Anti-austerity campaigners and union representatives were out in force this morning (Thursday) at Fife Council’s headquarters ahead of today’s crunch meeting to decide on the region’s budget for the coming year.
Arriving councillors were met with calls from around 50 demonstrators to protect jobs and services, listen to the needs of communities and do whatever in their power to reject the austerity measures largely blamed on Westminster legislation.
“This should not mean we sit back and consider ourselves powerless to act in the defence of local government,” said Debbie Thompson, secretary of Unite union.
“Standing together as one; trade unions, politicians, staff and communities, we can begin a campaign of defiance and refuse to implement more cuts.
“Let us use the powers the Scottish Parliament have to protect the services we value and our communities rely on.”
And she called upon councillors of all political persuasions to do all they possibly could to protect services, jobs and communities across Fife.
“It’s time we tell them what we want before public services become nothing but a section in a history book,” she added.
Ahead of what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult and divisive budget setting processes ever faced by the Fife administration, council leader David Ross met with protesters promising that the council was doing its best in what he described as “difficult and unprecedented circumstances”.
He blamed the nine-year council tax freeze as the root of much of the financial crises faced by his administration and said he would press ahead with the intention to raise council tax bills by three per cent for the coming year in order to stave off what he claimed would otherwise be a further £4.6 million of necessary cuts.
“We are only just being allowed to raise it by three per cent, had we been allowed to raise it by even just one per cent a year in that period we wouldn’t be in this trouble and this mess that we find ourselves in today,” said Cllr Ross.
And he hinted at increasing the council’s commitment to social care in Fife by a further £5 million, which was met with applause from fellow Labour councillors.
He said: “We have been told by Derek MacKay (Scottish Government Finance Minister) than we can cut funding for health and social care by up to £5 million, we are not going to do that.
“I’m going into the council chamber today and I’m going to say we are going to invest £5 million more in our social care.”