A bitter war of words over budget consultation – or the lack of it – has broken out between Fife’s two largest political groups.
Fife’s councillors will gather at Fife House to make some of their toughest-ever decisions today (Thursday) when they set the budget for the new financial year.
Against the backdrop of an unprecedented £92m reduction in the Council’s budget over the next four years, there has been extensive consultation with the public, who were invited to comment and share their views on a wide range of savings options.
The Labour administration has also had input in recent weeks on its draft proposals from Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent councillors.
But there have been no talks between Labour and the SNP, the biggest of the opposition parties.
Labour councillor Neil Crooks criticised the Nationalists for failing to engage in the budget process.
But Councillor Peter Grant, SNP group leader, hit back, saying there was little point in talks when Labour wasn’t prepared to listen.
Cllr Crooks, chair of the Kirkcaldy area committee, this week acknowledged the contribution of both the public and some opposition councillors in the budget process.
He said: “The fact we published a draft budget last year has allowed considerable opportunities for individuals and groups to comment and influence the final package to be presented in Fife House this week.
“I want to pay tribute especially to the Liberal Democrat group of councillors who positively engaged in the process.
“The positivity of the Lib Dems is offset by the fact the largest opposition group on the Council, the SNP, made no approach during the whole consultation process to talk to our budget team about their priorities and subsequently have had no influence on the 2014/15 budget.”
But Cllr Grant highlighted a meeting earlier this week when decisions were taken to close five primary schools in Fife – despite strong opposition to some of the closures from the public – as an example of Labour’s failure to get involved in meaningful consultation.
“Labour promised to listen to the people of Fife but have failed to keep that promise,” he said.
“Thousands of ordinary people expressed their opposition to these closure, but they were ignored by Labour.
“We would love to engage with the administration to help sort out the huge problems we have here in Fife, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to do so unless we can have open and honest discussions.
“The SNP group has always been willing to co-operate with other parties when it’s in the best interests of the people of Fife but there has to be a climate of trust before this can happen, and until now Labour’s record of broken promises does not inspire trust.”
He added he hoped the change in Labour leadership would lead to better co-operation between the parties in the future.
Cllr Alex Rowley is due to step down as Council leader next week following his election as MSP for Cowdenbeath, and Cllr David Ross, the new Labour group leader, is expected to succeed him in that role.
Cllr Grant said: “This gives us all a chance of a fresh start.”
See next week’s Press for extensive coverage of all the budget.