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COUNCIL BUDGET CUTS A “SAD DAY” FOR DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY , SAYS COUNCIL LEADER

The agreement of £21.193 m of cuts to Dumfries and Galloway Council’s budget has been described as a “sad day” for the region by Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson.

 

The savings were needed to plug a massive funding gap facing the council as a result of a 4.5% cut in the council’s grant by the Scottish Government.

 

The budget was agreed  at a meeting of the Full Council yesterday Monday (29 February) and follows the decision by Councillors at full council on 11 February to reject savings options prepared by council officers.

 

Amongst the proposals rejected by Labour but supported by the alternative budgets from the SNP and Independents included massive cuts in winter gritting primary routes, the scrapping of a Taxicard scheme for the elderly and disabled, the scrapping of the gull control scheme and proposals to scrap Instrumental Music Instruction.

 

In addition Labour’s budget also rejected proposals to close a number of leisure facilities such as Hillview Leisure centre, Beechgrove sports Centre, Newington Leisure Center and Castle Douglas Swimming pool. 

 

The Administration’s agreed budget included £3,054m in efficiency savings and £1.186m as a result of increased savings identified during service reviews. Due to the fact the council set a three year budget last year, £8.162m of savings for 2016/17 had already been agreed in February 2015. A further £6.727m of additional savings were proposed by the Administration include cutting councillors travels costs saving £25k, accelerating a new Autism strategy to allow more people with Autism to be supported within Dumfries and Galloway instead of being sent to out of region placements, saving £700,000. The Administration also proposed that continuing consultation is carried out with Trade Unions to further reduce staff costs, aimed at saving a £1.5m.

 

By agreeing the £21.193m of savings, the council is still able to go ahead with new spending proposals agreed last year including a £3.5m ‘Youth Guarantee’ – a guarantee of a job, place in education or training for every young person in the region within 4 months of leaving school or becoming unemployed.

 

The Administration budget also mets a number of Scottish Government conditions including a council tax freeze for another year as increasing the council tax would have seen the council’s budget cut by the Scottish Government by a further £12.2m- the equivalent of a 20% rise in the council tax. Teacher numbers will also be frozen and the Living Wage will be paid to care workers in the private and independent sector who have care contracts with the council.

 

The Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council Councillor Ronnie Nicholson said, “There is no doubt that making £21.193m of cuts to our Council’s budget was a sad day for Dumfries and Galloway. We promised to work day and night to find alternative proposals to the original options from council officers to minimise the number of job losses and the impact on services and that’s exactly what we did. Our alternative proposals meant there will be no leisure centre or swimming pool closures, no scrapping of music instruction and proposals to axe some primary routes for winter gritting will not go ahead.  It will also mean we can keep the number of job losses down to around 250 full time equivalents which will be delivered by early retirement and voluntary redundancy, maintaining our clear commitment to no compulsory redundancies. However, we need to be honest with the public. The cuts by the Scottish Government are the single biggest attack on local services for a generation. You cannot save in one year £21.1m without impacting on services and these proposals are still very tough. What makes me so angry about having to make these cuts is the fact that the UK Government’s grant to the Scottish Government has actually risen by 0.6% this year but the Scottish Government have still chosen to go ahead with slashing council budgets. They could and should have been avoided by the Scottish Government”

 

The Administration’s budget proposals will also set out plans for a public consultation on what services the public are prepared to see scrapped amid fears that there could be further cuts in the councils’ grant next year.  Councillor Nicholson added, “The Scottish Government knows how much funding they will get from the UK Government for the next three years. Unless there is major change in attitude towards local councils by Scottish Government or they are prepared to use the Scottish Parliament’s tax powers, we are likely to face further cuts. A further 4.5% reduction would mean the council having to find another £23m in savings next year. We need an open dialogue which asks local people directly- what services is it they want the council to stop doing.  It is no longer possible to simply keep trimming services year by year. Sadly- the debate we are now having is on which services will be axed”.

 

In their budget plans , the Administration also reconfirmed proposals to invest £372m over the next ten years in capital projects. This includes £161m on major capital projects including new schools in Dumfries and Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbright Art Gallery , regeneration projects in Stranraer, Dumfries and the Gretna-Annan-Lockerbie M74 corridor, Whitesands flood protection and Public realm scheme, and supporting the roll out of super fast broadband.

 

However, in addition the Administration proposes to allocate funding to draw up detailed plans for other flood prevention schemes including Langholm and Newton Stewart.  £211m will be invested over ten years in other capital works such as road and school repairs.

 

Meanwhile opposition groups have been labelled a “pack of jokers” after they resorted to cutting a deck of cards during the meeting to decide which of their budgets would go up against the Administration’s budget in a vote. In previous years there has only been one opposition budget against the Administration’s. However, splits between the opposition groups meant they tabled three separate budgets. This resulted in an eliminating ballot between the three budgets to determine which would be tabled against the Administration budget in the final vote.

 

The first budget eliminated after a vote was the Independent Group budget. However, as a result of a failure of a quarter of the largest opposition Group, the SNP, to turn up at the meeting, when a vote was held amongst opposition Councillors between the SNP budget and the break away former Tory Councillors, the ‘DG Independent Group’ the vote was tied. A further ballot was offered but the opposition groups instead opted instead for their respective leaders to draw cards, with the Leader with the highest card being allowed to table his Groups budget.

 

Councillor Nicholson said, “The fact the main opposition groups couldn’t even decide what budget to put up against the Administration’s proposals without resorting to cutting a deck of cards, shows what a pack of jokers they really are. In the weeks we have had since we agreed to delay the budget setting, the SNP and Independent groups didn’t put forward a single proposal to the Administration group for us to consider including in our budget, preferring instead to submit their own back of an envelope proposals and even then they couldn’t agree which one to back without a card trick. In the end it didn’t matter as the Administration's budget was overwhelmingly supported in the final vote by 25 votes to 9 , meaning the damaging SNP plans to scrap music instructions in schools, axe bus services and even get rid of what little we do to control seagulls were all defeated ”.

 

Proposals for cuts from the SNP and Independents that weren’t included in the Administration’s budget are listed below:

 
 

Opposition Group

     

  SNP       

 

   DG Independents      

 

    Independents 

 
 

Removal of Taxicard scheme

     

         151

 

   151

 

     151

 
 

Gull Control Project

     

             35

 

             -  

 

         35

 
 

Winter Service

     

          300

 

           90

 

       390

 
 

Alternative Delivery Model (SCIO)

     

          175

 

          175

 

       175

 
 
                   
 
Long Service Award      

             34

 

            34

 

         34

 
 

Increase to School Meals

     

              -  

 

             -  

 

         54

 
 
In addition the SNP and Independents proposed deeper cuts to bus services Area Committee  grants and the SNP and DG Independents proposed the scrapping of the music instruction services in schools.
ENDS

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