LETTER: Budget was designed to benefit the region

I MUST take issue with the leader of the Labour group on Dumfries and Galloway Council after his latest political bile about the budget and Conservative/LibDem administration.

This last term of the council is the worst I remember for the Labour group, continually insulting fellow councillors from other parties. I can only assume this is because Labour is bereft of ideas and relies on criticism to deflect the electorate away from the truth of its ineptitude.

Over the past five years the Conservative/LibDem administration has stabilised the council and turned it into a leaner, more efficient machine. It has reduced the number of managers and directors while protecting, crucial services.

Five years ago our social work department was the subject of a damning Social Work Inspection Agency report. When the new council was formed and the new administration, with support from SNP/Independent groups, brought forward the formation of a social work committee and appointment of a director of social work, guess who voted against the idea. Now the DG social work department, with its own director, is performing at a much improved level. The social work budget has also come in on target over the past two financial years.

Labour complains about education and the reductions needed. But with school rolls falling it would be madness to keep teacher numbers at their current level. Labour seems to have forgotten that when the criteria was set for numbers of teachers and classroom assistants, Labour was part of that agreement.

I must also comment on the bleat about the administration not publishing its budget proposals earlier. The reason we did not was because we were sick of being called dishonest, despicable and deceitful each year at budget time by a group so devoid of ideas and desperate to see what everyone else was doing before it formed its own budget.

Labour shouts about releasing its draft budget early but it was so cobbled together that it missed out the area committee’s £700,000 for Civic Pride Fund. Thankfully the administration made sure it was in the budget proposal or this would have meant no support for local organisations, galas, common ridings, Christmas lights and hard-working voluntary groups.

To say the administration budget was cobbled together with help from SNP/Independents, especially when the extra £535,000 for roads that is included now, was not in the original SNP/Independent budget, suggests the minority administration has argued successfully for a balanced budget that will take the council forward, even though £22m has been taken from it over thepast two years.

In the past five years only one group has got up and walked out of council meetings, refused to name members to sit on a committee and had a member ejected from the chamber. But despite all this, the other groups on the council, working with the excellent staff, have laid the groundwork for a fit-for-purpose council for the people of Dumfries and Galloway as we go into an uncertain future.

Councillor Denis Male,

Annandale East and Eskdale.

Councillor Ronnie Nicholson’s misinterpretation relating to education savings in this year’s budget is exactly what people have come to expect from Labour politicians (Letters, The Galloway Gazette, February 17).

The £324,000 savings are operational savings which will occur as a result of the falling secondary school rolls of approximately 400. Are Labour councillors seriously suggesting the taxpayers continue to pay teaching staff when there are 400 or so fewer children to teach? When school rolls increase, teacher numbers will rise as required.

The further £253,000 savings allows the director to present a business case for a continuation of last year’s very successful “refresh” scheme, this time targeting the primary sector. These savings are prudent financial management. It is also important to note that SNP councillors continue to resist compulsory redundancies. We also rejected a proposal for wholesale cuts to classroom assistants totalling £633,000.

The SNP’s budget proposals were accepted by the administration almost in their entirety and were progressive and designed to stimulate the local economy, with more than £1 million to create modern apprenticeships and a young entrepreneur scheme. We also have improved the Living Wage, payments to foster and kinship carers, and financial assistance for day centres. We regret that neither the administration nor Labour would support our bid to reinstate payment for instrumental tuition fees for the second year running.

It is clear Councillor Nicholson is masking Labour’s disappointment at achieving nothing on budget day. What of the interests of the people of Dumfries and Galloway?

Councillor Iain Dick, Stranraer & North Rhins Ward,SNP Group.