Councillors consider Balancing the Budget feedback
South Ayrshire Councillors are currently analysing the feedback from the Council’s ‘Balancing the Budget’ consultation, which saw almost 2,800 people take part and have their say on a wide variety of savings proposals.
The savings proposals had been put forward by senior Council staff as possible options to help plug an anticipated funding gap of £17 million for 2018/19. Councillors were keen to hear the views of the public before deciding which of the options will be presented as final proposals to all 28 Councillors on Thursday 1 March.
As well as the 2,800 completed surveys, various correspondence and petitions were also received, including three petitions with more than 9,000 names opposing the proposed closure of Prestwick Pool.
The high-level key messages from the consultation feedback are that most people – around 8 in 10 – disagreed or strongly disagreed with the savings proposals as a whole, while almost 6 in 10 disagreed or strongly disagreed with closing some facilities in order to protect others.
However, around 7 out of 10 people said they would accept additional charges for some services to protect the level of service provided.
The savings proposals that provoked the biggest responses included:
Removal of all school crossing patrollers – 77.2% disagreed or strongly disagreed
Reduction in in-school support staff – 76.5% disagreed or strongly disagreed
Removal of outdoor learning, including Dolphin House – 76.2% disagreed or strongly disagreed
Reduction in teacher numbers – 75.9% disagreed or strongly disagreed
Reduced funding for roads surfacing and inspections – 75% disagreed or strongly disagreed.
In addition, between 75.2%-83.7% of respondents said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with a proposed reduction in a variety of health and social care budgets, while around 66% of people said they agreed with stopping accepting cash and cheques at customer service centres and closing under-used centres.
Councillor Douglas Campbell, Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: “We were very impressed with both the volume and the quality of the feedback we received from the public during our budget consultation and – on behalf of all Councillors – I want to thank everyone who took the time to take part.
“Getting such an enthusiastic response shows that we were right to go out and ask our people what they thought about all the proposals rather than making unilateral decisions that were not informed in such a way.
“I can promise everyone who completed a survey, came along to a drop-in session or submitted correspondence that we are listening to all they had to say and feeding that into our considerations.
“With confirmed – and better than expected – funding from the Scottish Government, we’re also now in a position to be more specific about how much we will actually need to save next year and that will also inform our budget considerations moving forward.”
Thanks to prudent financial management, as well as the better than expected settlement from the Scottish Government, the Council’s remaining budget gap is now sitting at just under £7 million. The difference comes from the following measures:
Leadership Panel approval of the new Council Tax Policy for second homes in August 2017 as well as a review of how much income will be received from Council Tax during 2018/19.
£1 million in additional income
Council approval of the Debt Charge Review (changes to the repayment schedule for debts and loans) and the chief officer restructure in December 2017 to deliver identified savings.
£2.3 million in savings that don’t impact frontline service delivery
Scottish Government grant funding – an anticipated funding reduction of 2.5% did not materialise and the Council was also allocated almost £2 million of new funding – primarily for social care – which hadn’t been expected.
£6.6 million in additional funding
Ruling administration Councillors have now confirmed they will not be including the proposal to close Dolphin House outdoor education centre within the budget proposals that will be considered on 1 March.
Councillor Brian McGinley, Depute Leader of the Council shared the news with staff. He said: “Following an overwhelming response from young people, parents, schools, and parent councils, among others, as well as a change in the Council’s financial position, I can confirm the proposal to close Dolphin House – which was always only a proposal – will go no further.
“This was undoubtedly one of the most controversial proposals put forward by officers and this was reflected in the feedback, which stressed the importance of these programmes and the difference they make to our young people.
“Given our commitment to supporting our people and places, it would not have made any sense to progress this savings proposal in light of the response received and I’m pleased we could confirm this outcome so quickly for our staff, young people and families.”
Further outcomes from the budget consultation feedback will be announced in the lead-up to the budget being set on 1 March.
Councillor Campbell concluded: “We’ve been working throughout the year to do all we can to minimise the impact of the budget situation on our people and places and that is even more achievable now, given our improved financial position.
“We still have work to do, of course, and the budget consultation feedback will help inform our next steps as we finalise how we will balance the budget.”
The Highlight Report for the Balancing the Budget consultation feedback is available at www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/balancing-the-budget.
The Council will set its budget for 2018/19 on Thursday 1 March.