Falkirk Council set to rubber-stamp budget for life post-lockdown

Falkirk Council will vote tomorrow (Thursday) to pass its annual budget.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 4:10 pm
Falkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.
Falkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.

And after a year like no other, it promises to be a budget like no other - starting with the decision to set the council tax separately last week.

While the £24 million spending gap remains very real, several unprecedented measures have been taken to reduce the impact of the pandemic on council finances.

For the first time, the council will temporarily be allowed to use some of its capital budget to finance revenue spending and there will also be a holiday payment on the loans fund.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

Falkirk Council Municipal Buildings

There will also be a change to how it can finance its PPP/NPD deals - the way it paid for eight new high school buildings - but as yet there is no detail about how this will work.

If approved, the administration's budget will also use £1.5 million of reserves, taking them down to the advised floor of £7.5 million.

The council has also received extra funding - around £7.5 million - from government to mitigate the huge impact of Covid, including a substantial loss of income.

Speaking before the meeting, council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: "This year has been a real challenge, balancing out the needs of our communities along with our need and desire to transform council services into something that is more fit for purpose and more what our communities need."

"We have tried to take a very pragmatic view around the budget and seek to minimise the impact on services."

The focus, she said, will continue to be on key priorities, in particular the economic recovery and employment in particular.

They also hope that at least £3 million of savings will be delivered by projects to modernise and streamline services, although she has pledged that any job losses will be voluntary.

The impact of the pandemic is expected to have difficult repercussions for the council's capital budget.

Last year, it agreed to use 1.84 per cent of the increase to fund capital projects - but this year's council tax freeze has effectively removed that option.

It could mean that major projects, including the council's flagship TIF proposals, face delays unless more funding can be found, so councillors may have to make some big decisions tomorrow.

However, with the UK budget now delivered and the Scottish Government's finally agreed, there is now at least more clarity for councillors around decisions that need to be taken.

The Labour group has confirmed it is put forward its own revenue budget although it has not revealed any details.

Group leader Robert Bisssett said: "All I can say is we will be proposing a revenue budget that saves services and jobs and does not put an additional burden onto families."

He said their priorities were investing in the economic recovery from Covid and supporting young people back into employment, while their capital programme seeks significant investment in climate change projects and schools.

Once again, as the SNP is a minority administration, the votes of the eight Conservative members will effectively decide which budget gets through.

Thank you for reading this article on our free-to-read website. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a subscription to our print newspaper to help fund our trusted, fact-checked journalism.