SCOTLAND’S First Minister has acknowledged that East Lothian Council is facing “significant challenges”.

Senior Government MSPs made a number of visits in East Lothian on Monday as part of the 52nd Travelling Cabinet.

As well as visiting Dunbar, First Minister Humza Yousaf met with senior figures in East Lothian Council, including Councillor Norman Hampshire, leader of the local authority; colleague Shamin Akhtar, depute leader; and Monica Patterson, council chief executive.

Other ministers also made visits to: Amisfield Walled Garden, East Lothian Community Hospital, Knox Academy and Our Community Kitchen, all Haddington; Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick; Archerfield House; Wallyford Learning Campus and Kinwegar Recycling Centre, Wallyford; and East Lothian Community Action Team.

'Difficult set of circumstances'

Speaking to the Courier in Dunbar, Mr Yousaf said: “Every local authority, all 32, will make a case for why they need extra investment in their local area.

“I’m not dismissive of that at all; I think that is absolutely right and proper. In fact, they would not be doing their job if they didn’t make that case.

“For me, I hope people do understand that we are facing a really difficult set of circumstances.”

Local communities faced levels of poverty which, he claimed, were “exacerbated due to the UK Government’s decisions around the cost-of-living crisis, high energy and high inflation”.

“We have got to make decisions around, for example, fully funding the council tax,” he added.

“That is one bill that we can freeze for people during these really difficult times.

“We have got to make sure that we fund our essential public services and that is coming in the face of the UK Government’s Autumn Statement that has decimated public services,” he claimed.

“Local authorities who provide those local services are high up my agenda and high up my priorities when it comes to budget for next year.”

Officials and councillors at East Lothian Council are working on the local authority’s new budget.

The council has said it was facing “the most extreme and challenging financial environment that it has ever faced with significant challenges in 2023/24 and an estimated recurring financial gap in excess of £70 million over the next five years”.

Mr Yousaf said: “I respect East Lothian and the council here.

“I will be meeting with Norman and Shamin later on.

“They will be facing significant challenges because we are all dealing with 13-and-a-half years of UK Government austerity.

“We are dealing with the disaster of the mini budget last year, we are dealing with high energy and high inflation costs and we are dealing with an Autumn Statement that completely decimated our public services.”

Torness future

Among the issues discussed with the Courier was the future of Torness Power Station, six miles to the south-east of Dunbar.

It is one of the largest employers in East Lothian, with about 550 full-time EDF employees and more than 180 full-time contract partners.

However, the station is due to stop generating electricity in March 2028.

Mr Yousaf confirmed that there was “not likely” to be an extension to the power station’s life but was hopeful that new opportunities could be created in the country through the renewables sector.

He said: “We want to create the conditions now where we create the employment and jobs and opportunities for renewable energy; mainly in offshore and onshore wind.

“I think the investment that we are making in that will hopefully give some comfort to those that are working in Torness that there will be opportunities in the local area, in the local community, in other energy sources.”

Mr Yousaf is approaching nine months in his role after succeeding Nicola Sturgeon at the end of March.

The First Minister described it as “the best thing in the world for me having the job that I have”.

He said: “It is a great opportunity.

“The most difficult part is not seeing my family as much as I can.

“I think, in the last 10 days, I have spent two days with the family, with the kids, and as I was leaving this morning to come to Dunbar, my four-year-old, who was unwell last night with a fever, said: ‘Daddy, do you really have to go to work?’

“That can be the difficult part of the job.”