Council’s membership of COSLA questioned by Conservative councillor

Council’s membership of COSLA questioned by Conservative councillor

A SENIOR East Lothian councillor has questioned whether the local authority’s membership of COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) is “value for money”, amid claims that the council will pay the body £3.4 million – equal to five per cent of all council tax revenue.

Councillor Lachlan Bruce, leader of the Conservative Group on East Lothian Council, said that the national floor formula used by the body when negotiating council grants from Scottish Government meant that the council was paying millions each year to COSLA, which represents local authorities in pay negotiations with the Scottish Government.

And he asked if the cost of membership could be justified, as finance officers said that the council faced a £14.4 million shortfall in its budget for the coming year.

Questioning officers about the ongoing cuts needed to address a shortfall in funds, Mr Bruce asked: “Is being a member of COSLA worth paying £3.4m. Is it value for money for East Lothian?”

Final funds for local authorities are agreed between the Scottish Government and COSLA following a COSLA-approved formula which aims to ensure that no council receives funding below a ‘floor’ level which is set, and sees settlements adjusted, with some councils receiving more and others less than the initial Scottish Government grant proposed.

However, it has been argued that the formula has not been adapted to recognise small local authority areas like East Lothian and neighbouring Midlothian which are experiencing high growth in populations and need more funds.


The report to cabinet revealed that the annual increase in core funding from the Scottish Government to East Lothian Council for the year ahead was just 0.9 per cent, despite record inflation and increasing costs.

Membership of COSLA is voluntary and Sarah Fortune, the council’s chief finance officer, admitted that the formula the body used to decide how much each council received from a national pot of money from the Scottish Government was “complex”.

However, she told the meeting that she believed continued membership of the body was right “at this moment”.

She said: “There is a choice over whether we feel we are getting value for money through national negotiations.

“My opinion as statutory finance officer right at this moment is that I think there is merit in being part of the national discussions.”

Councillor Norman Hampshire, council leader, said that any change to the formula used by COSLA would have a detrimental effect on areas that would lose additional funding.


He said: “We think growth should be recognised but not as part of the block grant from the Scottish Government. We think there should be additional funding for local authorities who are dealing with growth.”

Following the meeting, Mr Bruce said that the formula was “fundamentally unfair” for residents in East Lothian who lost out on the funding, which equalled the increase expected to be imposed on them in a council tax rise in April.

He said: “It is a mindboggling, nonsensical system.

“This means that five per cent of our council tax bill is going towards subsidising shrinking council areas instead of supporting stretched services here in East Lothian.

“East Lothian isn’t alone in facing this problem either. I know from speaking to councillors in other growing authorities that they are hurt in the exact same way.

“If COSLA doesn’t fix this and come up with a fairer formula then local authorities who are losing out will be looking for the exit.

“I know I cannot defend this as it does not represent good value for money for East Lothian’s residents.”

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