Cllr Meghan Gallacher is the Leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Group on North Lanarkshire Council.
Local authorities, regardless of area, are the bread and butter of the government structure. After all, Councils provide basic necessary services, which we all use on a daily basis. As local government is devolved to Holyrood, it falls on the Scottish Parliament to set their yearly budget allowance.
Last year, the Accounts Commission, which polices local government finances across Scotland, published a report outlining that the Scottish Government had cut funding for local authorities by more than seven per cent per cent in real terms between 2013 and 2019. Since 2007, North Lanarkshire’s core budget has been cut by over £230m. This, despite Scotland receiving £1,300 more per head due to the UK Barnett formula.
The financial climate within Councils across Scotland is bleak. We have Councils, such as Clackmannanshire, which is considering reducing the hours children are taught within their secondary schools in an attempt to save £29 million. Within North Lanarkshire, we are facing a budget gap of over £36 million as a result of the Scottish Government’s draft plans for local authority funding. Although North Lanarkshire Council will receive £5.7m more than their initial cash settlement from the Scottish Government, front line services will still need to be reviewed in order to balance the books.
Following the Scottish Parliament Budget debate which took place on 31st January 2019, the revised budget, which received the support of the Scottish Green Party, includes an SNP broken election manifesto promise not to increase Council Tax beyond three per cent. The Council tax cap is set to increase from three per cent to 4.79 per cent. Furthermore, Councils will also have the ability to implement a levy on workplace car parking places. This means that North Lanarkshire residents could see their Council tax increase substantially and also be taxed hundreds of pounds a year for taking the car to work.
However, budget preparations are currently underway. Given the current financial climate, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Group – alongside Labour and the Independent Councillors – has joined a budget sounding board in order to share information outlined by Council Officers. However, the SNP has decided to go it alone because ‘they won’t work with the Tories’. In my view, I think they are embarrassed to sit alongside opposition parties because they know that it is their Scottish Government which is delivering this savage cut to local government. Further proof – if needed – that North Lanarkshire SNP is arrogant and unwilling to work with others in a difficult situation.
Another challenge in terms of the upcoming budget is “Club 365”. For anyone who is not aware, “Club 365” is a project introduced by the minority Labour administration to ensure that Primary school pupils – who are eligible for free school meals – can receive a free meal 365 days of the year. The meals are provided at community hubs and also include activities, such as painting and sports. Whilst I believe that this idea is noble, it has already cost the Council £414,000 and this is set to increase to £1.5m per year. Our group has been wrongly criticised for questioning this project as we have called for a funding model – the fiscally responsible option. However, as always with Labour, they have a “spend now, think later” attitude and my concern is that we will have to cut vital front line services in order to fund “Club 365”.
As always, the North Lanarkshire Conservative Council Group will stand up for hard working people to protect the services they value.