Budget D-Day to bring Council Tax hike and more savings

Fifers are braced for a Council tax rise as councillors meet to set the region’s budget.
Fife Council Headquarters in GlenrothesFife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes
Fife Council Headquarters in Glenrothes

It could be as high as the maximum 4.84 per cent available under the Scottish Government’s finance settlement.

But the actual figure won’t be revealed until Thursday’s budget meeting.

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The maximum hike would give the council an extra £7.9million

Ahead of the key debate, senior SNP councillors spoke of a “transformational” budget to be put before the full council.

David Alexander, co-leader, and Fay Sinclair, education convener, said it would see increase spending and provide hundreds of new jobs.

But with the local authority facing a near £15.5 million budget shortfall, it will also mean very difficult decisions on which services to freeze – or cut.

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Opting for the highest Council Tax increase would generate £7.9m additional revenue, with a rents rise of around three percent also netting more funds.

But the final decision rests with councillors on Thursday.

A pre-budget briefing from Eileen Rowland, finance and corporate services executive director, spoke of setting “a balanced budget” adding: “In setting the budget for 2020/21 members should seek to maintain a three-year focus recognising the significant financial challenge that lies ahead.

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“Whilst there is uncertainty in relation to the figures beyond 2020/21, high-level projections point to a significant budget gap by 2022/23.

“In light of these projections, members are advised to give full consideration to the longer-term consequences of any decisions made in setting the 2020/21 budget.”

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The SNP, which runs the administration in coalition with Labour, focussed on the Scottish Government’s free childcare policy, and the benefits and opportunities it will bring – but accepted savings still had to be made.

Council Co-Leader, Cllr David Alexander, said: “The Budget that will be presented on Thursday will be one of the most transformational in recent years.

“Fife Council 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 over 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.

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“Fife Council will still require to make savings unless a deal is done in Holyrood. Our core grant has been reduced by 1.1 per cent which is the equivalent of £7 million.

“However, ring-fenced funding, this year is over £47 million, which cannot be ignored. £32 million of this will become core funding for Fife Council in future years and will finance the 350 extra staff who will take forward the Scottish Government’s free childcare policy.”

All three and four year olds and eligible two year olds will have access to 1140 hours of free early learning and childcare from August.

Cllr Sinclair said the budget would “provide children in Fife with more of the high-quality early learning that can make a significant contribution to their development.”
She added: “This represents a huge increase in funding for education.

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“While the education directorate can’t be immune to the difficult decisions we need to make to balance the books, I’m really proud that this year we are delivering record investment in education and providing new jobs in every area of Fife.

“Evidence shows investment in early years plays a very important part in closing the attainment gap and by offering a variety of different hours and settings, as well as working with partner providers such as nurseries, playgroups and childminders, parents will have increased flexibility and access to high-quality care for their children.”