Council tax to increase by three per cent for three years and a possible loss of up to 300 jobs may be on the cards at East Renfrewshire.

ERC - Where our money comes from and how it is spent
ERC - Where our money comes from and how it is spent

There are concerns that up to 300 jobs could be at risk in East Renfrewshire Council following their budget announcement last week.

The council have made it clear that it expects to have around 300 less jobs over the next three years than it has at present, unless the Scottish Government’s annual grant settlement is larger than in previous years. This figure will not be known until December, but, if the figures are anything to go by, then it is highly likely funding will be less than that received in previous years.

These losses may be mitigated somewhat if 200 new early years support roles are created as ERC works to implement new government pre-school education targets.

Residents will doubtless be concerned to learn that council tax is also planned to increase by three per cent each year between 2018 and 2021.

Whilst the Council does not yet know its exact budget, ERC is expecting to have to make savings in the region of £26 million between 2018 and 2021.

A range of proposed saving options to meet the substantial shortfall have been published today (October 9).

The anticipated deficit is in addition to £37million of savings the council has already made since 2012.

The main challenge facing ERC is that its annual grant funding is anticipated to decrease over the next three years whilst, at the same time, demand on services continues to increase. In particular, the Council faces increased pressure due to the area’s growing elderly and early years population, with both groups requiring an extensive range of services.

ERC has been successful so far in off-setting the impact of savings on the majority of frontline services through a determined focus on efficiency.

This journey of change and modernisation has already helped the Council meet tough savings targets, however while ERC will continue to work smart and drive up efficiencies at every opportunity, this will not be enough to make the savings required.

Therefore, some of the proposals for consultation published today do see a potential reduction in some service levels.

Councillor Tony Buchanan, East Renfrewshire Council Leader, said: “The financial challenges that ERC faces today are similar to those being experienced in many households. Essentially, our income is not increasing at the same rate as our expenditure and as such we have to find new and different ways to make ends meet.

“Many of the proposals published for consultation today are in line with our successful and determined focus to be as efficient as possible and I know that’s exactly what our residents expect.

“However, because we have already made savings of more than £37m in the past five years the scope left available to find more savings by efficiencies is limited. While we always strive to protect frontline services as far as possible it is regrettable that in this budget cycle the sheer scale of savings needed means that undoubtedly there will be an impact on how some services are delivered in future.

“Officers of the council have identified these potential saving options and we want to hear the views of all our residents and staff before putting forward a proposed budget in February which balances the council’s books for the next three years.”

ERC estimates that it will have around 300 less posts than in the current Council business and it is hoped to achieve these reductions without the need for compulsory redundancies.

In addition, new roles and retraining opportunities will also be created as the needs of the Council change.  For example, over the next few years the Council expects more than 200 new early years support roles will be created as ERC works to implement new government targets. Therefore overall it is anticipated there will be around 100 fewer posts by 2021.

Some of the proposals published for consultation include:

To increase council tax by three per cent in each of the next three years of this budget cycle. If council tax is not increased then the level of savings needed would be much higher than £26million.

To reduce the education budget by eight per cent which will include a reduction in Pupil Support Assistants.

A reduction in roads maintenance budget by ten per cent.

A reduction in operating hours of community warden service.

A requirement for East Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership to find efficiencies of up to 20 per cent against current expenditure.

Councillor Buchanan added: “We absolutely understand how important this consultation is to our communities, particularly as over 60 per cent of our staff are also local residents.

“No decisions have been made on proposed service changes that impact our residents, and we genuinely want to know what residents and staff think of the options out for consultation. We will also use feedback to consider any further steps we can take to mitigate the impact of the proposals and welcome any alternative options to making our savings in a different way.

“Some of the proposals being put forward for consultation are extremely challenging however I want to reassure residents that throughout this difficult process the needs of those in our communities who are most vulnerable will continue to be our core focus.

“Despite the tough financial climate we remain committed to significant investment in our local infrastructure. Between 2018 and 2021 we will invest around £77m in ambitious capital schemes to drive growth, support the delivery of new schools and early years establishments, ensure our exciting City Deal plans are delivered and create opportunities.”

Paul Masterton MP and Jackson Carlaw MSP have today called on East Renfrewshire Council to clarify potential council job losses as the local authority’s budget consultation for 2018 – 2021 is launched.

Commenting East Renfrewshire MP, Paul Masterton said: “The threat of job losses will be worrying for many council employees who rely on their pay cheque to pay their mortgage and care for their family, especially ahead of the Christmas period where many families will see their spending increase on loved ones.

“These proposed redundancies and cuts to local services will be shocking to the thousands of residents now paying hundreds of pounds more in Council Tax every year in the apparent knowledge that there will be no local benefit from this increase.

“This SNP-Labour administration must clarify without delay how many and what jobs are in threat as well as ensuring hard up taxpayers that their local services are not going to suffer.”

Adding Eastwood MSP, Jackson Carlaw said: “After being hit with massive Council Tax rises from The Scottish Government and then again from this local SNP-Labour administration, residents will be asking themselves if they are now going to be asked to pay more for fewer services.

“Residents must have clarity as to how these cuts are going to affect their local services.

“A public consultation is all well and good but surely this administration already have an idea where these cuts are going to fall and services to be reduced?

“Potential compulsory redundancies are totally at odds with the fine rhetoric of Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leadership hopefuls but apparently their Councillor colleagues are fine with the savage sacking of a council workforce.”

The consultation will be open from October 9 until November 28, with the final budget being decided by elected members at a meeting of the full council on February 8, 2018.

A booklet with details of the proposals for consultation is being distributed throughout key community locations and is also available on the ERC website, along with links to Citizen Space, East Renfrewshire Council’s consultation platform, where residents can submit their responses.

A budget simulator tool is also available to give further insight into the budget setting process and gives residents the chance to try and balance the budget and see what impact each decision would have.

A range of Budget Panels with key community groups and representatives, including parent councils, local care providers, equality group representatives, members of the youth forum and Business Improvement Districts, will also take place during the consultation period to gather as many views as possible.

All ERC budget consultation information is available at www.eastrenfrewshire.gov.uk/budget