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Council tax bills in Argyll and Bute will go up by 4.5 per cent in April – but some of the authority’s most controversial cost-cutting plans will not be going ahead.
School crossing patrollers, pupil support assistants and educational psychologists have all been spared the axe after spending plans put forward by the authority’s ruling Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent administration were voted through.
But spending on community-based learning activities for young people and adults will be cut by £184,000, and schools will no longer have the funding to hire local halls for PE lessons after funding of £73,000 for that purpose was cut entirely.
The administration also stopped short of pushing through a proposal to close all public toilets, but some changes were agreed.
The administration’s spending plans, and council tax increase, were backed by 18 of the 31 councillors who attended the authority’s annual budget meeting in Lochgilphead last Thursday, February 27.
The agreed budget also includes investment in roads maintenance, footway and cycle path maintenance, and education involving digital learning.
An amended budget put forward by the opposition SNP group, which got 11 votes, wanted to save the community learning development, PE facilities and public conveniences in full.
A second amendment, proposed by Councillor George Freeman and seconded by Councillor Douglas Philand, asked that the meeting be adjourned in order to consider prospective further funding announced by the Scottish Government the previous day.
Addressing the meeting, council leader Aileen Morton said: ‘This is the third budget in the life of this council and takes place in unusual circumstances.
‘Some savings choices have been in front of us before, and this current budget is harder due to familiarity. We have heard the same story again and again – cuts to budgets across the country are hitting Argyll and Bute harder than almost every other area.
‘We are looking to the future and supporting a broader curriculum across our schools, and economic growth and connectivity supporting our businesses, which are vital to our future.
‘One council service needing a large contribution is waste disposal, and if we can deliver our solutions, we could reduce CO2 emissions by around 19 per cent.
‘Our decision is not just for today, or this year, but it will affect next year and the years to come.
‘We share a belief that Argyll and Bute deserves a bright future, despite the challenges.
‘It is important that, preferably together, we keep fighting, striving for and believing in Argyll and Bute, so that in the future, the story in this chamber will be the positive one it deserves.’
Depute leader Gary Mulvaney said: ‘None of these decisions have been taken in isolation; all have been deliberated over in the context of what is to come in the next few years.
‘It is easy to leave it all to another day, but that heads-in-the-sand approach only leads to more pain for the future. We have a budget that focuses on the future as well as today.’
Mr Mulvaney sounded a word of warning about future demand on council budgets, adding: ‘Demand for council services will continue to exceed council budgets. Managing this means action not only from the council, but also from our partners and key decision-makers.
‘Argyll and Bute’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) supports some of our most vulnerable people. We have therefore allocated more than £60 million, a quarter of the total council budget, to the HSCP, and agreed more time for it to repay debts to the council. This scale of council support cannot continue indefinitely; the HSCP needs to increase its pace of change.
‘The Biodegradable Municipal Waste ban, which all councils must achieve, will mean another potential £5 million of running costs every single year, as well as one-off spending of £2 million to £4 million.
‘We have gone part way to address this challenge by allocating funding for strategic change projects but this national initiative, which everyone rightly endorses, requires national funding. This will be the council’s next funding campaign for Argyll and Bute.
‘Local government funding must allow for councils to address local challenges and local priorities.’
Councillor Alastair Redman, Kintyre and the Islands, told the Courier: ‘Despite demand for council services continuing to exceed allocated funds the budget we set supports our young people and economic growth.
‘We have protected key support services for young people. We are investing millions of pounds to help keep our road network open for business.
‘Our geography means we deliver some services most other councils do not, and all our services tend to cost more to deliver. At the same time Argyll and Bute received a higher than average cut to our funding.
‘I will continue to fight relentlessly for a better deal for the Kintyre and the Islands ward.’