Fife budget: Council tax up and £4m in cuts

Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes
Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

Fife Council has formally approved its budget.

It  will see around £4m in cuts to services, and a three per cent rise in council tax.

A total of 35 council jobs could also be lost but there will be no compulsory redundancies.

Education will also have find almost £1.5m in savings, despite opposition from teachers union, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), which branded them “a recipe for disaster.”

Its spokesman David Farmer urged the council to reconsider cuts which could mean scrapping principal teachers posts, and increasing primary class sizes.

He said: “One of the central pillars of community is concern for the future of our children. The proposal to increase primary school class sizes is a recipe for disaster. Increasing class sizes will make things worse.

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“Stress from workload has produced higher number of absences among teaching staff. When there is recruitment problem among teachers, restricting promotion opportunities is just daft.”

Liberal Democrat councillor James Calder asked how increase class sizes would affect attainment and workload.

Mr Farmer replied: “There is academic research that shows smaller class sizes mean better experiences for children. It makes a difference in terms of times teachers can spend with each kid.”

However, the council also rejected a number of savings from education, including scrapping music tuition, and it will introduce a pilot school holiday meal service to help alleviate holiday hunger in the most deprived areas of Fife.

SNP Co-leader David Alexander proposed the administration budget, saying: “The fact that you only get benefits for a third child if you can prove it was rape shows the worlds moral compass is broken. Look at the shell local government has become.

“There is a real possibly of local governments needing bailed out. We will not allow what’s happening in England to be allowed to happen here. If the Tories get their way, our local councils would end up shells. We already operate best value. It’s one of the better budgets we’ve had, despite what we’ve had to do.”

A fund of £50k will be allocated to each of the seven areas in Fife to put towards anti-poverty measures and will invest £43k 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.

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

However, Conservative Councillor Tony Miklinski moved an amendment which looked at outsourcing a number of services.

He said: “This is a new way of doing the budget. It stretched the imagination and changes the rules.

“The reduction of the block grant is not the fault of the UK government. The truth is after 12 years of SNP power, Scotland is the highest taxed, with the lowest life expectancy country in the UK.

“After two years of damaging cuts, this is what the people of Fife can look forward to – even more cuts. We need to do something different.

“Our priority is getting the best value for money for the taxpayer. Outsourcing is an opportunity, not a threat. We are proposing a qualitative and not quantitative budget today.”

But the Tories’ proposal was rejected 48-13 when it came to a vote.

Labour Councillor Neil Crooks said: “I lived through a Tory government and I remember how they tried to dismantle services through privatisation. It was a failed policy then and its a failed policy now.

“I thought the Conservatives had moved from the 1980s, but they still want to take away public sector jobs. If only they had the brains to come up with an alternative we could understand. This is the future if you’re voting for them. Be afraid. I’m sad to see it’s another £4/5m less, but thank goodness we’re here to protect it.”

Liberal Democrat’s Bill Porteous also supported the budget in principle, but had a few concerns,

He said: “While there are queues at food banks, do we really have £11k for Gaelic?

“In principle, I think we all agree that Universal Credit is right. What is wrong is the appalling way it has been administered. Leaving people out of pocket for weeks on end. That is outrageous.

“I’m pleased Fife Council didn’t get involved with the workplace parking levy. But I’m disappointed we haven’t taken decisions on whether a tourist tax should be taken on in Fife. We should be looking at this, because it’s time to get a level playing field.”