Breaking - South Ayrshire Council Tax increase of 4.79% but £50m capital investment announced
Council Tax increase of 4.79% agreed by Councillor
South Ayrshire Councillors today (28 February) put people, places and priorities at the heart of the Council's spending plans for 2019/20 by agreeing additional investment in key areas while balancing the books and bridging a challenging budget gap for the year ahead.
To help achieve this, Councillors set a Council Tax increase of 4.79% – the maximum permitted by the Scottish Government. This will provide £56.8 million to fund and protect local services, which is around £1 million more than the previous cap of 3% would have allowed.
An additional £1.9 million in grant funding from the Scottish Government, the use of £1.8 million from reserves, and agreed savings of £7.6 million meant Councillors could set a balanced and positive budget when they met this morning.
Within the revenue budget of £193.4 million – the monies used for the day-to-day costs of providing Council services across South Ayrshire such as employee costs, supplies, and running costs for Council buildings – extra funding of £367,000 has been allocated for dedicated initiatives that support the Council's strategic objectives as set out in the Council Plan.
The objectives – which shape everything the Council does – are providing effective leadership that promotes fairness, reducing poverty and disadvantage, delivering health and care systems that meet people's needs, making the most of the local economy, increasing the profile and reputation of South Ayrshire and the Council, and enhancing the environment through social, cultural and economic activities.
To support these, the newly-funded initiatives focus on delivering services that reduce inequalities and make a real difference for people and places, especially the most vulnerable in our communities:
Extend free school meals to Primary 4 children in the most deprived areas, easing the burden on families and ensuring our young people are supported, nourished and ready to learn (£60,000).
Enhance the maintenance programme for grass pitches to ensure rural facilities are maintained to meet the same high standards as elsewhere (£107,000).
Improve the maintenance programme for all-weather pitches to ensure they can be enjoyed by local communities for as long as possible (£50,000).
Create a new Heritage Museum in Ayr town centre that celebrates the history of the town and will attract more people into its centre (£35,000).
Increase the Council's financial contribution to maintain campus cops in all eight secondary schools, supporting our young people and the wider school communities (£55,000).
Extend Christmas lights funding to support communities in ensuring our towns and villages look their best during the festive period (£60,000).
The approved Council Tax increase of 4.79% equates to an increase per household of between 11p and 39p per day – depending on the Council Tax band of the property. An average Council Tax Band D property will see a rise of 16p per day.
The decision to implement the maximum Council Tax increase was a difficult one for Councillors, but significantly reduced the level of savings that had to be found. Savings agreed today to help balance the budget include:
Reduce funding for Carbon Reduction Commitment Scheme (which is being abolished nationally) – £380,000
Reduce teachers by 15 posts, while maintaining pupil-teacher ratio – £443,963
Reduce revenue spend on roads resurfacing and maintenance – £280,000 (this will be provided through capital programme)
Review and reduce regeneration and economic development activities in line with the winding down of Ayr Renaissance – £220,000
Reduce cleaning schedule of corridors, staff rooms and offices to alternate days, with toilet areas, food preparation, dining rooms cleaned on daily basis – £179,780
Review schools assistant staffing – £139,922
Increase Bereavement Services prices by 4% – £100,000
Review green fees and golf memberships to increase income – £82,000
Review opening hours in customer service centres to reflect demand – £54,000
Reduce funding contribution to Culzean Country Park – £48,500
Review casual swimming charges to increase income – £44.543
Remove cash and cheque transactions from customer service centres – £34,000
Review swimming pool opening hours and close pools during quieter periods – £30,000
Increase special uplift charges: from £20 to £25 for first item and then from £2.50 to £5 for additional items – £30,000
Remove Council support for Ayr Concert Series – £12,500.
In setting the budget, Councillors took account of the views expressed by more than 2,000 people who took part in the Council's recent budget engagement exercise, as well as from regular feedback from residents, employees and young people. The key findings
of the budget engagement were:
Two thirds supported a move to review charges for services, including increasing charges in order to protect and maintain services.
More than half agreed the Council should review levels of service delivery, including reducing level of services or increasing delivery times, in order to protect and maintain the overall service.
More than half agreed opening hours for some services and facilities should be changed or reduced to reduce running costs.
More than half agreed the Council should increase charges for the use of some facilities to sustain the level of service provided.
More than half disagreed that Council Tax should be increased by the maximum permitted amount of 4.79%.
Councillor Douglas Campbell, Leader of the Council, said:
"The public sector has experienced a significant real terms reduction in funding since 2008. Combined with a fall in real wages, a reduction in income for the most vulnerable and an ageing population, this has resulted in a growing demand for Council services.
"Given these significant challenges, I'm very proud of the £268 million balanced budget we have set today, which allows us to meet the needs of our communities – especially those who are most disadvantaged – and supports the ambitions we have for our people and places to be the best they can.
"Today's budget makes it clear that when it comes to delivering positive outcomes for our people and places, we are well and truly walking the walk and doing exactly what we set out to do when we came into power two years ago.
"I'm pleased that we can already see that our approach is making a difference and starting to bear fruit and this will continue as the impact of the investment approved today spreads out across our communities, creating a legacy for generations to come.
"Once again, we have listened to what people have had to say and worked hard to ensure that, as far as possible, we have continued to protect important frontline services that change lives, make lives, and support people to be safe, healthy, happy and fulfilled.
"Setting a balanced budget is never easy, especially when we have to meet necessary costs like pay awards for staff and increased contractual costs, as well as meet the growing demand for services.
"However, we have not shied away from the difficult decisions or decisions that we know will be unpopular, such as increasing Council Tax by the maximum amount. We really thought long and hard about this, but the harsh reality is that we would have had to close facilities or stop services, making far more drastic cuts to the services that people want and need and we were not willing to do that.
"Instead, we took on board the feedback that people are willing to pay more to protect and maintain services, allowing us to focus our resources where they are needed most and where they will make the biggest difference.
"Given the financial challenges we had to deal with, and the budget gap we had to bridge, this is a budget that invests in our services and facilities, serves our people and places well and is one we can be proud of."
The Council's budget includes a record-breaking level of funding for the South Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership of £74.4 million, which is an increase of 5.4% on the previous year.
In addition, the Partnership will receive a further £8.3 million directly from the Scottish Government, providing overall funding of £82.7 million to support health and wellbeing across South Ayrshire.
The budget also includes £4.9 million to support the expansion of early years provision across South Ayrshire, from 600 hours to 1,140 hours for all three and four year olds and eligible two year olds by 2020. The Scottish Government provides specific grant funding for this.
Councillor Brian McGinley, Depute Leader of the Council, said: "Our budget is one that will help deliver positive and lasting changes throughout South Ayrshire – from Barassie to Ballantrae – and help make life better for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
"The additional funding from the Scottish Government, additional income from Council Tax, the use of reserves and a comprehensive package of budget savings that support our ethos of putting our people and places first mean that we have been able to bridge a challenging budget gap in a sensible way that allows us to invest where it matters.
"For example, extending free school meals to primary four children in the most deprived areas – regardless of a family's financial circumstances – builds on many of the initiatives we introduced over the last year and will help improve children's health and education and deliver long lasting benefits for entire communities. While increasing early years provision will help ensure our children get the best possible start in life, which will have a positive and long-lasting impact.
"At the heart of all of this is giving people not just support, but hope for a better and brighter future and I am confident this budget does exactly that."
Independent Councillors Alec Clark and Brian Connolly added: "We're proud of this budget, which is testament to careful and prudent financial management, a clear sense of direction and where we want to be, and a focus on minimising the impact on savings on our people and places.
"It's also a reflection of what people told us they wanted during our budget engagement discussions and we're grateful to everyone who took the time to participate. We genuinely value the role our communities have to play in setting priorities and plans for improvement.
"That's why we still want to hear what people have to say, giving them the chance to influence not only the decisions we have made today, but the decisions we will make in the weeks and months ahead.
"By working together, we can make a real difference – a difference that will make lives better and that will support our people and places to reach their full potential."
Full details of the Council's revenue budget for 2019/20 are available here.