Whilst I agree the prudent approach advised in Paragraph 7.8 should continue since it has enabled us to be in a better position at this time than some other Authorities; I note that (paragraph 7.15) the medium term plan assumes an increase in Council Tax of 2% per annum for the provisional budget for 17/19 whilst assuming (paragraph 7.23) a 1% increase in Pay Awards for the public sector in the same period. The disproportionate squeeze on the public sector by both Governments is to be regretted.
I note that the actual reduction in Scottish Government funding of 16/17 is significantly worse than anticipated (para 2.2.4) and given that the magnitude of the reductions are unprecedented (para 7.3); I commend Officers for their work in managing this.
We are being asked to deliver Council cuts and accept this austerity agenda at a time of growing service demands (para 5.2). When I sought election successfully way back in 1999 I did not expect to be effectively a mere agent of Government policy with so little room to make a difference to the people I represent.
The source of our current predicament must be laid at the “politically popular door” of the Council Tax freeze, frozen by the SNP for an unprecedented 10th consecutive year in 2016/17 (para 2.1.9), which leaves Council very little room for manoeuvre and no realistic option but to accept. I note from John Swinney’s letter in Appendix A, reference to the Commission on Local Tax Reform; I seem to recollect the first year of the freeze was to facilitate examining this but it was kicked into the long grass, meanwhile costs and service demands continued to grow.
When I first joined the Council, local members had a much earlier and greater say in the budget process than now. I note reference to a budget consultation exercise in para 6 but no reference to local member consultation. Councillors not on the Budget Review Group, that liaise with the Corporate Management Team to produce the figures around 1 month prior to budget setting, have very little or no influence on the process.
The Independent Group view Budget Day as containing an element of farce with competing political groups vying to gain credence for unacceptable cuts added back. We have not presented a budget given the political arithmetic in this Chamber and the lack of dialogue from an ineffective Opposition but do have a clear idea on use of the available headroom and I would thank Officers in the Finance Service for their help on that assessment. It centres mainly on rejecting the many cuts to the Environment Service which, unlike Education and Housing/Community Care, has no element of ring-fencing resulting from accepting the Government offer and is the one service that experiences most of the cuts year on year, also being the most visible to constituents. I personally would like to use 0.6% of our uncommitted reserves (leaving 3% uncommitted) referred to in Paper 4 today, which effectively equates to £1,970,000 to relieve more of the effect of cuts than the headroom allows, especially in Community Care and Roads, introducing the unbudgeted £687,000 cost of the rural garden and food waste expansion presented to the Environment Committee last November and which no Group has mentioned.
We have examined what is tabled today in the short recess time available and vote accordingly!
Councillor Mike Barnacle
Independent Member for Kinross-shire
PS We decided to abstain and send a message re lack of dialogue.