Council tax to rise in Falkirk area as administration budget plan is rejected

The SNP and Independent administration of Falkirk Council suffered a shock defeat as Labour and the Conservatives united to knock back its proposed revenue budget for 2020/2021.
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Councillors gathered yesterday to decide how the local authority would address a £23.7 million budget gap.

Much of the focus in the lead-up to the full council meeting, however, had centred on the administration’s plans to replace the current municipal buildings and its neighbouring town hall with a modern £53m council headquarters and arts centre in an attempt to revitalise the heart of Falkirk.

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Yet there was a turn-up for the book when Labour’s amendment — based on the use of £2.8m of reserves to “protect services” — was pushed through after support from the Tories allowed the main opposition party to win the vote by 17 to 13.

Due to the Westminster budget being deferred, Falkirk Council’s SNP-led administration noted it had worked on its proposals using the “best information available” as it awaited details on what the Scottish Government’s final financial plan would be.

One area where all parties were in agreement, despite some reluctance from the opposition, was on raising council tax by 4.84 per cent — a move which will mean Band D payers face an annual £56.58 increase.

The SNP’s plans to close the budget gap included introducing £25-per-year charges on brown bin collections, cutting its street cleansing and roads maintenance budgets to save £302,000 and £200,000 respectively, and reducing cleaning in council buildings to produce £300,000 in savings.

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There was also a proposal to set a one per cent limit on any savings made in children’s services. Had its proposals gone through, Falkirk Council’s administration proposed to use £1.1m of reserves from its £9m projected general fund reserve.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn: “This year’s budget has been a unique challenge due to the last notification of the council’s grant settlement.

“The anticipated trajectory over the next few years is showing a decline in gaps expected. That unfortunately does not necessarily make them any easier to manage unless they are planned for.”

The SNP’s aspirations were ultimately shot down though, as Labour sought to make £4.4m of service savings and instead dip into the local authority’s reserves to use £2.8m.

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Labour’s amendment differed to the SNP motion on a number of matters.

The party was not in favour of charging district residents for brown bins to be uplifted, nor was it supportive of charging for dog waste disposal bags or the ‘free after three’ initiative being withdrawn from council-owned car parks.

Labour councillors also pushed to ensure employment training unit services were not slashed, a move which the SNP wished to introduce in order to bring in £205,000 in savings.

The resistance to the 
administration’s proposal led to SNP councillors warning Labour counterparts their amended proposals represented a huge risk.

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Citing Labour’s plan, Falkirk North councillor David Alexander said: “This is a budget that threatens this council with bankruptcy.”

Labour group leader 
Robert Bissett, however, insisted the party had had enough of “SNP cuts”.

He also said the party would invest £500,000 into the Council of the Future Programme for Change, spend £592,000 on roads and grounds maintenance and invest £100,000 on flower bedding and baskets.

Councillor Bissett said: “We have seen cuts to councils across Scotland of 10,000 jobs lost since 2010/11 and £2.1 
billion cut since 2012. The impact of SNP cuts is real and cannot continue. Enough is enough.”