THIS week's Councillor Column is written by Cllr Richard Trail (SNP, Helensburgh and Lomond South).

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ARGYLL and Bute Council is flush with cash. There are not many opportunities to make that claim.

After years of austerity, we are more familiar with cutbacks to the council’s budget and services. And indeed the budget outlook, according to a report produced for the last council meeting in late June, is that more cuts will be needed next year to balance the books.

So how does this anomaly arise?

Put simply, the extra cash is ‘ring fenced’. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have provided additional funding direct to local authorities, but both have also specified the criteria for spending the money.

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The current munificence is a response to the pandemic, and is intended as a ‘shot in the arm’ for business. There is no doubt that local businesses have been hard hit by the lockdowns. We are all aware of that. And restoring the local economy to health is the priority for the council.

The splurge of cash presents a challenge for the council’s officers, though. They have to find suitable projects that meet the criteria of each particular funding stream, and then deliver them within what is often a very short time scale.

This is not easy for a small council with a huge geographic spread, such as Argyll and Bute. The authority’s economic development team is stretched to the limit finding projects which merit funding, which meet the criteria of each scheme, and which will provide work for local businesses.

All this extra work is ongoing alongside the big capital projects that the council already has under way. The new leisure centre next to the pier here in Helensburgh is one, and the refurbishment of Rothesay Pavilion – much delayed, but currently hoped for completion in the summer of 2022 – is another.

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After intensive negotiations with the governments at Holyrood and Westminster over the past couple of years, the Rural Growth Deal for Argyll and Bute was at last agreed earlier this year, and the first projects will be starting soon.

The council is also engaged in a long term project to upgrade the harbour facilities which it owns. These are all big expensive projects.

On top of this, the council leader has charged all of the authority’s departments with reducing the carbon footprint of their activities. This is a responsibility for every one of us. The council has made a start and is recording its carbon emissions using nationally recognised methodology. It is perhaps surprising, in light of all this and the high profile of the climate change crisis, that the new funding provided to councils does not include some which is ring-fenced to address this.

When you look beyond the horizon of your local area, there is a lot going on in Argyll and Bute.

The council performed well in distributing the funding for grants and loans to businesses last year. It is now making a significant contribution to the recovery of the local economy.