North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration is to invest a further £6-million in developing and protecting essential frontline services over the next financial year.
All 30 councillors, including the principle opposition group of Labour members, recently reached agreement on how the local authority’s budget for 2014/15 should be spent.
A special meeting of the Council earlier this month heard all departmental budgets were facing significant pressures resulting from “a real reduction in financial resources” coupled with increased demand for services, particularly in relation to meeting the needs of North Ayrshire’s growing elderly population and vulnerable children.
The majority of money made available to councils comes in the form of funding from the SNP Scottish Government. However, under the current devolved settlement, the Scottish Government receives its funding in the form of a block-grant from Westminster. With the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government slashing billions-of-pounds from the money provided to the Scottish Government, this has resulted in knock-on financial reductions for local authorities.
An NAC spokesperson said that in addition to reduced financial resources and increased demand for services, Welfare reforms introduced by the UK Government were adding to the burdens on the Council. However, the spokesperson noted, “Despite these pressures, the 2014/15 budget will protect Council jobs, invest an additional £6.2-million in revenue expenditure next year and confirm £242-million of investment in capital projects up until 2022/23.”
In addition, the agreed budget targets £400,000 towards improving outcomes for children and young people, including a review of future delivery of Educational Services.
Cllr Willie Gibson, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, said, “The budget reflects the Council’s commitment to finding innovative solutions to help us protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“Prudent financial management, even in the current economic climate, means that we will still spend significant resources in meeting the needs of the communities of North Ayrshire, including more than £313-million in the delivery of frontline services and more than £242-million of investment in our schools, regeneration, roads, lighting, and improvements to our buildings.”
Cllr Ruth Maguire, SNP Cabinet member for Finance and Corporate Support, added, “This budget is all about doing things differently and looking at Council services in the round – how our services affect the lives of North Ayrshire residents and the outcomes our services achieve.
“For example, North Ayrshire pupils’ educational achievement and attainment has improved considerably over the last five years, and we celebrate that. We are, however, even more ambitious for our young people and want to see them do even better. We want them to have the very best opportunities in life and therefore we are investing in how we make that happen.”
However, with a reduced income, North Ayrshire Council has to make ‘efficiencies’ in order to balance the books. The Council estimate savings of around £18-million will have to be made over the years 2014-2017, with just short of £1.5-million earmarked for the coming financial year and £961,000 identified for the two years 2015-17, leaving a funding gap of £16-million.
Local Labour MP Katy Clark said any further cuts to Council services “will mean great pain in our communities and I am really concerned about the impact it will have.”