Next stage of budget consultation gets go-ahead

ARGYLL and Bute Council has agreed to consult on proposals which could reduce its budget by around £7.5 million.

Councillors agreed on Monday to proceed to the next stage in the ongoing budget consultation process – asking residents to comment on options to deliver efficiency savings and to change the way some services are delivered.

Some of these services will include reductions in local transport and community grants, discontinuing the winter street lighting scouting programme, reduction of funding to third parties, including VisitScotland, transferring public halls to the ownership of community trusts, cutting staff hours in school and office cleaning services by 20 per cent, removing the free fruit currently offered to P1 and P2 children and increasing the price of primary and secondary school meals by 15p a day.

The programme of cuts, if approved in full, will result in the loss of 162 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts within the council, though a spokesperson told The Buteman it was too early to say how many of these could be achieved without recourse to compulsory redundancies.

This is the first year the council has consulted in depth on its budget and we've been told they are encouraged by the response so far.

The leader of the council, Dick Walsh, explained: "We've shared our budget process with residents this year because we think it's the right thing to do. We don't have to consult on the budget and we haven't done it before but this year we knew there were difficult decisions ahead.

"By consulting on the budget since August I hope our residents are more aware of the challenges we face. We've held a number of consultation events and these have helped us develop the options that are now for discussion."

A full list of proposals is available on the council's website, along with summary documents and an online feedback form.

Consultation on the budget ends on December 31, to allow councillors time to analyse and consider any feedback before the final budget is presented in February.

Cllr Walsh continued: "I appreciate there's a condensed period remaining for people to feed in their thoughts. But we've been consulting since August and there's only a short window between when we get an idea of our settlement from the Scottish Government and when we start considering the final budget. It's important that the council gets as many views as possible and I would be delighted to hear any creative ideas people have which could reduce the impact of any of the budget proposals."

Posters will be displayed, directing residents to the web-based budget consultation information. Information will also be sent to community councils. Feedback will be collected via an online questionnaire and by asking the council's citizens' panel - details will also be available in libraries and council offices, where people can put forward their views.

Full details of the consultation will be available on the council's website by the end of this week.