D&G Council failure to release flood funds ‘a disgrace’ says MSP

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An MSP has branded Dumfries and Galloway Labour council an incompetent disgrace for wrongly claiming it had no money to help flood victims – while sitting on a pot of cash from the Scottish Government it has failed to spend.
The Scottish government allocated £700,000 to Dumfries and Galloway to deal with flooding in December and at the weekend the First Minister announced a further £1m million to the region – all of which include cash payments to individuals, community groups and businesses.
When Joan McAlpine MSP last week challenged the council to start distributing the money to flooded constituents, the leading Labour councillor Colin Smyth claimed the council had no money to spend and the funds from government would not arrive until March.
However in a deeply embarrassing development, a council committee paper has revealed the council had failed to spend another £2.3m of Scottish Government grants this year – money which is now going spare. The money was revealed in a report by officers to the Policy and Resources committee over the weekend.  The money was provided by the Scottish Government for various projects in early years, education and to help with council tax, but is now earmarked for the council’s Change Fund to support future savings measures.
Ms McAlpine described the council leaders as an “incompetent disgrace” and repeated her demand that they “get their finger out” and start helping flood victims now.
She said:
“I have constituents, some elderly and disabled, who are out of their homes and businesses who cannot trade or have major repairs. The council is refusing to tell them about the £1500 grant that they were asked to make available to individuals, community groups and businesses in December. They need to get their finger out and start helping people. They are an incompetent disgrace.”
She continued:
“This flood money is allocated in the normal way for councils – in their annual budget settlement. That means can spend from their substantial reserves – which are for dealing with emergencies – in the knowledge they have a cast iron guarantee of recompense from the Scottish Government within weeks. When Colin Smyth claimed the funds were not available till March he was cynically trying to make political capital out of people’s misery. Now it appears that while he was claiming there was no cash to help flooding victims, the council had an additional £2.3 million in revenue they somehow forgot to spend.  It’s absolutely appalling.”
Ms McAlpine helped businesses clean up Whitesands on Ne’erday and returned on Friday to meet Rab Smith of the Traders Association., whose record shop Domino was flooded out. Mr Smith told her he had asked council officials for details of the Scottish Government but they said they knew nothing about it. Other businesses and individuals have had a similar experience – with many businesses unable to even get a reply from the helpline. There is no obvious helpline detailed on the council website for individuals affected.
Ms McAlpine said the council’s website should tell local people about the scheme offering grants of £1500 each along with the £3000 for businesses who cannot trade announced by the First Minister on Saturday. There is also money to help farmers. Dumfries and Galloway’s share now amounts to £1.7m.
At the moment the council is directing flooding victims towards the existing Scottish Welfare Fund which is funded from a separate pot of Scottish Government money.  Businesses and community groups along with many flooded individuals will not be eligible for the welfare fund which is means tested.
Ms McAlpine said:

“Locals who have suffered from the flooding need this money now. The council should publicise it and make it easy to claim – instead leading Labour councillors are being deliberately misleading about flooding money and not mentioning the extra funds available let alone how to claim them. The danger is that this money will not go to individuals who need it and will be kept by the council. Some cases of hardship, particularly for very low income individuals with no insurance, will be appropriate for the Scottish Welfare fund. But many will not. It is a disgrace that vulnerable people are being told this is the only option when the government has given them the go-ahead to distribute flat cash grants to all those badly affected.

“I suspect this is all about politics – the Labour councillors who run Dumfries and Galloway don’t want to give any credit to the Scottish Government and they want to keep the extra money for their own pet projects. As we have seen with regards to the debate over the Dumfries Whitesands, many of these pet projects have failed to win local support.”
Notes to editors:
Please find attached guidance distributed to Councils by the Scottish Government along with email copied below:
Dear Colleagues
The Scottish Government has today announced that an extra £5.8 million will be made available to support households and business properties affected by the recent flooding, this is in addition to the £4 million announced by the Deputy First Minister in his budget statement, bringing the total available to communities to £9.8 million. The funding will be used by Local Authorities to provide every household, business premises or charity directly affected by flood water with a grant of £1,500. 
Local Authorities which have suffered the most damage as a result of the flooding have been allocated a share of the fund and the attached sets out the allocation to your local authority, including any initial allocation from Storm Desmond.    This additional funding is being made available as a result of the impacts of the flooding caused by Storm Frank and the adverse weather condition of the last few days, which represented a significant flood event for Scotland.  
In addition to the £9.8 million in flood relief support, businesses whose ability to trade has been affected by flooding will be able to apply for an additional grant of £3,000 from their Local Authority.  
I attach a guidance note on the additional funding.
Ministers are keen that progress is made quickly to get funding to those in need.  We are also conscious that people will be keen to seek information and it is important that they are made aware of application routes, even though I understand that detailed arrangements will need to be established.  I should be grateful if you would confirm that you have received this guidance and that your council will make provision on Monday 11 January to highlight to the public how your arrangements will be taken forward.
Kind Regards
Judith Tracey | Head of Managing Flood Risk Team | Environmental Quality Division | Scottish Government |1-D (North) Victoria Quay |Edinburgh | EH6 6QQ
Link to the Council report which details £2.38m of unspent SG funding from this financial year (page 3):

doc icon Funding-Storms-Desmond-and-Frank-Guidance-to-local-authorities-8-Jan….docx