Dumfries and Galloway Labour council were called on to apologise today after they claimed to have no money for cash payments to flood victims despite sitting on £2.3 million of extra revenue they had failed to spend.
The call came from Joan McAlpine, the SNP MSP for south Scotland, who last week demanded the council tell victims about the cash, which is backed by £700,000 of Scottish Government allocated to the council by the Scottish Government in December - with the strict instruction that it be used to pay direct grants to victims. The allocation allowed would be credited to the council in its annual financial settlement from the Scottish Government so that flood spending from the council's £6.8m emergency reserve was more than compensated.
But Senior Councillor Colin Smyth who chairs the economy committee, supported by Labour MSP Elaine Murray, insisted last week that the council had no money to offer the grants because the £700,000 would not be allocated until March.
Then, in a huge embarrassment to Labour, internal council papers for the policy and resources committee this week revealed the Labour council had failed to spend £2.3m of government grants last year, in areas as diverse as early years education and council tax reduction.
After a weekend of pressure from Ms McAlpine the council finally backed down and published details of how to claim the grants on its website. The weekend saw an additional £1 million allocated to D&G for flooding aftermath, to be transferred in March along with the previous £700,000.
Commenting, Ms McAlpine said:
“Dumfries and Galloway Labour Council late yesterday afternoon bowed to my demand they tell flooded householders and businesses about the £1500 grants backed with Scottish Government money.
“In a humiliating climb-down the council's website this evening posted details of the grants for the first time and advice on how to claim.
“I called for them to do this on Friday morning and have been vilified ever since by Labour and their Tory allies online. I pointed out they had been allocated £700,000 for flooding in December and instructed then to pay out £1500 grants. But on Friday Cllr Colin Smyth on social media and MSP Elaine Murray in a press release claimed the money could not be spend until March - their excuse for the council's failure to inform victims of the funds available.
“Dumfries and Galloway Labour maintained this position all weekend then finally climbed down today after pressure from myself and the Scottish Government.
“The council have £6.8m in reserve for emergencies just like this, and £1.7m guaranteed from the Scottish Government. Not only that, it turns out the council have also failed to spend a further £2.3m worth of Scottish Government grants.
“Cllr Smyth must have been aware of this extra revenue when he was on twitter attacking me and claiming the council had no money to help flood victims. It is good that they have seen sense at last. But what a cynical performance by Scottish Labour.”
The additional £1 million allocated to Dumfries and Galloway by Nicola Sturgeon on Saturday has been awarded on the same basis as the £700,000 allocated in December, with both sums being transferred in the annual funding settlement in March.