Falkirk budget: £5m of cuts and Council Tax rise closes unprecedented £29m deficit
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Labour voted against the proposals while the Conservative group abstained – but as neither put forward an alternative, the administration’s budget was approved.
The SNP said that while they have had to make difficult decisions, the budget does mean there will be no compulsory redundancies.
The cuts include the closure of the district’s three public toilets, which sparked criticism. The SNP’s depute provost Anne Ritchie said it was the wrong time to be closing them in Bo’ness.
Pest control will be scrapped for the second time and bus subsidies will also be cut by £100,000.
There will also be a three per cent increase in fees for services such as breakfast clubs and childcare.
The council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said that her administration had done all it could to make savings without impacting too much on communities.
However, even using £5 million of reserves, £5 million of Covid funding and £3.5 million of extra grant funding was simply not enough to close the gap between the council’s income and expenditure.
And the use of these measures came with a warning that this was one-off spending – which would mean more difficult choices next year.
In particular, the use of reserves would take the council down to £7.5 million – the lowest level it is allowed to reach.
She told councillors that it was vital that transformational projects were taken forward to save money and modernise at the same time.
While there was criticism that so much of the Scottish Government funding is ringfenced, Mrs Meiklejohn said she was very proud of the early years project that has seen the service almost double the amount of time in nursery for all three- and four-year-olds and some two-year-olds.
Labour said they could not support the budget – and they also refused to put up an alternative, arguing that the lack of cash from Holyrood had left the council in an impossible situation.
Instead, they asked members to sign a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to express their concern at how the Scottish Government has treated local government in this year’s Scottish budget.
Group leader Robert Bissett said: “This systematic destruction and disempowering of local government just cannot go on.
“What are we as a council becoming when we are cutting £100,000 to Barnardos?
“And reducing Christmas light provision by £150,000 – bah humbug – Charles Dickens’ Scrooge would be proud of the SNP.”
Conservative group leader James Kerr agreed that the funding of local government was unacceptable.
He said: “The UK Government announced the largest increase in funding since devolution – that’s a 10 per cent increase, so why are we debating increasing the council tax and decrease in council services?
“In previous years there have been opportunities to trim various departments – these opportunities are now gone.”
However, SNP Councillor Gary Bouse said that if the administration budget had not set its budget Audit Scotland would have “torn the council apart.”
He said: “We’ve taken our responsibilities and put a budget together and we can say there are no compulsory redundancies.”
The council’s capital budget has still to be approved.