Following the publication of an independent report on East Lothian Council’s finances, local Labour politicians have expressed their anger and disbelief at the scale of the debt left by the previous SNP-led administration.
The independent auditor report, produced by KPMG, will be considered at next Tuesday’s full council meeting. The report shows that the previous administration turned a £5.9 million surplus in 2010-11 into a £7.5 million deficit in 2011-12.
It also highlights that the SNP increased spending on building projects by 26 per cent in the year of the election (2011-12), resulting in a 15 per cent increase in the council’s borrowing.
The consequent increase in the council’s debt, means that East Lothian now has the highest net external debt burden out of all Scotland’s local authorities, the equivalent of £3,500 for every person in the county. The report also highlights that this debt ‘places significant pressures on future available revenue funding’.
Cllr Willie Innes, Labour Leader of the Council, said:
“The stark reality of the council’s financial position under the SNP has now been exposed. It is incredible that they thought boosting the budget for new building projects by more than a quarter in an election year with no agreed plans for paying the associated increase in running costs was a competent or responsible way to run the council’s finances.
“Their reckless decision-making has left East Lothian the most indebted local authority in Scotland, a position which is simply not tenable in the medium to long term. It has also put a huge strain on budgets in the short term, which is why it is essential we scrutinise every new spending decision with the utmost care.
“I am fully committed to implementing Labour’s manifesto, which includes defending frontline services wherever possible. But the SNP have to shoulder the blame for the mess they have left and the impact this sorry state of affairs could have on the county’s local services.”
Iain Gray MSP said:
“I am absolutely dismayed and appalled at the scale of the financial mess left by the SNP in East Lothian. They basically tried to buy the election by splashing out on high profile building projects and in the process saddled local people with a debt burden of £3,500 per head.
“This is a shocking legacy and leaves East Lothian in the embarrassing and unwanted position of being the most heavily indebted local authority in Scotland. The SNP’s total lack of financial responsibility has left the new Labour-led administration facing difficult decisions about how to get the council back within its means.
“I intend to write to Local Government Minister Derek MacKay to highlight the SNP’s mismanagement of taxpayers’ money in East Lothian and ask what support he will give the county in light of the financial legacy they have left.”
Fiona O’Donnell MP said:
“The way the SNP’s local leadership managed the council’s finances would have been questionable even in times of plenty, but in the context of a UK Government making dramatic public spending cuts, the decisions they made were downright irresponsible.
“Given the stunning level of incompetence displayed by the SNP administration, it is clear they no longer have a shred of credibility and I know that local people will not forget what they have done to the county.”