Spending plans for council services such as education, social care, roads and parks have been approved as part of the council's Revenue Budget for 2020/21. The revenue budget covers the council's day-to-day expenditure and includes the costs of running services.
- The council will spend over £444 million next year on local services and aims to prioritise investment in services for increasing numbers of older people, education, the environment as well as families living in poverty.
- A 6% funding increase in Education Services reflects increases in pupil numbers. West Lothian has experienced record breaking exam results over recent years and the increase aims to build upon that success. Over £183million is set to be invested in Education Services next year, the largest of all the council service areas.
- The council is set to increase spending in social care to over £110million next year to meet significant growth in the demand and cost for services. There will be a 25% increase in the number of people over 75 by 2022/23. The increasing demand for services and complexity of care means there will be an ongoing need to make changes to the way services are delivered
- The council is set to invest over £56 million in Operational Services. There will be further investment in roads, street lighting, parks, waste services and footpaths schemes to reflect population growth.
Council Tax levels in West Lothian will increase by 4.84% next year - reflecting the level of increase assumed by the Scottish Government. The increase across all eight bands will generate additional income of over £5million which will be used to protect and improve local services.
As well as setting its core budget the council also agreed to invest available time limited funding across the next three years to support outcomes in priority areas. At a meeting of the Council last week (Friday 28 February), a motion from Council Leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick was agreed that means that additional one-off investment will be used to reinstate some services and improve others.
The approved budget plans include:
- Further investment in mainstream school transport, voluntary organisations and enhance independent living support for young people.
- Significant additional investment of £1million to support the council's job task force to help create jobs, invest in business start-ups and boost and economic growth.
- Grass cutting on sports pitches being reinstated
- Full-time opening hours at all five community recycling centres reinstated later in 2020
- A feasibility study to look at the potential replacement for recycling centres at Linlithgow and Broxburn.
- Investment of an additional £220,000 to increase the amount of street cleansing vehicles and improve service delivery. There will also be extra funding to improve ground maintenance within cemeteries.
- Over £800,000 for investment in climate change projects.
In 2021/22 & 2022/23 the council will invest some of the one off funding in a Community Transport Fund which will contribute to a wider review of passenger transport in West Lothian.
Councillors also agreed to protect building cleaning. The proposal to increase school milk prices by 1p was also removed.
The council has been forced to make savings of over £120 million since 2007/08, with further savings of over £31 million estimated for the three years to 2022/23. The budget gap is caused by Scottish Government grant funding being less than required to meet increasing costs and demand for council services. Savings of over £12 million will be made in 2020/21.
Council Leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: "Our budget protects the young, our senior citizens and those in greatest need, and reflects a strong empathy with local people, council staff and the environment. "We aim to protect and improve West Lothian's communities and local services. We believe that we have agreed the best possible budget within the resources available to us, and each individual within West Lothian will benefit from the council's investment."
He added; "Tough decisions have been forced upon us for many years and the Scottish Government has shown a prolonged and ongoing lack of respect for Scottish local authorities with chronic underfunding which has forced local authorities to make enforced cuts to services to their communities in order to meet the legal requirement to set legal balanced budgets. Our approach to financial planning is not only regarded as being best practice, it has allowed us to navigate through years of huge budget reductions, and help the council deliver important local services."
The council will have to make changes to some services in order to balance the budget - something that the council is legally required to do. There will be a reduction in the number of council buildings, increased use of technology and an increase in some charges to offset the cost of providing services. There are ongoing changes in social care and the council will continue to focus resources on those most in need.
Further efficiencies include a reduction in the number of council vehicles and buildings which will result in changes to service delivery. There will also be many changes within internal, back office services which will also impact upon some groups of customers.