A failed last-minute attempt to freeze council tax was the only bone of contention as East Ayrshire council agreed to a consensus budget ahead of local elections in May.
The majority of the £6million in cuts needed to balance the books will come from changes to the way services are delivered.
At the same time, the authority will invest £6m in a massive scheme creating 200 apprenticeship places.
Waste Party councilor Sally Cogley, along with newly independent councilor Ian Grant, have proposed that the suggested 3% rise in council tax be scrapped and the £1.8million shortfall be filled using the reserves.
Cllr Cogley said: ‘Any council tax increase has a disproportionate impact on the less well off and we should not increase that cost.’
However, council leader Douglas Reid countered that eating on reserves would end up creating problems for projects like the school building programme.
Cllr Cogley and Grant failed to get support from other advisers, meaning a 3% raise was agreed.
The local authority’s budget of around £370m is £16m higher than in 2021/22, but largely due to one-off additional covid-related funding.
Council tax will only rise for the second time since 2007. This has reduced the gap between income and expenditure by almost £8-6million.
- 3% council tax increase (increased Band D to £1,416.61)
- Rents for houses, garages and boxes will increase by 1.5%
- Fees and charges set by the board are to be maintained at 2020/21 levels
- £6m to be found in savings and efficiencies (£2.07m related to ‘workforce planning’ and £2.67m to be saved in health and social care)
- Fees and service charges would remain at current levels, other than those set nationally or by partner agencies.
- Half of East Ayrshire Council’s £12m covid recovery funding will go to 200 apprenticeships.
- £440,000 to support the health and wellbeing of young people in East Ayrshire
- £800,000 for a net zero carbon plan
- £57,000 for a permanent violence against women officer
Council leader Douglas Reid said at the council meeting, “I’m proud of today’s budget and the fact that our political parties working together has produced this budget, a budget that can really bring changes in our communities.
“The use of balances at this time, as suggested by the Vice Provost, would put, in terms of our capital program, [our capital programme] at risk, from the school building being built north-west of Kilmarnock to the Doon campus.”
He also responded to the council tax freeze proposal, arguing: “I am not prepared to risk this at this stage. I’m not willing to risk the transformation strategy that got us through this process without mandatory layoffs.
“Other councils have done it in the past. Now they want to be in the position I am in so they can look at the long term.
“We envision 200 young people with jobs and real training at the end. This is something we can all be proud of.”
Labor leader Cllr John McGhee backed the proposals but fired a broadside at the Scottish government.
He said: “The grim reality is that the SNP presided over a decade of underinvestment in local councils.
“The creation of 200 jobs and training places through the investment is a huge positive for our communities and our young people.”
Tory group leader Councilor Tom Cook, who stepped down in May, said: ‘This year we are in a strange place when it comes to budgeting, with the impact of money non recurring covid recovery making the situation better than it actually is.
“Difficult choices had to be made. While I understand the pressure households are under and would have liked to see no council tax increase, a below inflation increase of three per cent is reasonable.
“Freezing council tax would have meant finding an additional £1.8million in cuts, cuts that would have a serious impact on services and service users.
There are clear warnings of endless belt tightening, with next year’s budget gap estimated at £18m, rising to £57m over the next five years.
Chief Financial Officer Joe McLachlan told advisers at Thursday’s meeting: ‘Developing the 2022/23 budget has been an extremely difficult task for a number of reasons.
“This is a budget where volatility and uncertainty weigh heavily on the board’s financial plan for next year and beyond.”
The council’s share of the additional £120m funding is £2.805m. In the proposed budget, £1million will be kept for contract price increases, £671,000 to support education overhaul and £50,000 for changes to secondary school lunches.
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It will deliver the bulk of a £1million net zero carbon action plan with the remaining £440,000 spent on supporting the health and wellbeing of young people through free and discounted access to a range of facilities, events, workshops, activities and clubs.
Almost half of the £6million will remain to be considered by the East Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership Council before the end of the financial year.
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