It’s going to get even tougher for Falkirk

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Town hall politicians and officials are bracing themselves for another year of penny pinching and belt tightening.

Once again Falkirk Council, along with the 31 other local authorities, has agreed to the Scottish Government’s funding offer for 2012-13.

But to get the revenue cash – £293.867 million in Falkirk’s case – the council had to agree to a list of very specific conditions. And that’s where the problems begin, according to council leader Councillor Craig Martin.

For a fifth year local authorities are being given the cash on the table if they sign up to continue the council tax freeze, as well as maintaining police and teacher numbers.

If they had failed to agree, then their package would be reduced by 5.2 per cent.

Announcing the deal, Finance Secretary John Swinney, said householder in the average council tax band will have saved over £500 by the end of the next financial year as a result of the freeze since 2007-08.

He said: “I am delighted the package I offered to local authorities has been accepted in principle by every council.”

Mr Swinney added that as a percentage of income, the least well off households gained the most from the council tax freeze.

But this has been disputed by those opposed to the move, who point out that the majority of those on low incomes are in receipt of council tax benefits and therefore never see the savings.

Unhappy at his hand being forced to sign up to the deal, Mr Martin said: “This takes local democracy out of the equation. It is dictating what local councils do and that is wrong.”

Although Falkirk is seeing a small increase of £2.154 million in its revenue funding from the previous year, it is the 30 per cent reduction in capital funding that councillors are particularly concerned about.

Falkirk has been allocated £9.253 million, down £3.766m on last year.

This figure is “even worse than anticipated”, according to the council leader, who said important projects in the pipeline could be placed in jeopardy.

He added: “When you consider that it is costing £6 million to build the new primary school at Antonshill, you appreciate that just over £9 million won’t go far next year. Contracts to build roads, extend schools and town centres could be affected.

“This reduction in our grant is going to have a severe impact on what we would hope to do.

“We will have to look at what we can do and perhaps consider using some of the money in our £11.7 million reserves to invest into capital projects, as well as looking at our borrowing powers.

“We don’t have a big borrowing load on our heads at the moment but if we do go down that route then the repayments would have to come out of our revenue grant.”

However, the council leader stressed that it was important the council continued to invest in its capital programme.

He said: “We have to bring as much employment as possible to Falkirk district and over the next month the administration will look at how we can do this.

“There’s no getting away from the fact there will have to be some tough decisions made for next year.”