A north-east MSP has called on Scotland’s local government umbrella organisation to reveal how much coronavirus could cost councils.
Cosla, at the request of the Scottish Government, collected the information from each of the 32 councils in Scotland last month.
However, the details have not been published, and Cosla instruced finance minister Kate Forbes to divide additional funding from central government not by councils’ actual expenditure and loss of income, but by an unrelated formula.
Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said some councils stood to make money from the crisis while others would be left out of pocket.
He warned Aberdeen could be among the hardest-hit by the ongoing pandemic.
And the long-serving MSP has written to Cosla president Alison Evison to explain what the decision means for local authorities.
Mr Macdonald said: “Cosla needs to come clean about what this bizarre decision actually means for local councils.
“All they have told us is that the coronavirus crisis will cost Scotland’s 32 local councils a total of £331 million, and we know the biggest hit will be taken by cities like Aberdeen. Central government has provided £235 million towards these costs so far, but this money is not being directed to the councils in line with what they have actually spent or loss of revenues as a result of the lockdown.
“Instead of asking Scottish government ministers to pass on funding to the councils that need it most, Cosla has called for the money to be handed out according to the general formula for local government funding, which has nothing to do with the actual costs of the crisis to individual councils.
“Having failed in its duty of fairness to all its member-councils, the least Cosla can do now is publish the information it has been given. That way, council taxpayers can see how much the crisis has cost their local council, and how much each council has gained or lost by the application of an unrelated funding formula at Cosla’s request.
“It would be a dark day for democracy in Scotland if such basic information was kept secret, or if the only way local council taxpayers could find out the truth was by using Freedom of Information legislation to compel each council to publish information which it has already given to Cosla and which should already be in the public domain.”
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden revealed he had also asked Cosla to explain the decision for the formula-based distribution model.
The city is in line to receive around £8 million from central government.
Mr Lumsden said: “Cosla need to be open and transparent over this, and the information should be available. The distribution should be made fairer so that it’s based on what this crisis is causing each council.
“If we see that information we will see some councils are going to be making money from the distribution of funds during the virus, which is an absolute disgrace.
“There needs to be much more openness and transparency around this.”
COSLA President, Councillor Alison Evison, said: “When lockdown started, the services provided by Councils changed overnight.
“New costs emerged immediately, including protecting the most vulnerable. Income also reduced significantly as services closed, and behaviours were forced to change due to lockdown.
“Very quickly, Local Government identified the need to collect information on the financial impact and to do so in a co-ordinated, consistent and robust way.
“This work was instigated by Local Government for operational and practical purposes – at no point did Ministers direct or request this work.
“COSLA and Local Government professionals are of the view that the cost collection work is part of an ongoing, operational, due diligence exercise, becoming refined over time and able to inform future discussions with Scottish Government on Local Government funding.”
She added: “Decisions on issues to do with distributing any additional funding for council are taken democratically by all 32 councils together.
“Given the purpose of the cost collection exercise, Leaders agreed that in this instance it was most appropriate to stick to an agreed formula for the distribution of the £155m announced for Local Government and thereby avoid any further delay in distributing the much-needed funds.
“The formula that Leaders agreed recognises the vast range of issues that councils are dealing with, as well as the differences in population, geography and deprivation.
“This was seen as the most appropriate way of getting the money out the door as quickly as possible.
“We are actively involved in discussions with Scottish Government about how we might address the situation in the short, medium and longer term to create a sustainable position for Local Government as a whole.”