Tories get on board with council spending plans

Michelle Ballantyne
Michelle Ballantyne

Councillors of all political hues will today approve a £254.5million revenue spending programme for the coming financial year.

Although that represents a £2million cash increase on Scottish Borders Council’s current running cost expenditure – raised by Council Tax, non-domestic rates and Scottish Government grant – additional budget pressures worth £8.6million have been identified.

Chief among the new burdens are “demographic and other service pressures”, estimated at £5.2million, and due principally to a surge in the number of vulnerable people requiring social work support.

And pay increases for the council’s 5,500 staff, who have sustained two wage freezes in the last five years, will cost around £2.2million to deliver.

With the SNP/Independent/Lib Dem ruling administration at Newtown recommending an eighth successive freeze in Council Tax – at £1,084 for Band D households – the council is being asked to agree a range of measures to address the shortfall.

Around 55 jobs will be shed in 2015/16 as part of a strategy to “make better use of our people” and deliver savings of around £3.6million. There will not, however, be any compulsory redundancies.

The shortfall will also be mitigated by improvements to IT (£750,000) and increased charges to the public for a range of council services (£780,000).

Although individual devolved school management budgets will be protected, around £2million will be saved on education as a result of a fall in pupil numbers, altering the terms and conditions of non-teaching staff and sending less children with special needs to expensive placements in other local authority areas. The outsourcing of adult care services to an arms-length company from April 1 and the transfer of cultural services, including libraries and museums, to a trust later in the year, will yield another £600,000 of savings.

The Southern has learned that these proposals will not be opposed today by the Conservative opposition group of nine councillors.

Group leader Michelle Ballantyne said she was “broadly supportive” adding: “Our officers have worked hard to look at how we deliver services for less money and there is no doubt this is a challenging revenue budget.

“It is clear, however, the Scottish Government’s policies on such matters as planning fees, teacher numbers and the setting of Council Tax are increasingly restricting the ability of local government to make the right decisions for the people it serves.”

It is estimated that without the Council Tax freeze, Band D households would now be paying an extra £259 per year.