Midlothian Council auditors praise efforts to balance the budget

Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan, pictured outside the local authority's headquarters,  Midlothian House in Dalkeith. He is confident the council can identify further savings to deliver a balanced budget.
Midlothian Council leader Derek Milligan, pictured outside the local authority's headquarters, Midlothian House in Dalkeith. He is confident the council can identify further savings to deliver a balanced budget.

Midlothian Council has made “significant progress” in addressing financial pressures, according to a new report by the council’s external auditors, Ernst & Young LLP.

At last week’s full council meeting, councillors heard that the report acknowledges Midlothian has reduced its projected budget gap for 2022/23 from almost £19 million to £8.3 million.

In terms of openness and transparency, financial reporting was “clear and consistent” throughout the year, the report adds. It goes on to note the key features of good governance were “in place and operating effectively”, while the draft financial statements and supporting working papers were of a “good quality”.

However, the report highlights more work needs to be done to deliver a balanced budget for 2021/22 onwards.

“All 18 elected members must work together to build a consistent and shared vision that will deliver the change necessary; improving services and securing the additional savings required to underpin the council’s long term financial strategy,” the report adds.

Council leader Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab) welcomed the findings. He said: “This report is for the financial year ending March 2019. Since then, we’ve approved the first medium term financial strategy in June, marking a significant step change for us to strengthen financial sustainability and allow us to plan and implement service delivery more effectively.

“I’m confident therefore that if, as the report stresses, all 18 councillors from all parties work together along with the chief executive and corporate management team, we can identify the further savings required while continuing to work with partners to deliver a shared vision and priorities for Midlothian.

The report comes after the council considered and implemented an action plan in August 2019 to respond to recommendations in the Best Value Assurance Report by the local government public spending watchdog, the Accounts Commission.

Councillor Milligan said: “The report findings are an improvement on the year before and with our Medium Term Financial Strategy and Best Value action plan in place, we can assure local people we are committed to providing best value while continuing to put them at the heart of everything we do.

“There are challenges, especially as we are the fastest growing population in Scotland, but we’re making significant progress delivering new schools, community facilities and housing.”

Cllr Milligan added: “We are obviously disappointed by the auditors continuing to mark our ‘financial sustainability’ status as red, especially with a medium term financial strategy agreed in June and services delivered within budget in the last financial year. Reflecting the challenging financial climate, I anticipate, therefore, that no council will have scored better than an amber for financial sustainability in the current year.”