Council unveils budget plans

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Dumfries and Galloway Council has published its draft budget.

The adminsitration says the budget “invests in the local economy, continues to avoid compulsory redundancies, increases the Living Wage to £7.50 an hour, slashes charges for instrumental instruction and makes additional funding available to address the impact of welfare reform.

“The budget also commits to investing £50 million in the region’s schools over the next five years as well as supporting local businesses by continuing the apprenticeship scheme and grants for small businesses.”

Commenting following the meeting, council leader Ivor Hyslop said: “Our draft budget demonstrates the administration’s commitment to investing in the local economy, even in difficult times, by investing in our schools, supporting small businesses through our planned preventive maintenance scheme and still avoids compulsory redundancies while continuing to keep our council tax the lowest in mainland Scotland.

“We believe our budget is a good answer to a challenging question: how we continue to invest in our region when the public finances are under more pressure than ever.”

However, Labour condemned the budget, saying the “Tory and SNP coalition outlined plans to slash services by £30 million – but refused to allow any questions from councillors at the meeting and confirmed the public will have no say on the cuts proposals.

“The forthcoming year will see cuts of £7.2 million with education being hit hardest with £1.9 million of cuts that will see secondary school budgets fall by £600,000 (92% of this is spent on staff so teacher numbers will fall) and a cut in primary teacher numbers .The Adult Learning Budget within Community and Customers Services will also be slashed by 25% with a cut of £150,000, the library materials funds will hit by a cut of £63,000, third sector organisations such as welfare rights and Turning Point Scotland will see their funding slashed, and £200,000 of cuts will be made by closing community centres as part of a reduction in the Community and Customers Services budget of £749,0000.

“Controversially, the power will be handed to council officials to decide which community centres to close, with councillors not being given a say. The Labour group can reveal that the organisations involved in this year’s proposed cuts in grants such as Turning Point haven’t been informed of the cut by the council, even although the proposals are on the council website.

“Funding for roads repairs will also be cut by £500,000, on top of the decision not to continue with the £538,000 of extra funding for roads last year, as part of an overall £1.4 million cut in Planning, Housing and Environment Services. The total cuts will be £7.2 million in 2013/14 but there will be another £10.7 million in 2014/15 and a further £11.7 million in 2015/16.”

Labour group finance spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “To refuse to allow any councillors to ask any questions when the budget was published was bad enough but to confirm that the public and local organisations won’t be allowed any say on any of the proposed £30 million of cuts over the next three years is shameful.

“These cuts for this year from the Tories and SNP will mean that the number of teachers in our schools will be slashed and adult education damaged, council funding for outside organisations such as welfare rights and Turning Point will be all but ended and the budget for road repairs will be cut at a time when we have a plague of potholes across the region.

“However, it is the scale of the cuts over three years that are frightening. The Tories and SNP will say no final decisions have been made, but they don’t plan to consult anyone over the plans.

“This proposed budget doesn’t just butcher the services local people rely on it but signals the announcement of the death of local democracy.”