Anger on all sides at council budget settlement

ARGYLL and Bute Council has accepted the Scottish Government's budget settlement for 2010-11 - despite reacting with "disbelief" to the news that it faces a cut in funding almost double the average for Scotland's local authorities.

The council will receive a grant of 220.059 million in 2011-12, compared with 231.488m in 2010-11 – a drop of 11.429m, or 4.94 per cent, compared with the average of 2.59 per cent.

Council leader Dick Walsh said: "These figures are much worse than forecast. The council is facing the biggest reduction of any in Scotland.

"We do not understand why we are being penalised with such a big reduction."

Most of the cuts come from changes to the Special Island Needs Allowance and Supporting People allocations - which Cllr Walsh said showed "a complete disregard for our most vulnerable communities".

When combined with cost and demand pressures and rising inflation, the actual budget reduction faced by the council is estimated at 15-16 million.

The council had been accused of being too pessimistic in planning for the future in its own budget process, but Cllr Walsh said the settlement vindicated the authority's stance.

"It is disappointing that Ministers and MSPs have publicly stated that the council's settlement was much better than had been expected," he said, "and then be party to a cut in our funding that is double that of the average.

"It is disappointing the settlement is for one year only as that makes delivering a sustainable medium term budget that protects services difficult to achieve.

"However that we now start from a funding base over 5m lower than expected will make this a near impossible task.

"It's not just 5m less for next year; it means we start 2012-13 and 2013-14 from a base that is 5m lower."

Bute councillor Robert Macintyre, leader of the SNP opposition on the council, echoed concern at the decision by his party colleague, finance minister John Swinney.

"Whilst it's true that Argyll and Bute receives one of the highest per capita allocations among Scottish mainland local authorities," he said, "it should be remembered that with 25 inhabited islands and many rural communities, this is not a typical mainland authority.

"Whilst we accept that Mr Swinney has done his best to minimise the impact on local authority budgets overall, we feel that it's time for COSLA to review their funding formula allocating resources more fairly to council areas like Argyll and Bute where service delivery is more challenging."