Agreed Council Budget Puts Investment To Support Local People at its Heart

At today’s meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council, the Administration’s budget proposal for 2017/18 was approved. Council Leader, Ronnie Nicholson, said that the budget clearly set out how the Administration will close the £16m funding gap to deliver a balanced budget as well as continuing to invest in the region’s priorities.

The approved budget sees a £2m increase in spending in our road infrastructure, plans to invest nearly £9m towards two new flood protection schemes in Langholm and Newton Stewart, £500,000 will be invested in an inclusive play fund which will deliver fully accessible play parks across the region and over £2.5m of new anti-poverty initiatives including breakfast clubs and a ‘Links to Work’ programme will help support more people back into work in some of our most deprived areas.

The approved budget will also see a rise in council tax of 3%. The Council’s carried out a budget consultation late last year and asked the public for their views on council tax. 70% of those who took part said that they agreed that council tax should be increased. The Administration agreed with the public on this with the stipulation that the extra income will be ring-fenced for education. The rise still means Council Tax in Dumfries and Galloway is the lowest in mainland Scotland.

The full text of the Council Leader’s speech during the budget debate is below:

“Since I became Leader of this Council, the Administration has relentlessly pursued the priorities that matter most to the people of Dumfries and Galloway- protecting our most vulnerable; giving our children and young people the very best start in life and supporting our region’s economy.

The budget I move today continues that clear direction and leadership.

From driving down youth unemployment, taking the impact of flooding seriously, rebuilding our schools and becoming the first council in Scotland to achieve Living Wage accreditation, the budget decisions of this Administration are delivering across Dumfries and Galloway.

We have done this in the face of unprecedented cuts in funding from the Government-with over £50m of savings made in the past four years alone and a further £16m to achieve this year.

By reviewing every aspect of the way our council works and implementing the radical re-shaping of our council’s structures to reduce the number of departments, we have been able to make those tough savings in a way that not only protects our frontline services but refocuses funding towards our Council’s priorities.

Today’s budget is no different.

We have set out clearly how we will close the £16m funding gap through carefully considered savings and increased income to deliver yet another balanced budget and we have outlined how we will continue to invest in our region’s priorities.

There can be no more important priority than education. Despite significant cuts to our core funding by the Government, the budget I propose will mean spending on education will rise by almost £1m next year thanks to extra funding for Learning Support and to deliver breakfast clubs in primary schools. That increase in education funding is over £3.8m if you include the attainment fund.

Those breakfast clubs are a key part of our continued commitment to tackle poverty in our region.

I am proud that under this Administration, Dumfries and Galloway’s first ever Anti-Poverty strategy was agreed, and this budget sets out over £2.5m of new initiatives to support that strategy.

As well as those breakfast clubs, our new £350,000 per year ‘Local Anti-Poverty fund’ will support local community projects through Area Committees and our ‘Links to Work’ programme will help support more people back into work in some of our most deprived areas.

Continuing to drive down youth and long term unemployment not only boosts the life chances of those we help- it boosts our local economy and that remains this Administration’s number one priority.

That’s why in this budget we set out proposals to develop an exciting ‘Borderlands Deal’ aimed at bringing millions of pounds of investment into Dumfries and Galloway.

We will also increase investment in our crucial transport infrastructure with extra funding for a new model to help deliver Community Transport across our region and we will increase spending in our crucial roads infrastructure by £2m.

How many times have I heard members raise concerns over the state of our regions roads. Well today members have a chance to do something about it- or explain to your constituents why you chose not to.

And our budget doesn’t just propose investment in our roads infrastructure but also to tackle flooding with plans to invest nearly £9m towards two new flood protection schemes for Langholm and Newton Stewart and a £1m Town Centre Living Fund to bring derelict and empty properties into use for housing – getting more people back into our town centres.

As our budget document makes clear we have resisted the proposal from the Scottish Government to remove the full £2.4m of funding from the health and social care partnership. Doing so would have meant increasing social care charges which we are not prepared to do.

It is Labour’s long standing policy that ultimately charges for personal care should be removed in the same way Labour removed them for people over 65. That is ultimately a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

However, as our budget document makes clear we believe they should be reduced, starting by removing war veterans pensions in the calculation for charges. We have asked for a report to come to social work on that review of charges.

I am pleased to outline one final measure from our capital investment strategy. Our proposed £500,000 inclusive play fund will deliver a number of fully accessible play parks across our region, breaking down the barriers for many local disabled children and underlining the commitment of this Administration to lead a truly inclusive council.

• Giving our children the best start in life
• Protecting our most vulnerable
• Building our local economy
• And being an inclusive council

Those are Labour’s priorities – and the priorities of this council.

This budget has those priorities at it’s very heart.”

In conclusion. This is yet another tough budget for our council.

Whether it is child protection services, the schools that teach our kids and grandkids, the apprenticeships that give young people a future, the home carers that look after the infirm – we should never underestimate just how important the services are that our staff provide day in day out to support local families from the cradle to the grave.

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