Council warns of tougher times to come

Budget steady, but more cuts to come
Budget steady, but more cuts to come

East Dunbartonshire Council has balanced its books for the year ahead - but with the 
warning that further cuts are coming.

At the council’s annual budget meeting on Thursday night, council leader Rhondda Geekie said cuts of £2.71million had already been made following tough decisions taken towards the end of last year.

But the Lab/LibDem/Tory coalition revealed the council face making a further £23million in savings over the next three years.

It was also revealed council house rents would rise by 3.3 per cent this year.

All residents will face a charge of £19 for a replacement wheelie bin if it is lost or 
damaged, a move which was opposed by SNP councillors.

At the meeting, the council agreed to freeze council tax and to conform to any future agreement on teacher numbers in order to secure £181.69 million revenue from the Scottish Government.

According to Councillor Geekie, after a further £53.88 million from council tax was budgeted in, the full saving needed was £2.71 million.

She explained: “The approach the council has taken to this year’s budget means that the full savings required for 2015/16 had already been identified, following decisions already taken, and no further savings proposals had to be considered.”

But she warned this approach was “not without risk”, particularly as the council did not yet know the outcome of negotiations on teacher numbers and what that may mean for East Dunbartonshire.”

She also added: “People are no strangers to the fact that we have taken £40 million from this council’s operating budget over the past eight years and we face £23 million of further savings over the next three years.

“This means that further impact on services is inevitable in the years ahead.”

But she said it was not all cuts or service reductions, adding: “We have also budgeted for a 1.5 per cent pay rise across the workforce and have just launched the latest phase of our Grad+ programme for the unemployed.”

With regard to the current dispute between the council and trade unions, she said: “We recognise there will have to be some new suggestions from the unions put on the table, but after the partnership working displayed elsewhere this should be possible even in a challenging timescale.”

At Thursday night’s meeting, opposition SNP councillors put forward an amendment urging the council to instruct officers, as a matter of urgency, to assess the financial merits of the trade unions’ alternative reorganisation options.

After the meeting, SNP leader Councillor Ian Mackay said: “The major budget changes were made in a series of meetings from between August 2014-January 2015. However, this was an opportunity to open up the reorganization decisions which affected the terms and conditions of frontline staff, such as janitors, hallkeepers, binmen and roadsweepers.

“Our proposal requested that the negotiations between the trade unions and management should continue to avoid the worst aspects of the proposed changes. We have now secured a commitment from the administration to continue negotiations between management and the unions.”