21
Feb
2019
1

Fife’s unnecessary Austerity budget

The administration is proposing yet more cuts today and I am sure it sickens every single SNP and Labour member – and of course it sickens every Conservative and Lib Dem as well.

All of us see what happens when the council spends less on services each year while demanding more in rent and council tax: yes, Fife Council is making life ever tougher for our constituents, with services across the board declining in quality and harder to access.

But let us be crystal clear about who is responsible for, as the EIS puts it, Fife’s austerity budget.

The first culprit is the SNP government. For years it has played politics with local government funding: since 2010 it has deliberately cut the money it gives councils by almost one tenth in favour of increasing its own central government spending. ….and it has masked this by appealing to nationalist delusions of grievance by blaming Westminster.

Yet the truth is this year’s block grant from the UK Government is rising by 1.8% in real terms, £1.1 billion in cash terms, …. While the grant Fife Council gets from the Scottish Government for core services has fallen again, this time by £4 million. …. Taking inflation and increased demand for services into account, this leaves Fife over £9 million short.

Even without this extra £1.1 billion, the Scottish Government has plenty of money to maintain council funding, if it wanted to – it has half a billion of unspent revenue budget from last year, it has also chosen to splash millions on independence grandstanding, running offices in China, the US, Canada, France and Belgium when we have perfectly good embassies and trade missions in these countries already – money, fellow councillors, which should have gone to Scottish local authorities to protect essential services for Scottish citizens.

The second lot responsible for this austerity budget are labour and snp in fife. …they are utterly complicit in the nationalist war of attrition on local services.

As my colleague Councillor Miklinski has shown, they are blinkered by ideology and too timid to consider a radical rethink of how the council delivers services. Had they done so, had they learnt the lessons of their own outsourced contracts in roads, building services and social care, few of the cuts of previous years would have been necessary.

Even now, we reckon that a very modest programme of outsourcing, coupled with only a cost of living increase in council tax, could give the council an extra £4 million to spend this year, with much bigger dividends in future years.

So what would a Conservative budget for 2019/20 look like?

For a start, we would stop the relentless assault on school budgets – which will lose another £1.5 million.

Like last year, the administration refuses to say what these cuts will mean for individual schools because it knows it would have parents marching on Fife House …. To protest about shorter school weeks, fewer teachers, reduced subject choice and less help for struggling pupils – in other words, reduced life chances for Fife’s young people.

By contrast, a Conservative budget wouldn’t just protect the existing education budget – it would add a further half million to reverse previous cuts.

We would also remove the annual threat to abolish instrumental teaching in fife schools once and for all.

Councillor Alexander has wasted no time in patting himself on the back for not taking this saving this year, but as we pointed out in this chamber last year, holding the axe over the heads of staff, pupils and parents for 5 months every year is pointless and cruel…. It’s time the administration found the courage to put the axe away once and for all.

A Conservative budget would also protect health and social care spending. The administration gives with one hand and takes away with the other: £3 million in and £837,000 out. By contrast, we would pass on the full amount the Scottish Government has earmarked for health and social care.

Thanks to our outsourcing strategy, a Conservative budget would respond to our constituents’ complaints – we’d spend

  • A quarter of a million restoring the opening hours at our recycling centres,
  • Restore £150,000 worth of cuts to the voluntary sector while also doing a value-for-money audit across all grants and service level agreements,
  • Put in £90k to address dog fouling,
  • £100k to enhance capacity for community asset transfer,
  • £100k to revive the community safety partnership to better address crime and anti-social behaviour
  • And £234k to properly fund fife gingerbread.

Fife Gingerbread is a perfect example of where Fife Council already outsources services to the third sector – which delivers excellent and verifiable value for money. We wouldn’t just be keep Fife Gingerbread going – we would be working actively with it and other third sector organisations to extend their work with families struggling with deprivation and other problems.

This is why we do not support the administration’s £400,000 “holiday hunger” project. This is a patronising throwback to the time of soup kitchens which just foster dependency.

Families who for whatever reason can’t give their children a decent midday meal in the holidays don’t need a free meal at school – with all the stigma attached – they need targeted support to budget, shop and cook. If children aren’t being fed at lunchtimes in the holidays because parents are otherwise engaged, perhaps we need far more holiday activity programmes – with lunch provided. Either way, a central council programme of holiday feeding stations in schools is not the answer.

Finally, a Conservative budget would hand substantial resources – £2 million plus – to area committees – the administration talks about devolving power to areas but has yet to put its money where its mouth is. We would give areas serious resources to spend on things like road repairs, verge-cutting, litter-picking and unadopted roads as well as lifting car parking charges in blighted town centres.

So fellow Councillors, i have great pleasure in seconding this Conservative amendment –

Which, unlike the timid and dishonest offering from the administration, will bolster services through greater partnership with the private and third sectors, and which despite the onslaught on local government by the SNP government, will deliver the best possible services for the people of Fife.

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