FIFE Council has published its first ever draft budget – and is opening it up to the public.
The Labour administration has outlined its spending and savings priorities for the next financial year, but instead of keeping the details under wraps until February’s budget meeting, it’s decided to share them now.
Previously, the ruling administration would draw up its budget but only present it to all councillors on the morning of the budget meeting, leaving little time for opposition members to scrutinise any of the detail.
This time, there’s an opportunity for everyone – political parties, councillors, commmunity groups, the voluntary sector and the general public – to have their say on how the local authority should spend its budget of around £780m.
Crucially, everyone can also have a say in how a funding gap of £66m can be plugged over the next three years.
Council leader Alex Rowley said: “This is the first time in the history of local government in Fife that a draft budget has been brought forward and published for consultation.
“We aim to build on this process year on year, creating a more open, transparent and accountable approach to budget setting.
“We might not get it all right first time, it might not be perfect, but it’s a massive leap forward to engage with all the communities and political parties in Fife.
“Every political group and every councillor has the chance to enter into discussions and dialogue, to say what they think should be in there and what shouldn’t be there.”
With the Council facing a shortfall of around £6m in 2013-14 between its anticipated expenditure and its funding, savings have had to be found to balance the books.
The Labour administration has actually identified £11m worth of savings, and wants to invest additional resources in education, social work, apprenticeships and training, and introducing the Living Wage and removing home care charges.
Cllr Rowley said: “We know the issues that are facing people on a day to day basis – our kids are out of work and can’t get on the property ladder, our elderly relatives are living longer and need more care and there are too many people living on the breadline.
“Our services have to respond to these issues and help prevent them happening in the first place.
“Our challenge over the next few years is to keep balancing the books and continue investment in our communities and priority services.”
The draft budget was revealed at Tuesday’s executive committee meeting.
Independent councillor Andrew Rodger welcomed the positives in the budget – helping the disabled, creating employment, improving education and investing in social work services.
He said: “The administration is hitting the areas people want to see change in. It’s a positive message to the people of Fife how you can take things forward for the young right up to the elderly.”
Information on how Fifers can have their say on the plans for spending and savings will be published soon at www.fifedirect.org.uk/budget.