Council rents up £2.27 per week, but no tax on parking at work for Fifers

Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes
Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

Councillors in Fife have rejected a Scottish Government offer to tax people to park at work.

They also binned a bid to bring in a tourist tax – and pledged to protect music tuition in local schools.

The controversial workplace tax has sparked a huge backlash, but was floated as a way local authorioties could generate more revenue as well as cutting traffic congestion in major cities.

The commitments came as they set our their draft budget which will now go forward for full approval at a meeting next week.

The blueprint will see a three per cent rise in Council Tax, and rents up 3.2 per cent; an average of £2.27 per week more for households.,

Fife Council is facing a budget deficit of £4m for 2019/20 – down from an original gap of £15m, despite overall funding increase of £16m from the Scottish Government.

With some of that ringfenced for early learning expansion and Frank’s Law – which offers free personal care for people who need it, regardless of age – the council has to raise Council Tax, but it is pinning that to three per cent; 1.7% less than it was allowed to.

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The council is rolling out a pilot to offer school holiday meals to those in Fife’s most deprived areas as part of a year long £400k trial.

The public sector will see a pay rise, back dated to April 1, 2018, the terms of which are still to be confirmed, to help deal with recruitment and retention issues of teachers.

However, education is required to make almost £1.5m in savings, which will come from a review of principle teachers, the ability to increase class sizes in primary schools, and reducing the number of supply teachers. There will also be a restructure of free fruit provided in schools.

The school estate will be expanded in the coming years, with a number of new primary schools over the next 10 years.

Replacements for Glenrothes and Glenwood High Schools are needed, but not expected to come until 2025.

Expansions to Auchmuty and Viewforth high schools are expected in 2019/20 and 2021/22 respectively.

More than £46m has already been committed to creating a new Madras High School in St Andrews, and £117m proposed over six years to replace high schools in the west of Fife.

A number of these costs will be collected from developers’ contributions and grants from the Scottish Government.

A fund of £50k will be allocated to each of the seven areas in Fife to put towards anti-poverty measures, and the local authority and will invest £43,000 from the welfare reform budget to ensure the sustainability of children’s and family services in east Kirkcaldy, which has some of the worst poverty levels outside of Glasgow.

Fife Gingerbread will get a funding allocation of up to £60k for three years, on the condition that two council members of staff members are taken on board to restructure its organisation to make it sustainable, bringing the total funding the charity has received from the local authority over £400k.

However, it is estimated that around 35 jobs will be lost as a result of savings, but the co-leaders stressed there would be no compulsory redundancies.

Funding for the Levenmouth rail link is not expected to be needed until 2025, with the council proposing that it will require around £2m of capital investment. Glenwood Centre in Glenrothes is also expected to undergo regeneration, with £1.5m allocated over three years.

Councillor David Alexander, SNP co-leader, said he was much more relaxed now than how he felt in December, saying: “We have £16m more in 2019/20 than we had in 2017/18. It was traumatic, and getting harder and harder to find savings.

“We do have more money, but it is ring fenced to things like doubling free child care provision, and free sanitary health products.

“Staff will at long last be getting a pay rise, which will be backdated.

“In reality, a £3/4m budget reduction is just 0.5% of our budget. Our biggest challenge is the £153m of benefit cuts from Westminster we are trying to mitigate. It is the biggest problem facing Fife.”

Councillor David Ross, Labour co-leader, said: “While we are getting a £16m increase, the fact is that most of this is ring-fenced. There is a £9m gap between what we currently provide and maintain and our income.

“We are still looking at £4.8m of savings. The reality is that over the last 10 years, we’ve had to make £219m in cuts, losing around 2000 staff.

“If there hadn’t been changes to the deal, we would have been looking at a significantly worse situation.”