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.