Council balances the books - but at what cost?

East Renfrewshire Council balances the books - but at what cost?
East Renfrewshire Council balances the books - but at what cost?

East Renfrewshire Council have agreed the budget for 2017/18 at a meeting last week with councillors announcing a £4.1m programme of key investments following the windfall of £2.546m from the Scottish Government.

These investments as reported in last week’s Extra in advance of the council meeting on Thursday include an extra £1.6m for improving local roads and footpaths, £1.1m for some exciting digital projects in local schools and plans to slash the cost of wraparound child care in council nurseries by 50 per cent, saving some parents more than £1,200 per year.

However, it wasn’t all good news, in setting the budget councillors also approved proposals to increase council tax by three per cent - the maximum level - following the Scottish Government’s decision to lift the council tax freeze.

This rise is over and above the Scottish Government’s imposed band E to H increases, and is also in addition to the 1.6 per cent hike in Scottish Water rates. So effectively band H homes will increase by 27.1 per cent in one single hit from April.

East Renfrewshire Council Leader, Jim Fletcher, said: “Even with the late grant settlement changes announced two weeks ago we have once again seen a like for like cash reduction in the grant received from the Scottish Government.

“This grant reduction, combined with increasing service pressures and rising inflation, presented the council with a significant savings gap for 2017/18. This is despite the ability to retain the money raised locally by the separate Scottish Government increase in council tax for those in bands E to H.

“However we have agreed a package of measures to close this gap, protect frontline services and jobs and ensure vital investment in the services our residents have told us matter most to them.”

These measures include: A £4.1m programme of investments for key improvement projects across a range of core services; An investment of more than £131m in capital infrastructure projects to drive growth over the next eight years; Agreeing efficiencies and savings totalling £7m; Raising local council tax by three per cent for the first time in a decade, A commitment to increase the living wage for staff to £8.45 per hour from April 2017, A commitment that no compulsory redundancies will be required in this financial year.

The council also agreed to defer a number of savings proposals until next year and committed a one off payment to the East Renfrewshire HSCP Integration Joint Board to allow them more time to find a new purchaser for Bonnyton House.

Councillor Fletcher continued: “Agreeing to raise local council tax by three per cent, the first increase for a decade, was a particularly tough decision for administration councillors to take.

“We know however from our long term financial planning that, if anything, the situation will worsen in the coming years and we will be faced with increased savings and reduced opportunities to invest in vital services.”

Councillor Stewart Miller the Conservative Group leader contacted The Extra, furious that the opposition councillors motion to be permitted a 15-minute recess to read the administartion’s amended budget proposal was refused!

He said: “When it came to the budget, Cllr Robertson asked for a very fair 15 minutes recess to read the Administrations budget amendments. That was refused. They didn’t want to give us time to see and react to their changes, so we had no idea as to how they were going to spend the extra £2.546m from Holyrood.

“I thought they either would have put most of it back into reserves which they had raided by £2m to prop up their budget or to help hard pressed families by trying to ease the council tax burden. But no, they decided to tax everyone by as much as they were allowed and then promptly spent the lot.”