New figures have sparked fears that a north-east council is being forced to dip into its reserves in the face of budget cuts.
A Scottish Government report reveals that Aberdeenshire Council spent almost 60% of its general fund reserves during 2017-18 – far higher than the national average of just 8%.
The authority has insisted this expenditure was planned and this does not represent its overall reserves, which includes an emergency fund for unexpected events on the scale of a Storm Frank.
But a north-east MSP has claimed the figures show councils are under increasing financial pressure due to Holyrood budget cuts in recent years.
Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, said: “Councils across the country are increasingly dipping into their rainy day fund, and that’s a direct consequence of SNP budget cuts.
“In Aberdeenshire, the authority has been forced to go further than any other in the country.
“At the current rate, there soon won’t be anything left to cover unexpected costs.
“Local government never seems to get a fair deal from the SNP, and it is councils that will shoulder the blame for inevitable cutbacks to services.”
The official paper predicts councils would need to call on an additional £113 million worth of reserves during this current year to balance their books.
Auditors have also estimated that, by the end of the year, the total amount will have dropped to under £1 billion among 32 councils
However, Aberdeenshire’s finance boss has responded that none of the authority’s emergency fund is being used to cover everyday revenue costs, such as staff wages.
Alan Wood, head of finance, said: “While reserve funds can sometimes be used for unplanned expenditure, they are created with a purpose in mind and usually with an expectation that some of the funds will be spent.
“In terms of the council’s general fund, all expenditure was planned and approved, so the current balance is as expected.
“Audit Scotland do recognise there are a range of reasons why councils would use reserves and our positive audit reports support this.”