Scottish councils tackle funding challenge

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Councils across Scotland have been setting out their spending plans for the coming year.

Twenty three of the country's 32 local authorities are unveiling their budgets against a 2.6% drop in funding from the Scottish government.

Cosla, the umbrella group representing the councils, said the cuts amounted to a £450m reduction in available funds.

Councils meeting on Thursday included Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, the Highlands, the Borders and Fife.

The Scottish budget is being reduced by more than £1bn after UK Treasury funding cuts.

Despite the funding fall, all of Scotland's councils have agreed not to raise council tax following an agreement with the Scottish government.

The SNP administration said cuts would go deeper if authorities refused the offer.

Scotland's largest authority, Glasgow City Council, approved a savings package of nearly £60m in the next financial year in an effort to address a shortfall in funding.

It set its budget for 2011/12 at just over £1.3bn to match a reduction of 3.6% in funding from the Scottish government.

Potholes cash

Steps include cutting £400,000 of funding for VisitScotland and saving £1m through refuse collection changes.

But it will also treble its planned roads maintenance budget to £12m to deal with potholes caused by harsh weather late last year.

Edinburgh City Council, which faces making more than £90m in savings over three years, set its revenue budget at just over £1bn for 2011/12.

It expects to save £51m in efficiency measures, including streamlining and reducing layers of management and improving procurement of goods and services.

The council has also identified protection of frontline services and investment in children and the most vulnerable as priorities.

Among the first authorities to reach a deal on Thursday was Orkney Islands Council, where members agreed a budget of £83m, with savings of £4m.

The authority's workforce is set be be reduced by about 80 posts over the next year, but half of those posts are vacant.

South Lanarkshire Council has agreed to make £25m worth of savings after accepting a budget of £715m - nearly £10m less than last year.

The reductions will be achieved by cutting 340 jobs, increasing some leisure charges and cutting fuel consumption.

In Moray, councillors backed a budget of £193m, with saving of £9.4m. About 75 posts are expected to be lost.

Councillors in the Scottish Borders agreed to shelve a £5m road realignment plan on the A72 and said all heating would be turned off in council buildings during the summer as a way of making at least £6m worth of cuts.

More than 100 people also gathered at Highland Council's head office in Inverness where councillors backed plans to withdrawal more than £300,000 from the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton.

Councillors there agreed a budget of £598.7m for 2011-12 and also performed a u-turn on plans to axe more than 340 classroom assistants posts.

A spokesman for Cosla said councils were setting their budgets in difficult circumstances.

He said: "Councils are, by law, setting a budget. What they cut and what they charge for is a matter for them.

"All I can say from a collective perspective is that we're 2.6% down. It's a cut budget of £450m across Scotland.

"Tough and hard decisions are being taken for services."

Among the other councils setting their budgets on Thursday is Aberdeen City Council, which has to find savings of £25.8m.

'Difficult circumstances'

The council earlier announced plans for 900 redundancies to make savings - but a proposal to reduce that number to 600 was backed in a vote last week.

The City of Edinburgh Council said it needed to find £90m savings over the next three years.

Glasgow City Council is meeting to discuss the £58.5m of savings it needs to find for next year.

The budget discussions come one day after Finance Secretary John Swinney's Scottish Budget was backed with help from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but opposed by Labour and the Greens.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said: "The process of reducing public spending by £1.3bn has not been an easy process and today local government across Scotland will be setting their budgets in difficult circumstances.

"I appreciate the efforts of local authorities to manage their budgets, which are facing acute falls. Not as acute falls as local government is facing south of the border, but nonetheless there are tough decisions to be arrived at."

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