Argyll and Bute budget plans would slash spending by £8m

Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ will host the authority's annual budget meeting on Thursday, February 11.
Argyll and Bute Council's Lochgilphead HQ will host the authority's annual budget meeting on Thursday, February 11.

Members of Argyll and Bute Council will consider proposals to slash the authority’s spending by more than £8 million when they hold their annual budget meeting next week.

The council’s ruling administration has revealed that it has no plans to raise council tax in the area - but background reports for two crucial meetings on Thursday, February 11 show that all options for cuts to jobs and services are still very much on the table.

Virtually all the ‘savings options’ put out for public consultation in November and December are contained in the administration’s budget proposals, where they are now listed as ‘policy savings’ - even though that consultation revealed widespread alarm at the implications for local communities.

The final decision on whether to go ahead with some or all of those savings, however, won’t be made until the council’s budget meeting on Thursday afternoon - following a meeting of the authority’s powerful policy and resources committee earlier in the day.

Those savings include scrapping all ten of the council’s secondary school librarians, cutting classroom assistant and clerical staff numbers in both primary and secondary schools by 20 per cent, getting rid of school crossing patrollers, reducing financial support for local advice services, grassing over flower beds and displays of roses and shrubs, and closing 43 public toilets.

If they are all accepted, they will reduce the authority’s spending by almost £7.4 million in 2016-17 and will result in the full-time equivalent (FTE) of 184 jobs being lost in the same year, rising to a total of 356.8 FTE once planning for future years is taken into account.

Management or operational savings - those without any implications for policies or staff numbers - would add a further £1.044m to the year’s savings as the authority seeks to bridge a revenue budget gap which, for 2016-17, it has forecast to be just over £10m.

Council leader Dick Walsh said: “We are totally committed to listening to our communities and we will be taking their views into account as we finalise our budget proposals.

“However, there are no easy choices when you consider that we have £10.2million less to spend on essential services.

“Members of the administration are very clear about their shared priorities during one of the most challenging budgets that local government in Scotland has ever seen.”

One of the background papers for Thursday’s meeting predicts the council will have slightly more than £6 million in unallocated reserves by the end of the current financial year.

You can view the budget pack (which runs to 366 pages) for Thursday’s meeting by clicking here.

The three councillors who comprise the opposition Reform Group in the council chamber published their own alternative budget - based on a major decentralisation of power - on January 21, while the SNP, the largest single opposition group in the Kilmory council chamber, are also expected to release their own alternative spending plans prior to February 11.