The Conservative group on Fife Council has warned against public rejection of budget proposals simply because they will result in lower expenditure.
Significant savings will have to be found by the council over the next three years to close the much-publicised £77 million budget gap.
But Councillor Dave Dempsey, Conservative group leader, insists spending less doesn’t necessarily mean services have to suffer.
He said that from time to time, the council would propose changes to the way it delivered services, and given the financial pressure the council is under, these generally involved spending less.
However, they were often greeted with the accusation that ‘you’re just doing that to save money’.
“That’s an understandable reaction,” admitted Cllr Dempsey. “Often, it’s not made clear enough what benefits will come from the changes, or how the council will ensure that any downside is minimised.”
And he said that wasn’t surprising, as the council itself doesn’t fully understand what it gets for the money it spends.
“It knows in great detail where all the money goes, in terms of wages, purchases and the like – and its auditors give the accounts a clean bill of health year after year – but it struggles to tie those costs to specific services to the public.
“As a result, there’s a tendency, particularly among some of the politicians, to measure everything by what it cost. ‘We have invested £x million in such and such’ is the usual line.
“Note that politicians rarely spend money – it’s always invested.
“Yet each pound can only be spent once and the pot gets smaller each year.
“Some will try and persuade the public that the answer is higher taxes. They’ll often try to use everyone’s favourite tax – the tax on other people – but it usually turns out that there aren’t enough other people to go round.”
Cllr Dempsey said if the council is to survive on a lower income, it has two choices – either stop doing things or do them at a lower cost.
“The Fife Conservatives favour the latter,” he said. “We’ve being saying for years that we need to look at what Fife Council does and ask whether it can be done more efficiently and effectively.
“We need to change things in order to save money because the money saved can be used to pay for things that might otherwise disappear.”
As an example, he highlighted last year’s consultation on rearranging the school week, with the possibility of pupils attending classes for four-and-a-half days per week instead of five.
“That generated a fair bit of opposition and the idea was dropped, yet education chiefs tell us that they can deliver an education that’s at least as good at lower cost,” he said.
“We need to investigate that until we’re happy it’s true and then to find a scheme that delivers the benefits while meeting the objections raised.
“Perhaps there isn’t such a scheme but we owe it to the public to look for one.
“If we find one, there will be those who will still say ‘you’re only doing it to save money’ – but they’ll be wrong.”