Recent weeks were characterised by seasonal storms bringing heavy rainfall and high winds which caused destruction across the UK.

The Met Office issued amber or red warnings to draw our attention to the increased risk and urged us all to stay safe while the storms rage on.

These messages were featured heavily in the media which reported the full force of the storms and their devastating impacts. The warnings don’t stop the storms but they help us to best prepare ourselves and to take action to limit their impact.

That’s why I must warn our communities that a different storm is brewing for Scottish councils but one with the potential to be just as damaging - and unfortunately West Dunbartonshire is in the eye of it.

I’m talking about the consistent and deliberate underfunding of local government by the Scottish Government. The underfunding of West Dunbartonshire Council means that we will face the full force of this particular storm, which creates a very real danger to our financial viability.

You will remember that last year we had a £21million funding gap, and our early budget actions helped reduce that to £14million in December, with further reductions through options taken at the budget meeting in March.

We plugged the gap with reserves which we had created last year and carried forward £7million of the 2023 revenue deficit. The cost pressures over the year have pushed our current funding gap to £17.2milion.

There is no magic bullet to fix this problem. Our funding comes from council tax, sales, fees and charges and the grant we get from the Scottish Government as our share of the local government settlement. The Scottish Government decided council tax will be frozen, so we can’t use the biggest tool in our box.

We will get the usual calls from some quarters calling for a “no cuts budget” but there is no such thing. The concept requires councillors to suspend reality and pretend that if we don’t set a balanced budget, then the Scottish Government will step in and give us all the money we need to keep our current range of services. Surely, if it was that simple then all 32 councils would have done it by now. Calling for a no-cuts budget is an abrogation of our responsibility.

We are caught between a rock and a hard place as we are legally required to set a balanced budget each year, but can only do so by reducing services and jobs.

Since I was elected in March 2022, I’ve been consistently making the case for more funding for West Dunbartonshire, contacting the First Minister directly to outline the pressures our area faces, as well as writing to the Scottish Government, raising motions at CoSLA, and meeting with ministers and civil servants. I will continue to shout until we receive fairer funding.

In the meantime, the Labour councillors will continue to act in the best interests of West Dunbartonshire residents and deliver a balanced budget. We will address the £17.2million funding shortfall and where possible we will safeguard services and jobs but we simply don’t have the funding to support the current level of services.