The leader of South Lanarkshire Council has clashed with SNP MSPs after they accused him of not telling the truth about the state of the local authority’s finances.

The SNP’s Christina McKelvie said Joe Fagan had been spreading “disinformation".

However, the Labour councillor hit back at the government minister, accusing her of “butchering the facts.”

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The spat stems from an email Councillor Fagan sent to local parliamentarians at the start of the month, in which he made his “gravest appeal yet for the fair funding settlement that has eluded Scotland's councils for many years".

He claimed that “Scotland’s councils have endured cuts of almost 10% in real terms since 2013/14 when the rest of the Scottish budget has been rising".

"This has been set out clearly by the Accounts Commission," he added.

However, that was disputed by Ms McKelvie. She said when she had approached the Accounts Commission, that they told her they did “not recognise the 10% reduction figure quoted in the letter".

She also said that the Commission believed the actual difference over the last decade was a 2.6% increase in real terms.

The MSP then asked the councillor to clarify.

In an email sent on November 23, Councillor Fagan said the figure came from an assessment for South Lanarkshire Council made by the Accounts Commission in an Audit Report last autumn.

He quoted the paper, which states “the Accounts Commission reports that councils have seen their underlying cumulative funding fall by 4.2% in real terms since 2013/14 (excluding Covid-19 funding).

"Other analysis indicates that when funding for Scottish Government priority areas is removed there has been a real terms reduction of 9.6%.

"This contrasts with an increase of 4.3% in Scottish Government funding of other areas of the budget over the same period'."

The Councillor added: “This is, as far as I can determine, the Accounts Commission's most recent assessment of core funding reductions, once ring-fenced and directed spend is accounted for.”

He continued: “Local government finance is complex and it is important that like-for-like comparisons are made to establish the true impact of Scottish Government funding decisions.”

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Ms McKelvie, the MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, said the councillor was not being “honest about the facts”.

She told The Herald on Sunday: “This misrepresentation of the Accounts Commission’s position seems to be an open and shut case of disinformation by a senior Labour Council Leader.

“It is deeply irresponsible and very concerning – particularly given Councillor Fagan’s previous breach of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct this year.

“If Councillor Fagan was honest about the facts, he would be aware that the SNP Scottish Government has ensured a real-term increase in overall funding for local authorities of 3.5%.

“Councillor Fagan’s attempts to justify attributing figures to the Accounts Commission using an obscure reference to ‘other sources’ in an audit report which ran to 21/22 – since which time there have been three Scottish budgets, three Tory prime ministers, a global pandemic, and a land-war in Europe – is just the icing on the cake.”

Councillor Fagan told us that this was “an ill-tempered, uninformed intervention from a Member of the Scottish Parliament clearly worried that her appalling record on council funding is coming back to bite her.”

He said: “Having butchered council budgets, Christina McKelvie is now butchering the facts. I would strongly advise her to educate herself about how council finances work before blundering into a debate about the brutal reality of her council cuts.

“Christina McKelvie is not comparing like with like. COSLA, Directors of Finance, SOLACE, all parties in local government and my Administration will always insist on comparing actual core funding levels – not headline spin - to understand the true impact of Scottish Government funding decisions on local services. It’s the only honest way to do it.

“The reality is that councils have endured years of real-terms cuts to our core funding and council funding does not keep pace with the rest of the Scottish Budget.”

“These may be inconvenient facts for Christina McKelvie but these are facts nonetheless and the facts speak for themselves.”

A spokesperson for the Accounts Commission said: “Both sets of figures are correct, but are based on different data and are therefore not directly comparable.”

They added: “Put simply, the figure from the Annual Audit Report is about just core funding. The figure in the Local Government Overview is about that funding plus other income and funding streams.

The figure of 9.6%, as quoted in the external auditor's Annual Audit Report, is taken from analysis carried out locally that is based on Scottish Government finance circulars, and considers core revenue funding to be General Revenue Grant plus Non-Domestic Rates.

“It used data to specifically show the change in just these elements of revenue funding to Local Government from 2013/14 (to 2020/21). This showed a 9.66% reduction at that point in time.

"The figure quoted from the Local Government Overview report states that from 2013/14 to 2023/24, revenue funding from the Scottish Government to local government increased by 2.6% in real terms once Covid-19 related funding is excluded.

“This analysis is based on total revenue funding from the Scottish Government to local government that includes ringfenced or directed elements of funding, such as specific revenue grants and transfers to local government from other Scottish Government portfolio areas.”