Council tax frozen for fifth successive year

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AS they battle their way through to economic times the residents of Angus can look forward to a council tax for the fifth year in succession.

At a special meeting to set the budget for 2011-2012, Angus council agreed that the Band D council tax should remain at £1072, excluding water charges, for 2011/12.

As the administration approved the budget plans by 16 votes to 12, council leader Bob Myles described it as “one of the best the whole of Scotland will be hearing today”.

And, while there were no major surprises in what was tabled, the SNP opposition had their reservations about just how good it really was, hinting the devil will be in the detail.

Forfar councillor Glennis Middleton said: “A hallmark of this administration budget is that it’s more important for what it doesn’t say than what it does.

“I don’t think the administration is as honest as it could have been in explaining to the people of Angus about what exactly it is going to mean to them and the services they will receive.”

Setting out the Alliance administration proposals, finance spokesperson councillor Mark Salmond said the Angus Alliance budget was one that would help build Angus’ future, with roads a top priority.

“In setting this budget we have taken a considered and long term approach to ensure we not only deal with the current financial challenges but also focus on building Angus’ future,” said councillor Salmond.

“As everyone is aware from our budget consultation Angus has to find savings of £23 million by 2014.

“We’ve now made a start to that, setting a budget for 2011/12 that delivers around £8.5 million of savings, £7.4 million from departmental budgets and the remainder from corporate initiatives.

“While this was a very tough challenge – it’s nearly twice as much as last year’s savings package – we are fortunate that years of sound financial management puts us in a better position than some other local authorities.

“We have therefore managed to protect front-line services from the worst of the cuts and have not had to resort to compulsory redundancies.

“By being more focused about how and where services are delivered we have been able to make investment in the services needed and valued by the Angus community.

“For example this budget invests a record £15 million in the roads network – £1.4 million more than last year - which will help us tackle the potholes and other essential maintenance following two of the most severe winters ever experienced.

“This includes an additional £400,000 for winter maintenance, some of which will be used to provide another 100 grit bins in response to public demand.”

Councillor Salmond said the council had followed the savings approach outlined in its December budget consultation, the first undertaken by Angus Council.

“The four strands of our savings approach – greater efficiency, fewer staff, more focused services and increased income – are delivering the savings we need to find over the next three years and beyond.

“In setting this budget we have tried to deliver as much as we could from efficiency savings - this year almost 50 per cent (£3.6 million) of the departmental savings are cashable efficiency savings.

“Reductions in staff numbers through natural turnover will this year deliver £3.8 million, all of which is being carefully managed to maintain essential service.

“These measures, coupled with increased income and more focused service delivery, deliver the £8.5 million saving we need.”

Councillor Salmond said the council had listened to public opinion when setting this year’s budget.

““While our approach got the broad support of the public and staff we did listen to their feedback and in response we have decided against some of the savings proposed.

“So for example subsidised crèches at leisure centres will continue during the lifetime of this administration and the opening hours of recycling centres will not be shortened.”

Turning to the council’s capital plan the convener said: “In the next few years we have over £114 million of planned capital expenditure – nearly £42 million of that is planned for 2011/12, including £14 million of housing investment.

“This year’s work includes the new Kinloch Day Care Centre and Supported Housing; numerous road improvement projects; Montrose Swimming Pool; and the development of a new primary school in Arbroath.

“These and other essential projects are building the future of Angus’ communities – improving services and providing employment for many local people and contractors.”

Other investments highlighted in the budget include £500,000 for Education’s Determined to Succeed Initiative and to provide support to pupils; £315,000 for ICT investment in Angus schools; £450,000 to support community care initiatives and young people’s social care needs; £500,000 for the recreation special fund - bringing the total investment since 2007 to £1.8m; £190,000 investment in e-business infrastructure – to improve and expand the function of the website; A £100,000 top up to the community grants fund, making over £160k available in 2011/12; and 100 extra litter bins and 100 extra grit bins will be provided across Angus.

In presenting the SNP’s alternative budget, which wasn’t too far apart from the one tabled by the Alliance, SNP finance spokesperson Alex King included a £1.6 million fund to be split equally between the council’s eight wards for the provision of local sporting or community facilities.

And there was also a proposal to divert the £1 million saved on the Montrose swimming pool project towards providing infrastructure for a business park in Carnoustie.

The SNP also proposed to treat winter maintenance differently, not allocating this directly to the roads budget but instead making an allocation of a total of £1 million from the uncommitted general fund balance to create a new winter maintenance reserve as part of the council’s reserves and balances.”

“The new winter maintenance reserve would only be drawn when needed to fund additional winter maintenance during prolonged periods of bad weather.”

The SNP also questioned specific areas of the administration’s education savings, including the reduction of teachers for pupils with additional support needs and cuts to the per capita budgets of primary and secondary schools across Angus, as well as the proposed increases to school music tuition fees.