West Lothian Council is set to consider potential options to bridge an estimated budget gap of £6.7 million between 2020/21 and 2022/23.
Council officers have identified a range of potential savings which could help the council deliver a balanced budget to meet its legal obligations. Over £31m of saving measures have already been identified for the next three years, in addition to the £121m of savings that have already been delivered since 2007.
These measures will be considered by members of the relevant Policy Development Scrutiny Panels (PDSPs) at meetings taking place over the next three months.
Any feedback from at the PDSPs will be used to inform the council’s budget planning, with the Scottish Government confirming their funding allocation to West Lothian in December. The council’s budget for 2020/21 will be set at a meeting of the full West Lothian Council in February 2020.
Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “It’s unfortunate that we are still in the position looking at options to enable us to balance our books for a 12th consecutive year.
“The funding we receive from the Scottish Government has not been sufficient to cover the costs of providing essential services for our growing population of younger and older people, creating a substantial budget gap. This means we have no choice but to look at options for creating efficiencies, reducing costs and changing services.
“I call on the Scottish Government to provide us with a fair budget settlement that will prevent the need for further cuts to local services.
“It’s important to stress that the potential savings identified by officers are only options at this point, and any decisions on these options will not be made until next year. However, we are required by law to set a balanced budget so alternatives will need to be found if these potential measures are not agreed.
“The lack of funding for local government for the last 12 years means that councillors have a huge responsibility of agreeing where our budget is spent.
“With over £150 million worth of savings already delivered or identified since 2007, it is now extremely challenging to find any more that do not have a major impact on local residents and our agreed priorities.”
As well as the savings measures, council officers have also been considering other steps to help close the budget gap.
Council tax in West Lothian is the 10th lowest of Scotland’s 32 councils, with Band D £533 per year less than the average in England.
The current budget model assumes an increase of three per cent per year for the next three financial years. The maximum allowable level set by the Scottish Government is currently 4.79 per cent per year, with higher council tax increases a potential option to help close the budget gap.
A review of the council’s Loan Fund and Insurance Fund has also identified potential measures, such as re-profiling repayments and reviewing insurance liabilities, that if agreed would allow one-off resources to be re-allocated to priorities such as the council’s Modernisation Fund.