With £9 million for flood relief already in his pocket from the latest Barnett consequentials payments from the UK Government – and undoubtedly much more to come, Finance Secretary, John Swinney, is using the money to open the standing ‘Bellwin Scheme’ for local authorities.
This is a discretionary scheme to give financial assistance to councils who face an undue financial burden as a result of large-scale emergencies.
There is no automatic entitlement to assistance and local authorities are expected to include a small amount within their annual budget to deal with unforeseen emergencies.
Ministers will consider emergency financial assistance for any local authority to help deal with the costs of flood damage that occurred in the aftermath of Storm Frank.
If this incident does not qualify for extra funding it can be included in any further claims in 2015-16.
The Barnett Consequentials are an add-on to the annual Barnett Formula funding allocated to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
When, in any year that the UK Government has to spend on unbudgeted projects in England and Wales, a percentage of the new spending – based proportionately on population size – goes automatically to the governments of the major devolved administrations.
Scotland’s gets 10% of the value of every additional spend.
After the pre-Christmas floods in early December, Chancellor George Osborne announced an immediate £40 million in relief for affected areas in England; and that he was therefore sending £4 million to Scotland, where Hawick in particular had been badly hit.
Mr Swinney announced this £4 million for flood relief in his own budget later in December – without acknowledging its source.
When Storm Frank came drenching in at and after Christmas with renewed and new flooding on a even more widespread basis, the Chancellor announced a further £50 million of immediate assistance to affected areas in England and Wales, bringing another £5 million to Scotland.
The UK Government has also committed to substantial new investment – several hundred million pounds – in flood defences for England and Wales – and when that happens, 10% of that value will be additionally allocated to Scotland.
The thing about Barnett Consequentials funding is that the money does not have to be spent by the receiving government on the function for which it has been allocated. That is discretionary.
The £9 million already allocated to Scotland has come to us specifically from the need for immediate relief from the consequences of the current floods – and it should be spent only on that. There is an undeniable need for it.
The further money to come later will have been allocated from investment in new flood defences for England and wales – and again the Scottish allocation, in this situation, ought to be spent only on that, because the imperative for effective flood defence is irrefutable.
It will be important for the councils for the badly flood-affected areas, like the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, to keep a very sharp eye on the totals of the extra amounts coming to Scotland from these needs and make quite sure that the new funding is actually spent on flood relief and investment in flood defences.
The Finance Secretary’s now known – and failed – gamble on removing the budget for repair and maintenance work on the Forth Road Bridge, was a wake up call to all those, including ourselves, who had assumed his sense of responsibility in financial management.