COUNCIL BUDGET: Plans approved after marathon debate

The council administration says despite financial headaches it will continue to upgrade housing stock and build new houses
The council administration says despite financial headaches it will continue to upgrade housing stock and build new houses

Councillors agreed their spending and investment plans for the year after a marathon budget meeting in the Municipal Buildings yesterday.

A £329 million package to maintain frontline services, protect the elderly and young and safeguard jobs was agreed by a one-vote majority.

The council also approved an average rent increase of £1.99 a week for tenants and an £88 million cash splash over the next three years to upgrade existing housing stock, provide 242 more new homes and pay for a ‘buy back’ scheme to tackle waiting lists.

Councillor Craig Martin, leader of the Labour-led administration, said the 2014-15 budget reflected the fact that, despite continuing financial pressures, Falkirk Council would “never shirk its responsibility” and even in the face of a funding gap of nearly £40 million over the last four years would continue to invest in local communities.

He said: “Every year efficiences and savings become much more difficult to find but we are taking Falkirk forward. Having a £10.5 million gap will not distract this administration from prioritising investment in our young, in our families and in our elderly and vulnerable. We have had to make difficult decisions but continue with our principle of prudent management of our taxpayers’ money which we are entrusted to spend wisely.

Councillor Martin dismissed calls from the SNP to use the council’s £14 million reserves to pay its bills. He said: “Had we adopted their alternative budgets over the last seven years we would have nothing in the kitty.”

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group, had called for the 2013-14 budget underspend of £2.2 million to be used to help fund an “easily affordable” alternative that would ease the pain for householders.

She said: “This budget demonstrates how out of touch Labour has become with the needs of those they, as a party, used to claim they stood for, while the Tories, whose influence is clear in this budget, have never been in touch with the people of Falkirk.

“The vast majority of the SNP Group’s proposals could be paid for by simply spending the money already committed this year but, for whatever reason, not spent. The Scottish Government has been successful in protecting services such as free personal care and increased the percentage of local government’s share of the national budget and done so by investing in priority areas.

“In contrast this administration has squirreled away much of the additional money allocated to them by the Scottish Government to the extent uncommitted reserves have risen from £5.2 million to £14 million since the current administration came to power in 2007 - a rise of 166 per cent.

“At a time when so many of our people are suffering at the hands of the UK Tory Government it is criminal Labour councillors should seek to make life even more difficult for those generally suffering from the effects of the recession.”