An SNP councillor has blamed Fife Council Labour administration’s “inadequate budgeting” for a projected overspend of £8.2 million on health and social care services.
But Council leader David Ross has hit back at Councillor Julie Ford for claiming the administration had made unrealistic income assumptions, saying she and her SNP colleagues seemed “more interested in criticising Labour rather than standing up for services in Fife and protecting the older people who rely on them”.
The projected overspend was highlighted at a recent scrutiny committee meeting, with a report indicating the budget for the current financial year included “assumed funding” from the Scottish Government and NHS Fife.
The report added that discussions were ongoing with both the government and NHS Fife but went on to say that the council could “no longer assume these discussions will have the full desired outcome” and “it is prudent to project that this funding will not be received”.
Cllr Ford said: “No matter how confident they felt they were about receiving this funding, why did Labour budget for money that was simply not guaranteed? Labour promised sustainable budgets, but how can anyone consider this budget sustainable given this significant overspend?
“What makes it all the more concerning is that the council is anticipating a surplus this year. Labour has previously claimed that while the council is in overall surplus, there is no crisis. I am therefore questioning why senior members of the council are now claiming there is a crisis. Perhaps the clue is in who are they attempting to blame – the NHS and the Scottish Government.
“The reality seems to be that they are simply unprepared to set realistic and sustainable budgets for vital services that the most vulnerable Fifers rely on.
“I am just left wondering why, but sincerely hope they are not playing political games with these vital services.”
But Cllr Ross insisted the only people playing political games were Cllr Ford and the SNP.
He said: “I have explained the position on funding health and social care on numerous occasions and if Julie Ford chooses not to listen I can’t help that.
“We set a realistic budget to meet the needs of older people requiring social care in Fife. We have been let down by others who didn’t step up to the plate and provide their share of the funding that was required.
“I’m pleased that NHS Fife has now agreed to contribute an additional £1.5m to these services this year, but it still means the council will have to find something like an extra £6.5m for these services at a time when our budgets are stretched.
“We are only able to do that this year because of prudent budget management in other areas of council services and because interest rates have continued to be so low. We won’t be able to find that extra funding next year.
“Julie Ford is a very new councillor so maybe she isn’t aware that it was her party who led the previous administration and cut 40 social worker posts, dramatically increased care charges and planned to sell off the council’s care homes – those same care homes that we are now replacing with new-build, fit-for-purpose alternatives, and which will be contributing to tackling the problems of delayed discharge.
“We’ll wait and see what Julie Ford and her SNP colleagues make of John Swinney’s budget statement next week when, by all accounts, he will be reducing money for local council services even more.”