Falkirk Council: Budget gap means services will be cut and council tax rise
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Chief executive Kenneth Lawrie urged councillors to start thinking now about a financial strategy that he said would help plan for the future and find ways to avoid job losses and service cuts.
Chief finance officer Amanda Templeman said the council aimed to reduce spending through transformational projects – but her report admitted that these were highly unlikely to be enough on their own.
The volatility of the economy means that accurate predictions are impossible but rising interest rates will inevitably have a major impact on the council’s spending plans.
She said it would require “a strong collaborative approach from both members and officers” and said that a working group would allow open discussion “on the challenges, opportunities and actions that can be taken to reach a more financially sustainable position”.
Chief Finance Officer Amanda Templeman told councillors that increasing the council tax by four per cent would help the district reach the Scottish average over a five-year period.
Falkirk’s council tax is one of the lowest in the country as it was at a very low rate at the start of the Scottish Government’s ten-year freeze on council tax.
SNP councillor Gary Bouse said that having such a low income from council tax over many years now has “cost the council millions”.
The meeting heard that while the strategy would set out the council’s intentions, any rise in council tax would have to be agreed at the annual budget setting meeting in February every year, as usual.
But Conservative councillors told the meeting that they did not think it was appropriate to make such a decision out-with the budget.
Speaking after the debate, Conservative Group Leader, James Kerr, said: “As energy, food prices, and mortgages are going up in price, the council should not rush into a Council Tax Strategy which promotes a 20 per cent increase in council tax rates between 2022 and 2027 to cover SNP Government cuts to local government budgets.
“We are pleased that we managed to convince a majority of elected members about our concerns, and look forward to working collaboratively with other parities to balance our budget in a way which doesn’t punish hard working taxpayers.”
The Labour group backed the Conservative’s amendment.
Labour leader Anne Hannah said she was absolutely committed to collaborative working – but she warned that a lack of information was making that very difficult.
The leader of the council, Cecil Meiklejohn, said that the current council shares more information than was usually the cases and there were often good reasons for not doing so.