a growing society simply cannot be solely met by operating more ‘efficiently’. 

Today’s meeting presented the council with an opportunity to highlight how the council is delivering on growth commitments closely aligned to the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework and national house building allocations, as well as progressing work to boost the local economy through the likes of the City Deal and raising the profile of key development sites such as the former Cockenzie Power Station and Blindwells.

Speaking after the meeting Councillor Hampshire said:

“We were pleased to welcome the Deputy First Minister to East Lothian to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the council.

“We were able to demonstrate some of the things we are doing to support sustainable economic growth and build on our strong track record of delivering high-quality services to our local communities.

“Council officers are forecasting that this council will need to identify further savings of £71 million over the next five years.

“Currently 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 recurring rising costs that arise, for example the staffing and running of new schools.

“While it is true that people living in new housing pay council tax that previously wouldn’t have been available as income, this doesn’t cover the cost of providing services provided to them - such as schools, bin collections or social care.

“Income overall is not keeping pace with the cost of delivering services and this is putting huge pressure on our budget.

“The reality is that, without further support, we will be unable to sustain the level of services currently being provided and very tough decisions are going to be required which would undoubtedly have a negative impact on service provision in East Lothian.

“We held constructive discussions with the Deputy First Minister which I hope have provided insight into the very acute financial difficulties facing local government, particularly the very significant, immediate and ongoing financial pressures in East Lothian associated with supporting population growth.

“We hope this will have advanced the case for consideration to be given to immediate and sustainable funding to address the many pressures we are dealing with and we look forward to engaging further on this fundamental issue.”

Published: Wednesday, 23rd August 2023