Essential services protected as council agrees £12 million savings to balance £260 million budget

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Published Date: 

10 Feb 2011 - 18:02

Argyll and Bute Council agreed to protect essential services, invest in the roads infrastructure and continue supporting some of the most vulnerable groups in the community as it agreed its budget for 2011-12 and beyond.

Argyll and Bute Council’s budget was set to reduce by 4.94% - more than any other Scottish local authority, which face an average cut of 2.6%  – and £5.434 million more than anticipated.

The council has carried out extensive consultation on its budget since August 2010, and used this to help decide which services should be maintained and which could be reduce in order to make the necessary savings.

The council agreed to increase charges for its services and reduce budgets available for non-essential functions such as travel, subsistence, venue hire and advertising in an effort to release funds to protect front line services.

Previously ring-fenced funds have also been returned to the council’s general reserve, increasing the amount which can be spent on any service, not just specific functions.

Councillor Dick Walsh, leader of the council, used his budget speech to remind residents that services would change, despite the best efforts of the council to protect the most vulnerable members of society.

Councillor Walsh said:                                                                                                    

“This year’s budget was always going to be difficult, but Argyll and Bute Council is an improved and improving organisation, which is fit for purpose. Our budget is about much more than the way the council spends its money, it is more about our people, their services and how any changes impact on their lives.

“It would be wrong to pretend that we can continue to provide all of the services we do at the moment or to suggest that services in the future will be provided in the same way as they are now.”

Revised proposals, combined with some additional funds from the Scottish Government, means the council can balance its budget and meet its savings target, while still providing many of the services which are important to residents.

Councillor Dick Walsh, leader of the council, confirmed the Scottish Government had awarded the council an additional £1.316 million from its supporting people funds, discussions between the council,  COSLA and the Scottish Government, enabling to council to reconsider some of the proposals under consideration to make the budget balance.

As a result some cuts which had been included as potential savings are now protected.

Libraries in Tarbert, Cardross, Rosneath and Lochgilphead will remain open, although the mobile library service in Lorn will still be removed.

The council also agreed to continue providing a £60,000 grant to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and rejected suggestions to close public toilets.

Venues such as the Corran Halls in Oban and Queens Hall in Dunoon will still be managed by the council.

Musical skills will be encouraged, with the council rejecting proposals to remove funds for the music instructor service entirely. The council will explore options to set up a social enterprise which can deliver this service in the future.  And there will be no excuse for children missing school as the council agreed to continue funding its attendance officers, who play an important role in improving presence at school and provide support to families.  

Accounting for one  third of the council’s overall budget, the education service was not immune from savings. In addition to savings from the school estate review, which will not be known in detail until Councillor Ellen Morton, spokesperson for education and lifelong learning, returns with fresh proposals in the spring, the education service will see a £2.9 million reduction it its overall budget for 2011/12. Over the three year budget period this will total £4 million (5.7%), which is the lowest percentage budget reduction of any of the council’s services.

Funds available to pay for swimming lessons and transport to sports activities will be reduced by 50%, while speech and language therapy will see the same reduction applied to its budget.

And while the cost of buying a school meal for pupils will increase by 15p the council agreed not to reduce the cost of ingredients.

Adult education was also preserved, with the council rejecting proposals to reduce adult literacy services.

The council agreed to defer savings proposed to the adult care service, aligning it with the overall timetable for the review of older people’s services, learning disability and other adult care services.  

The council agreed to remove the budget allocated to the storage, maintenance, erection and removal of Christmas lights, but this will not take effect until Christmas 2012, giving more than one year’s notice to communities who already have overall responsibility for decorating their streets.

Plans to develop Argyll and Bute’s urban centres in Oban, Dunoon, Campbeltown and Rothesay and Helensburgh will share a £300,000 reduction to the CHORD project budget, as the council felt there were sufficient funds remaining to bring the programme to a conclusion.

And the £200,000 funding for festivals and events will be withdrawn.

Some of the savings originally proposed will still contribute to the budget but at a lower rate than was initially suggested.

Savings proposed by changing contracts to public transport providers will be reduced by 50%.

Third sector organisations providing recycling services will see a reduction in their funding in the next six months, and changes will be introduced across Argyll and Bute to increase the amount of waste material recycled, therefore reducing fees and taxes paid to send waste to landfill. Increased recycling also has benefits for the environment.

Housing support services, delivered by organisations such as such as HELP (Dunoon) and Quarriers (Oban) will have their funding reduced by a third – less than the original proposal to cut funding by half.

More than a third of  savings proposed by the council will come from efficiency savings – changing the way council departments are structured or carrying out activities differently.

There will be a council-wide reduction in the budgets allocated to travel, consultants fees, hospitality, advertising and facility hire. At the same time councillors will see a reduction in the budget for their travel and subsistence.

The council accepted proposals to increase fees and charges for some of its services. Fees will now rise on average of 4%, and by 6.5% where VAT is applied, to account for the tax increase which came into force across the UK in January 2011.

Council tax remains unchanged, with Band D properties paying £1178 per year.

Successive surveys by the council have shown that residents want to see more money invested upgrading and maintaining the road network. Recognising this, the council agreed to allocate an additional £225,000 towards loan payments, which will enable plans for £3 million of improvements across the road network.

Even though the council was able to protect many front line services it was still necessary to make significant savings across all services. The council agreed to accept most of the changes proposed and consulted on as a result of service reviews carried out in 2010.

Achieving the savings means the council will require fewer staff and 494 posts will be removed over the three-year budget period. However, the council confirmed the majority of these posts would be removed via voluntary redundancy or early retirement and very few would be the result of compulsory redundancies. Severance costs included in the budget total £11.3 million spread over the budget period, but savings are achieved in subsequent years as the wage bill is permanently reduced.

Council departments will be restructured, which will see some posts removed. Catering, cleaning and janitorial teams will move from full year to term time only contracts.

Grants allocated to leisure facilities under service level agreements will be reduced by 5%

Councillor Dick Walsh, leader of the council, said:

“Our proposed budget outlines a three year prudent approach to the financial management of the council’s affairs.

“We’ve listened to what the communities have said and have managed to reflect the majority of concerns expressed to us in this budget. We’ve taken a low–to–medium risk approach for the future which reflects our priorities of education, social work and economic development, and positively addresses the acute infrastructure issues with our roads.”

The meeting ended at 17:45.

Full details of the agreed budget will be uploaded to the council's website on Friday 11 February.