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A budget of ‘tough decisions’ was agreed by Argyll and Bute Council as the local authority wrestles with an expected funding gap of around £8 million in the next year alone.
With the numerical advantage, there was never any real doubt that the budget measures proposed by the administration – a coalition of Tory, LibDem and independent councillors calling itself ‘The Argyll, Lomond and the Islands Group’ – would win the day over three opposition amendments.
But this was a day on which there were no real winners.
And there was no joy for the young people of Argyll and Bute who, on the eve of the budget, had protested against a planned £248,000 cut to youth and adult learning services at the cost of 10 full-time equivalent jobs in 2019/20.
The meeting itself was amicable enough, party political point-scoring aside, but council members still had to face up to the stark fiscal reality of year-on-year funding cuts, no matter whether Holyrood or Westminster was to blame.
Council Leader Aileen Morton said: ‘Over the past nine years we have had to make £50million in savings, and this year had to deal with a funding gap of nearly £8m.
‘If this pattern of never-ending cuts carries on, then the continued existence of local authorities – to be blunt – is questionable.
‘The challenges we face are substantial. We need to have the ambition, the determination and the drive to do more than just survive, to do more than just protect the existence of this council and its essential services.
‘Setting a responsible budget for Argyll and Bute is about making choices that support people and communities now, and also look after the future of Argyll and Bute – and that’s what we’ve done.
‘Cuts mean that we have had to make tough decisions about even the most valued council services.’
Argyll and Bute decided on the maximum allowable increase of 4.79 per cent in council tax, meaning a Band D charge increases from £1,249 to £1,308.83.
It is not all bad news, though. Among the list of service cuts, there will be an additional £500,000 for winter roads maintenance and an additional £2 million for the Health and Social Care Partnership.
There will be £120,000 to bring the Royal National Mod to Oban in 2023 and £23,330 for Kintyre Recycling Limited.
Senior staff changes will result in a £500,000 reduction in council management costs over the next three years.
Though many other services will be cut, a proposal to remove school crossing patrollers will not happen, while councillors also decided against cutting grounds and environment services.
Youth and adult services, however, did not escape. Mid Argyll Councillor Dougie Philand of the Argyll First Group was the most vocal in opposition to this savings option.
He reminded fellow members that one of the stated aims of the council is to help young people reach their potential which, he said, was not helped by reducing this service. ‘Who will be affected by this?’ he asked.
‘Officers tell me that we are talking about children at risk from exclusion, young people involved in anti-social behaviour, care experienced young people, unemployed adults and young people without a positive destination or parents.’
Full details of the Argyll and Bute budget can be found here.