Priorities protected in ‘tough budget challenge’
Education, jobs and economic regeneration, and services for children and vulnerable adults have been prioritised in what Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan has described as a ‘tough budget challenge’ faced by the council.
A meeting of Renfrewshire Council on Thursday February 14 agreed a £368.9million revenue budget and a £115m capital budget for 2013-15.
“It’s important people understand the funding difficulties Renfrewshire Council has consistently been faced with in recent years,” said Councillor Macmillan.
“Those are having a damaging impact on the council’s ability to deliver the services our citizens and our communities need and deserve.
“Renfrewshire has been on the grant floor of Scottish Government funding every year since 2009 – the only mainland local authority to be treated in that way.
“Renfrewshire is one of a group of just eight out of 32 Scottish councils which had cash cut in government funding for 2013-14 – in our case, £2m.
“The Scottish Government’s funding per head of population in Renfrewshire for 2013-14 is £1959.60 - less than we received in 2008, and over £43 less per person than the average funding to Scottish councils in the year ahead.
“Yet there is widespread recognition that Renfrewshire’s population is in need of more support than other areas due to worse than average life expectancy, income deprivation, and youth unemployment.
“Renfrewshire has had to meet a £16m funding gap over two years.
“The council also has to address the impact of £22million being taken out of the Renfrewshire economy by the forthcoming UK Government welfare and benefit changes.
“We are putting in place a wide-ranging programme to support the thousands of Renfrewshire residents, including establishing a 45-strong team who will provide support on benefit, welfare and debt issues.
“The combined impact of all these challenges means that the council has had to make some very difficult decisions.”
Over the next two years, Renfrewshire Council will lose 250 jobs though there will be no compulsory redundancies, and the total job losses are significantly less than the 1200 jobs shed over the last three years.
There will be some changes in the education budget but all the savings will be reinvested in education.
All children in P1-3 who are entitled to a free school meal will now also be eligible for a free meal during the school holidays. This will replace the provision of free school meals to P1-P3 pupils in a minority of local schools who currently receive a free school meal although they aren’t eligible under the national guidelines.
“The targeting of free school meals to those families who need it most and the protection of the education budget as a whole reflect key themes of this council’s approach.
“There have had to be tough decisions. However, with the resources available to us, the council has prioritised the services that matter most to the people of Renfrewshire
“Just as the council reintroduced free school transport, and is now increasing concessions for sporting participation for young people, we are doing all we can to increase opportunities for those who need our help the most.
“We are prioritising jobs and the economy, education, and the care of the young and the elderly.
“There are massive social and economic challenges ahead for Renfrewshire. The council’s budget is putting in place innovative approaches and targeted investment to do all we can to support the community in these difficult times.
Key highlights of Renfrewshire Council’s spending programme include:
Jobs and the economy
A further £4.5m will support employment and the local economy, including the Invest in Renfrewshire programme, and the development of a social enterprise strategy for the area.
The aim is to assist 1000 local businesses or a quarter of the companies in Renfrewshire. To date over 130 new jobs have been created, 40 internships supported, and a related project, the Retail Improvement Scheme, is oversubscribed.
An extra £1.5m over the next two years will support town centre regeneration and investment in buildings, tourism and events.
Services to children and young people
£4.4m will be spent to improve services to children, young people and families, including the development of two pilot projects to support families with children of pre-five and primary school age.
A broader approach in children’s early years will help families in education, child care, health, financial advice and employment support.
A further £30m supported by borrowing, will be invested in new and modernised primary school buildings. That will bring the council’s investment in new and upgraded schools, including a proposed new special school, to over £45m.
Services to vulnerable people
An extra £1.8m will be invested in the social work budget over the next two years. This will help support a range of care provision for children, care for older people, and care packages for adults which support greater independence.
Promoting sport and healthy lifestyles
An additional £360,000 will promote participation in sport by halving the current charge for council-owned synthetic pitches. Young people aged under 18 taking part in sports activities in council-owned facilities will now get in for half price compared to the existing 30% discount.
An additional £5m investment in grass pitches and changing facilities will be made over two years.
An extra £4.3m capital investment will be spent on roads bringing the roads investment to £5.7m in 2013-14 – the largest-ever investment in roads from the council’s own resources.
Council Tax 2013-14
The Council Tax charges for Renfrewshire will be frozen for 2013 -14.
The bills issued to householders will also include a separate water and sewerage charge set by Scottish Water.
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