Why is there a budget gap and what are we doing to bridge the gap?
The budget gap is caused by increasing costs and a rising population, combined with insufficient levels of Scottish Government grant funding. The Scottish Government provides the council with over 80% of our income.
Council officers have undertaken considerable work over the last number of months, including a public consultation with all stakeholders, to prepare savings options to balance the five-year budget.
The council must change the way in which we deliver some services in order that they can balance the council's budget. The council has a legal obligation to set and agree a balanced budget.
Options are currently being considered by council Policy Development and Scrutiny panels in advance of the budget setting meeting in February.
These options include proposals around the allocation of school resources and restructuring the school day.
It is extremely important to note that the council's Senior Education Managers do not anticipate that these proposals will adversely impact on attainment or performance within our schools.
What impact will media coverage have on the pupil teacher ratios?
Following the announcement made by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills stating that the Scottish Government will intervene to stop councils making changes in relation to minimum learning hours and the pupil teacher ratio, Senior Education Managers await guidance from Scottish Government to determine any implications this announcement may have on the council's draft five-year budget.
One possible scenario is that if the Scottish Government does not mitigate their recent intervention with the provision of additional funding, the council will be forced to develop additional budget reduction measures, and cuts to local services in West Lothian will be required to be identified and implemented in order that the council can balance its budget.
A local MSP has publicly referenced £5.6 million teacher funding provided to West Lothian Council.
It has been explained to them and other local MSPs that this funding has been allocated in full to provide an additional 83.41 full time equivalent (FTE) teachers and 19.81 FTE pupil support workers in 2022/23. This amount has therefore already been used in full and we'd like to make that point very clear.
It is simply not the case that the council has failed to recruit these extra teachers.
A key element of raising attainment is to devolve resources to Head Teachers in their Devolved School management budgets, to empower them to allocate these resources to best meet the needs of their school whilst continuing to raise attainment. Going forward this funding will continue to be used in full to fund staff in school and to support the rising number of pupils within West Lothian's schools.
West Lothian Council's Chief Executive Graham Hope said:
"We have been honest and upfront on the extremely challenging financial position that we face.
"We have been very open and clear with local residents and elected members that there is little doubt that local services will have to change in the face of such stark reductions in our budget.
"There will be significantly less money to spend on local services, initiatives and programmes. It is simply not possible to continue all existing services with the budget we will have available to us.
"Nobody wants to have to make reductions to local services but, by law, the council must set a balanced budget. We are faced with reducing some services so that the council is financially sustainable in the years ahead, and that we meet our statutory responsibility to set a balanced budget each year."
"Attainment in West Lothian has risen year on year and we have had a decade of continued achievement for West Lothian schools in terms of exam results and investment in school buildings. We believe that we are well placed to make key decisions that impact on West Lothian's schools and ensure we achieve continuous improvement."
Notes to editors:
- COSLA - the umbrella body for all Scottish councils - had asked for a £1billion extra in funding for Scottish councils, but has highlighted that the figure handed down from the Government for core local services is £38million. COSLA has warned that Councils are left at real financial risk for the coming year, and it will be the people of Scotland and our communities who suffer as a result.