Budget D-Day: Fife braced for maximum Council Tax rise

Council Tax could rise by 4.84 per cent today as councillors meet to set the region’s budget.
Fife Council Headquarters in GlenrothesFife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes
Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

The crunch meeting at Fife House begins at 10:00 am – and could see more services frozen or cut, and a rent rise.

The local authority faces £15.5m budget black hole, and, if councillors approve it, the highest tax hike would rake in an extra £7.9million.

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Ahead of the debate, the parties have been pitching their own ideas.

The SNP – which co-leads the administration with Labour – senior SNP councillors spoke of a “transformational” budget.

David Alexander, co-leader, said it would see increased spending and provide hundreds of new jobs.

Council co-leader, Cllr David Alexander, said: “The budget that will be presented will be one of the most transformational in recent years.

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“We will be spending millions more in 20/21 than in 19/20 and will see an increase in the workforce within education and children’s services of more than 350 full time equivalent staff.

“This huge increase in resources is due to the funding of increased free child care which almost doubles from 600 hours to 1140 hours.

Fife’s Lib Dems spoke of their concerns for services after any further cuts or freezes are brought in .

Councillor James Calder, group deputy leader, said, “This budget is going to have a huge impact on communities across Fife.

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“Education funding will be slashed and it is very worrying that the health and social care grant is receiving an enormous cut, especially as demands continue to increase as our population grows older. We are also seeing a large cut in parks funding which continues to be a source of public concern.

“I sympathise with the joint administration. It has been put in this situation by the SNP Scottish Government.

“Across Scotland, COSLA has shown that local authorities are losing out by around £200 million due to inflationary pressures that the Scottish Government are refusing to fund. This comes on top of seven years of local authority funding being reduced despite the Westminster grant to Scotland increasing during that time.

“Teachers are overworked; our schools have dropped down international education rankings; roads are deteriorating; there is a shortage of home care packages; youth services have been cut and valued and experienced staff have been made redundant. This is the consequence of the last few years of cuts to local authorities.

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“The SNP should start funding local services properly – we are in this situation of severe cuts due to them taking their eye off the ball in their single-minded pursuit of independence. The people of Fife deserve – and demand – better.”

Conservative leader, Cllr Dave Dempsey said “For years, we’ve been told that carrying on doing things as we have been isn’t an option. For years, we’ve watched SNP and Labour Administrations slice away at council budgets without bringing forward the innovative ideas necessary to do things differently and more cost effectively. Instead of always calling for more money from the public, the Council needs to focus what it does spend on what the public needs and wants.

“This year’s offering sees the princely sum of £100k for new initiatives. That’s about an hour’s worth of Council expenditure spread across a whole year. The clue is in their own commentary – ‘The two political groups forming the Council’s Joint Administration have very different views on the approach taken by the Scottish Government and the adequacy and fairness of the funding settlement for local government’. Fife SNP and Fife Labour can no longer agree on anything much apart from voting down any ideas from the Conservatives.

“They couldn’t even come up with ideas for the extra funds that everyone knew were coming and have now been announced. That’s because the SNP Government at Holyrood claimed there was no extra money, the SNP in Fife have to slavishly follow that and Labour are too supine to say otherwise.”

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Cllr Dempsey said the Tories budget proposals would reverse reductions in opening hours at swimming pools and recycling centres, use he expertise of the Third Sector to better target the Council’s holiday hunger money, and allocate significant sums to each of Fife’s seven areas to plug the gaps ”when decisions made at the centre have unforeseen and undesirable consequences in localities.“

He added: “We would innovate. We just need the chance.