Historic budget gets mixed response from Falkirk Council

Finance Secretary John Swinney delivers the 2015 budget
Finance Secretary John Swinney delivers the 2015 budget
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Finance Secretary John Swinney’s spending and investing plan for Scotland in 2015 has attracted a mixed response.

Senior members of Falkirk Council’s main parties, trade union leaders, experts from housing associations and business have all had their say.

Mr Swinney told MSPs on Friday his package on spending and investment will deliver a “fairer and more prosperous Scotland”.

In his first major statement following the Referendum, he claimed it will build on the Scottish Government’s track record since 2007 and take steps to meet the aspirations for Scotland set out in the Referendum campaign.

Key points in his statement included pledges to maintain the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and personal care for the elderly and deliver 600 hours of free childcare for three and four-years-olds

He also announced that as well as a share of the £10.8 billion local government allocation, Falkirk will receive a £4.1 million boost to its housing stock and investment in Carrongrange Additional Support Needs School.

Councillor Malcolm Nicol, depute leader of Falkirk Council, said: “Unfortunately, there was not a great deal of good news for the people of Falkirk district in the budget. The freezing of the council tax for another year in particular is a big problem because our fear is, when it does go up, it will go up by more than anybody would like.

“While the freeze is in place it limits the amount of money coming in and puts more pressure on us to maintain the range and quality of services we provide. With £40 million more savings to be made over the next three years that is going to make a difficult situation even more difficult because council tax is one of our main sources of income. There is no other funding available to compensate, so unfortunately, something has got to give.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group on the council, said: “I’m delighted the Scottish Government has again been able to maintain local government’s share of the funding for the eighth successive year despite the cut in the overall budget which is the price we have to pay for a ‘No’ vote at the Referendum.

“Local government will have to take its share of those cuts but in contrast the Scottish Government has mitigated UK Government welfare cuts with £81 million to help the most vulnerable, continued the council tax freeze and committed £70 million to support those in the lowest income bracket.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union which represents staff at the Child Suppport Agency in Falkirk, said it was disappointed a chance to create a “Fair Pay Scotland” had been missed,

Unison said: “Yet again public sector workers take the biggest hit through their pay packets,” and the STUC claimed: “It provides little relief for hard pressed public service workers who have seen their real terms income fall by thousands of pounds in recent years.”

The Scottish Retail Consortium welcomed the announcement the £95 million larger retail levy will be scrapped next Spring, but repeated calls for an overhaul of the rates system to restore confidence and revive high streets.

On the news £125 million will be invested to tackle the housing crisis, a spokesman for Shelter Scotland said: “The additional funds are welcome but will only deliver 4000 homes when we have 150,000 stuck on council house waiting lists.”