We had a gun to our head

North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim McCabe accused the Scottish Government of financial blackmail as the 2012/13 budget was unveiled.

Holyrood has removed £340 million from capital support funding for Scottish local authorities over the next years to fund their own projects such as the new Forth Road Bridge.

On top of that finance minister John Swinney insisted that each council agreed to a number of key commitments - a council tax freeze, maintaining teacher and probationer numbers and fully funding police boards.

Had North Lanarkshire not agreed to these its budget would have been reduced by £34.2 million.

Councillor McCabe said: “What we have in true dictatorial fashion is an offer we can’t refuse.

“Were we not to agree to these commitments we would have suffered a penalty of £34 million from our settlement and that was something we couldn’t afford to have.”

Finance and customer services convener Councillor Bob Burrows added: “For the Scottish Government not to allow local authorities to set their own priorities is unforgivable, we had a gun to our head!”

This is year two of the council’s attempts to save £55 million, with another £90 million worth of savings likely to be looming over the following three years.

It received a total revenue budget of £657.7 million, an increase of 0.2 per cent or £1.6 million, although with the key commitments it works out as a 0.5 per cent, or £3.8 million, decrease in cash terms.

In addition the capital budget drops by 26 per cent, or £7.4 million, to £21.1 million.

However, Councillor McCabe is relatively pleased with what they have been able to achieve.

He said: “Don’t get me wrong I loved setting growth budgets year after year, but the money simply isn’t there.

“However, I firmly believe that it still delivers for North Lanarkshire now and in the future and ensures we are able to maintain and improve services for all.”

Highlights of the budget include an additional £2.3 million for vulnerable children and £1 million on top of the existing spend for older people and a £1.7 million contribution to the North Lanarkshire’s Working for Young People employability programme.

Additionally proposals to cut four per cent from voluntary sector grants, reduce school transport and introduce parking charges were withdrawn.

A living wage of £7.15 per hour will also be introduced to help 700 of the lowest paid council workers, backdated to April 2011.

Capital projects including £34.1 million for educational establishments, £11.99 million for the road network, £3.4 million on new integrated day care centres, including one in Motherwell, £3 million on leisure facilities, £3 million on town centre development and £1.3 million to allow social work clients to live independently.

The SNP put forward a budget worth just £8 million, although it was clearly supposed to be an amendment to the Labour budget.

The proposals put forward were £1 million for road maintenance, £1 million for 3G pitches, £250,000 for play parks and £750,000 for community sports hubs plus £1 million to be put aside for the ongoing equal pay settlement and £4 million to cover one off costs.

Opposition group leader David Stocks was unimpressed by the attack on the Scottish Government.

He said: “I’m very disappointed by the attack on the Scottish Government, they have a difficult job dealing with the mess left by the council leader’s own party. I think the settlement has been very fair.”