West Dunbartonshire Council has approved a plan to close the predicted budget gap and secure frontline services for local residents in 2016/17.
Council leader Martin Rooney presented proposals that continue investment in regenerating towns, buildings and neighbourhoods, and identify money to deal with estimated reductions in funding from both the UK and Scottish Governments.
Under the plans, education remains at the heart of the council’s priorities with spending of £93 million on schools, nurseries, libraries and other services. Elsewhere there is funding of £13m for care home services, £10m for providing care to people in their own home, and £2m to support those with mental health problems. There was a further £7m to maintain waste collection services, £7m for street cleaning, parks and grass cutting, £5m for local roads and £1.6m to tackle anti-social behaviour.
The council administration also put forward plans to use £12m from existing borrowing to create a Regeneration Capital Fund that could support investment in town centres such as Alexandria, Clydebank and Dumbarton. Some of this money would be available to fund improvements suggested by the recent successful community planning events called Charettes – if Councillors were supportive.
To maintain this investment and support for frontline services Councillors voted to use £399,000 of free reserves to fill the projected gap in the 2016/17 council budget. West Dunbartonshire has cash reserves to protect the organisation from unexpected costs such as severe weather damage. Currently more than £1m of the £5m reserves is available to Councillors to spend if required.
Councillor Rooney said: “Our budget plan continues to invest heavily in the council services our residents care about, and provides funding to do some really exciting regeneration in our town centres and neighbourhoods. The only reason we’re able to do this when the UK and Scottish Governments’ cut our funding year on year, is because of the tough financial decisions we’ve taken in previous years.
“Our long-term approach means we have better-value council services, the cash reserves in place to support us in 2016/17, and more time now to plan for the funding challenges we expect in 2017/18.”
As Councillors voted for a budget plan that did not include any savings options it was agreed that there was no benefit in holding the usual public budget consultation.
In approving the budget plan Councillors also noted the actions being taken forward by Council officers to make services more efficient and cost-effective. These totalled £2.25m and included the removal of vacant posts, restructures, reduced funding to external partners and changes to the nightshift cover in one of the council’s three sheltered housing complexes.
The council’s 2016/17 budget will be formally agreed by Councillors at a meeting on 24 February 2016, once the Scottish Government funding allocations have been shared with local authorities.