Council leader David Ross has set out a six-point plan to build a better, stronger and fairer Fife – insisting every Fifer deserves a decent home, job and education.
The top priority remains tackling “the disgrace of poverty in our society”.
Cllr Ross has also outlined plans to improve education and children’s services, build on the success of the Fife Youth Jobs Contract, press for improvements to transport links and, together with NHS Fife, address the major problems in health and social care services.
He also wants to create a ‘city region’ involving both Dundee and Edinburgh, and other surrounding local authorities, working together to the benefit of all.
Despite facing difficult and challenging times, major financial restrictions and rising demands for local services, Cllr Ross said the Council still had a significant level of resources at its disposal.
What was crucial was that these resources were used in the best way possible, focussing on the Council’s priorities.
Cllr Ross said: “We need to be creative and innovative, to look at how we can do things differently.”
The Labour administration’s vision for the future was set out at last week’s full Council meeting, where councillors were presented with the latest performance report.
Cllr Ross was “justifiably proud” of the initiatives taken forward by the current administration, but also acknowledged some of these were built on the work of previous administrations.
He said: “Consider some of the things we have done already. The Fife Youth Jobs Contract, working with local businesses to provide training and apprenticeships for hundreds of young people.
“Investing in early years, ensuring that children get the best start in life at that vital first stage. Investing in new schools and education so every pupil has the chance to gain the skills and knowledge they need to reach their full potential. Investing in our town centres. Investing in sport.
“Promoting fostering and recruiting more foster carers to give vulnerable children the support they need.”
He also highlighted the Council’s biggest programme of new affordable housing for many years, the renewal of care homes and the removal of home care charges, the offsetting of the Bedroom Tax, continuing efforts to tackle fuel poverty and the introduction of the living wage for the Council’s lower paid employees.
“This work will continue over the coming months and years,” he said. “And our six further major priorities and actions will be put in place going forward.”
Council’s six-point plan to make a positive difference
All Council services will set out explicitly what more they can do to reduce poverty. A Fairer Fife Commission will be established.
Officials will consult parents, pupils, teachers and other stakeholders to explore ways to further improve the and management of schools and education in general.
The Council will press the case to Transport Scotland on a range of initiatives, including the Levenmouth Rail Link and improvements to the A92.
Fife Youth Jobs Contract
A further £2 million will be invested to help more young people get decent jobs.
Health and Social care
The Council and NHS Fife will work to integrate health and social care.
The Council wants to put forward a proposal to the Scottish and UK governments within the next six months for a City Region Deal involving Edinburgh and other authorities, with the aim of all working together to improve, support and develop their economic infrastructure.
Performance report 2013-14
More than one in five children in Fife are living in poverty, and according to the latest figures, the numbers are increasing.
Although the number of people in fuel poverty fell in 2013-14, this still affected 37,000 households.
Homelessness is reducing, but there are still more than 2000 homeless households in Fife.
Alcohol-related hospital admissions are rising, with people in deprived areas twice as likely to experience drink problems.
More young people leaving school are moving on to “positive destinations” – employment, training or further education – and exam results are generally improving.
There has been an increase in the number of people in work, from 69.7 per cent in 2012-13 to 70.8 per cent in 2013-14, and the number of out-of-work benefit claimants was down 0.8 per cent to 13 per cent.
Fife Youth Jobs Contract
This has enabled 475 young people to find work, well above the target of 200.
Opposition councillors say report gives mixed picture
Opposition councillors agreed to go along with the Labour administration’s six-point plan - but were unhappy about the lack of information on some of the proposals.
They also claimed the performance report didn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, and were scathing about the levels of child poverty in Fife.
Levenmouth SNP councillor David Alexander was one of the most vocal critics. He insisted what the report was saying was Fife Council was failing, and highlighted areas such as the increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions, the rising number of looked after children and the “scandal” of child poverty.
“We’ve heard a lot of good wordsfrom the Council leader,” he said. “But this report is telling a different story from the spin we are getting from the Labour administration.”
Glenrothes SNP councillor John Beare was also outspoken.
He said: “I don’t doubt the fine words and intentions of the Labour administration, but behind the numbers in the report is a different story.”
Cllr Beare said his main concern was the increase in child poverty, adding: “In the sixth richest nation in the world, this is absolutely disgraceful.”
Councillor Peter Grant, SNP Group leader, said the report highlighted that “the gap between the haves and have nots was getting wider”.
He said tackling poverty, putting more money into the Fife Youth Jobs Contract and pushing for improvements to transport links were all things the Council should be doing anyway, and while he was prepared to go along with proposals to set up a Fairer Fife Commission and City Region, he was disapppinted by the lack of information.
Councillor Tim Brett, Liberal Democrats group leader, said opinion of how well Fife Council was doing, based on the performance report, depended on whether you took a “glass half full or half empty”.
He also insisted there should have been more details about the Fairer Fife Commission and the City Region, and highlighted the lack of progress on cutting carbon emissions, pointing out there had been just one per cent progress towards a target of a 15 per cent reduction.