Cash row continues between parties

Councillor Derek Milligan outside Midlothian House in Dalkeith.
Councillor Derek Milligan outside Midlothian House in Dalkeith.

Labour last week slammed the SNP and council officers for ‘financial mismanagement’ during the previous administration leaving the council’s finances “in a mess”.

Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan was furious when confronted with the revised figures after the first quarter, with shortfall estimates now up and uncommitted reserves expected to be down to £2.2 million.

After hearing from council officers that the authority has a projected budget overspend for 2017/18 of £2.1m, which includes a projected overspend of just under £1.2m on Community Care Resource Panel and Home Care packages, Cllr Milligan vented his anger over the “scandalous” figures, he said: “It just brings home the complete and utter mess this council has been left in. Quite clearly if you couldn’t make the budgets last year you couldn’t make them this year.

“It just shows you that the budget set by the last administration was already failing the day it was set.

“We are now faced with a reserve of just over £2m which is perilously close to being unsustainable and for us having to find ways to bolster it.

“I just think we need to be concentrating on fixing this.

“While the last administration has to carry the can for this, the people advising them have to take some of the blame for this.

“It’s absolutely scandalous that in the first quarter reporting we have a £2m shortfall for the first quarter.”

SNP group leader Kelly Parry said: “I feel a bit uncomfortable with some of Councillor Milligan’s context there around people taking responsibility and we are verging on dangerous lines of criticising officials. I just want to remind you it was the politicians that set those decisions and I can’t recall you making any objections to them at the time.

“When the SNP took over we had 80 years plus of mess to takeover.

“But if you are not up to it we are up to the job if you are offering?”

Cllr Parry called for more transparency regarding the council’s finances and claimed she had been “gagged” from speaking to constituents about the issue. “I’m really disappointed to be gagged.

“We have had papers since June that we have not been allowed to speak about. As a councillor I can’t do my job properly.

“There wasn’t this gagging order and secrecy before.

“When we do have to makes these savings that is the very reason we should be out there engaging with our electorate.

“I would ask that moving forward we do this with a much more transparent process.”

Cllr John Hacket (Lab) added: “With all due respect it’s clear they are not up to the job of delivering a balanced budget. The budget set for this year has fundamentally failed.”

Claiming the Labour decision to use PFI contracts more than 10 years ago was a reason for the “systemic rot” at the council, SNP councillor Colin Cassidy added: “Have a look at your own house before you start throwing stones.”

Cllr Milligan responded: “It’s like being lectured by the people responsible for this mess. All we get is if it’s not Westminster’s fault it’s someone else’s. The reality is this mess was left by the last SNP administration and the finance spokesman for that administration was Kelly Parry, and if she had any decency she would apologise to the people of Midlothian for the mess she has made of this.

“The only thing Kelly Parry is right about is I shouldn’t be blaming the professional officers, I should be blaming the administration for not holding them to account.”

Councillor Peter Smail (Con) said: “Unless we make serious moves to reform the council there is no way we can have a balanced budget. We are in a very delicate position. I hope instead of blaming past administrations we can simply get on with the job of balancing the budget.”