Fi­nan­cially speak­ing, this is go­ing to be a very tough year

Rutherglen Reformer - - News -

As this col­umn falls in the mid­dle of the fes­tive pe­riod I’d like to start by say­ing that I hope all read­ers had an en­joy­able and peace­ful Christ­mas.

I’d also like to wish you all the best for Hog­manay and for the year ahead. If 2016 is any­thing like 2015 it will bring a lot of chal­lenges but here’s hop­ing there are also some op­por­tu­ni­ties too, for us all as in­di­vid­u­als but also for South La­nark­shire as a whole.

We al­ready know what one of those chal­lenges will be for the coun­cil which I am priv­i­leged to lead on your be­half. For one thing is abun­dantly clear al­ready - fi­nan­cially speak­ing , it is go­ing to be a very tough year.

As I’ve writ­ten here be­fore, bal­anc­ing the area’s bud­get for 2016/17 was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and in­volve some hard choices.

I re­main ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing key coun­cil ser­vices wher­ever pos­si­ble. But that is get­ting in­creas­ingly hard to do.

Ear­lier this month fi­nance sec­re­tary John Swin­ney made it harder than ever, af­ter de­liv­er­ing one of the worst set­tle­ments for lo­cal gov­ern­ment in one of the most bru­tal bud­gets I have seen in two decades of pub­lic ser­vice.

We’ve been faced with the chal­lenge of aus­ter­ity for some time, and South La­nark­shire Coun­cil has found about £100m in sav­ings in re­cent years. De­spite what some may claim, I can tell you there is no fat in our bud­get. When we make cuts now, we are cut­ting into the bone.

Be­fore Mr Swin­ney’s bud­get state­ment on De­cem­ber 16 we were hav­ing to look at ways to save £36m next year. Elected mem­bers had been asked to con­sider some pretty un­palat­able mea­sures, in­clud­ing re­duc­tion in school sup­plies, so­cial work cuts and the re­moval of sub­si­dies for gala days and fes­tive light­ing.

We were all try­ing to find ways to avoid the worst of th­ese ef­fi­cien­cies, but then Mr Swin­ney hit us with a mas­sive fur­ther re­duc­tion in the set­tle­ment for coun­cils. South La­nark­shire’s gov­ern­ment grant will fall next year by £21m more than the worst sce­nario we had feared.

That means it seems cer­tain we will have to go back to the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee with fur­ther pro­pos­als.

This is ter­ri­ble news for the tens of thou­sands of lo­cal peo­ple who rely on us for their vi­tal ser­vices, from tak­ing care of the el­derly to ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren. John Swin­ney could have stood with coun­cils to pro­tect pub­lic ser­vices.

In­stead, he has de­liv­ered greater than ever lev­els of aus­ter­ity.

The facts are clear – the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has been given a cash in­crease from West­min­ster for next year but it has cut the amount it passes on to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Make no mis­take, this was an aus­ter­ity bud­get which was signed, sealed and de­liv­ered in Scot­land by the SNP, and it is or­di­nary Scots who will pay the price.

I started this col­umn by wish­ing read­ers fes­tive greet­ings. Per­son­ally, I’m find­ing it very hard to be cheer­ful, given the fi­nan­cial po­si­tion we’ve been put into.

But I will make you this prom­ise: my new year’s res­o­lu­tion is that your coun­cil will do its ut­most to save our ser­vices and es­pe­cially to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has made that job in­cred­i­bly tough, and I urge you all to re­mem­ber that if you do see your ser­vices af­fected in the dif­fi­cult months ahead.

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