Council approves budget proposals

PUBLIC authority budgets are rarely passed without arguments and accusations and this year has been no different.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17th February 2010, 10:24 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2010, 10:24 am

However, despite claims and counterclaims in the Scottish Parliament, agreement was reached last week about how much each Scottish council would receive from the central pot in the coming financial year, and following that Scottish Borders Council approved the budget proposals put forward by the council's administration.

The Scottish Parliament agreed a 12 billion package to fund councils over the year ahead, but that agreement came accompanied by a row over local authority spending cuts.

Labour claimed local authorities would have to make reductions of 300 million; Ministers said the claim was ludicrous, and councils would benefit from an increasing share of spending.

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Cash was provided to freeze council tax and a 5 million pot made available to repair roads damaged during the recent winter freeze.

Finance Secretary John Swinney also said the 32 councils could borrow 65 million to settle outstanding equal pay cases and that almost 60% of businesses would see their rates bills cut from April.

And while the SNP Government and Labour argued, a finger of blame was also pointed at Westminster - the SNP party claiming that Scotland's budget would be slashed by more than 814.4 million next year, as a result of UK government spending cuts.

The council's budget will rise to 268,876 million - 219.3 million (an increase of 5.4 million on last year) from the Scottish Government; council tax freeze funding of 1.5 million, and council tax income of 49.6 million.

But what does this mean for Borders households?

The main elements of the SBC budget includes a third consecutive freeze on council tax; a shift to alternate weekly refuse collections saving 1 million; 2 million savings in social work; staff re-organisation within technical services reducing operation costs; and an increase in bus fares on subsidised routes.

The council say there will be continued investment in the school estate, and in nursery and pre-school provision, as well as a rise in foster care allowance rates. New support is also to be put in place for young people leaving care.

Leader of the council, Councillor David Parker, said: "I am delighted that the council has accepted the administration's proposals.

"We have been able to deliver a sound, robust, stable budget in a time of great uncertainty and severe pressures.

"We have received a 5.4 million increase from Scottish Government, which is less than we anticipated and a great deal less than we need just to continue doing what we have been doing. However, we have been able to deal with that funding reduction without significantly affecting our frontline services or increasing Council Tax."

Depute leader (finance), Councillor Neil Calvert, added: "We are in this position because we have worked together and planned ahead. Our efficiencies programme has played a significant part in getting us to this position.

"We will continue to drive efficiencies as we need to protect ourselves in the future.

"I am pleased that, once again, we do not have to use our reserves to balance the budget."

Depute leader (HR), Councillor Alec Nicol, commented: "All departments have been finding ways of running their services in a more efficient way and delivering them differently, which has helped to ensure that there are no significant reductions in our frontline services."

The budget includes an investment of 35.6 million in Borders school buildings over the next four years to support the programme of new-build and refurbishment that is already underway.

A 125,000 Small Business Funding Scheme is part of the local authority's aim to provide support to all businesses in the area through Business Gateway. It will allow small businesses to apply for grants of up to 4000.

Budget highlights include:

0% council tax rise.

207,000 for nursery / pre-school provision for three-year-olds.

281,000 for 12 additional teachers to help reduce P1-3 class sizes.

139,000 for free school meals for P1-3 in the region's 14 most deprived schools.

45.9 million over four years for new and refurbished schools.

125,000 for a new business grants scheme.

100,000 for an increase in foster care allowance rates.

147,000 for an increased level of respite care.

7.6 million over four years for improvements to roads, bridges and lighting.

2.7 million over four years for improvements to Kelso town centre.

3.8 million over four years for waste management.

1 million for public conveniences.

The council's spending pressures include:

5 million on pay increases.

1.2 million on inflation-related costs.

1.4 million on Government manifesto commitments.

0.9 million on loan charges.

0.9 million on demographic changes.