Council tax rise avoids cuts to jobs or services

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It was mission accomplished for Falkirk Council’s administration as it delivered a balanced budget with no cuts to services or job losses.

During a marathon budget meeting yesterday (Wednesday), council leader Craig Martin, who is standing down at May’s local election, announced a package which allows council staff to keep their jobs and services to continue to operate as normal.

Falkirk Council Leader Craig Martin is pleased with the budget his administration has delivered

Falkirk Council Leader Craig Martin is pleased with the budget his administration has delivered

By increasing council tax by three per cent, the council boss said they could deliver a budget which is able to invest in the community.

He said: “There will be no service cuts, no job reductions and no closures, no cuts to teacher support staff, no cuts to the bus subsidy fund, no cuts to school travel, no cuts to community wardens, no service charge for the brown bin and no cuts to public toilets.

“Today is genuine evidence I have kept my word – investment into new projects – a dementia project, a food bank project and more. I am enthusiastic over this budget that invests in our communities.”

The initial finance settlement projections in October last year forecast a reduction of over 200 jobs.

I am enthusiastic over this budget that invests in our communities

Falkirk Council leader Craig Martin

According to the budget report, the work done since then will see no jobs being reduced directly as a result of actions required for 2017/18.

Officers will continue to use a number of options to achieve any possible savings in future years, including deleting vacant posts, ending temporary contracts where they are no longer required and offering voluntary severance where there are financial benefits to the council.

Councillor Martin said years of “sound financial management, services savings, cuts from previous years and use of reserves” were behind the lack of cuts in this year’s budget, which was still being decided upon as The Falkirk Herald went to press.

This means no closing of public toilets, no cutting of garden aid, no cuts to CLD (Community Learning and Development) or the Falkirk Community Trust’s Outdoor Activities programme, teacher support staff, community wardens, no charge for the brown bin and no cuts to the training and apprenticeship programme.

Councillor Linda Gow said: “It is nice to put forward something that is so positive.”

Conservative group leader Malcolm Nicol added: “A very positive budget – much better than anyone had anticipated.”

There was criticism from opposition members and a stark warning for the future.

Councillor Steven Jackson said: “There has been no recognition from the administration for the savings we came up with and no recognition of where the cuts come from and that’s Westminster.”

Councillor Robert Spears said: “This is year one of cut upon cut. What we save today we might not be able to save tomorrow.”

Council tax hike

The three per cent hike in council tax was just one part of Falkirk Council’s budget for 2017/18.

Faced with a combined cut in its grant settlement over the last two years of £16.4 million, the council had a net revenue budget of £328 million – £330 million with the council tax rise – to deliver its services over the coming year.

Children’s services budget will increase by £1.8 million to £181.4 million, as will corporate and housing services, up £811,000 to £27.4 million, while social work adult services, those which remain within the council, will decrease by £80,000 to £5.7 million and development services will receive a £1.4 million reduction to £27.9 million.

Falkirk Community Trust will receive £11.4 million, including the boost from the council tax increase, and the Integration Joint Board, which runs the adult health and social care service, will receive £60.2 million, a reduction of £1.1 million on last year.

Charges for school meals and breakfast clubs will remain at current levels – £2.55 for secondary schools, £2.05 for primary schools, £1.85 for nursery schools and £1.45 for breakfast clubs. Childcare places will also be maintained at current levels, £4.80 per hour for under twos and £3.75 for age two and over.

The housing revenue account and council rents were being discussed as The Falkirk Herald went to press, with the administration proposing a rent increase of 3.6 per cent which equates to around £2.60 per week.