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Cross party consensus for East Ayrshire Budget including a 4% council tax increase

With agreement from all parties, East Ayrshire Council has set a balanced budget for 2019/20, with a clear focus on tackling poverty and loneliness and isolation and raising income to protect frontline services.

Despite a challenging financial settlement from the Scottish Government, the Council remains fully committed to its vision for a fairer, kinder, connected East Ayrshire.

However, faced with a funding gap of £8.9m for the coming year and a further £20m over the next two years, services have been identifying new ways of working to become more efficient with fewer resources as part of the Council’s Transformation Strategy and work is continuing to increase the levels of digital engagement and enhance the Council’s online presence.

Council Tax will increase by 4%, which is less than the 4.79 suggested by the Scottish Government, equating to 65p per week for a Band A household. This increase will generate £0.570m for 2019/20 which will be used to support a number of innovative measures aligned to the Council’s priorities.

These include:

• Holiday lunches – £250K to help find a sustainable way of providing free school meals during school holidays; • Scottish Child Abuse Enquiry – £120K over next 3 years to help third sector organisations who are supporting survivors of Child Abuse; • Welfare Reform Fund – £140K boost to the fund to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare reform; and • Town centre clean-ups – £60K to work with communities to enhance the cleanliness of their towns.

The budget also includes:

• School Footwear and Clothing Grants being increased by 10% – to £110 from August 2019; • 1.5% increase in housing rents – or £1.08 per week – which will allow the extensive house building and improvement programme to continue; • A new approach to vacant and derelict property to encourage owners of non-domestic properties to bring them back into use; • Off-street parking charges in Kilmarnock being increased from 80p to £1 per hour, with a wider consultation on town centre parking to be undertaken; and • Increased use of electric vehicles, to reduce environmental impact and cost.

The Council has no plans to introduce a Tourism Tax nor a Workplace Parking Levy and remains committed to doing all it can to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said:

“Whilst minority administrations in other places might struggle to make decisions, we in East Ayrshire celebrate the fact that a diversity of ideas can be discussed and accommodated, without red lines or backstop, to produce a positive outcome in challenging circumstances.

“This is a clear demonstration of our shared commitment among to tackle some of the most pressing needs in our communities, including improving outcomes for vulnerable children and young people; adding life to years for older people; tackling social isolation; tackling child poverty and encouraging community-led regeneration.

“This budget recognises the continuing challenge for Health and Social Care. Our Joint board continues to outperform others and I’m pleased that there will be an increase in the resources available to support this good work.

“We are focussing our efforts on adapting to our changing circumstances and this budget is another step in that direction.”

Councillor John McGhee, Leader of the Labour group said:

“Despite the onerous burden due to this year’s financial settlement, I believe the budget presented today is an example of intense consultation, consideration and a collective desire to put the people we represent at the heart of our every-day business.

“We are trying to ensure our services are flexible and responsive to local needs and will be taking a fresh approach to dealing with vacant and derelict buildings within our communities and I look forward to progress on this. Austerity is not over and we continue to face challenges in future years.”

Councillor Tom Cook, Leader of the Conservative group said: “Whilst we are united in our commitment to do our best for local people, reaching a consensus on today’s budget was not without difficulties.

“Faced with a reduction in discretionary funding from Scottish Government some tough political decisions had to be made. Our objectives were to protect services to residents whilst at the same time limiting the impact of Council Tax rises and provide a clear direction for achieving the priorities set out in our Transformation Strategy. I believe that by working together we have met these objectives.

“I am particularly pleased that we will be seeking to extend the reach of our CCTV provision to enhance our community safety arrangements.”

The full budget paper can be seen here

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