South Ayrshire Council agrees £9.4m of savings in ‘most difficult budget’ ever

south-ayrshire-councilCouncillors in South Ayrshire have agreed to make cuts to a number of non-essential services in order to balance the books in light of the “harsh finance settlement” from the Scottish Government.

South Ayrshire Council took the decision to protect essential or ‘life and limb’ services as it agreed a revenue budget of £187.1 million – excluding spend on Health and Social Care – and a capital budget of £49.8m for 2016/17.

Additional £3.2m savings for 2016/17, over and above the £6.2m previously approved savings, saw the local authority agree plans to reduce posts of school assistants, music instruction service, seasonal gardeners and seasonal waste management employees.

Councillors delegated funding of £65.9m to the South Ayrshire Health and Social Care Integrated Joint Board, which will be added to the £5.8m provided by the Scottish Government via the NHS to meet desired outcomes for social care.

Councillors also approved the use of uncommitted reserves of £3.2m, which will be used – in the main – to replace capital grant funding that has been removed from the Scottish Government finance settlement.

Further use of the council’s unallocated reserves of £14.6m will be considered at future council meetings, so decisions can be based on where the funding is needed most and where it will have the maximum impact – rather than being used solely to make up the Scottish Government shortfall.

Councillor Bill McIntosh, leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “This has been, without a doubt, the most difficult budget we’ve ever had to agree as a council, and it’s totally unacceptable that it’s our people and communities who have to face the impact of the deliberate decision made by the Scottish Government to hit council funding so harshly.

“The combined impact of the reduction and restrictions in the Scottish Government funding, rising costs and increasing – and sometimes unprecedented – demand for our services is that the gap between the money we have and the money we need continues to grow.

“And given how hard we’ve worked to transform the council’s financial position, it would not be responsible for us to simply give a knee-jerk reaction and fill that gap with our unallocated reserves. It would just undermine everything we’ve been working to achieve. Instead, we will ensure that our reserves are utilised wisely and effectively.

“That means we can no longer avoid making difficult choices and hard decisions – decisions which, in normal circumstances, we would not take. However, we cannot live beyond our means and we need to do all we can to protect and sustain essential services – the ones that really matter in terms of life or limb – for the future.

“All of our councillors, regardless of political persuasion, were elected to serve our communities and do the very best they can for them – not cut services or close facilities. Yet this is the stark reality we’ve had to face today as the impact of the Scottish Government’s decision starts to bite.

“We have worked to safeguard services – and jobs – as much as possible. However, as I advised the Scottish Government when we had to accept its punitive settlement, it’s our people and communities who will bear the brunt of its actions and that has certainly been borne out by the budget we’ve had to agree today.

“This council is taking responsibility to manage the irresponsible decisions of the Scottish Government and we will make the savings demanded of us and balance our budget despite the barriers that have been put in our way. And our people and communities deserve to know why we’ve had to take these actions.”

Councillor John McDowall, depute leader of the council, added: “Councils increasingly have to juggle finances and service delivery to accommodate the whims of the Scottish Government. More and more duties are being placed on councils all the time, without the full funding needed to take on additional roles and responsibilities, and we don’t have limitless monies to support this.

“This leaves us in the impossible position of having to make cuts elsewhere – cuts that have a very real impact on the services we can offer and the facilities we can provide. This completely undermines all the hard work we’ve put in over the last four years to take a planned and measured approach to managing our money and delivering best value.

“In agreeing the budget today, we’ve worked to protect and preserve services as much as possible, while delivering the necessary savings to plug the funding gap. We’ve done this by looking at services and facilities that are not used as much as others; taking account of alternative provision; and considering the overall cost to the council and the benefit to the community.

“We know this will affect our people and places, but we have, quite simply, had no choice and we’ll continue to do everything we can to minimise the impact of these savings when introduced.”

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