A row broke out between senior north-east councillors yesterday amid claims opposition members were not consulted on an official response to the Scottish Government’s budget proposals.
Aberdeenshire Council’s Tory, Lib Dem and independent opposition, the Aberdeenshire Alliance, last night claimed the contents of a written reply to Scottish finance secretary Derek Mackay was not made available to them.
The MSP revealed his draft budget for 2017-18 in December 2016, asking local councils across Scotland to accept them by January 20.
The SNP and Labour-led council administration was yesterday accused by the Alliance of a “lack of transparency”, claiming they did not publish the response given to Mr Mackay.
Hitting back at the claims, council leaders said they had not been requested to share their response by the opposition, and accused them of “hypocrisy”.
Sharing the letter sent to Mr Mackay, they made it clear the council “cannot commit” to the conditions of any funding package before a full meeting of the council on February 9, where its own 2017-18 budget is due to be agreed.
However, head of the Alliance and the council’s Tory party, Jim Gifford, said: “We were not approached by the SNP and Labour co-leaders before they submitted their letter to the cabinet secretary.
“They had no political mandate from the council to write, either to accept or reject the settlement offer and we are disappointed they have chosen to proceed on this vital issue without any consultation with their fellow councillors.
“A lack of transparency is becoming something of a hallmark of this administration and we are wondering what it is they have to hide?”
He accused the Scottish Government’s budget process of being “shambolic”, adding it was coming out before the full details of the local government funding settlement are known.
Last night council leader and head of its SNP group, Richard Thomson, shared the contents of the e-mail to Mr Mackay.
He said: “This really is the height of hypocrisy from councillor Gifford, as I don’t recall him ever sharing with us his correspondence to the finance minister when he was council leader.
“As an administration, we’ve had cause to meet with the Alliance leaders on a couple of occasions in the last fortnight. We’d have been more than happy to share or discuss our letter to Mr Mackay with them if they’d bothered to ask.
“Our letter makes it clear that we cannot formally accept the Scottish Government offer until council makes its decision at our budget meeting on 9 February. This is entirely respectful of the council’s democratic process and exactly as we conducted business last year.”
Fellow co-leader and Labour group leader, Alison Evison, said the government has “not communicated well with councils over the budget”.
She added: “Our local approach to the budget is to open doors to get the best for Aberdeenshire.
“We are focused on delivering public services, securing jobs, supporting communities. It is regrettable that the Alliance seem to have different priorities.”