Provost, I would like to formally move the Labour groups budget amendment for 2011/12.
In moving the budget amendment I think its right that we take a moment to consider the financial context this budget is being set. Last years Public Sector Spending Review estimated that it could be as long as 15 years before we reach the same level in real terms of funding available to us this year.
The depth and duration of this funding reduction is going to have a profound impact on local authorities across the country. The challenge for all council’s is to change and adapt quickly if they are to have a chance of continuing to provide anywhere near the same variety and quality of services they do at present. Required at a political level is an understanding of the changing world and a clear vision for the future along with strong leadership to see through the changes required.
In Fife Labour we believe one of the first things that is required to change is how we as elected representatives arrive at a settled budget for Fife.
The charade of each political group presenting a budget for it only to be dismissed in a brief two hour meeting while the administration use their combined voting power to force through their budget is no longer fit for purpose. It stifles debate and hampers proper scrutiny both of which can only lead to bad decisions and ultimately poorer outcomes for Fifers.
Therefore in moving the Labour Groups amendment we accept the SNP/ Lib Dem administrations budget as a draft budget to be published and made available for communities, organisations, business, workers and all political groupings to have the opportunity to comment and influence the detail and direction of the Fife Council Budget.
We then ask that this budget be brought back to the meeting of full council on the 3rd March for a final decision to be taken. The additional time will allow for alternative costed proposals to be brought forward to the administration for consideration from stakeholders across Fife.
Provost in moving the budget amendment I think it is appropriate to go over some of our main policy areas. In particularly areas where the SNP / Liberal democrats have rejected proposals in the past and we feel they need to be reconsider. A full list of these policy areas is listed in the note attached to he amendment.
We accept that there is no choice but freeze the council tax as the penalties imposed for not doing so would be horrendous for tax payers in Fife. We however ask members to consider if it is right that people in the lowest band save only £94 over the period when those in highest band save nearly £300.
We also ask members to considers the £22m additional money we would had at our disposal if council tax increased at inflation plus 1 percent over the term of this administration.
The last three budgets Labour has proposed a Zero Based Budget Review of Social Work. This decision was based on the understanding that the current method of providing social work services was not sustainable and if we were to protect vital services there needed to be a root and branch review of the service, with new ways found to ensure services can continued to be delivered to those that need them.
The pressures we see in the social work budget for next year is a direct result of the current administration failing to address the unsustainable nature of the service. We firmly believe the continued lack of a clear vision for the social work service puts at danger some of the most important services to some of the most vulnerable people in Fife.
In Education we have advocated for the establishment of Education Forums with representatives from teaching staff, parents, pupils and local councilors with the remit to examine budgets, attainment and the school estate. There are significant savings to be made in Education if we engage constructively with those in the frontline.
The lack of a clear thought-out strategy in Education has led to highly damaging service cuts that have a negative impact on the life chances of children in Fife.
In 2009 we proposed that management structures be slimed down and we brought forward a number of ways in which that could be achieved. We still believe that more work could be done in this area and significant savings made.
As a result of what can only be described as weak political leadership the council has resorted to paying £220,000 for a consultants report on the subject of management structures. This brings to a total of £2.5 spent this year alone on consultants and agency staff. We believe significant saving can be made in this area.
In Fife Labour we believe the staff that work for the Council is our greatest asset and treating them with integrity and honesty is paramount. The SNP / Lib Dem approach over recent months has been ill thought out and has suffered from a lacked of a clear strategy. The result is a great deal has been done to damage staff morale.
With current council reserves of £30 million we do not believe that it is in Fifes best interest to cut services further in the current year in order to achieve a further £5 million of balances and we would not put any money into balances in the current year. There has to be a balance between cutting services in order to pay redundancy and protecting services and jobs and we believe that the current SNP and Lib Dem administration have got this wrong.
The committee system within the council is not only outdated, it is ineffective for allowing proper scrutiny and questioning on issues and matters of financial expenditure. The SNP and Lib Dems use what is known as the Policy Forum to carry out some of that function, but all other parties and the general public and press are excluded from these meetings.
Labour proposed a cabinet style governance arrangement with scrutiny committees scrutinising and questioning decisions and a full council every four weeks to debate any areas of disagreement between the scrutiny panels and cabinet. All of these parts that would make up the governance structure would meet in public. This proposal was rejected by the SNP and Lib Dems.
We need a new system of governance to be introduced that will allow councillors to properly carry out their function and will move away from the current system which in the main results in little scrutiny, questioning and influence and generally descends into name calling and conflict. The current structure can best be summed up as the way not to run local government
Finally Provost, this would have been the last budget of this term if we were not given an extension of one year to ensure that local government elections did not clash with Scottish parliament elections. With this in mind and given that we are calling for greater scrutiny of budgets decisions I think it is worth reflecting on some of the policy decisions forced through by the SNP / Liberal Democrats over the term so far using the current scrutiny arrangements.
We have seen……….
- A massive hike in home care charges
- The introduction of charges for community alarms
- The introduction of charges for the home shopping delivery service
- The withdrawal of free dog poo bags
- Cuts in the educations service music department
- The withdrawal of playground assistants
- Significant increases in the charges for Fife Council bereavement services.
- Cuts to teaching assistants
- 50% increase in the community alarm service
- The withdrawal of home shopping service
- The closure of public toilets
- The closure of local offices
Provost, greater scrutiny is no replacement for Strong Political Leadership, nor is it a substitute for a clear political vision for this council, but it does go someway to protecting services when both are in short supply.
I call on members to support this amendment.