Fri 26 Feb, 2016

James Mac

In an acrimonious and highly-partisan council session at Fife House yesterday, the council budget for the coming financial year was agreed. Here’s our response…

Labour and the SNP traded barbs on whether Mr Osborne or Mr Swinney was the greatest villain, though frankly neither finance minister has done much to commend them to communities across Fife.

Going into the ninth year of a freeze on council tax, we now have the obscene anomaly of social housing tenants in Fife having to pay an extra 2.5% in rent bills to Fife Council, while a wealthy couple with a combined income of £100,000 pay not a penny more to cover the costs of local services. The Green Party laments the wasted opportunity of the last decade which has allowed those with the broadest shoulders to avoid making a fairer contribution to Fife.

In between the heated exchanges, there were measures that we wholeheartedly support. We agree that cutting classroom assistants would be a false economy and that their work in improving the literacy and numeracy of our children, particularly in areas of social deprivation, is an investment for Fife’s future.
We were pleased to see that the Labour administration rejected proposals for the closure or privatisation of care homes and day care centres. We think that the 5% reduction in road maintenance should be the first step in rethinking our transport priorities. We even agreed with the Conservatives who were pushing for budgets to be devolved more effectively to local areas across Fife.

However, in its totality, the budget put before council was a missed opportunity. It said nothing about the inflated wages of top management, but talked about saving half a million pounds by reducing the parks and open areas staff. It said nothing about investment in integrated public transport provision but focused on increasing car park charges. It said nothing about expansion of mental health facilities, but gave detailed information on increased charges to Fife’s most vulnerable service users. If you need meals-on-wheels, you’ll see the charge per meal rise from £3.15 to £3.65 – that’s almost 20% overnight.

This was a budget that missed the target by a wide margin. The current administration has opted to focus on easy hits where people have no choice but to pay more as service users. There was no sign of large-scale, creative changes to their strategy that would have contributed to a fairer, more just and more sustainable Fife. As it stands, councillors are left praying that oil prices don’t go up so that lower fuel bills will plug some of the gaps in their sums. And yes, that’s in the budget document… and no, they haven’t said how much they think it will save. It’s a budget that only works if you keep your fingers really tightly crossed for a year.

Fife Greens will be campaigning across the kingdom, not just to highlight our opposition to a lame and lacklustre budget from the council, but also to oppose the current system of local government funding that sees the heaviest burden fall on those that can afford it least.

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