'Painful' decisions as cost-cutting South Lanarkshire budget passes

The local authority leader described the budget as 'the toughest the council has ever known'.

South Lanarkshire Council admits ‘painful’ decisions as cost-cutting budget passes Google Maps

South Lanarkshire Council’s leader has admitted “painful” decisions had to be made for this year’s budget.

Joe Fagan said councillors had no option but to accept a number of cuts put forward by officers because local authorities across Scotland have been hit by a squeeze on the funding they get from the Scottish Government to deliver services.

A funding gap of £20.5m for 2024-25 was addressed on Wednesday as savings were made across almost every part of the council’s work.

Councillor Fagan said: “This is the toughest budget the council has ever known. We have made impossible choices, we have suffered horrendous cuts but I promise the people of South Lanarkshire that we are fighting back, we’re fighting for them and this budget helps us do it.”

Following agreement by a cross-party working group, the budget means:

  • Some savings options were rejected, including new parking charges at local attractions, a reduction in grass-cutting, and council support for Christmas events.
  • The creation of a new £1m Community Fightback Fund to keep halls and other facilities open while the council supports local groups to take them over.
  • An additional Future Libraries Fund.
  • Significant investment in maintaining the area’s roads.
  • There will be no rise in council tax this year.

Fagan continued: “I agree with colleagues across the country in COSLA that the council tax freeze is not being fully funded by the government.

“However, we feel we have no choice other than to accept it this year and I know that will at least provide some relief for local householders.

“I am also pleased that we were able to reject some of the most controversial options. This is because we listened to our residents who told us very clearly that they wanted us to keep our roads in good condition.

“We also know how much people appreciate the work council staff do to keep our communities clean and tidy.

“We also rejected a number of proposed savings that would have impacted our schools and taken away 44 teaching jobs. But everybody needs to understand that this budget was only balanced because we were forced to make some truly awful and painful decisions.

“They also need to know that this is because the Scottish Government is not providing fair funding for councils – and every indication is that this situation will continue. So even more awful decisions are likely to be needed in the years ahead.”

South Lanarkshire Council said it was forced to make cuts due to a lack of funds from he Scottish Government.iStock

He added: “This budget is about communities, communities are the length and breadth of South Lanarkshire, where local communities may not command the same profile but are nonetheless still important locally.”

A new £1m community fightback fund to keep halls and other facilities open while the council supports local groups to take them over was revealed.

A Future Libraries Fund was announced which will see £150,000 being injected into the service.

And there will be a significant investment in maintaining the area’s roads.

A total of 38 savings were agreed by the council. This totals £13.19m and includes cutbacks on some waste services, school crossing patrols, winter shrub beds, librarians, period poverty, secondary school technicians, community grants, early learning and childcare food provision, the removal of South Lanarkshire Council summer programme provision and an increase in secondary school meals. 

Plans were endorsed by Liberal Democrat councillor Robert Brown, who said: “It’s undoubtedly a budget set against the worst financial economic background that I can recall and sadly my time as an elected representative goes further back than anybody else in the chamber. 

“I want to turn to the principles for our administration budget for 2024/25, in essence, we’re left to decide which cuts do least damage to our local communities and our local services, no council of any party came into local government to cut things or to make services poorer.”

The council’s Conservative group also endorsed the budget. 

Leader of the group, Alex Allison, said: “Our priorities in this budget, although we were careful to consider all the different options, we are looking at education, the roads budget and the leisure trust.

“The leisure trust was a much more difficult situation as there is no way we could have increased the funding to them by the amount that would be required to save all of the assets this year, never mind in future years, so therefore it becomes very important the community fightback fund that was highlighted in the working group paper is very important.

“To be able to keep them operating and encourage local groups to be able to get an asset transfer in place, there are other things that we are going to need to discuss outside the budget to ensure the assets left are really available. 

“We will be voting for this budget.”

The budget was met with criticism from the SNP group which did propose an alternate plan but lost by 14 votes.

Leader of the SNP group, John Ross, said: “Our group is utterly stunned by the damage Joe Fagan’s Labour-Lib Dem administration has wrought on South Lanarkshire today.

“There was no need whatsoever for the scale of the cuts, charges, and austerity they have passed. 

“This is utter vandalism, and I don’t see how these councillors can show their faces in their communities.

“The SNP alternative budget would have made no cuts to education or social work, provided greater funding for leisure and culture, and protected funding for third sector organisations such as Rape Crisis, Cancer Care, and Citizens Advice.”

“But this is a painful budget, it has brought issues to a head and we need to confront them, and we have to confront those issues now we have to make low carbon ambitions and we have to find new ways to become less reliant on unreliable government grants.

“This amendment will therefore establish a £150,000 net zero innovation fund and we will make a landmark cash injection into the central energy efficiency fund of half a million pounds.

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