The Leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council Ronnie Nicholson is urging Councillors to reject current proposals for nearly £20m of savings when the full council meets on Thursday (11 February) to discuss the budget and Council Tax.
As a result of Scottish Government cuts, the Council will have to make £21.1m of savings for 2016/17. A series of options have been provided to Councillors ahead of the meeting that would allow them to agree £19.7m of those cuts.
However, the Leader wants councillors to look for alternative options and to hold a special full council on 29 February to consider new, less damaging proposals.
Councillor Nicholson says that Councillors should work “day and night” to alternative identify proposals that have a less damaging impact on jobs and frontline services.
Councillor Nicholson said, “There is no doubt that the sheer scale of the Scottish Government’s attack on local communities will mean that whatever savings the council agrees in order to meet the £21.1m shortfall, there will be tough choices. However, it is my judgment that the options that the Council has provided Councillors to date would simply be too damaging and that is why the Administration will not support those options”.
“Ultimately it is up to Councillors to propose a budget. As an Administration we are currently developing a number of alternatives that will minimise the impact on jobs and protect better frontlines services. The council normally sets its budget in mid February, for no other reason than it is traditional to do so, but legally we don’t actually need to do so until Mid March. Given the impact some of the proposed cuts will have on local communities, I think the public would be appalled if we just rubber stamped them without spending day and night trying to identify less damaging alternatives”.
“By waiting until 29 February before we set a budget we can also keep the pressure on the Scottish Government and urge them even at this late stage to rethink their cuts before they set their budget on 25 February. The UK Government grant to the Scottish Government has risen this year yet the Scottish Government is still imposing a massive cut on local councils”.
Councillor Nicholson also made clear that any budget set must meet certain conditions set down by the Scottish Government including a freeze in the council tax or the Scottish Government will impose a further £12.2m cut in the council’s budget. A further cut of £12.2m would require a rise in council tax of 20% just to recoup.
Councillor Nicholson said, “ I have made it clear to John Swinney that the Council Administration will present a budget proposal to Full Council on 29 February that clearly meets the terms of the settlement. The draconian conditions he is imposing would mean he would cut services in Dumfries and Galloway by a further £12.2m if we did not adhere to those terms and that is on top of the £21.1m of cuts his settlement will already result in. I am not prepared to allow the Scottish Government to make such further attacks on our local communities and services in Dumfries and Galloway. They are already doing enough damage. It is clear from the reaction across Scotland that the coercive manner in which John Swinney has imposed this settlement has all but destroyed the relationship between the Scottish Government and local councils and it will take very many years to rebuild any trust between central and local government”.