Argyll and Bute Council tax rises and jobs under threat

Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters in Lochgilphead.
Argyll and Bute Council's headquarters in Lochgilphead.

Council tax payers in Argyll and Bute could see their bills rise by almost five per cent – while dozens of local authority jobs could be lost.

A possible rise of 4.79 per cent has been mooted in a new report – and would leave council tax payers in a Band D property, the middle of the council tax scale, facing a bill of £1,308.33 for 2019-20.

That represents a total increase of £59.33 on Argyll and Bute’s current Band D charge.

The revelations are contained in a document on the plans for the 2019/20 financial year, which will be discussed tomorrow (Thursday) by the council’s policy and resources committee. The report, by head of strategic finance Kirsty Flanagan, also states that if all proposals are agreed, it will leave the council with a financial cushion of more than £1 million – although it warns that a significant budget gap remains in future years.

Ms Flanagan said: “New savings options for 2019/20 have now been identified as a result of the work led by the Transformation Board.

“The savings options have been classified into management/operational options where there are no policy implications and will not result in any redundancies and policy options, where there are either policy or staffing implications.

“All policy options have been categorised into statutory duty, statutory power or non-statutory service.

“The savings options identified propose a reduction to the council’s staffing of 49.2 FTE (full-time equivalent) within 2019/20 should they all be accepted by members.”

The posts under threat include school lollipop crossing patrols, a proposal which has been met with fierce opposition since it was announced in December.

Ms Flanagan added: “In light of the estimated reduction in the Scottish Government funding together with cost increases in respect of pay, inflation and other pressures, I have assumed that the council would wish to increase the council tax by 4.79 per cent, however, this is a matter for council to decide.

“In terms of the future years, I have assumed no increase in the worst case scenario, a three per cent increase in the mid-range scenario and a 4.79 per cent increase in the best case scenario.”

The report also asks the council to consider a £120,000 funding request to support staging the Royal National Mod in Oban in 2023, along with a £23,330 cost to renew its contract with Kintyre Recycling Ltd.Ms Flanagan said: “If members agreed to all the proposals already noted within this report this would produce a balanced budget in 2019-20 with a surplus of £1.032m.

“There remains a significant budget gap in future years and the Transformation Board have already identified a number of longer term options worthy of pursuit.”

Councillor Aileen Morton, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said: “It’s no longer enough to say that these are difficult times for councils. Years of savings are peeling away the support that councils can give their communities. More and more, councils must focus on delivering their statutory duties.

“Argyll and Bute, however, needs more than core services from its council. It needs support to build its economy and a successful future; local communities need local government services to support their family and business.

“Setting a responsible budget this year is about making decisions that support people as much as we can now, while also looking after the future of Argyll and Bute.”

Councillor Gary Mulvaney, depute leader and policy lead for strategic finance, said: “The harsh fact is that funding for our core services is being cut again with our like-for-like Scottish Government grant down £3.1m, leaving an unpalatable combination of service cuts and council tax rises to plug that gap.

“Decisions we made in previous years mean we have already put in place £2.4m savings for 2019/20. However, more cuts to our core funding mean more tough choices about the work of the council.

“Our priority is to deliver as much value as possible from the reduced funding we have.”

As reported in last week’s Buteman, the Scottish Greens deal with the SNP on the Scottish Government Budget secured an additional £3.5m for Argyll and Bute Council.

Reports on the council’s budget proposals are available on the local authority’s website, in the meetings, agendas and minutes section.