CASH-STRAPPED councils are spending millions of pounds more than expected to keep roads clear during the harsh winter weather in a move that threatens to undermine other public services.

At least five local authorities are already set to overspend their winter maintenance budgets as they rack up extra staff costs and bring in more grit to help keep traffic moving on Scotland’s snow-hit roads.

Travellers are being warned of further disruption today (Wednesday) after a flurry of snow and ice led to scores of schools being closed and treacherous driving conditions for motorists on Tuesday.

The Met Office issued a snow and ice amber alert for south west Scotland extending to parts of the central belt, lasting until Wednesday morning, with warnings of further delays on roads, public transport cancellations and a chance of power cuts.

HeraldScotland:

It has emerged that Highland Council has already overspent its £5 million winter gritting budget to the tune of £500,000, blaming “constantly changing weather”.

Midlothian Council said it had “slightly overspent” its £907,000 winter maintenance budget stressing that the additional expense “would put a strain on the council’s overall budget”.

Aberdeenshire Council is forecast to spend £2.1 million beyond its £4.3 million budget but will absorb the cost by almost wiping out a £2.6 million winter reserve fund.

Fife Council has said it expects to increase its £3 million winter allocation by around £500,000 by the end of the year – with the extra money coming from council reserves.

Last week Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) was £200,000 over its £1.3 million winter maintenance budget, before the latest bout of snow, with the local authority dipping into its reserves to treat the roads.

David Kennedy of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said: “Demand for all our services outstrips our ability to pay for them as our [Fair Funding For Essential Services] document showed.

“Councils main concerns are public safety and keeping roads clear and people moving. “Like any budget decision, individual spend is rightly and properly a matter for local discretion based on local need and circumstance.

“What I can say generally is cuts to local government certainly don’t help the situation.”

Highland Council’s issues come after it emerged it faced a £160 million budget black hole over the next five years.

Around £30 million has already been slashed over two years but latest forecasts are said to reveal budget gaps of more than £30 million every year until 2023, totalling up to £159.2 million.

In November, the Accounts Commission revealed that the total debts amassed by 30 local authorities rose to near record levels, hitting £14.5billion by the end of March this year.

At the same time they cut £524m from their budgets and shed 2,200 jobs, spending £33m from their reserves.

A Scottish Government spokesman it had “continued to ensure” that local government received a “fair funding settlement” despite further cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK government.

Local authorities will receive more than £10.5 billion through the local government finance settlement in 2018-19.

The spokesman added: “Highland Council are receiving total central government funding - revenue and capital - of £474 million this year and will receive over £472 million in 2018-19, plus their fair share of an extra £181 million which has still to be distributed. “