At today’s meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council (29 February), Councillors agreed a budget for 2016/17.

Four budgets were tabled at the meeting from different political groups. Following discussion about the proposals put forward by the various groups, the various budgets were voted on. During this process and following a stalemate between the SNP and the Dumfries and Galloway Council Independent Group’s budgets, for the first time a pack of cards was used as part of the voting process.

Following the vote, the Administration’s budget was agreed by a majority of councillors.

Speaking at the meeting, the Council Leader, Ronnie Nicholson, said:

“Last year our Council agreed our three year budget. We set out plans to prioritise investment in the services 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 including our ambitious ‘Youth Guarantee’- a £3.5m investment to guarantee a place in education, training or a job for every young person in Dumfries and Galloway within four months of them leaving school or becoming unemployed.

Our budget, based on a widely assumed year on year reduction of 1.6% per year in the revenue grant from the Scottish Government, set out how we would deliver savings of £32m over the three years, on top of the £40m we had saved over the previous four years.

From driving down youth unemployment through our employability initiatives to becoming Scotland’s first ever Living Wage accredited council, twelve months on that budget is delivering for the people of Dumfries and Galloway.

Tough spending control measures and active budget management has ensured the challenging savings we agreed are being made.

I therefore want to firstly place on record my thanks, and I am sure the thanks of all Councillors, to our Council’s staff. Their hard work and dedication to public service ensures we deliver day after day, in increasingly challenging times, services for the people of Dumfries and Galloway that we can be very proud of.

However, we now face the biggest challenge yet. The Scottish Government has trebled the cut in our revenue grant for 2016/17 to 4.5%.

We know that if the Council’s settlement had moved in line with the modest 0.7% increase in the Scottish Government’s budget from the UK Government, our Council would have received a cash increase of approximately £2 million. Instead our council faces having to make savings of £21.193 million in 2016/17.

The Administration’s proposals in our budget update document sets out how we plan to close that massive funding gap.

When full council met on 11 February to consider the budget, I made clear that the Administration believed that a number of the savings options that had been provided to Councillors were inconsistent with our Council’s priorities.

I said that the Administration were developing a number of alternatives that we believed would minimise the impact on jobs and better protect frontline service including reducing Councillor’s travel expenses, setting tougher income targets for the enterprising work of the council to raise, reducing Economic Development Grants by removing those that can be funded from other council sources and bringing forward improvements to our Autism Strategy to ensure the benefits are achieved across the region.

As a consequence of identifying alternatives, if our proposals are adopted, there will be no need to axe primary gritting routes and attack some of the most vulnerable in our communities by taking away their Taxicard scheme.

No need to scrap Instrumental Music Instruction or to close Hillview Leisure centre, Beechgrove Sports Centre, Newington Leisure Centre, Stranraer Academy Swimming Pool and Castle Douglas Swimming pool.

If our budget proposals are adopted, fewer bus services will be cut because we have more than halved the proposed reduction in public transport funding and more local groups will be able to provide services for our communities because we have been able to maintain more of our Area Committee funding.

In making these significant savings, we have also safeguarded those new initiatives agreed by councillors when we set our three year budget last year, ensuring we remain focused on our council’s priorities.
In addition to budget proposals identifying £21.193m of savings, Councillors will be aware there were specific requirements from the Scottish Government which our Council committed to delivering when we met 11 February.

We know that the Council Tax freeze is not funded.

We know that the decision to allocate funding for the Living Wage in the Social Care sector on the basis of a straight percentage for each council fails to take into account that in a low paid region like ours, it will cost more to deliver the Living Wage.

And although we know it is fundamentally flawed for the Scottish Government to have policy that allows some councils to maintain a pupil teacher ratio well above the Governments own target of 13.7 whilst at the same time forcing our own council to maintain a ratio at 12.7- we have no choice but to meet the requirements set by the Scottish Government or we will lose a further £12.2 m from our grant.

Consequently the Administration’s budget proposals will mean a freeze in the council tax during 2016/17, pegging the council tax for a band D property at £1,049 compared to a national average of £1,149. They will also mean we will maintain a teacher:pupil ratio at 12.7 or below. Furthermore, they will mean we will work with providers to deliver a Living Wage of £8.25 per hour from 1 October, ensuring that a fair and equitable distribution of resources is given to providers to achieve this.

Finally, our budget proposals reconfirm our Capital budget, of more than £372 million over the next ten years in capital projects including new schools in Dumfries and Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbright Art Gallery, regeneration projects in Stranraer, Dumfries and the M74 corridor and supporting the roll out of super-fast broadband.

However, as an addition we also propose that updated proposals and costings be brought forward for member consideration for the further development of flood prevention schemes in the region to deliver our Flood Risk Management Plan including Newton Stewart and Langholm.

In conclusion, today is a difficult and sad day for Dumfries and Galloway. As a result of the decisions we are taking, jobs will be lost.

Although we have worked hard to deliver a budget that minimises those losses, around 250 full-time equivalent posts will be cut within the Council as a result of this budget and countless others will go within organisations out with the council who will see funding reduced.

However, I know that the staff who will remain will continue to deliver for the people of Dumfries and Galloway. 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 understand just how important Council services are to supporting local families from the cradle to the grave.

That’s why despite the tough challenges we face, the budget from the Administration will continue to ensure our council focuses on our key priorities for the people of Dumfries and Galloway and protects as far as possible those vital services.”

Latest Articles