The Comhairle’s SNP’s group of councillors has urged the Leader of the Comhairle to press for a ‘much improved settlement for the Outer Hebrides’ in budget meetings taking place this week.
Councillor Gordon Murray issued the call in an email sent to Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay, stating: “I am writing to you with grave concerns over our economic future in terms of council funding.
“Given the level of cuts to services and jobs that potentially may occur, the nature of which will have a hugely detrimental effect on our islands and our future…I urge you to put forward a proposal that would see a much improved settlement for the Outer Hebrides.
“Please do not let another opportunity pass and ensure that the islands case is put to COSLA in the strongest of terms.”
Cllr Roddie Mackay with a delegation of Comhairle councillors, is due to meet with CoSLA to agree a settlement for the Comhairle’s budget.
DENIED BLAME SHOULD BE LAID ON GOVERNMENT
In a further statement, Cllr Murray denied that blame for cuts to the Comhairle’s budget could be laid at the door of the SNP government in Holyrood, adding: “The SNP government have protected the block grant made to CoSLA. It is up to our representatives to make a case to CoSLA. If there is a decrease in our funding that is down to our representatives, and questions will have to be asked.”
Cllr Murray also highlighted his group’s concerns that the Comhairle’s delegation to CoSLA is comprised solely of independent members, and that this leaves the Comhairle exposed to the unified power of delegations from other authorities that are organised on party political lines.
Cllr Murray concluded: “We do not have any SNP councillors fighting our corner.”
A COSLA spokesperson said: “It is Scottish Government who suggest the budget for the public sector in Scotland, of which Local Government is a part, and it is the Scottish Parliament that ultimately agrees it.
“The role of COSLA is to negotiate with the Scottish Government, and indeed the broader Parliament, to secure the best global funding settlement for Local Government.
“COSLA is a democratically led organisation and our spending review strategy is determined by the cross-party political leaders from all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities. Our negotiating position is strengthened by doing so collectively.
“When the overall amount available to Local Government is known, this is then allocated to councils on the basis of a complex and long-standing distribution formula that takes into account factors including poverty, rurality and deprivation.
“COSLA is working hard again this year to ensure the Scottish Government recognises the vital role of councils across Scotland in the December spending review, so that there is a fair amount of money for Local Government.”
A spokesperson for the Comhairle declined to comment on Cllr Murray’s claims, but did add that ‘the Comhairle has very strong direct links with the Scottish Government, the strongest they have been in years, despite its independent stance’.
LABOUR PARTY’S QUESTIONS TO COUNCILLOR
Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie MacKay, was approached for comment but none had been received at the time of going to press.
Western Isles Labour Party had earlier this week called on Cllr Murray to ‘confirm the research of the Scottish Parliament Information Centre which found that the SNP administration in Edinburgh has cut funding to Scottish local authorities at a rate five time greater than their own budget has reduced’.
Labour also asked Cllr Murray to ‘confirm that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been more harshly treated by the SNP administration in Edinburgh than any other local authority in Scotland, on the basis of a formula that pays no respect to the challenges of a peripheral community’.