Two independent Councillors have suggested an alternative to many of the cuts proposed by Fife’s Labour administration – put up the council tax.
Councillors Bryan Poole and Willie Clarke believe a weekly rise of less than the cost of a bag of crisps and a Mars Bar could make a big difference, and have organised a number of meetings to find out if the public would be prepared to pay a bit more to protect services.
If they get enough support, they’ll put forward alternative proposals at the Council’s budget meeting next month.
Their idea has already won the backing of the Fife Trades Union Council (TUC) which says the year on year cuts have worsened conditions for Council workers and resulted in hundreds of job losses.
Ian Waddell, chairman of Fife TUC, welcomed the independent councillors’ initiative to open up a debate over the current budget proposals.
“Bryan Poole and Willie Clark should be praised for taking such a stance and organising meetings with the public to discuss their alternatives,” he said. “The whole reasoning behind austerity and cuts is flawed and this needs to be exposed.”
The council tax hasn’t been increased since 2007, with local authorities receiving additional funding from the Scottish Government by agreeing to the freeze.
In Fife’s case, this year that’s around £4.6m – roughly equivalent to a 3.5 per cent rise. So to have additional money to spend, any increase would have to be more than that.
The Labour administration has ruled out increasing the council tax in its draft budget. But Cllr Poole says no-one has asked if the public would be prepared to pay more – so that’s what he and Cllr Clarke are going to do.
Cllr Poole said budget meetings were a “bit of a farce”.
“What we see on budget day is councillors of all persuasions effectively arguing ‘my cuts proposals are better or less damaging than yours’.
“It’s time we had an open and honest discussion with local communities about resolving this year on year farce.”
Cllr Poole added: “What you might be looking at is a rise of six, seven or maybe even 10 per cent in council tax.
“That might sound a lot, but a six per cent increase for a Band D household would be £1.29 per week – less than the cost of a bag of crisps and a Mars Bar – and that money can be used to protect education services for our young people and care services for the elderly.”
Cllr Clarke sensed many people felt the cuts in public services had gone far enough, adding: “Many people I speak to about this say they’d be prepared to pay a little bit extra each week to protect services.”
Four meetings have been arranged in Fife by the two councillors to gauge public opinion. They will take place on Monday, February 2, at Cupar YMCA, Cupar; Tuesday, February 3, at Benarty Community Centre, Ballingry; Wednesday, February 4, at Kirkland High School, Methil; and Thursday, February 5, at Dalgety Bay Primary School. All meetings are between 6.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m.
Fife TUC is planning a demonstration outside Fife House on Thursday, February 12 – the day of the budget meeting – to protest against the Council’s proposals to reduce services and staff conditions.