City Council Revenue Budget 2016/17

Yesterday, I submitted my amendments to the Dundee City Council budget meeting, aimed at tackling some of the worst effects of the SNP’s austerity cuts.
 
Had I won the vote, my amendment would have scrapped the proposed large increases in car parking charges across the city, garden maintenance charges for elderly and disabled people would not have imposed this year and frozen until a fair charging system based on ability to pay is put in place, and there would have been a less severe cut in roads maintenance and street lighting than the SNP is imposing.
 
My additional expenditure to stop car park charges and cuts in garden maintenance for the elderly and disabled and roads and street lighting maintenance would have been paid for by modest cuts in non-controversial areas such as equipment, furniture, contract care hire, catering and hospitality – these reductions being spread right across the council to lessen the impact in each department.
 
I was not fooling myself that it is in any way possible to stop the worst effects of the SNP austerity cuts.  The bottom line is that John Swinney has taken an axe to local government this year and Dundee faces terrible cuts of £23 million this year.   However, I think my budget amendment did help in a number of vital areas.    It is not in the city’s economic interests to see car parking hiked this year.   Nor should elderly and disabled people on low incomes be charged for garden maintenance as the SNP is doing.   I also tried to stop the worst of the roads maintenance and street lighting cuts.
 
Although I lost the vote, I was at least the only opposition councillor to propose an alternative budget.   Labour – with ten councillors – failed to propose any alternative budget whatsoever.
 
The administration did at least agree to a working group I had proposed to look at garden maintenance charges being based on ability to pay.
 
However, the overall budget outcome is bad news for Dundee’s local services without any shadow of a doubt.

City Council committees

Earlier tonight, the City Council’s first main committee meetings on 2016 took place and Policy and Resources Committee was dominated by a report on the local government financial settlement for the forthcoming financial year.
 
The report from council officers correctly points out :

The outcome of the Westminster Spending Review was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 25 November 2015. The Scottish Budget totals show a cash increase of £1 billion (3.3%) between 2015/16 and 2019/20, largely due to the Barnett consequentials of changes to other Whitehall departmental budgets. When adjusted for projected inflation, however, this represents a real terms reduction of 4.1%. For 2016/17, the year-on-year cash increase is £0.5 billion (1.7%), which represents a standstill budget in real terms.

However, despite being given “a standstill budget in real terms” in terms of the Scottish Block from Westminster, John Swinney, the Scottish Government Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and the Economy is wielding the axe to local government, with a cut of £350 million, which results in Dundee City Council facing cuts of some £23 million in the next year.
 
I have been a member of the council for nearly 15 years and this financial settlement is by far the worst I have ever seen.   The claims of Scottish Government Ministers to be “anti-austerity” can now be seen for the wholly empty rhetoric it is and I do not under-estimate the scale of the financial disaster Scottish Government is imposing upon vital local services.
 
Tonight, I moved the following amendment at committee – unfortunately the council administration voted it down, despite the fact that I purposely wrote it in a manner designed to be consensual and non-confrontational :
 
Policy and Resources Committee :   11th January 2016  :   Item 3 (a)
 
Amendment by Councillor Fraser Macpherson 
 
Add an additional recommendation :
 
2.8 Instructs the Chief Executive to write to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and the Economy expressing the council’s deep concern at the inadequate level of revenue and capital funding allocations for 2016, indicating the council’s disquiet that the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and the Economy is proposing that local government bears a disproportionate share of government funding reductions in 2016/17 and requesting that the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and the Economy reviews the position with a view to increasing local government revenue and capital funding allocations for 2016/17.

Council Budget meeting

Earlier today, I participated in the City Council’s Annual Budget Setting meeting at which I was the only opposition councillor to propose an amendment (and – I would argue – improvement) to the Capital Budget.   I also proposed an amendment to the Revenue Budget.
 
The budget papers can be accessed here.   My revenue budget amendment was as follows:
 
Approves the budget savings totalling £3,310,000 as shown in the Administration Group’s motion with the following amendments:
 
       Savings to be Deleted
Education: Restructure of Young Mum’s Unit (Menzieshill High School)         £    44,000
Environment: Major Service Redesign and Rationalisation of Ground
Maintenance and Street Cleansing Operations *                                              £  157,000
Environment: Review of Bowling Green Provision                                         £    30,000
 
*Major Service Redesign and Rationalisation of Ground Maintenance and Street Cleansing Operations – this proposes no introduction in 2015/16 only, but further proposes establishment of an all-party working group, including officers, to determine possible proposals for 2016/17 onwards. Such a working group to be established by March 2015 and report by August 2015.
 
Savings to be Added
Various Savings                                                                                               £ 231,000
The purpose of my amendment was to avoid a detrimental change to the Young Mum’s Unit – the SNP administration proposed removal of the Principal Teacher’s post;  to stop cuts in the city’s street cleaning service and grounds maintenance and to avoid the closure of Victoria Park and Baxter Park Bowling Greens.
 
It was unsurprising that the SNP administration was not for listening and pushed these cuts through but the position of the Labour Group was, frankly, astonishing.   Having “borrowed” savings I had identified and trying to pass them off as their own in their own amendment, Labour then failed to support my amendment.  
 
The only conclusion one can draw from that is that Dundee Labour is comfortable with the SNP’s West End and Baxter Park Bowling Green closures and the cuts in street cleaning, as Labour did not attempt to reverse these SNP cuts in their own amendment.
 
SNP and Labour also failed to support my Capital Budget amendment (in fact, in a Capital Budget of £195 million over the next three years, Labour had no amendment at all of their own).   
 
My amendment was as follows :
This would have increased roads resurfacing in Dundee by £550 000 over the next three years and provided for a budget for new bus shelters where they are required.    
 
An opportunity lost I feel.

Save Victoria Park Bowling Green

I have today issued a last minute appeal in advance of this Thursday’s City Council Budget Meeting to save the Victoria Park Bowling Green in the West End but also the Baxter Park Bowling Green, both facing the axe by the SNP council administration.
 
The council claims that these bowling greens could be better used so they intend to axe them but the council itself has failed to properly promote the greens and their availability for local people to use.   If the council had been more proactive in advertising these bowling greens, they would been better used.
 
In the West End, we are lucky to have excellent private bowling clubs like Hillcrest and Balgay, but for people unable to afford an annual subscription or residents just wanting an occasional game without a recurring subscription, council bowling greens provide that facility.   The bowling green at Victoria Park has a lovely setting and it would be a crying shame to see it dismantled.    
 
I have submitted a budget amendment that council officers agree is legally competent and this would save both Victoria Park Bowling Green and the one at Baxter Park.    I call upon all the West End councillors to support efforts to save Victoria Park Bowling Green.  
 
My budget amendment also stops the SNP’s proposed reduction in street cleaning services and the highly controversial SNP proposals to restructure the Young Mum’s Unit at Menzieshill High School.
 
The bowling greens can and must be saved and I hope common sense with prevail at the budget meeting on Thursday.

City Council Revenue Budget 2015/16

As reported in both the Evening Telegraph and the Courier, I have submitted draft proposals to council officers that would seek to remove some of the worst of the budget cuts the Dundee SNP administration proposes to make.
 
These SNP cuts include a reduction in street cleaning services, the closure of the Victoria Park bowling green and Baxter Park bowling green, closing the DUN.C.A.N. anti-crime project and the highly controversial SNP proposals to restructure the Young Mum’s Unit at Menzieshill High School.
 
I am keen to see the worst of the SNP cuts being rejected and have looked to find alternative savings that would ensure the highly successful DUN.C.A.N. anti-crime project does not close, street cleaning is not cut back, bowling greens are not closed and the Young Mum’s Unit does not suffer detrimental cuts.
 
I have asked council finance officers to look at the legality and competency of my alternative savings which would not impact detrimentally on vital services and I thereafter aim to present these at the budget meeting on 12th February.

Proposal to save Early Year Practitioner Posts in Dundee Primary Schools

I am pleased to say that I have identified alternative savings that can be made to Dundee City Council’s proposed revenue budget that would to save Early Year Practitioner Posts in Dundee Primary Schools.     
 
My alternative budget savings proposal has been approved by Chief Officers as financially and legally competent and I am now calling for all parties on the council to work together to save these posts that he says provide vital work in Dundee’s primary schools.
 
The SNP administration has proposed moving these staff to nursery schools in order that the salary costs can be funded from Dundee’s share of the funding Scottish Government is making available to fund extra nursery hours.
 
The extra hours in nurseries is a good thing and, indeed, my party leader Willie Rennie MSP has been campaigning for this over a long period of time, but it is hugely disappointing that the SNP council administration in Dundee is aiming to provide these hours by taking away a much-valued and needed resource for Primary One children.    Why do they think it is acceptable that Primary One pupils in Dundee should lose out?
 
My proposals will allow for the continuation of Early Years Practitioners in Primary Schools and the increased nursery hours and I urge all parties on the council to work together to achieve that.     It can be paid for by taking quite modest savings over a variety of areas including hospitality budgets, some furniture and equipment budgets reductions in subscriptions, a reduction in waste funds, advertising, catering and printing.
 
I hope there will be cross-party agreement to accept my proposal for the benefit of the young people in the city’s primary schools.

City Council Budget 2013-14 : An opportunity missed

At yesterday’s City Council Budget meeting :
 
* On the Capital Budget, I proposed not going ahead with yet more new council offices and instead proposed that it be spent on improving Dundee’s roads and on further improving the city’s primary schools.   Although I had the support of the Conservative, Independent and Labour members, the SNP administration voted this down.  I regret that, in voting through millions on new council offices over schools and better roads, this speaks volumes about the priorities of the SNP administration.
 
* On the Revenue Budget, I proposed scrapping the SNP education cuts that will result in increased class sizes in S1 and S2 English and Mathematics classes in five of our nine secondary schools.   My rather modest proposals (in terms of a £337m budget) to pay for this would have had no effect whatsoever on service provision but were opposed by the SNP and Labour failed to support them.    The SNP also opposed my proposal to give Fairer Scotland Funding to the West End Ward and the Ferry Ward and, again, Labour failed to support this.
 
There is a serious point to be made about Fairer Scotland funding.   The council allocates it in an arbitrary way – six wards benefit (with no weighting by size or poverty levels);  two wards get nothing, as if no social exclusion at all exists anywhere in the West End or Broughty Ferry.   Labour and SNP seem to fail to appreciate this point and are failing to stand up for the people of the West End and Broughty Ferry.
 
I have suggested to the SNP administration that allocating this funding by % of lowest income households per ward is the fair way to allocate these funds in the future.   The ball is now firmly in the SNP administration’s court.
 
I will continue to campaign for fair funding for the West End, just as I have always done over the 12 years I have represented the West End on the City Council.

Improving the council’s capital and revenue budgets

I have submitted my proposals to improve the Dundee City Council Revenue Budget the SNP administration put forward.   These are:

 
EDUCATION
Do not increase statutory level in S1
in Mathematics and English in any schools                             £197k
 
CITY DEVELOPMENT
Supported Services Unregistered
Continue Friendly Bus service                                                £60k
 
TOTAL                                                                                    £257k
 
This would be fully funded from a number of sources including :
 
CORPORATE SERVICES
Cut Advertising and Contract Car Hire Budget
                                                
ENVIRONMENT
Do not proceed with Fortnightly Bin Collections so less funding required for Scottish Waste Aware Group and Zero Waste Fund initiatives
                                                
CHIEF EXECUTIVE
Reduce Exhibition Events Activities, printing and stationery and other Supplies Services     
 

I welcome the change of heart by the SNP that will now see the Friendly Bus shopping service saved.   My own alternative budget proposals would also have seen the service saved and it is good to see a  bit of cross-party agreement for a change for the benefit of elderly people who rely on this vital bus service.

 
My own proposals however also tackle another vital issue – the SNP proposal to increase class sizes in S1 in Mathematics and English in five of Dundee’s nine secondary schools being scrapped and lower pupil/teacher ratios being maintained.   I hope the SNP will think again on that.   
 
I have a funded proposal that would avoid increasing these class sizes that the Chief Executive and Director of Corporate Services agree is a competent proposal.    Surely the SNP administration will want to avoid unnecessarily increasing these class sizes?
I have also proposed improvements to the City Council Capital Budget that would see the Environment Department’s planned new headquarters scrapped in favour of more investment in schools and more investment in road repairs and resurfacing.     

I would welcome the views of constituents – budget@frasermacpherson.org.uk.

SNP Council administration making all the wrong choices

As I indicated yesterday in an interview on Radio Tay News, I have criticised Dundee City Council’s SNP ruling group for making all the wrong choices in terms of the cuts they are proposing in the City Council’s 2013/14 revenue budget.
 
I am particularly incensed that the SNP propose to axe the Friendly Bus sheltered shopping service that is a vital lifeline for elderly people in the West End and across the city.    The SNP axing of the Friendly Bus reminds me of an earlier failed SNP policy of axing visiting PE and music instructors in our primary schools that they forced through last year.    
 
In both cases, the overall saving is minimal in terms of the overall revenue budget, but the detrimental effect upon communities is large.    
 
Perhaps if the SNP had saved more during the current year they would have more room for manoeuvre now.  Their recent decision to have two new civic cars against opposition advice is a prime example of SNP waste.   When Lord Provost Bob Duncan parks himself on the leather seats of his new luxury civic car, perhaps he can reflect on the fact that Dundee sheltered tenants and other pensioners will no longer have their bus service to help them go shopping.
 
Last year, I proposed to council transportation officers that they should register the Friendly Bus service with the Traffic Commissioners.   As a registered service it would have provided an income stream through the concessionary travel scheme that would have helped keep the Friendly Bus sheltered shopping service as a financially viable service.    The SNP administration has simply let a vital bus service for older citizens go to the wall.    The SNP claim they will look at a service alternative.   I will not hold my breath.
 
I do support one SNP cut – that of councillors having a reduced mileage rate on their expenses.    I do not claim any expenses and never reclaim any mileage I do on council business.   Perhaps instead of self-congratulating themselves on proposing a reduced mileage rate of 25p per mile for councillors, SNP councillors should follow the example of making no mileage claim at all.

Dundee City Council Budget : An opportunity lost

At yesterday’s City Council Budget meeting, the Liberal Democrat Group’s amendments to the City Council’s proposed revenue and capital budgets proposed :
* A cut of up to £6 in the Council Tax bills for residents – the Liberal Democrats were the only group to propose a cut in the Council Tax, to assist hard-pressed council taxpayers in challenging financial times.
* A large increase in capital funding for seven primary schools’ improvements (including Blackness and Ancrum Road).
* Removing the cost of one of the two civic cars, cutting out alcohol hospitality budgets and no councillor attendance at conferences.    
* Visiting music and PE specialists posts for primary schools and music instructors posts under threat from the SNP would be saved.  
* An Unadopted Roads Budget (like the unadopted pavements one as badly conditioned roads such as Shaftesbury Place are excluded from the footpaths budget).
* A new fund to allow parking improvements in areas like Pentland.
We were grateful for the support of other groups and one of the independent councillors but unfortunately the SNP proceeded with its cuts agenda, despite proposing a higher Council Tax than the Liberal Democrats.    This will, sadly, see the loss of the music and PE teaching posts.   I quoted from an SNP election leaflet at the meeting :
I agree with the sentiment above.   The unfortunate thing is that the SNP – who wrote it  – don’t.   Actions speak so much louder than words.

Our budget priorities : Pupils before Council Offices

Cllr Helen Dick and I have now submitted to the City Council Liberal Democrat proposals to improve the council’s Revenue and Capital Budgets.   We will have amendments to both the revenue budget and the capital budget at the Budget Meeting next Thursday but will look carefully at the ideas coming from the other political groups.
In the revenue budget, by using unallocated and not legally committed money in the City Development budget, we propose saving the much-needed visiting specialists in Music and PE in the city’s primary schools and also reversing the proposed cut of music instructors contained in the SNP administration’s proposals.  The feedback we have had from constituents is that they see any proposal to cut music and PE instructors and specialists as highly detrimental to our schools and this should be stopped.
In the capital budget, we say “pupils before council offices” by cutting out over £5m of proposed expenditure on new depots and a headquarters for the council’s Environment Department and spending it instead on improvements in city primary schools.    Since I made clear that we felt that, after spending over £35 million on the new Dundee House and other sums on other council offices, the council should be redirecting its resources to schools rather than yet more money being spent on offices, I have been inundated with local people telling me they agree with this stance.
The Liberal Democrat Capital Budget proposals would also see the establishment of a £100 000 unadopted roads budget and a £100 000 budget to improve car parking in council estates.
Some years ago, the City Council had a working party to look at improving car parking in council estates and then one ‘pilot’ new car park in part of Douglas that has proved a success.  But it has done nothing further to make improvements in other areas.   There are many estates in the city that would benefit from improved car parking and I have highlighted the Pentland area.   There needs to be funding to move this forward.
On unadopted roads, there are a small number of really poor conditioned unadopted roads in the city.    The council already has an unadopted pavements programme but does nothing about unadopted roads – an example is the appallingly badly conditioned Shaftesbury Place in the West End Ward and there are other examples across the city.    In Shaftesbury Place, a resident broke his ankle falling into what I can only describe as a pitted road that resembles the surface of the moon.  £100 000 won’t solve the problem right across the city but it would make a start and recognise there’s a real issue here. 

Our schools deserve better than a Sixty Minute Makeover

I have today highlighted my concerns about aspects of the proposed Dundee City Council Capital Budget and urged that there be a cross-party discussion about ways to improve the proposals to benefit the city’s schools.
There’s much to welcome in the draft capital budget and in particular the proposal to build new primary schools in Menzieshill and Coldside is good news, especially given the state of some existing school buildings.    The total of £20m investment in these two areas will not only bring new primary schools but also community facilities and given the funding level for Menzieshill, presumably new nursery facilities may be possible there too.
However, it is over capital expenditure for other primary schools identified for improvement where I am critical of what is being proposed as the funding is simply inadequate and must be increased.     Seven other schools across Dundee have been identified, including Blackness and Ancrum Road Primary Schools that serve large parts of the West End Ward.  
The recognition of the need to improve facilities at these seven schools is welcome but the amount of funding at only £250 000 per school and that is simply not enough funding to make the sort of modernisation that these seven schools deserve.    It should be remembered that a new-build primary school costs in the order of £9-10 million.      These seven primary schools deserve more than a sixty minute makeover.
I have a specific proposal to make the improvements at Glebelands, Clepington, St Mary’s, Longhaugh, Dens Road, Ancrum Road and Blackness Primary Schools a whole lot better by allocating them £1 million each over the lifetime of the next Capital Plan – four times the proposed funding.
£1m per school is affordable if we consign to the bin another proposed set of expenditure on new headquarters and depots for the Environment Department.   The council has already spent around £35 million on Dundee House and more expenditure on other council offices.   It is about time to focus on our schools and, by abandoning ideas of further council department headquarters and by focussing on schools, we can increase expenditure on at Glebelands, Clepington, St Mary’s, Longhaugh, Dens Road, Ancrum Road and Blackness Primary Schools to £1 million for each school.  
No business case has been brought before a city council committee to make a case for more money being spent on council headquarters buildings.    It would be better spent on our schools.

More City Council cuts ahead

As recently reported in the Courier, around £3.4 million of further budget cuts are to be considered by the SNP-run administration on Dundee City Council.   

As I indicated in the Courier, I would take issue with the claim that the grant settlement is better than anticipated.   Anyone looking objectively at the actual settlements announced by the SNP government for each authority can see that Dundee has a cash terms cut when other councils have seen a cash terms increase.    The SNP government has badly let down Dundee in terms of its disappointing settlement for Dundee City Council.
The SNP continually blames Westminster for everything but the reality is that the SNP Finance Cabinet Secretary John Swinney has a budget that is in real terms billions higher than that available to the Scottish Government when the parliament was first established in 1999.    The suggestion that £3.4 million of further cuts is somehow “good news” is spin and an attempt at “news management” by the SNP administration.    Had the SNP Finance Secretary treated Dundee in a more equitable manner, we would not be looking at this level of cuts by the Dundee SNP administration.

What is now vital is that front-line services such as Education and Social Work do not fall victim to the further SNP cuts.   I will be working positively with other councillors in the run-up to the council budget being set on 9th February to minimise the effect of further budget reductions.

Budget 2011: Helping Alarm Clock Britain

Dear Fraser,

Today the coalition government has announced a budget that will return the UK to sustainable and balanced economic growth and which puts helping Alarm Clock Britain at its heart.

We are increasing the income tax threshold by £630 to £8105; lifting hundreds of thousands of low income earners out of paying income tax and putting £126 back in the pockets of low and middle income earners. This is in addition to the last budget that took nearly a million of the lowest income earners out of tax and made millions of hard working individuals £200 better off. We are making a real difference in people’s lives – from the front page of our manifesto to people’s back pockets.

Alarm Clock Britain will be further helped by the measures we have taken to give motorists a fairer deal. We are shifting taxation away from the pumps and onto the broader shoulders of the oil companies instead – with fuel duty being cut and taxation on oil companies rising.

At the same time we are making the wealthy pay their fair share with increased measures to tackle tax avoidance, higher charges for non-doms and a special tax on private jets. This budget also places green growth front and centre – the Green Investment Bank will begin operation next year with £3bn of capitalisation, delivering an additional £18bn of investment in green infrastructure by 2014-15.

We were left a toxic economic legacy by Labour with a record deficit and debt. Under Ed Balls Labour have no answers and solutions to the mess they left. The difficult decisions we have taken in government have rebuilt confidence in Britain’s ability to pay its way, kept interest rates lower than they would otherwise have been, and have provided the stability that business and individuals need to invest in the UK’s economy.

There are no easy decisions in this budget. But we are delivering a budget which will mean that that those who can pay more will; and those who are working hard to make ends meet will get a helping hand. This budget is progressive, green, liberal and what our country needs at this time.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg MP

Deputy Prime Minister & Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Budget debate

At yesterday’s City Council Policy & Resources Committee at which the City Council’s budget was set, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I seconded a motion from Cllr George Regan on behalf of the Labour Group, that would have seen the SNP cuts-hit education budget increased by £376 000 over SNP proposals.

This proposal would have seen a funding increase in schools’ absence cover, SQA presentations funding, study support and continuing professional development for teaching staff compared to the SNP cuts agenda. I have real concerns about the “devolution” of absence cover budgets (cut by the SNP) – there is now no central budget to help a school pay for supply teachers if its devolved budget runs out through staff illness.

The proposal was unfortunately not supported by SNP councillors who appear, judging by their votes yesterday, more interested in sandwich lunches for councillors, alcohol purchases, councillors attending conferences and a civic car – as cutting these out would have helped pay for the additional education budget funding that the Labour Group proposed and the Liberal Democrats supported.

The SNP administration on Dundee City Council is out of touch with public opinion – whether it is their thoroughly inadequate response to public concerns over the biomass plant proposal or their wrong calls on the council budget.

City Council Budget


I was on Wave 102 (click ‘play’ above to listen) and Radio Tay news today about the council budget, again making the point that there was merit in all-party discussions with our Head Teachers to reach the best possible solution for management arrangements in our schools.

Having discussed proposals from the Labour Group with Cllr Kevin Keenan, the Labour Group Leader, it is clear these have the potential to release up to £350 000 additional funding for education to help devolved school management – something my LibDem colleague Cllr Helen Dick and I will support.

Call for budget meeting to be postponed to allow all party discussions with Head Teachers

As reported in tonight’s Evening Telegraph, I called this morning called for next Thursday’s City Council Policy & Resources Meeting at which the Council Tax is set to be postponed to allow proper and all-party discussions to take place over alternatives to SNP proposals to dramatically cut the number of Depute Head Teachers in Dundee schools.

Dundee Primary Head Teachers’ Association has put forward to the Director of Education a series of alternative proposals for consideration and I think these alternative proposals should be properly discussed in detail with the Head Teachers in an all-party setting to ensure we get the best possible outcome for our schools.

The Head Teachers’ proposals are contained in a paper dated 24th January and I have been making clear to the Director of Education that they should be shared with all 29 members of the City Council. I spoke with him again yesterday to be told these could not be shared as they were “the administration’s proposals”. I pointed out that these were actually proposals from the Council’s own staff and they must be shared with all elected members.

Belatedly, and I suspect reluctantly, they were finally given to all political groups just before 9am this morning. The deadline for putting in alternatives to the SNP’s cuts proposals was 5pm today and that leaves far too little time to reach a considered and proper outcome.

I would wish to see an outcome that preserves the staffing structure in our schools as far as possible without contraction of the school estate and it would be infinitely preferable to have all-party discussions with Head Teachers rather than the administration powering ahead with the SNP proposals to cut DHT posts.

I am very disappointed that it took until this morning to release these proposals to all elected members – this should have been done far earlier.   It is therefore incumbent on the Chief Executive to allow further discussions to ensure the views of the staff side are properly listened to.

The Council’s Budget – an update

As reported in tonight’s Evening Telegraph, I have made clear that it is about time the City Council’s SNP administration took a report to committee outlining all the options it was considering to meet the Council’s budget shortfall – and to also indicate which were the options the administration proposed to take forward, and which it was rejecting. This follows on from a meeting of opposition group leaders at the City Council yesterday.

The so-called “Changing for the Future Board” is not an acceptable way forward as it is proposed it would meet in secret and would fail to include Trades Union representatives on it.

It is important that the SNP administration acts in a transparent way. The administration owes this to the council’s staff and the wider public. Thus far, the administration has talked much about secret Boards, but has not given any indication as to which cuts it is considering and what the options are.

The administration owes it to the council’s staff and the people of Dundee to remove uncertainty and to bring a report to the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee outlining all the options it is considering. This will allow both the administration and opposition members to scrutinise all the options and the administration can advise which proposals it intends to take forward.

Time is not on the council’s side if it is to make the savings for the next financial year – likely to be around £20 million for 2011/12 alone – in time. Much discussion and negotiation will be required and the sooner the uncertainty is removed and the SNP administration starts levelling with people, the better.

By bringing a report to the Policy & Resources Committee, the process can be seen to be open and transparent. It will also allow for representations to be made – for example, by the trades unions – by way of deputations. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that uncertainty and silence on the detail is promptly replaced by open and transparent discussion of the options facing the City Council.

You can hear my comments on Wave 102 news today by going to http://bit.ly/bTafaR.

The council’s budget

As reported in today’s Courier, the Liberal Democrats on Dundee City Council have decided that, as presently constituted, the so-called Changing for the Future Board, is not something we will be prepared to support and, as Group Leader, I will not attend the Board’s meetings.

At last Monday’s Policy & Resources Committee, the Labour Group Leader proposed and I seconded an amendment that would have made the Board open and transparent and would have also ensured the trades unions had representation on it. The SNP administration rejected this reasonable request in the usual “our way or no way” approach we all too regularly see from the SNP.

The events of the past week have done little to show that the SNP is in any mood for genuine co-operation with the others on the council and one can only conclude that the SNP administration simply views the Board as convenient camouflage for the cuts in services they intend to make.


I have always said that all on the City Council should be working together to the good of Dundee at a time of an extremely challenging financial situation. When the SNP starts to give a little and stops expecting absolutely everything their way, a spirit of co-operation will be possible. But, secret cabals are absolutely not the right way forward.

Public expenditure, public waste

On Friday at lunchtime, Dundee City Council sneaked out a press release about budget cuts and its proposed way forward (“Estimated savings of 40 million needed over three years”), together with a report that will go before the Council’s Policy & Resources Committee a week tomorrow.

I say “sneaked out” because the timing of the release to the media was done in such a way that no opposition councillor could have possibly had the opportunity to read it before the inevitable calls from the media asking for a response. If the SNP administration is serious about working in a cross-party and consensual manner, it was hardly a flying start.

Furthermore, SNP councillor Willie Sawers, in that press release, says,  “The financial squeeze imposed on us by the Westminster Government is unprecedented and the overall financial picture has worsened as the implications of UK budget cuts have become clearer.”

And having had a swipe at the coalition government then goes on to say “In the best interest of the city, we would like to move forward from the old confrontational exchanges between parties.” Mmmm … perhaps not the best ever attempt at getting away from confrontational politics. Furthermore, someone should remind Cllr Sawers that the local government settlement is determined, not by the Westminster Government, but by his own SNP government in Edinburgh.

The lack of preparedness of the SNP government to properly manage a difficult financial situation is of concern. Today in the press, COSLA rightly hints that the SNP government’s less than even handed approach to cuts may make the local government position worse, and given the vital social care services provided to the elderly and vulnerable by local government, not subjecting NHS Boards to look at efficiency measures would be a big mistake.

Here’s a few potential NHS efficiencies for a start :

* Cut out the so-called “merit awards” paid to some of the highest paid NHS consultants on top of their large salaries. My LibDem colleague in Angus, Sanjay Samani, recently highlighted this issue with NHS Tayside.

* Cut down the NHS hospitality expenditure. Official figures obtained by the Labour Party earlier this month showed that NHS hospitality costs in Scotland increased by almost 25% in the last three years, from £1 076 044 in 2007-08 to £1 332 501 in 2009-10. Almost £4m spent in the past three years and, as the Courier pointed out, a staggering £804 148 by NHS Tayside alone.

* Investigate fully and ensure no repetition of the scandal of NHS Education for Scotland attending 21 conference in all parts of the world, including Durban, Instanbul and Sydney.

* Scrap the SNP policy of free prescriptions for rich people.

Of course, the NHS in Scotland, is not the only service where the SNP government has failed to properly control expenditure. In various newspapers today, including the Sunday Mail, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Tavish Scott MSP, highlights the disgrace of Scottish Enterprise’s ballooning spending on hospitality. Scottish Enterprise spent £499 078 on hospitality in 2009/10, up from £437 940 in 2008/09. Last month, they spent thousands on hospitality at the Open Golf Tournament at St Andrews.

As Tavish says, “SNP ministers need to get a grip of quango spending. Scottish Enterprise have their priorities badly wrong.”

Council budget and services

The “Evening Telegraph” tonight covered the challenging situation facing Dundee City Council in relation to its future budgets.

Today, the City Council’s Chief Executive has confirmed to him that he is to bring a report about the 2011/12 council budget to the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on 23rd August.

I had asked Chief Executive David Dorward about the budget situation following this week’s publication of Scotland’s Independent Budget Review. He replied today :

“The chief officers have been working quite extensively on preparing for the 2011/12 Revenue Budget and the implementation of the Corporate Improvement Plan that was approved at the Policy & Resources Committee on 26th April 2010.

I plan to bring a report to the Policy & Resources Committee on the 23rd August which will clarify the current financial projection for the City Council and how I believe the City Council should address the difficult financial future we face. I believe that this report will answer the questions you raise.”

I welcome the fact that the Chief Executive is bringing this finance report forward. Although the council’s final revenue grant for 2011/12 will not be known until later, it is important that the council is prepared in order to protect services and jobs.

The Emergency Budget : measures that pay for the past and plan for the future

 

After the longest and deepest recession since the Second World War, last week’s Budget has set out a five year plan to rebuild the British economy based on the Government’s values of responsibility, freedom and fairness. It shows how the Government will make the tough choices required to carry out Britain’s deficit reduction plan in a fair way that strengthens and unites the country.

It is a decisive budget that deals with the record deficit the Coalition Government inherited from Labour. It is tough but fair. Everyone will contribute, but the Coalition Government’s plans will ensure that those with the broadest shoulders will bear the heaviest burden.

Thanks to Labour, we have one of the largest budget deficits in Europe. Thanks to their incompetence, we are now are borrowing one pound for every four we spend. There is nothing progressive about a party that chose to saddle our children with their debts. Every time a Labour politician complains about budget cuts, he or she should be reminded that it was the former Labour Government that presided over the shambles that got our economy into this perilous state.

We only have to look at Greece to see what happens to countries that don’t live within their means, and where the government failed to take decisive action – more businesses going bust, higher unemployment, and rising interest rates.

If we fail to deal with the deficit it will be the poorest who suffer the most.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have come together to tackle the debt crisis facing our country, acting quickly and taking the tough decisions that the Governor of the Bank of England and the G20 support, and that Labour ducked.

However the Budget doesn’t just pay the bills of the past, it also starts planning for the future. The Budget is written with responsibility, fairness and enterprise at its heart.

Helping low and middle income earners
As we promised in our manifesto and our coalition agreement we are raising the income tax threshold. The first step to lifting it to £10,000 a year has been taken by increasing the threshold by £1,000 to £7,475 a year, which will give 23 million low and middle income earners up to £190 back in their pocket to spend. This measure will take 880,000 people out of income tax altogether.

Those with the broadest shoulders bear the heaviest burden
As we promised in both our manifesto and our coalition agreement we are ensuring that the wealthier pay their fair share. We are increasing the rate of Capital Gains Tax to 28% for higher rate taxpayers while keeping it at 18% for basic rate taxpayers. In line with the Coalition Agreement we are also increasing Entrepreneurs Relief from £2m to £5m. There will be no indexation and no taper relief- these only complicate the tax system. This will raise an extra £1bn and end the disgraceful situation of bankers paying a lower rate of tax than their cleaners.

Securing a fair deal for Pensioners
As we promised in our manifesto we are introducing a ‘triple lock’ to protect pensioners. In future pensions will rise with the higher of earnings, 2.5% or inflation. This year because RPI will be higher than CPI it will rise with RPI, in future the inflation measure will be CPI. The standard minimum income guarantee in Pension Credit will be increased in line with RPI this year so that the poorest pensioners receive the full benefit of the rise in the Basic State Pension. We believe that it is only fair that pensioners are guaranteed a decent pension from the state on which to live.

Tackling Child Poverty
We believe that every child deserves a fair star in life. And this budget keeps a commitment to tackling child poverty in meaningful way. Despite this Budget representing an unprecedented fiscal consolidation the Coalition Government has taken action to ensure that there is no measurable impact on child poverty. This has been achieved by committing a further £2bn in to the Child Element of tax credits. The coalition also remains committed to introducing the Pupil Premium – which will give more money to the pupils and schools that need it the most.

The Environment
We believe that climate change is one of the most serious threats that the world faces and the Coalition Government has pledged to make this the greenest government ever. The Coalition Government is committed to:
* providing the right incentives for low carbon investment. The Government will publish proposals in the autumn to reform the climate change levy in order to provide more certainty and support to the carbon price;
* creating a Green Investment Bank. Detailed proposals of which will be provided after the Spending Review; and
* establishing the Green Deal for households, to help individuals invest in home energy efficiency improvements that can pay for themselves from the savings in energy bills.

Rebalancing the economy
The Coalition Budget introduces a bank levy (based on balance sheet size), which will raise £2.5bn a year. It is only fair that that the banks pay their fair share back to the taxpayers who helped bail them out. This will contribute to tax cuts for all other types of business. Corporation tax will be cut from 28% to 24%, over 4 years, with 1% cut each year. The small companies’ rate will not rise to 22% as proposed by Labour; instead it will be cut to 20%.

The government has an enormous task ahead, thanks to the incompetence of the previous Labour Government, but it has made a positive and responsible start in ensuring that our country returns to economic growth and prosperity.

I attended the City Council Audit & Risk Management Committee today and asked questions about the extent of moves towards shared services given the financial challenges facing the council and on car parking income – seriously short of budget target.

There is considerable concern amongst opposition councillors – including myself – about the lack of transparency and lack of preparation of the SNP administration regarding the budget and proposed cuts. In response to a question from me, the Director of Finance confirmed that a budget report will be on the agenda of the Policy & Resources Committee on 28th June.

Another day, another Labour budget failure …

 

Responding to Alistair Darling’s Budget, Nick Clegg said:

“This Budget was a political dodge not an economic plan.

“Britain needed a Budget that gave us honesty in spending and fairness in tax, we have got neither.

“Labour is in denial, while the Conservatives are talking tough to cover up that they only offer more of the same.

“The Chancellor is incapable of coming clean about where spending cuts will have to fall.

“Rather than being honest with people about what the Government can and cannot afford, the Chancellor would rather let others indiscriminately shave departmental budgets.

“By confirming the freeze in personal allowances the Government has ensured everyone will see a real increase in their income tax bill – when what people on low and middle incomes desperately need is an income tax cut.

“Rather than forcing the nationalised banks to lend to good British businesses they have chosen to create a feeble quango to arbitrate between bullying banks and their small business clients.

“It says something when the most substantive announcement the Government can come up with is a tax agreement with Belize, however welcome that may be.”

Vince Cable responded to the budget below: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qML-FOOAYYo

Today’s activities – and SNP budget disaster

This evening, after a busy surgery at Blackness Primary School, I attended a meeting of the Community Spirit group that serves the northern part of the West End Ward – Ancrum, Pentland, Cleghorn and Milnbank and surrounding streets. There was a very interesting presentation by the SACRO Youth Justice Service.

This afternoon’s City Council budget meeting was nothing short of dreadful – the SNP administration misused Council Standing Orders to rule an opposition motion (that was to be moved by Labour and seconded by me) that would have ensured the Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project does not lose its funding, was “incompetent” – although it had already been ruled competent by council legal officers. I have no doubt where the real incompetence lies.

I spoke with Radio Tay tonight about this disgraceful situation and here’s my news release :

‘Councillor brands City Budget Meeting as disgraceful

Dundee City Council’s Liberal Democrat Group Leader tonight branded the council budget meeting as “nothing short of disgraceful” and that the SNP administration should be ashamed of the way they handled the meeting.

Cllr Fraser Macpherson said, “The Depute Convener of Policy & Resources ruled a motion by the opposition out of order despite it having already been approved by the council’s top legal officer as competent. Councillor Sawers was unable and unwilling to give any satisfactory explanation for this disgraceful gagging of debate.

“The SNP administration simply wanted to avoid a debate which would have exposed their dreadful handling of the Fairer Scotland Funding issue and their treatment of the Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project. They have misused council standing orders to gag any opposition. It is nothing short of disgraceful and I feel for the staff at DEAP – all the opposition was seeking to do was to protect DEAP’s funding and people’s jobs.”

Cllr Macpherson indicated that an cross-party group of opposition councillor are seeking an urgent meeting with the Council Chief Executive and the Depute Chief Executive in her capacity as the council top legal officer.

Cllr Macpherson said, “I am simply appauled at how the SNP acted today. A council cannot be allowed to operate in this manner. The SNP seem determined to gag any views they don’t like. It is a bad day for democracy and for the reputation of the City Council.”‘

And … Wednesday …

A busy day – including :

* The first ever Board meeting for the West End Primary/Nursery Schools project – St Joseph’s Primary, Park Place Primary and Park Place Nursery Schools – took place. It is envisaged that a pre-planning application process, including an exhibition for parents, carers and the local community generally, will take place between February and April. The exhibition will be on 1st and 3rd April, and there was some discussion about the location of this – the consensus view I support is to hold it at Blackness Library.

* I had a useful meeting with a member of the WestFest committee about progress with this excellent initiative – see http://www.dundeewestfest.com/.

* Tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” covered my concerns about the huge cuts in Fairer Scotland funded (FSF) projects across Dundee that have been supported by the SNP council administration. I have been inundated with messages of support over this issue – people right across Dundee are shocked at the extent of cuts to excellent projects that are aimed at helping the least affulent and most vulnerable citizens in our city.

I had a useful meeting this afternoon with council chief officers – including the Chief Executive, the Director of Finance and key directors – about the council budget. Aside from the smash and grab raid on FSF, the officers’ proposals on departmental budgets are sound.
I have described the SNP administration’s raid on FSF funding as Robin Hood in reverse – taking from those most in need. It is clear from feedback from many constituents that this is a view shared by people right across Dundee.

Last couple of days

Yesterday, I attended an informal cross-party meeting at the City Council, on the revenue budget for 2010/11, attended by the SNP and Conservative group leaders, the administration’s finance spokesperson, the Lord Provost, the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and myself, representing the Liberal Democrats.

As I indicated to the Courier thereafter, I felt the meeting was constructive, although I have sought clarification of a number of savings that are being proposed.

My greatest area of concern about the 2010/11 budget is the reduction in Fairer Scotland Fund budgets, resulting in the removal of funding from a number of excellent projects in the city. I was very concerned to learn today that one project whose funding has been removed (Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project) has been refused permission to put its case to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee next Monday. I have written to the City Council’s Chief Executive making clear my disquiet at this decision and calling for a rethink. If DEAP is not given leave to speak to councillors at committee next Monday, I intend to move suspension of council Standing Orders to allow DEAP to speak.

On another matter, I had a positive meeting this morning with senior Waste Management officers and the SNP Convener of Housing, Dundee Contract Services and Environmental Services about bulky uplifts policy and charging. It is around 10 years since the council’s bulky uplifts working group reported, and I had suggested that a review of policy should now be undertaken. We met today to discuss this and had a useful exchange of views about the issues, including looking at other authorities’ good practice through benchmarking (for example, some councils have concessionary pricing or free uplifts for some residents, such as those on low incomes, the elderly, etc) and improving the recycling effort.


This afternoon, I attended the council’s Scrutiny Committee, where various Care Commission reports were discussed.

I was greatly saddened to learn earlier today that Jim Begg, Treasurer of Blackness Area Residents’ Association – BARA, passed away this morning after a short illness. Jim was not only a stalwart of BARA but also a thoroughly nice person and he’ll be sadly missed.

Budget talks

After the last meeting of the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, I wrote to the Council Leader suggesting that all-party informal discussion between group leaders on the 2010/11 revenue budget takes place.

I indicated that “as a City Council, facing a significant financial challenge and I think it is in the interests of the city that we all work together irrespective of politics in a productive way to minimise any negative impact on service provision.”

I was pleased to learn earlier today that the City Council Leader has arranged for such talks to take place next Monday.   The Liberal Democrats have accepted the invitation to such talks from the SNP administration and we hope that all political groups will equally respond positively.

Today’s Budget

Dear Fraser

Today the Labour Party confirmed that they have run out of ideas and have condemned us to years of unemployment and a decade of debt. Their pick-and-mix budget of recycled announcements will do nothing to get us out of this recession and nothing that will help the poorest who are being hit hardest by it.
A Liberal Democrat budget would deliver practical help. It would take 4 million people out of paying tax all together and would cut the majority of people’s income tax by £700. Paid for by cutting loophole and exemptions that benefit the richest individuals and big business. We would cancel the pointless VAT cut and invest in important green projects that create jobs right now.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are planning swingeing cuts at the very time that the country is expected to be gradually starting to recover.
We would take big choices about what government should and shouldn’t do. With a shocking deficit this year of £175bn we need a national debate about what the state can and cannot afford in the future.
That is the responsible way – the honest way – to reduce spending in the years ahead and avoid painful higher taxes.
The country deserves something better – a Liberal Democrat government, Vince Cable as Chancellor and a tax system that has everybody paying their fair share.
Best wishes,

Nick Clegg
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Budgets – national and local

I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament has finally agreed its Budget – partly, of course, because it lifts the uncertainty that was hanging over the ability of our local authority (and the 31 others across Scotland) in being able to set its own budget a week tomorrow.

The degree of willingness to find consensus across the parties in the parliament was positive; as a result we now have a Scottish Budget that is better for Scotland than the original SNP proposals.


Tavish Scott has rightly said that politicians need to think beyond tomorrow’s headlines – it is important for people to work hard for long term economic benefits for
Scotland, particularly given the challenging economic situation facing the country.


For local public services, the news from the new Budget on school building is positive. The SNP has changed their position on the Scottish Futures Trust. Following pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the government has now agreed to provide a new funding stream to restart school building in
Scotland to supplement the limited building possible through conventional prudential borrowing.

Local authorities and the construction industry have heavily criticised the government for paralysing investment and planning for new schools, so moves towards a proper programme of support for school building is to be welcomed.

The SNP has also changed their position and will now engage with the Calman Commission on devolution. This is the best way to get additional fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament, which if delivered could allow for major capital projects such as the planned additional Forth Bridge crossing to be paid for without jeopardising every other transport project in Scotland.


Professor John Curtice told the
BBC on Sunday that this concession could be the “most interesting long-term consequence of all of this.”


The consensus in Edinburgh will hopefully be mirrored on Dundee City Council where it looks increasingly likely that agreement will be possible on the City Council’s Revenue and Capital Budget proposals between the political groups on the Council, making the possibility of freezing the Council Tax in Dundee for a third year in a row becoming deliverable.

There will be a further meeting of political group leaders tomorrow but it is looking very promising that the necessary savings to reach a council tax freeze position may be agreed between the parties, which I think is good news for Dundee Council Taxpayers.

It has undoubtedly been a challenge to ensure that savings are found that achieve such a position, particularly as I think all councillors want to minimise any effect on the quality of the Council’s services, but it is good that agreement now seems likely.

With the passing of the Scottish Budget today, the potential problem of it not being agreed affecting the date when councils set their Council Tax levels has been removed and it is now certain that the Council Tax will be fixed for Dundee on 12th February.