Kate Forbes urged to pass on £155m earmarked for Town Halls

The Scottish Government has come under fire for failing to pass on £155 million of emergency cash to councils earmarked to help weather the impact of Coronavirus on local services.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes  is awaiting a report form COSLA
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is awaiting a report form COSLA

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes insisted that she wants to know the detailed financial impact on Town Halls around the country before she decides how to pass on the cash.

It came as SNP-run Glasgow City Council faced criticism for processing just a quarter of the applications for emergency business support grants from struggling firms - against a national rate of 60% being dealt with.

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Cash-strapped councils in Scotland are facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of pounds in budgets as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK Government recently announced £1.6 billion of support for Town Halls south of the border - and Scotland was handed £155 million as a "consequential" of this, although ministers in Scotland have a free hand to spend the cash as they see fit.

Tory MSP Graham Simpson called for clarity during a “virtual” Holyrood question time session today.

He said: "Councils here haven't yet heard if they're going to receive a penny of that money - and to put it mildly they're hopping mad about that.

He called on Ms Forbes to commit to passing on that "full amount" to Scots councils.

Labour's Sarah Boyack called for the funding to be passed on by the SNP Government.

"It's critical that local authorities get that certainty from the Scottish Government," she said.

"Those consequentials are vital for our local authorities - they've already transformed their services to support our communities through the pandemic.

"Their incomes have already been reduced and they already have existing budget pressures.

"Can't we just get that trust from the Scottish Government?"

Ms Forbes said local government body COSLA is currently undertaking a "cost-gathering" exercise across Scots councils on the impact of COVID-19.

"I think it's only right that we understand fully the cost implications for local authorities and work jointly with them in terms of determining how we deploy those consequentials," she said.

Scottish ministers have already committed an extra £175 million on hardship funding and welfare top-ups, Ms Forbes added, as well as funding free school meals.

The Finance Secretary insisted that she understood the challenges facing local authorities.

But she added: "It seems perfectly reasonable that if COSLA has committed to a cost-gathering exercise, and clearly there are cost implications, that we understand what that funding need is before we come to a settled conclusion on the funding available."

The minister said the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all consequentials from the UK Government are "directly delivered" to help councils meet their needs from the Coronavirus impact.

It also emerged today that 74,216 applications have been across Scotland for the COVID Business Support Fund Grants, with 45,387 (60%) being successfully completed. A total of £526.26million has now been dispensed to firms.

But in Glasgow just a quarter of the 13,000 applications from firms have been processed by the council. However the city does have by far the highest number of claims in Scotland and the 3,200 processed claims is second only to Edinburgh across the country.

Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “We are now several weeks into this crisis yet still small businesses are being let down by a sluggish SNP government.

“Business owners have always suspected the SNP just isn’t interested in supporting local economies like this, and these grim statistics expose that.

“These are small retailers who will just collapse unless help arrives soon."

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