First council tax rise in a decade

Midlothian House, the main office for Midlothian Council, Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith.
Midlothian House, the main office for Midlothian Council, Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith.

Midlothian’s council tax is to rise by three per cent from this April, the first rise is in the county since 2006.

The increase, which will see the new Band D level for 2017/18 set at £1246, was agreed at a meeting of Midlothian Council last week, where councillors approved spending on services in the coming financial year totalling £198.6 million.

The council will use £3.970m from its general fund reserves to balance the budget, leaving reserves at £5.4m. This comes on top of an already agreed £2m package of savings for 2017/18, rising to £4m by 2021/22.

SNP councillor Kelly Parry started the debate by saying that the budget for 2017/18 offered “the best deal for taxpayers in Midlothian”.

Labour group leader Councillor Derek Milligan called the administration’s decision to plug the budget gap with reserves “the cowardly thing to do,”. Adding: “The new administration coming in (after May’s council elections) is going to have to find these savings of £4m for next year. It’s not good enough, the people of Midlothian deserve better.”

Councillor Jim Muirhead (Lab) added that council reserves were almost £2m more when the SNP took over from Labour five years ago.

These comments prompted SNP councillor Lisa Beattie to criticise Labour for not working with the SNP, she said: “It would be more helpful if the opposition had perhaps participated more fully in the transformation group.

“With that we might have seen a greater level of more creative thinking rather than just black and white opposition to anything the administration chose to put forward.

“We need further transformation to make this council as efficient and helpful to the betterment of the people of Midlothian.”

The projected finances of the council are expected to leave Midlothian with a £60m shortfall in five years time.

The budget decisions follow the Scottish Government’s announcement that Midlothian Council will receive grant funding of £149.692 million in the coming financial year. Midlothian will receive a £2.273 million share of the new Attainment Scotland Fund, which will be allocated directly to schools. In addition, the Midlothian Integration Joint Board will receive an additional £1.5 million to help meet social care cost pressures. Green councillor Ian Baxter thanked his colleagues in Holyrood for securing extra council funding by helping the Scottish Government get its budget through parliament.