At a meeting of all elected members yesterday (Wednesday) it was revealed at the start that both sides, the Labour administration and the SNP opposition were planning to raise council tax by three per cent in their respective budgets.
Speaking at the very beginning of the budget meeting, SNP group leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “Our alternative budget is based on raising council tax by three per cent.”
Following a long adjournment, members began the long process of discussing the proposals of both sides.
The council tax rise will mean that Band D properties in Falkirk, of which there are almost 9000, will see their bill rise by 61p a week – £32 a year from £1070 to £1102.
It is hoped residents will not grudge the increase when they see what the money is being spent on.
The £1.7 million generated by raising the council tax by three per cent, the first time Falkirk Council has had the power to make such an increase in almost a decade, will be going to where it is needed most.
Council Leader Craig Martin said: “We have listened to the people, they say they want their communities to be cleaner so we shall bring back fortnightly brown bins during the summer, more community wardens, double the capacity of our litter bins and give every household a free special uplift.
“That is not all, for our children we will double the amount of breakfast clubs, invest in more support staff and start a summer food programme to ensure our bairns are fed during the school holidays.
“This is just some of the investment that the rise in the council tax will fund.”
Looking towards the youth of the Falkirk area, the council will spend £250,000 to recruit a number of Assisted Support Need assistants for schools, £90,000 to double the number of breakfast clubs run in the area from 18 to 36, £50,000 to fund a children’s poverty project in association with Falkirk Foodbank and £25,000 to support church and community projects which provide meals for children during the summer holiday period.
Councillor Martin said: “The Foodbank in Falkirk has seen an increase of over seven per cent in child poverty. We will fund a £50,000 partnership approach by the council and the Falkirk Foodbank to mitigate against this rise in child poverty.
“As we know families can struggle to feed kids during the school holidays, we will support local churches and voluntary groups who hold summer events with a £25,000 investment to support feeding kids during summer holidays.”
At the other end of the age spectrum, older members of the community will also be helped, with £150,000 going to support families caring for loved ones with dementia and another £100,000 going to general care for the elderly.
The administration has also listened to local communities and will make £100,000 available to recruit a further four community wardens for the area, £300,000 to facilitate one free special uplift per household, £100,000 to improve waste uplifts at blocks of flats, £110,000 to provide two weekly brown bin collections throughout the summer months, £53,000 to allow the “free after three” car parking policy to operate, £20,000 to provide CCTV facilities for community wardens so they can better combat litter and dog fouling and £16,000 to pay for larger street bins throughout the area on a phased basis.
It will also make £110,000 available to local community halls.
Councillor Martin said: “I want to relieve the worry that some communities may have by giving extra time and support to the project to move community halls into the hands of the community.
“The £110,000 will stop the need to close any of these halls before a management team has been set up. I foresee no community hall closures unless the community support such action.”
The rise will also provide £250,000 to fund the creation of a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI), designed as an alternative to companies like Wonga, which will provide residents with loans.
The council tax rise will also mean the Falkirk Community Trust will be able to continue to run its Outdoor Activities programme – which was under threat and inspired a campaign to save it – with the council providing £230,000 to the trust to facilitate this.
“We have tasked education to work with the trust,” said Councillor Martin. “This will give the service a sustainable future for our young people’s personal development.”
The council tax rise will provide £28,000 for a fireworks display in a bid to prevent people holding their own, potentially more costly, bonfires.
While there was a lot of common ground between the administration budget and the SNP alternative, there were also some glaring differences.
Councillor Meiklejohn stated the SNP group’s alternative budget would have held back £500,000 of the money raised to offset any unforeseen pressures that may come up during the coming year.
A rates relief scheme with a fund of £200,000 was also proposed to help Falkirk’s smaller businesses cope with the recent rise in business rates.
The SNP Group also identified the potential for £90,000 of additional income through advertising being introduced on traffic islands.