Midlothian Council has been told it needs to deal with a significant budget shortfall as it faces further pressures as the fastest-growing local authority in Scotland.
In a report out today (Thursday), the Accounts Commission says the council urgently needs a medium-term financial strategy to address a £14.5 million budget shortfall by 2022/23 and ensure it can plan funding for services in the future. At the same time, Midlothian is also experiencing a projected 13 per cent rise in its population by 2026, the fastest rise in the country.
The local government spending watchdog says that in recent years the council has used its funding reserves rather than make difficult decisions on how services are provided, a claim denied by the current administration.
The report notes that the council has delivered high profile projects in schools, housing and transport and it works well with partners and local communities. The Commission says this will help it when addressing its challenges.
Accounts Commission member Tim McKay said: “Midlothian needs to address the significant challenges it faces - the cumulative funding gap and the additional pressures from a fast-expanding population.
“The council has a good record of working with its partners and local communities. This will help in supporting a medium-term strategy and transformation programme to get its finances and services in good shape for the future.”
“The report rightly points out that, with the fastest growing population in Scotland, Midlothian Council faces an increasing funding gap and significant financial challenges,” said Council Leader, Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab).
“In recently agreeing a new medium term financial strategy, the council has already taken steps to address a number of these key issues and is putting robust plans in place to bring about the transformation in services that is now needed.
“We have not drawn on our reserves to balance our budget over the last two years as is suggested here, and indeed this year we have come in under budget.
“When it comes to showing better leadership, the Best Value report is actually highlighting the need for closer working between the three political groups – something that we have already addressed in developing our new financial strategy.”
The report also says that partnership working remains strong in Midlothian and that there is solid evidence of the council involving communities in the redesign and delivery of local services.
“The council is aware of where it needs to improve and we are focused on working with our communities to meet our key priorities,” added Cllr Milligan.
“The chief executive, corporate management team and councillors from across parties will be working together to make these changes and to take action to address the key recommendations set out in the Best Value report.”