Councils want £155m emergency cash from finance secretary

Kate Forbes has so far refused to commit to giving the funding to local authorities.

Councils want £155m emergency cash from finance secretary Getty Images
Finance secretary: Kate Forbes had been urged to pass on the £155m.

The Scottish Government has been urged to immediately pass on the £155m it has received from Westminster to help fund local government during the coronavirus crisis.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes has been accused of a “cash grab” after refusing to commit to giving the Barnett consequentials to councils.

Local authority leaders have warned they are suffering from extra costs and “massive losses of income” during the lockdown.

The windfall comes following the UK Government’s announcement of £1.6bn of support for councils south of the border a fortnight ago.

Ms Forbes said she wants to wait and consider how the money should be spent rather than provide it to local authorities immediately.

She added: “I also want to consider what further reprioritisation we could undertake jointly to free up resources to meet the cost challenges now and in the future, along with the use of local government reserves and applications to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to help contain the costs.”

In response to a question from Scottish Labour finance spokeswoman Jackie Baillie about the funding, Ms Forbes said “decisions on allocations of Covid-19 consequential funding are ongoing”.

Cosla passed a motion on Friday calling for the sum to be passed straight to councils without delay.

Following the meeting, Cosla’s resources spokeswoman, councillor Gail Macgregor, said: “Council leaders were clear today that the reaction of councils to the Covid-19 epidemic – ensuring essential services are secured and that our most vulnerable people are protected – has been a remarkable effort and as such the £155m of consequentials should be passed to local government immediately.

“Councils are working hard to keep a huge range of essential services running to meet the needs of communities and to be responsive locally.

“But the bottom line is that protecting people and providing services costs money.”

Ms Baillie said: “This is a cash grab by SNP ministers.

“Even the SNP’s own councillors say that this money, which is supposed to fund highly pressured council services to weather this national emergency, should go to councils.

“But ministers seem determined to centralise control of these funds.

“This is emergency funding which should go directly to councils to help fund social care without any further delay.

“It is outrageous that the Scottish Government is sitting on its hands.”

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Councils came into this crisis ill-equipped to cope after years of the SNP slashing their budgets to the bone.

“Now, instead of passing on the money they need, the finance secretary is telling them to raid their reserves even further.

“Some local authorities barely have any reserves left thanks to the SNP’s botched approach to funding.

“And rather than hand over all the Barnett consequentials in full – money that was specifically targeted for local authorities – the SNP wants to short-change councils even more severely.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “In her statement to Parliament on Tuesday, the finance secretary should allocate all the funding that councils desperately need to address the challenges that the pandemic poses.

“They have worked in lockstep with the Scottish Government and UK Government to swiftly implement the various financial support mechanisms.

“Now the Scottish Government should repay that dedication by ensuring the money gets directly to where it is required.”