EAST Lothian Council has delayed setting its budget as opposition members take a stand against Labour plans to hike council tax by nearly 5 per cent.

East Lothian Council says it faces a £6.2million funding gap and the council leader has previously warned up to 60 jobs could be axed unless extra cash can be found.

However, opposition councillors are refusing to budge on the 2020/21 council tax increase, insisting it cannot be higher than 3 per cent.

Depute council leader Norman Hampshire said reducing the planned increase would add another £1.2million to the funding gap and require more cuts.

However, Conservative opposition councillors have accused the minority Labour administration of creating the situation by being “unwilling” to make efficiencies within the council.

Last year, the administration received Conservative backing to push through a 2019/20 council tax rise of 4.79 per cent, which it received after pledging to increase investment in roads.

However, the Conservative Group made it clear that they would not accept a rise of more than 3 per cent this year.

Without the support of the Conservatives or SNP, Labour cannot pass its budget.

The council had been due to set its budget this coming Tuesday but this will now take place at a later date.

Writing in his column in the Courier, Conservative councillor Lachlan Bruce said that his group did not believe the Labour administration’s planned council tax increase was “reasonable or fair” until all measures to increase productivity at the council, including “better management of resources”, had been undertaken.

He adds: “After two and a half years of being a councillor, I do not think the Labour administration have done this and my colleagues in the Conservative Group agree – and I think the public will as well.”

He later added the Labour administration “has been unwilling to take [efficiencies] up”.

The council is made up of a minority Labour administration of nine councillors, with seven Conservative councillors and six SNP councillors.

The SNP Group opposed last year’s increase and has again opposed an increase of more than 3 per cent this year.

SNP Group leader Councillor Stuart Currie said: “Labour councillors are going to propose a 4.84 per cent increase in council tax, which SNP councillors will not support.”

“We’ve tried to engage constructively with Labour but sadly they prefer a deal with the Tories in East Lothian.”

A paper which will be presented to councillors on Tuesday, when the budget was due to be presented for approval, says that delays to UK Government and Scottish Government budgets caused by the December General Election created an unforeseen delay in the release of the draft Local Government Settlement.

It was issued on February 6 and officials say that, while it represents an increase of £600,000 “in cash terms”, once policy commitments and increases to teachers’ pay and pensions are taken away, it actually represents a £2.08million reduction in core funding for service.

However Councillor Hampshire said that without the 4.84 per cent council tax rise the council faces a £7.4million funding gap.

He said: “We have been through several years of reductions in funds from Scottish Government and are dealing with a lot of new growth. The new growth adds costs to our school estates where we have to find £628,000 for primary schools and will see an increase in pupil rolls costing £67,000.

“Any further cuts will be very damaging to services. We cannot provide services without more funding being made available. It is impossible.”

Details of the Scottish Government’s proposed Local Government Settlement for the coming year were released on February 6. While council officials say in a report that it represents an increase of £600,000 “in cash terms”, once policy commitments and increases to teachers pay and pensions is taken away it actually represents a £2.08million reduction in core funding for service.

The report says: “The council now has a recurring funding gap on general services of over £6.2million and details of this updated position were shared with all group leaders on February 10.”

It goes on to say: “Taking into account: the lateness of the Scottish budget announcement, the fact the Budget Bill and related settlement remains in draft form and the scale of the funding cap to be closed, the general services budget proposals, together with setting of council tax, will now be considered at a future special council meeting.”

Tuesday’s full council meeting will not set the budget as had been planned but will set the housing revenues budget, which proposes a 5 per cent increase in rent for tenants.

Last week, council leader Councillor Willie Innes wrote to finance minister Kate Forbes MSP warning that the cut in funding could lead to 60 jobs being axed in East Lothian.

Mr Innes described the Scottish Government’s allocation of funds for local authorities in its draft budget as “a very poor outcome for councils”.

He said: “This scale of funding reduction, so late in the budget planning period, cannot be met without a substantial adverse impact on local services, reductions in support for schools and the potential loss of up to 60 jobs.”

The council leader said that in the light of the proposed funding gap, it was “likely” East Lothian Council would need to “defer consideration of its own budget proposals”.

And he warned: “Even setting our council tax level at your maximum permissible level, unless there is a significant additional increase in resources being made available, the council is faced with stark choices that will lead to severe and potentially damaging reductions in services provided to support local businesses and communities.”

The Scottish Government says its proposed £11.3billion funding to local authorities in the budget represents an increase in revenue spending of £494million.