Borderers have say on SBC budget spend

Borderers have until the end of January to have their say on how the council can reduce its spending by £20million over the next five years, writes Andrew Keddie.

Cutting the cost of directly-employed staff – under the euphemistic heading of “making the best use of our people” – will account for more than £10million of that saving in draft revenue budget proposals put out to public consultation last week.

SBC has set up an online simulator to get the views of residents on how the savings can best be achieved before a detailed decision on the spending programme for 2015/16 – and indicative plans for the following four years – is agreed in February. And the public’s appetite to influence the local authority appears to be more whetted than last year when a similar feedback exercise attracted just 109 responses over six weeks.

In just six days, 85 responses have so far been posted on the simulator with the consultation due to continue until January 31.

In money terms, the draft budget is set to remain static at around £253million a year for the next five years, on the assumption that both Council Tax and the annual support grant from the Scottish Government will be frozen. But with inflation, an increased demand for council services and demographic pressures from an ageing population, the upshot is an estimated total shortfall of £20.157milion to be plugged by 2019/20.

For example, over that period the council will have to find an extra £6.7million to deliver 600 hours of nursery provision and £1.3million a year to provide free school meals for every P1-3 pupil. Next year alone, an extra £1.37million will be needed to care for more older people and adults with physical and learning disabilities.

Solutions range from the obvious – improving IT to make management and administration more efficient and devoting the savings to frontline services – to the controversial, including the outsourcing of all adult care services to an arms-length organisation to save £2.5million in staff costs over the five years.

The payroll-cutting proposals are also dependent on the local authority continuing to offer voluntary severance and early-retirement deals to eligible employees.

“We are working to ensure we continue to balance the books and protect services in key priority areas,” said Councillor John Mitchell (SNP), SBC’s depute leader with responsibility for finance.

“This has involved working closely with officers across the council for several months to allow us to put forward these proposals.”

Readers wishing to access the online feedback simulator can so at scotborders.budgetsimulator.com.