Monday, 25 February 2013

SNP group propose an alternative budget

Within the context of a difficult economic situation nationally where the Westminster government happily made the working class pay for the irresponsible gambling of the City of London bankers, each local authority in Scotland looked at the choices they would have to make.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar was no different and the process started eight months before when the directors of each department in the Comhairle offered up their suggestions for budget savings.
Encouraged many times by Comhairle leader Angus Campbell to provide alternatives to these harsh decisions, the SNP group set to task creating an alternative budget that would take into consideration the public consultations balanced against making the savings required.
Public consultation up and down the Hebrides were well-attended with a number of key issues re-occurring as important to the communities:
  • the Barra – Benbecula Air Service;
  • the role of the specialist teacher;
  • asymmetric week;
  • community transport.
It became evident that at each consultation meeting these issues were at the heart of the community and were uniting the community in their condemnation of withdrawing these services.
In November, the SNP group published its commitment to saving vital frontline services (Hebrides News).

Having listened to the community, and following many representations on these issues, the SNP Group felt that using surplus contingencies to fund these vital services ensured that vulnerable people would not feel the brunt of the cuts.
The Comhairle seemed to find new money in terms of council tax rebates, as well as new Scottish government cash, and this lowered the savings target. Even up until the last fortnight, new money was found to lower the target amount that had to be found.
The week leading up to the Budget setting on 14th February, the SNP group again made it very clear to all committees the cuts and savings they would wish to avoid, reiterating the position they had made way back in November and bolstered by the fact that the community agreed with them.
The Comhairle administration produced their budget at the Policy and Resource meeting on the morning of the 14th – the final budget agreed by the administration. The SNP then produced their amendment to the budget one hour afterwards.
The Comhairle was presented with an alternative budget at full council at 4pm. The SNP Budget wanted to:
  • retain the full complement of specialist teachers;
  • fully fund Action for Children;
  • not introduce the Asymmetric week;
  • keep Lionel head teacher;
  • protect ASN Support;
  • not change any school transport contracts;
  • maintain full funding for Penumbra;
  • retain all Union representation;
  • retain the Southern Isles air services, community transport and more...
To fund this, the SNP Group proposed to use the surplus money from a windfall BCCI dividend and an extra £1 million from prudent financial management. Contingencies of £3 million, as was recommended, would be left untouched.
The SNP group also wanted to start the process of redesign and restructure as it was felt in the consultations that the organisation was top heavy with senior management. This would make large savings.

The SNP group also suggested “Homeworking” – where council employees would be given the opportunity to work from home and thus cut down in office costs and administration. This could realise at least 30% savings in office costs.
The Comhairle now decided on which budget to vote for. The Comhairle voted 24-6 on cutting lifeline services to the Southern Isles / cutting community Transport, again crucial in the Southern Isles / retaining specialists until June 2013 and then probably to be cut due to halfing their budget /taking away the head teacher at Lionel / cutting union representation that protects workers right at a time when workers need protection.
Members that supported specialist teachers / Southern Isles air services / Community Transport / retaining a headteacher in Lionel / not introducing the assymetric week were:
  • Rae Mackenzie (SNP)
  • Gordon Murray (SNP)
  • Donald Manford (SNP)
  • Philip Maclean (SNP)
  • John A Maciver (SNP)
  • Kenny Macleod (SNP)
  • Donald John Macrae (Labour).

The group feels this is a fair reflection of what the community felt was important such as protecting the vulnerable , investing in our young in terms of sport, music and art and maintaining lifeline transport links whether it be community transport or the Barra/Benbecula-Stornoway air service.