Angus Council’s no real surprise budget package

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AS a headline grabber the meeting staged to agree the Angus Council budget for the coming financial year was a bit of a non-event.

Indeed, there were few, if any, major surprises in the council plans to deliver almost £9 million of savings in 2011-2012 as part of a strategy to shrink spending by a whopping £23 million over a four-year period.

The local authority had already signed up to the Scottish Government plans to freeze the council tax for a further year – and there was nothing as scary as four-day weeks for pupils, compulsory redundancies or closures of libraries and leisure centres among corporate services convener Mark Salmond’s budget proposals.

Indeed, the convener was able to re-assure council tax payers that local authority run creche facilities at leisure centres wouldn’t be facing the axe.

However, £9 million of savings don’t come without some pain - and there will be public service job losses, cuts to be borne and higher fees to be faced.

Words like review, monitor, re-align and restructure were used a lot in the departmental budget savings proposals presented to full council last week – and the devil will be in the detail.

Social work and health, for example, has to find over £2 million of savings, while education will see £3.2 million lopped off its budget. How that will be done has yet to come totally out of the wash.

The books will be balanced by a range of measures – savings in some areas, fee charge rises in others, and, while there will be employee casualties along the way, the staff reductions will be made through natural turnover.

Two budgets were presented to members on Thursday afternoon – one by the administration and the other by the SNP opposition – and there wasn’t a lot in difference between them.

The alliance proposals included £500,000 for the education’s Determined to Succeed initiative and pupil support, £315,000 for ICT investment in Angus schools and a £500,000 top-up to a recreation special fund.

The SNP alternative budget included proposals included a £1.6 million fund to be split equally between the council’s eight wards for the provision of local sporting and community facilities and the diversion of £1 million saved on the Montrose pool project towards providing the infrastructure for a Carnoustie business park.

In the end, the administration budget won the day by 16 votes to 12. For the full story turn to page eight.