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Council agrees revenue budget to deliver critical savings

West Lothian Council has agreed its revenue budget and Council Tax levels for 2019/20.

19 February
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Budget highlights

  • £426 million with significant investment in local infrastructure, education and social care in 2019/20.  
  • The forecast budget gap in 2019/20 is £15million as a result of increasing demand for services with insufficient grant funding from the Scottish Government
  • A Council Tax increase of 4.79% has been agreed for all bands in 2019/20
  • Staffing levels overall to remain largely unchanged

At a meeting of the Full Council today (Tuesday 19 February) it was agreed that £426 million will be spent on providing local services such as roads, education and social care in 2019/20.  The Council Leader, Councillor Lawrence Fitzpatrick, also gave a commitment to revisit planned changes to early morning gritting and funding for voluntary organisations should additional future funding be generated via the new loans fund legislation. Council officers have to provide a report with further details later in the year. 

However the council is warning residents to expect further cuts and changes to services as they seek to balance increasing demand for services with insufficient grant funding from the Scottish Government. Over the next four years, the council faces a budget gap of over £51million as a result of Scottish Government grant funding not being sufficient to meet increased costs faced by the council.

Savings of £15million will be made in 2019/20. The council is expected to have delivered nearly £157 million of savings between 2007/2008 and March 2023.  

Last February the council agreed a long-term financial plan, including a wide range of service changes. The changes will help to allow the local authority to balance its budget each year - something councils are legally required to do. Savings of £46.1million have been agreed, leaving a remaining gap of £4.4milllion. 

The process of implementing those changes began last April and is well underway.

The Scottish Government provides the council with approximately 80% of its funding - with Council Tax making up less than 20% of the council's funding source. A Council Tax increase of 4.79% has been agreed for all bands in 2019/20; the new maximum permitted by the Scottish Government. The additional Council Tax generated will be used to offset further budget cuts. Council officers calculated that additional savings of £1.4million would have had to be cut from local services in 2019/20, if Council Tax levels were not increased from a planned 3% to 4.79%. The increase allows the council to invest in priority areas such as Social Care and Education. 

In the 2017 Transforming Your Council consultation the majority of respondents agreed with the proposal to raise Council Tax by more than 3% if all funding raised above 3% were spent on specific priorities.

Further significant capital investment is planned for schools, roads and open spaces, to improve and grow West Lothian's council housing stock.  

Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: 
"I share COSLA's views that local authorities in Scotland are at the cliff edge. Evidence from The Accounts Commission, which polices local government finances in Scotland, highlights that councils are finding the financial pressures increasingly difficult to manage and they have said that the delivery of savings is now critical. 

"Despite being faced with reductions in our core funding from the Scottish Government, West Lothian Council is well managed and is planning for the future. We will support the most vulnerable groups in West Lothian and ensure that key priority areas such as Education, social care, infrastructure and anti-poverty measures are protected. 

"The council will continue to invest in services that we know matter most to our communities. However it is inevitable that services that people have become accustomed to will be subject to change, but the council will aim to protect services in the face of drastic budget reductions."

He added: 

"Increasing Council Tax levels further is not a decision that is taken lightly but after years of a Scottish Government imposed Council Tax freeze, councils now have the ability to raise Council Tax to help fund local services. If we had not increased Council Tax levels to 4.79% from the previously planned 3%, officers would have had to find a further £1.4milllion of savings on top of the £15 million already being cut. We are always looking to protect local services and this is the only way to do that. 

"We know through our consultation in 2017 that the majority of respondents were satisfied to pay more Council Tax if all funding raised above 3% were spent on specific priorities. I believe that the majority of local people understand that if we don't raise Council Tax, the council has to cut more services, which are important to so many people."

Whilst the council has to make reductions in staffing levels over many areas, more staff will have to be recruited over the next four years, in Education, to meet projected increases in school rolls and to deliver national childcare commitments. Overall, the number of staff working for the council is expected to increase by a small number. 

Local people helped shape the priorities as part of the council's Transforming Your Council consultation which received a record number of responses from members of the public and community groups across West Lothian. The council's approach to medium and long term financial planning has been praised by the Accounts Commission which provides independent assurance to the people of Scotland that public money is spent properly, efficiently and effectively.

Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick added: 

"The council continues to carefully listen to the views expressed by local people.  The budget savings measures in the financial plan were supported in our budget consultation in 2017. 

"The budget challenges are not of our own making and reducing some services is not something we want to do but, put simply, the council is not receiving enough funding from the Scottish Government to enable us to provide the same level of services. 

"There is no doubt in my mind that, in terms of funding, this is the most challenging time that local government has had to face in a generation. The fact is that the council will have made £157 million of savings by March 2023.  

"In spite of reductions in our funding, we are confident that we are making the right choices for local people and our communities.  By aligning our budget with local priorities, we will help to ensure that the needs of the community are met."

The council's capital and housing budgets have also been set, please see links below:

Capital programme to invest over £38 million

West Lothian Council sets housing budget

Notes:

Weekly and monthly increases in Council Tax Bills based on 4.79% uplift. 

Council Tax Band  

2018/19 Charge (£)  

Weekly increase in 2019/20 (£)  

Monthly increase in 2019/20 (£)  

 2019/20 Charge (£)  

A

774.56

0.71

3.09

811.66

B

903.65

0.83

3.61

946.94

C

1032.75

0.95

4.12

1082.21

D

1161.84

1.07

4.64

1217.49

E

1526.53

1.41

6.09

1599.65

F

1887.99

1.74

7.54

1978.42

G

2275.27

2.10

9.08

2384.25

H

2846.51

2.62

11.36

2982.85

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