Ahead of Thursday’s meeting to set Fife Council’s budget, the Kingdom’s Conservative Group is far from convinced that a rise in council tax is the right answer.
Independent councillors Bryan Poole and Willie Clarke held a series of public meetings last week, asking Fifers if they would be prepared to pay more to protect key Council services from cuts.
They received a generally favourable reaction, particularly if additional money was directed to education and care services.
But Councillor Dave Dempsey, Conservative group leader, doesn’t believe this is the best way forward.
He said: “We’re beginning to hear voters talking about being willing to accept a tax rise to fund Council services. They even accept that the first part of any rise would go straight to the Scottish Government as a penalty. However, we’re not yet convinced this is the right way ahead.
“As the squeeze on budgets tightened, Fife Council was forced to do things that it ought to have done anyway, by way of working more efficiently and getting greater value for money.
“It’s made progress but there’s still a way to go. Just this week, for example, we heard how the working hours of home carers don’t line up with the times when care is needed. We then found out that this was discussed seven years ago but only now is a solution coming forward.
“We’re repeatedly told that there are enough empty school places in Fife to take all the schoolchildren of South Ayrshire, yet the Labour administration have ruled out any consideration of further rationalisation.
“A year ago we had a detailed report on the social work budget, telling us where savings could be made – yet the biggest potential social work savings were instantly ruled out on grounds of political dogma.”
He said the much-publicised £77m budget gap was, in a sense, fictional.
“It’s the shortfall the Council would have if it didn’t do something about it. That’s the one thing that won’t happen. The Council doesn’t have to save £77m from what it spends now. What it needs to do is not spend an extra £77m meeting an increased demand but meeting it inefficiently.”
Cllr Dempsey continued: “It would be tempting to go for a council tax hike as there are plenty of things to spend any extra on. There’s a huge backlog in maintenance for roads, buildings, etc. That’s an area that’s been squeezed particularly hard because it doesn’t make headlines. Or at least it doesn’t until something goes seriously wrong.
“The danger of a tax rise now is that feet will come off throttles – that everyone will breathe a sigh of relief and leave things as they are.
“It’s not right to ask the people of Fife to pay more for that.”