Dumfriesshire MSP Elaine Murray, Dumfries & Galloway Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson and Scottish Labour candidate for Galloway and West Dumfries Fiona O’Donnell joined Councillors and Trade Union members outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Wednesday 3 February) to protest against the SNP Government’s budget cuts to local council.
The protest comes a week before Councillors in Dumfries and Galloway meet to consider options for £21.1m of cuts as a result of the Scottish Government slashing council budgets next year by £500million.
In the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Wednesday) Scottish Labour MSPs called on the Scottish Government to use the new powers available to the Parliament to avoid the proposed cuts to local services by setting an 11p Scottish rate of income tax in the budget for 2016/17. This would mean setting a rate 1p higher than that proposed by George Osborne and John Swinney. Independent expert analysis confirms Scottish Labour’s proposal would raise almost half a billion pounds every year. Scottish Labour also set out details of a plan to give low paid taxpayers earning under £20,000 a year a boost to their income. This would be a £100 annual payment administered by local authorities.
Instead of supporting Scottish Labour’s plan to protect local services using the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government have chosen to push ahead with their planned cuts to local government.
Dumfriesshire MSP Elaine Murray said:
“The fact that so many people are protesting these cuts to our local services should have been a wakeup call for John Swinney and the Scottish Government. This was an opportunity to use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament to reverse the cuts and save the 400 jobs across Dumfries and Galloway which many fear could now be lost. Despite the Scottish Governments folly this week, it is still not too late to stop these cuts. The Budget process will continue until the end of the month and we will continue our campaign to save our local services right up until the final vote in Parliament.”
Scottish Labour’s candidate for Galloway and West Dumfries Fiona O’Donnell added:
“The Scottish Government are swiftly running out of excuses. Faced with a choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or more cuts to our children's schools and vital services, Scottish Labour backs more investment while the SNP join with the Tories to vote together for cuts. Unless they change their mind and support Labour’s proposals, hundreds of jobs across Dumfries & Galloway will be axed and services to local communities will be cut.”
The report that will go before the meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council on 11 February reiterated that Councillors need to make savings of £21.1m. £8.162 m was agreed as part of the three year budget set last year. If councillors agree not to go ahead with a proposed rise in the Adult Social Care saving £1.674m, it leaves an extra £11.357m of cuts to find. Councillors have been provided with a number of savings options for savings by officers including sport and leisure centre closures, reducing subsidised bus services, scrapping music Instrumental Instruction and cutting the winter gritting services, although it will be up to Councillors which proposals they bring forward in their budgets with the Administration already making clear some of the options proposed are not acceptable.
The report warns Councillors that any budget 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.
Council Leaders have also been warned they must accept the terms of the budget settlement from the Scottish Government by 9 February. However Dumfries and Galloway Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson has hit back saying he won’t be “bullied” and is prepared to delay any budget decision until every single option has been explored to minimise the impact of the cuts on jobs and protect front line services.
Dumfries & Galloway Council Leader Ronnie Nicholson said:
“Councillors, Trade Unions and people all across the country went to the Scottish Parliament to highlight just how angry they are at the Scottish Government’s damaging cuts to local communities. People understand that the buck for these cuts lies with John Swinney and the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government’s budget is increasing and they have the tax powers to increase that by more if they wanted to. Yet John Swinney is still imposing the single biggest cut in local services in a generation and he isn’t even prepared to give councils a reasonable time to time to explore every single option to minimise the damage of his devastating cuts. He knows perfectly well that no council in Scotland will be increasing the Council Tax because the sanctions threatened are so severe yet he sets an artificial deadline for councils to agree. However, the law is clear. Councils have until 11 March to set a budget and I won’t be bullied. We will consider any budget proposals before us at our meeting on 11 February but unless Councillors are satisfied that there are absolutely no alternatives that can be found that can reduce the impact on jobs and protect front line services as far as possible, we will not be agreeing any budget that day. Such a move would be unprecedented but it highlights the sheer scale of the cuts. The SNP need to understand this is people’s livelihoods and vital services we are dealing with. John Swinney may have no respect whatsoever for that when he sets his bully boy timetable but I do.”