Council tax up 3% as NLC feels the pinch

The budget was set at Motherwell Civic Centre
The budget was set at Motherwell Civic Centre

North Lanarkshire residents have been hit with a three per cent council tax hike, but the council has also pledged to replace every school building pre-dating 1996.

In total the council has confirmed £14m in savings for 2019/2020 and additional cuts of almost £2m for 2020/2021.

A total of 43 full-time equivalent posts will also go, but this will be achieved without resorting to compulsory redundancies.

The Labour group, which is a minority administration, got its budget passed after reaching an agreement with the Conservatives, who withdrew their own budget to support the consolidated proposals.

No facilities operated by the council will close, although opening hours in community halls, libraries, museums and leisure centres will be reviewed. Funding for the organisations which operate such services, Culture NL and North Lanarkshire Leisure has been cut by £1.2 million and a further £300,000 reduction is planned for the following year.

Proposals to close Kilbowie Outdoor Centre, were rejected, as were plans for town centre and off street car park charging.

A proposal to save £1.2 million by closing 18 out of 24 council offices has been shelved for now but will be reviewed in time for the 2021-22 budget.

Leader Jim Logue says that since 2007 the council’s budget has been cut by a total of £230m and this has had a “catastrophic” effect on the authority.

He said:  “Council leaders of all political parties have highlighted the continued disproportionate cuts from the Scottish Government being passed on to local councils.

“Although we received a cash increase, once account is taken of ring-fencing, new Scottish Government priorities and unavoidable cost pressures, the reality is a cut to core service funding of £9.7million.

“But we were determined that our significant investment in communities is protected and we have been able to achieve that. The budget allows for our planned £500 million community investment fund to begin. This will see every school not already rebuilt since 1996, being replaced.

“These buildings will not just be schools. Our community campus model will see council services, partner services, leisure and culture facilities and business support placed at the very heart of communities. All of this underscores our commitment to make North Lanarkshire the place to live, learn, work, invest and visit.”

No cuts will be made to funding for the Integrated Joint Board for Health and Social Care, minimising impact on services which support the most vulnerable people in North Lanarkshire.

Other measures imposed in this budget include a £25 fee for special uplifts, an increase in burial fees of three per cent, and reduction in the floral features and shrubs in parks.

Cumbernauld’s Palacerigg Country Park will lose its collection of farm animals, which will instead be replaced by outdoor play facilities.

The number of litter bins in North Lanarkshire will be reduced by 20 per cent, with larger bins introduced at certain locations.

The SNP Group’s proposed budget also included a three per cent council tax increase as well as a commitment not to proceed with the £2 million review of janitorial services and re-introduce free swimming lessons for primary fives.

Their finance spokesman Jim Hume said:  “The eight-member SNP Budget team grilled Council Service chiefs over a three-month period. The SNP basic aims were  no compulsory redundancies,saving jobs and saving frontline services to the public.

“The SNP Group was particularly aware of the huge public outcry against plans to cut school janitors posts and to slash janitors’  incomes. We committed £2 million to prevent this.”

SNP group leader David Stocks said:  “Labour’s budget only got through with support from the Tory Group.

“This Labour-Tory joint budget has already decided to take the cuts to janitor services,despite the fact that these are supposedly still up for discussion at next week’s Transformation Committee. This  Labour and Tory cynical move has  decided the janitors’  fate before the Committee meets.

“The SNP Group is disappointed that our free swimming lessons for Primary 5 pupils were not supported by Labour and Tory,despite previous promises of support.

“The SNP Group also rejects the Labour decision to hike burial costs for the most vulnerable people and to remove support for shopmobility services for disabled shoppers in Coatbridge and Motherwell. Closing register offices for births and deaths in Bellshill and Coatbridge was rejected by the SNP but included in the Labour-Tory budget.

“The SNP wanted special uplifts of bulk items for householders to remain free, but Labour and the Tories have imposed a £25 fee.

“Labour and the Tories have also attacked education. Funding for our schools is to be cut by a massive £650,000.

“The immensely popular Kilbowie Outdoor Centre for our school children is declared in  Labour’s budget  to be ‘under review’ – an ominous sign! Labour are refusing to invest in this site. Labour and the Tories have even removed the animals from Palacerigg Country Park, yet that is the key attraction.”

However, proposals from the SNP budget also included a £250,000 cut to the budget for communications and digital learning, despite insistence from council officers that this would result in compulsory redundancies.

The SNP Budget was defeated 44-28.

Neil McGrory - Local Democracy Reporting Service