Fife budget: ‘we are here to protect services’ pledges council leader

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Despite major challenges that lie “just over the hill,” Council Leader David Ross (Labour) has said he and his administration are “not here to manage the decline of local government.”

The budget was the centre of attention on Tuesday morning as Cllr Ross sat in his Fife House office and laid out his party’s financial plans for 2024/25.

It’s a tale of two Kingdoms - on one hand there will be no significant cuts to services this year. On the other, the local authority is facing a £42.5 million budget gap by 2026/27.

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“It’s still another difficult year, however, through a combination of good housekeeping, careful financial management and a bit of luck we are going to sustain our services without any significant cuts this year,” Cllr Ross said. “It’s always been our philosophy that we value local service and we want to protect those local services.”

Fife House - where councillors will debate the budget this week (Pic: Danyel VanReenen)Fife House - where councillors will debate the budget this week (Pic: Danyel VanReenen)
Fife House - where councillors will debate the budget this week (Pic: Danyel VanReenen)

He continued: “We’re not here to manage the decline of local government. We’re here to protect services and remain ambitious for communities and to meet the new and emerging needs coming forward.”

It’s good news for Fifers this year, but Cllr Ross hasn’t paused to celebrate. He said there are many, many challenges awaiting the council “just over the hill.”

“We’re going to be able to manage without cutting services this time, but we have a huge amount of pressure coming over the hill. Next year, there is at least a £15 million gap,” he said.

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The pressures:

The council has more than 540 vehicles in its fleet over 10 years old, including bin lorries.

And according to Cllr Ross, a lot of them “are spending more time in the garage than they do on the road.”

Labour’s proposed budget has set aside £5 million in one off funding to replace approximately 120 of those ageing vehicles which is a “step in the right direction,” but it remains a concern in the long term.

There are pressures on road maintenance budgets, the increasing cost of bus contracts, and flood prevention schemes. That’s on top of concerns about health and social care pressures and increasing violence in schools across the Kingdom.

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If approved, Labour’s proposed budget would invest £500,000 to hire more educational psychologists.

“Fife lags behind other parts of Scotland in the ratio of educational psychologists,” the proposals explained. “Investment should increase our establishment to at least the Scottish average.”

Where will Fifers feel the squeeze?

Compared to other nearby local authorities, Fife Council is in a strong position this year.

However, Fifers are still likely to see increases to council rent prices and to fees and services - such as for funerals and cremations.

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Cllr Ross says those increases are an attempt to fill gaps created by inflation.

The council’s SNP Group want to mitigate or put a stop to those increases all together. Whether or not they can get Labour, Lib-Dem and Tory councillors on side is another story.

Labour wants to put up council rents by 5%. The SNP group is proposing a 4% increase. Labour is proposing to allow services to raise discretionary fees and charges by up to 5% while the SNP group are proposing a total fee freeze.

When will councillors set the budget?

Councillors are set to gather at Fife Council chambers on Thursday morning at 10am to navigate these challenges. They will debate the merits of each budget and set it in stone by the end of the day.

These proceedings can be viewed online - both live and in retrospect - from the Fife Council committee livestream webpage.