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Balancing the budget

Balancing the budget

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Have your say

Fifers are being asked for their views on suggestions for budget savings as the Council faces its toughest ever financial challenge.

Fifers are being asked for their views on suggestions for budget savings as the Council faces its toughest ever financial challenge.

In a first for Fife, all the ideas for saving money put forward by Council officers – previously only made available to councillors in the ‘Blue Book’ – have been published online for everyone to see.

It’s a move agreed by the leaders of all political groups as a way of making the process more transparent and open.

And the public is now being invited to have its say on scores of money-saving ideas as the Council tries to find ways to cut £100 million from its budget over the next four years.

At this stage, the ideas are just that – ideas. Nothing has been ruled in, and nothing has been ruled out.

But there’s no doubt jobs will be lost, and some services will be reduced, delivered differently or possibly even scrapped altogether.

That’s why the views of all Fifers are being seen as vital in this process. Councillors want to know what services are important to the public as they strive to find ways of balancing the books.

Council Leader Alex Rowley said: “This is the first step in a process that will see the Council make more informed budget decisions in February next year.

“We are facing the biggest financial and social challenges in our history. While demand for our services is going up, the resources we have to fund them are going down.

“We want people to become involved and give us their views on the suggestions that have been put forward by Council services to help make savings. These are now online with options for people to agree, disagree and comment.”

Cllr Rowley admitted there were suggestions from officers which the Labour administration would not take forward, but he didn’t want to identify them at this stage as he didn’t want to influence the consultation which was designed to be free from political interference.

He said: “We will decide which suggestions we take forward and include in our draft budget proposals which will be published in November for further consultation.

“Real changes are necessary and tough decisions are needed. Rest assured we will consider all the suggestions made before we make final decisions in February when we have a legal obligation to produce a balanced budget for Fife.”

The Council’s chief executive Steve Grimmond stressed the savings ideas on the new Big Change Challenge website have been suggested by services as ways of potentially meeting the budget challenge.

He said: “Some of these suggestions will be taken forward by councillors when preparing their budgets and some will not – but we hope that by publishing them in this way we can have informed debate around all the issues.”

The website also highlights some of the issues the Council will have to consider before making any budget decisions – an ageing population with greater demands for care services, a rise in the number of children requiring local authority care and protection, and a number of Council buildings, including schools, which are under occupied or in need of repair.

On top of all that, like the rest of the UK, the Fife economy has been hit hard over the last 10 years, with 4000 jobs having been lost, output having fallen and the number of young people claiming job seekers allowance up 11.5 per cent – twice the Scottish average – while the programme of welfare benefit cuts and reforms has added new pressures to many families.

Cllr Rowley said: “Against this background our aim is to focus on front-line services and continue to improve what we do.

“We have important choices to make. Do we stop delivering services that are lower priority? Do we change what we do? Do we commission or support others to deliver services on our behalf? Do we increase charges for services or reduce the amount we subsidise services?

“It’s important that we listen to the views and opinions of the people that are using our services every day and I would urge Fifers to get involved and take the opportunity to have their say.”

Have Your Say:

Visit the Big Change Challenge website - www.fifedirect.org.uk/bigchange - where you can comment on individual savings suggestions, put forward your own ideas and give your views on the overall budget process.

Join the debate on Twitter using #fcbudget.

Attend one of the local meetings which will be arranged over the next few weeks. Share your views with your local councillors at their surgeries.