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Storm clean-up emergency funding leaves councils ‘in the cold’, say Lib Dems

The Lib Dems say councils are being left ‘out in the cold’ by the scheme set up to help them fund emergency clean-up operations (PA)
The Lib Dems say councils are being left ‘out in the cold’ by the scheme set up to help them fund emergency clean-up operations (PA)

A funding scheme which can help councils deal with the aftermath of storms and flooding has paid out under £10 million in the past 14 years, figures show.

The Bellwin Scheme was set up so Scottish ministers can give local authorities extra funding to “assist with immediate and unforeseen costs” following emergency incidents.

Data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats using freedom of information legislation shows that since 2009-10, £9,253,290 has been paid out under the scheme.

The bulk of it was paid in 2015-16 – £6,976,786 to four authorities: Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perth and Kinross, and the Scottish Borders.

Payments were also made in 2020-21, with a total of £626,445 going to Highland Council and Perth and Kinross.

Willie Rennie called for the scheme to be reviewed to ensure it is ‘working as intended’ (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

The scheme has been activated 17 times in the past four years, but the payments in 2020-21 were the only financial assistance provided during that period.

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said the figures show “cash-strapped local authorities are being left out in the cold” by Scottish ministers.

He has been pressing the Scottish Government to make grants available to households and businesses in the Cupar area of Fife who were affected by flooding caused by Storm Gerrit in December.

Ministers can activate the scheme when clean-up operations leave councils facing financial pressures, but it is only applied when local authorities pass a spending threshold.

That means while councils could make applications in the wake of Storm Babet last October, reports have suggested Aberdeenshire Council would have to spend almost £1.3 million to qualify for help.

Mr Rennie said: “It has become a staple of Scottish Government ministers to declare that the Bellwin Scheme is being activated to support communities in need, but money is simply not getting to where it is needed.

“These figures show that cash-strapped local authorities are being left out in the cold.”

Adding that the operation of the scheme has not been reviewed since the SNP came to power in 2007, Mr Rennie demanded an “immediate audit” of it.

First Minister Humza Yousaf visited Brechin in October to see the aftermath of Storm Babet (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He said: “There seems to have been little effort to review whether the scheme actually works. That has to change.

“There will undoubtedly be more disasters in the future, both climate related and otherwise.

“Council budgets have faced steep cuts. It is becoming harder and harder for them to act with haste because the money simply isn’t there.

“Ministers must undertake an immediate audit of the Bellwin Scheme to ensure that it is working as intended to support communities in crisis.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Unfortunately these claims misrepresent the purpose of the Bellwin Scheme.

“It provides financial support to local authorities to take immediate action to safeguard life or property and only applies to expenditure beyond what could reasonably have been budgeted for.

“It is not intended to put right all the ill effects resulting from an emergency incident but to provide a degree of financial protection for councils dealing with such situations.”

The spokesperson continued: “Local authorities are advised to set aside 0.2% of their annual revenue budgets to deal with emergencies.

“In the event that expenditure on large-scale emergencies exceeds that threshold, the Scottish Government provides 100% of any additional eligible expenditure which fully protects the local authority’s council tax payers.”