ARGYLL and Bute Council has been urged to seek clarity on when it can expect more than £4 million to be repaid to the authority by the area’s health and social care partnership. 

Councillor George Freeman, a member of the authority’s audit and scrutiny committee, raised concerns at a meeting of the full council on Thursday, September 26.

An Audit Scotland report which went before the audit and scrutiny committee highlighted “significant financial sustainability issues” which left the partnership’s [HSCP] integration joint board [IJB] with gaps in its budget.

But council leader Aileen Morton, also a member of the IJB, gave assurance that measures are being put in place for the overspend to be repaid.

The council is due to have a total of £4.282million repaid by the HSCP between the current financial year and 2022/23.

READ MORE: Health and care overspend in Argyll and Bute 'could hit almost £3m'

Councillor Freeman said: “I was at the audit and scrutiny committee the other day, and one issue that continues to come up is the financial situation relating to the HSCP.

“The Audit Scotland report did not make good reading as far as the HSCP is concerned with regards to the financial position.

“There are a number of comments, and the bottom line is that there is a real risk of the IJB being unable to return the funding received from the council within the agreed timetable.

“The council has had to cut back on services that it provides because of the overspend, and it keeps coming up [at the audit and scrutiny committee]. It is far from acceptable that we should be in that position.

“Can the council leader give an indication as to when we can expect to be in a break-even position regarding this?”

The report which went before the audit and scrutiny committee, referred to by Councillor Freeman, said: “Partner bodies within the HSCP are working well in providing the healthcare services required, however, the IJB continues to have significant financial sustainability issues.

“Financial recovery plans have till now been unsuccessful in delivering necessary savings, and the IJB is facing significant budget gaps in 2019/20 and 2020/21, with savings plans to cover these still to be agreed.”

READ MORE: Health board to repay less than half of near-£7m overspend

But Councillor Morton said that finance issues formed “a substantial part” of discussion at a meeting of the IJB the day before the full council.

She said: “The IJB has a quality and finance programme, now known as the finance and policy committee, which meets monthly.

“The Audit Scotland report did flag up concerns, but equally it welcomed the financial reporting to the IJB.

“The forecast outturn for this year is still a significant overspend but at last we are clear on this point. A year ago we could not even have told you what the outturn was.

“While there is no guarantee, the officer was clear that she was aiming for a break-even position.

“My expectation is that this will come up at the policy and resources committee in relation to the impact on the council’s budget.

Councillor Freeman then said that one option which was intimated to the scrutiny committee was to write off the debt.

READ MORE: Health chiefs 'gaining more control' over area's finances, meeting told

But Councillor Morton added: “That would be a matter for the council to consider and I was not expecting that to come any time soon.

“The HSCP needs to repay its overspend and we have set a tiered schedule for it, but it will need to be revisited in the run-up to next year’s budget.

“I certainly would not expect that in the next year or two, we would be considering a write-off.”