An explosive row has broken out in Holyrood today over the failure of Dumfries and Galloway Council to pass on Scottish Government money to victims of flooding.
In a heated exchange, Deputy First Minister John Swinney called on the council to ‘pay up to the people and stop finding excuses.’
Mr Swinney put paid to claims by Labour Councillors that they couldn’t pay out to individuals as the funding wouldn’t be distributed until the budget settlement in March.
The council only opened a helpline for victims seeking the £1500 compensation funded by the Scottish Government this week after pressure from Joan McAlpine MSP.
However they still insisted they didn’t have the money despite sitting on £6.8 millions of reserves with a guarantee of £1.7 million extra from the Scottish Government to help flooding victims in the region. They also have £2.3 billion of grants which they failed to spend on services this year, it emerged this week.
Ms McAlpine was first to raise the stalling attitude of the council during a fiery exchange in parliament. Mr Swinney said the March payment was normal local authority accountancy practice.
The Deputy First Minister said:
“There is no issue, absolutely no issue about local authorities having to wait until March for their money. I’ve announced in Parliament the money is coming.
“I’ve got a list of different other schemes here; whether it’s the Council Tax Reduction scheme or the Teacher’s Induction scheme, or Free School Meals, or the Looked After Children policy, or the Discretionary Housing Payments system, all of which were paid out to local authorities by the same means and it didn’t stop local authorities paying out the money.
“Local authorities are sitting on £1.8bn of cash reserves that can be used to support cash management, and they know fine well it’s not an IOU, they know fine well I have given a commitment in a redetermination and that money will be paid.
“Now Dumfries and Galloway Council should just pay up to the people that we’ve allocated the money and stop finding excuses.”
Ms McAlpine has been attacked on social media for telling the council to pay up to flooding victims – by Labour and Tory politicians
“Instead of spending their time attacking me on Twitter and claiming the council had no money to help flood victims, the Labour group would have been better spending their time getting their funds in order and learning how local government finance operates.”
“I hope this draws a line under the issue and people are now able to get the help they need.”