Argyll and Bute Council sets its budget for 2019/20

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School lollipop crossing patrollers in Argyll and Bute have been spared the axe – but other services will be slashed after the local authority set its spending plans for 2019-20.

Among the cuts approved by members of Argyll and Bute Council today (Thursday) were a reduction in the youth and adult learning services budget to less than half its current level – despite protests across by secondary school pupils across the area the previous day.

The council’s road safety unit will also be scrapped entirely, while five jobs will be cut from the authority’s environment warden service, with the latter move saving £385,000 over the next three financial years.

Councillors agreed a full package of savings at the authority’s annual budget meeting in Lochgilphead.

But they opted not to proceed with a ‘policy option’ which would have seen the school crossing patrol service across the area axed.

Other policy options not approved were a 10 per cent reduction in grounds and environmental maintenance, closures of customer service points, and fee increases for on-street and off-street car parking.

A widely-anticipated 4.79 per cent increase in council tax bills for the next 12 months was approved, though councillors also agreed to put an extra £500,000 into the winter maintenance budget on a recurring basis.

Council leader Aileen Morton, in presenting the ruling administration’s budget to the council, said: “Our approach is to protect essential services and to protect jobs as far as we can.

“When it is said like that it sounds simple, but in reality it is near impossible.

“The continued existence of local authorities is under threat as they struggle to meet costs.

“People may find it difficult to understand that we have to face tough choices regarding services they depend on as they hear announcements that councils are getting more money.

“We didn’t receive more funding overall. As stated in the budget report, once we take into account the rising costs, our overall budget gap is nearly £8 million.”

Depute leader Councillor Gary Mulvaney said: “Responsibility is the byword and the hallmark of this administration’s approach to setting a balanced budget.

“We have a sizeable gap to meet challenges of making unpalatable and unpopular savings.

“An easy way out would be great. Not making any difficult decisions at all would be a politician’s dream. But Scottish authorities are not living that dream at all.

“Last year we invested heavily in the roads programme and now we are investing in winter maintenance.

“The priority is prudent financial management. We will continue to do the right thing, take the right action and make the right choices. That is the reality of working with, and for, our communities.”

The budget put forward by the ruling administration of Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent councillors was countered by three amendments including one from the opposition SNP group.

Councillor Sandy Taylor, leader of the opposition SNP group, said: “It is important that we continue to search for the holy grail.

“We have lost money and will continue to lose money.”

Further amendments were put forward by Councillor Douglas Philand (seconded by Donald Kelly) and by Councillor George Freeman (seconded by Jean Moffat).

Councillor Douglas Philand submitted a motion, previously publicised on Tuesday, seconded by Councillor Donald Kelly.

The final amendment was submitted by Councillor George Freeman, seconded by Councillor Jean Moffat.

As a result of the new budget, the council’s road safety unit will close, while the environmental wardens unit will lose half of its  workforce.

All three amendments proposed saving the road safety unit and maintaining the environmental warden and youth and adult learning services budgets at current levels.

The administration’s motion received 21 votes, while Councillor Taylor’s amendment was backed by the 10 members of the SNP group present at the meeting.

The amendments by Cllrs Philand and Freeman received two votes each.