Council will continue to face tough choices
I doubt there is a single Reformer reader out there who has not been touched in some way by the recession and austerity.
Some will have lost their jobs. Others will be facing the loss of tax credits, which were brought in to help working families by Labour but are now being whittled away by the Tories. Even the lucky ones who are in reasonably wellpaid work will be worried about keeping up with the rising cost of living.
In short, too many people are engaged in a day-to-day battle to make ends meet and to balance their budgets. The same is true for those of us who are working to keep essential services going.
Your council has been engaged in this battle for years and we’ve already found more than £90 million in savings and efficiencies. We don’t know yet what our grant is going to be from the Scottish Government for next year but we are projecting that we’ll need to find as much as £36m more.
The government grant makes up 84 per cent of our income and the other 16 per cent comes from the council tax, which has been frozen for eight years, so we know that the trend of declining resources is likely to continue for some time.
We will continue to lobby the government to properly fund local authorities to let us maintain and improve key services in South Lanarkshire: our schools, our housing, our roads, our care homes, our sports centres, our libraries.
It is right to oppose these cuts to our income but we can’t just complain. You elect your councillors to take decisions, however tough they may be, and that is what we must do too.
As I’ve said, we’ve had to make many tough decisions already. While we’ve worked hard to protect services for the vulnerable, especially the old and the young, unfortunately very few areas have escaped unscathed.
Council officers are currently finalising proposals for the budget for 2016/17 and these will be put before councillors for consideration in the next couple of months. Every councillor will be given full details, making it clear which services officers believe can be protected and those which may need to change. We will then have to decide which proposals are acceptable and which are not.
Every councillor can make counterproposals, so long as they are properly costed. In other words, every pound we take out of the proposed savings by rejecting a cut will have to be offset by finding another efficiency which will save at least as much.
I hate these cuts. I’ve fought for the rights of ordinary people all my life and I came into local politics 20 years ago to help provide services, not cut them.
But the council can only spend the money it has and when that amount is being cut by forces outside of our control someone has to make the difficult decisions. The priority must be to do that while putting the emphasis on protecting those who are least able to help themselves.
You have my word that the administration I lead will keep doing that.