A wide-ranging package of cuts to tackle a budget gap of £38m has been approved by Fife Council today (Thursday).
At an occasionally heated and bad-tempered meeting at Fife House, the budget proposals put forward by the Labour administration were eventually approved ahead of alternatives put forward by the SNP, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups.
The meeting opened with Tam Kirby – on behalf of the Joint Trade Unions, STUC, Fife Trades Council and the Fife People’s Assembly – addressing councillors and urging them to oppose austerity and not to impose cuts on services.
But council leader David Ross, while having great sympathy with their views, said the council had a legal obligation to present a balanced budget, and failure to do so would mean the Scottish Government would appoint civil servants to take control of the finances.
Cllr Ross said: “None of us wants to make the cuts we are having to make, and I take no pride or satisfaction in proposing this budget today. It will impact on our services and jobs.”
The budget cuts include reductions in spending on transportation and car parking; parks, streets and open spaces; and sports and leisure.
Temporary cuts – for the year 2016/17 only – include a £2m reduction in maintenance of buildings, and a £1.1m reduction in roads maintenance.
The council aims to save a further £3m through ‘vacancy management’ – either delaying appointments or not filling vacant posts – and it is looking to reduce spending on supplies and service by £2.7m.
Its welfare reform mitigation fund will be cut by £1.5m, but with universal credit due to be rolled out in Fife as part of the UK Government’s Welfare Reforms, this is seen as a bit of a risk.
And while the initial draft budget suggested a 3.6 per cent cut in grants to voluntary sector organisations, this has been reduced to one per cent, with grants of under £10,000 being unaffected.
The budget also includes an increase in fees and charges, expected to generate £225,000, and there will be an increase in car parking charges.
Funding for health and social care will be reduced by £5m, but this will be offset by an additional investment of £1.8m for growth in demand, and £16.8m from the Scottish Government.
SNP councillors argued the financial position was not as bad as Labour was portraying.
And they also strenuously defended the funding package from the Scottish Government, insisting reductions were due to the austerity agenda of the Conservative Government at Westminster rather than the actions of the SNP at Holyrood.
The Conservatives called for greater decentralisation, saying more money should go to the area committees to make decisions on spending at a local level.
The Liberal Democrats expressed concern about a number of the cuts, particularly the reduction in roads maintenance, the cut in funding for music tuition and the reduction in funding for the contact centre.