Be prepared for council tax rise and job losses

Council leader David Ross says a reduction in government grant has contributed towards a �33m budget gap.
Council leader David Ross says a reduction in government grant has contributed towards a �33m budget gap.

Fife households are likely to see their council tax bills rise for the first time in a decade as the local authority seeks to close a budget gap of more than £30 million.

And cuts in spending could also lead to up to 300 job losses at Fife Council.

Council leader David Ross said although a final decision was yet to be taken, an increase in council tax bills of three per cent was “almost inevitable”.

“We’ve been figuring that into our calculations anyway,” he said. “If we don’t raise it, we’re looking at making another £4.6 million of cuts.

“We’d already been planning around £30 million, but the latest figure now following the budget is that we’ll have to make around £33m worth of cuts.

“Most of that is due to a reduction in our grant from the Scottish Government.

“Although there is still checking going on, I think we’re going to lose around £26 million in grant. The rest of that gap is due to costs going up and an increase in demand for services.

“I mean, in home care, they are telling me this year we have seen a 27 per cent increase in home care packages. So it’s not just about the grant, although that is the biggest part of it.”

Cllr Ross pointed out there were two elements to potential council tax rises. There is the option councils have to raise it by up to three per cent, and then there have been changes to the bands at the top level.

He said some households were likely to see a significant increase in their bills because of the second element, although the Scottish Government has insisted there will be “targeted relief” for those on low incomes affected by the changes.

However, Cllr Ross added: “The worry I have is because it’s a bill coming from the council, we’ll get the blame when it’s actually being imposed by the Scottish Government.

“Although we collect the money and send out the bills, we have absolutely no control over that at all.”

He said he hoped all political parties would work together on this year’s budget, and said all parties had been “round the table”.

“Last year, we agreed on something like 98 per cent of the budget, and then it fell apart. This year, with the elections in May, it is more important that everyone is round the table because we don’t know who is going to be taking over in May.

“Despite all the national noise and what some people are saying, I’m still very seriously hopeful that we will form part of the administration. I think there is every chance that we will do that, but you can’t predict elections, so we’ll see.”

Cllr Ross also stressed every effort would be made to keep job reductions to a minimum.

“It’s too early to make any real predictions but the top line figure we’ve been told for this year by officers is around 300,” he said.

“However, that depends on the decisions we actually make at budget time.

“As always we are doing our best to protect jobs because in the long run that protects services.”