Day-long debate delivers budget pain for Falkirk’s communities

Finance Secretary John Swinney defended the budget cuts to MSPs
Finance Secretary John Swinney defended the budget cuts to MSPs
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It took the majority of 32 councillors less than a day to vote to impose 12 months of pain on thousands of households across Falkirk district.

After delivering nearly a decade of ‘savings’ that have slashed its spending power by £108 million, the Labour-led administration “reluctantly” accepted another £25 million worth when it set its 2016-17 budget by 17 votes to 15.

Pressure to protect major services, particularly social work and education, are now at an all time high.

Over the next year jobs will be lost and services reduced or scrapped completely as the town hall faces up to dealing with a cut in its grant from the Scottish Government of nearly £10 million.

While council tax has been frozen for the ninth year in a row, the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the 283-page budget agreed last week will see:

*Rents going up by 3.6 per cent from April 1 - hitting six out of 10 tenants not entitled to maximum housing benefits with an extra £111.80 a year or £2.15 a week on average.

*The cost of school meals for nursery, primary and secondary school pupils going up by 10p a day;

*The cost of childcare places going up by between 15 and 20p an hour;

*The cost of living in an OAP residential home going up by over £18 a week;

*The cost of being cremated going up by between £33 and £52 and buried by between £42 and £78.

In addition, householders face the prospect of having their green and brown bins emptied every four weeks instead of three and paying more to enjoy the facilities provided by Falkirk Community Trust.

The council met at 9.30am last Wednesday to debate the administration’s 2016-17 budget proposals. The package was agreed nearly 12 hours later.

In a statement following the vote the SNP insisted it is still not too late to reverse some of the cuts.

It said the administration had “blundered” over the level of cash the council can include from a £7 million fund delivered through the new Integrated Joint Board which will deliver adult health and social care – a function it says remains predominately a local government function.

Group leader Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn proposed an alternative budget she claimed would protect jobs, services and communities.

The Labour Group took four hours to consider it before winning the vote.

Councillor Meiklejohn claimed: “The leader of the administration Craig Martin must admit he has got it badly wrong. By doing so he can save essential services.

“We are paying a high price in Scotland for the cuts, 12.5 per cent in this term from Westminster, but when we compare them with the cuts in Wales and the 36 per cent cut in England, we see how well Scottish local government has been protected.

“It’s time the administration recognised this and took advantage of the opportunities. It’s not too late, but will require real leadership of a quality we have not seen to date.”

Councillor Martin said: “The amendment was all smoke and mirrors based on fantasy economics and playing fast and loose with Falkirk Council taxpayers money.

“It proposed taking £3.5 million out of Falkirk’s NHS and care services to fund the council, money their government took from us to give to the NHS in the first place.”