North Lanarkshire Council faces £19 million budget gap

North Lanarkshire councilors will have to take action to address a budget gap of £3.1 million when they set out the authority’s finances for the next 12 months at a special meeting next Thursday.

The local authority had an overall deficit of £19.6m for 2022-2023, and now still has the remaining shortfall to address after taking “advance action” to cut costs by £16.5m.

Council leader Jim Logue says the financial settlement for local government will necessitate “serious decisions” which could include “increased charges, closure of buildings or even removing current services”.

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He described it as “catastrophic, but not surprising”; While opposition leader Jordan Linden praised the recent additional £7m in Holyrood funding issued to North Lanarkshire and said his group he will “present a positive budget” at the crucial meeting.

The financial report for the meeting on February 17 shows that North Lanarkshire has a budget of £884.2m for 2022-2023 – and that the authority then faces further projected finance gaps of £19.9m and £27.6m for the following two financial years.

It notes that £13m, consisting of the extra one-off sum from the Scottish Government plus £6m allocated from council reserves for this year’s Covid recovery, is “available for consideration alongside setting the 2022-2023 budget”; and that the figures include an assumed one per cent increase in council tax which is “required to be ringfenced to support the community investment fund”.

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Councillor Logue said: “We’ve been warning for months of the SNP’s plans to hammer local services – and that this could lead to increased charges, closure of buildings or even removing current services.

“Given that the SNP government has received an increased budget from Westminster yet chosen to decimate the budget of North Lanarkshire, it is now clearer than ever that council cuts are SNP cuts.

“It is only through the sound financial management of this Labor administration that we have been able to maintain services at current levels, but this year will be as challenging as ever in the face of a government that yet again has shown their contempt for local services our residents rely on.

“Despite this, we will continue to work around the clock with council officers to offer a budget next Thursday which protects and invests in North Lanarkshire.”

Opposition leader Jordan Linden responded: “The SNP government has recently pledged a further £120m to councils – an estimated £7m for North Lanarkshire – over and above a settlement that protects local government budgets in the face of further austerity from the Westminster Tory government.

“Budgets are about choices. Every year the SNP has proposed an alternative which would have protected things like Kilbowie [outdoor centre]classroom assistants and local services.

“Over the last five years, Labor in North Lanarkshire has made the choice to pander to Tory ideologies in order to cling to power. Labor and the Tories have teamed up to remove vital services from our local communities.

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“The SNP will present a positive budget for the good of North Lanarkshire next Thursday and will again appeal for support from those on the Labor benches who we know are sick to their stomachs at their party’s relationship with the Tories and the betrayal of their founding principles .”

Conservative group leader Sandy Watson said the authority is facing a “difficult budget position” and is calling for councils to have legally-determined support, saying: “Enough is enough.”

The Airdrie South councilor said: “The SNP/Green government has record funding from the UK government at their disposal but have hammered council budgets again.

“North Lanarkshire Council has been underfunded by the SNP for years and we simply cannot cope with more devastating cuts.

“I am wholeheartedly backing Conservative plans to enshrine a fair funding deal for councils in law to give North Lanarkshire assurance over its budget every year; Voters have a clear choice in the May elections and can either endorse continual cuts or back [our commitment] to secure a fair funding deal in law.”

Budget papers for next week’s meeting show that North Lanarkshire’s finance settlement includes more than £20m ringfenced for adult health and social care; and that the council will need to draw down £12.3m from its reserves to top up its change management fund, in place to support costs including future budget pressures.

A report adds: “It should be noted that the rising forecast of pay and non-pay inflation, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, add additional risks and uncertainties to this budget; it is currently too early to forecast the financial impact with any degree of certainty.

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“The grant settlement received by the council may be subject to change as the finance budget bill progresses through parliament – ​​in the event further undirected funds are received, they should be held in reserves to mitigate these risks.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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