North Ayrshire Council has set a budget for the next three years, taking the authority up to the next scheduled local government elections in 2017.
Faced with further substantial funding cuts from central government, the Council’s Leader, SNP councillor Willie Gibson, said “it is becoming more challenging every year to deliver a balanced budget”.
Despite having already made ‘savings’ of around £50m in recent years, the new budget agreed by councillors will require a further £19m of cuts. Laura Friel, North Ayrshire’s Corporate Director (Finance), confirmed to the budget meeting that it was “impossible” the cuts would not “impact upon the workforce”. It is anticipated there will be a further 217 job losses at the Council over the budget’s three-year period.
A breakdown of required financial savings show cuts are set to grow year-on-year: 2015/16 - £4.4m; 2016/17 - £5.9m; 2017/18 - £9m. In addition to reducing spending, the Council also agreed a 2.1% rise to rent charges paid by tenants.
Despite the cuts, budget papers show NAC’s overall planned expenditure for the next financial year (2015/16) is £447m, which includes £320m for General Services Revenue, £52m to the General Services Capital Programme, £46m towards the Housing Revenue Account and £29m for the Housing Capital Programme.
In addition, the SNP-led Council intends to put £6m into supporting the needs of North Ayrshire’s ageing population, with £3m directed to the other end of the age scale in providing additional early years services. A further £600,000 will be used to cushion the blow of welfare reforms imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government.
Cllr Willie Gibson said, “We are resolute in our determination to target our resources at those areas of priority and helping the people who need it most.
“The budget sees a significant investment in health and social care with a shift in resources towards caring for people in the community. We also have a particular emphasis on growing our economy in order to create more jobs, strengthen communities and tackle inequalities.”
Cllr Ruth Maguire, SNP Cabinet member for Finance and Corporate Support, noted, “The cumulative effect of various budget pressures — including welfare reform, the rising cost of our payroll and pension commitments, and an anticipated real reduction in resources — means that the council faces a funding gap of £19.4m over the next three years.
“There are no easy decisions here. It becomes a question of prioritising our resources to those areas that will make the biggest difference for North Ayrshire people and North Ayrshire communities — those that make the biggest contribution towards our desired outcome of making North Ayrshire a better place to live.”