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Friday, 29 May 2015

Savings options kept from public eye

THE secrecy behind Dumfries and Galloway council’s budget-setting process means few readers will be aware that the Tory-SNP coalition was obliged to publish a draft budget on Tuesday.

I assume it will have signalled where it intends to find £8m of cuts for the forthcoming year and what its spending priorities will be for the years ahead.

In the past, the council has published options to make savings but this year these have been kept from the public.

The first people will know about the proposed cuts will have been on Tuesday.

It should put supporting the economy at the heart of the budget by prioritising job and town centre regeneration. Dumfries and Galloway has one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in Scotland and, while the council’s Modern Apprenticeship scheme has created some apprenticeships, this should be extended to support businesses which take on apprentices.

It should tackle the plague of empty shops by removing the restriction on the retail sector from applying for support from its financial assistance scheme and ensuring we have town centre managers.

The council should tackle our shameful record of the lowest paid region in Scotland by increasing the wages of the lowest-paid council workers to the £7.50 an hour Living Wage and establish a Living Wage scheme.

It should do more on anti-social behaviour, littering and dog fouling by increasing the number of community safety officers. It has cut the number of community wardens, making a mockery of the decision to expand the areas they cover and diluting the impact of the excellent work they do.

They should scrap the school music tuition fees of £130 – a third fewer pupils are now taking tuition.

It should turn its empty rhetoric of “fewer but better buildings” into reality. Millions should be saved by slashing the number of properties the council rents and owns.

We will study the draft budget carefully. If we support it, we will vote for it. If we do not, we will publish our alternative.

Over the next three years cuts will reach £27m and, coupled with the impact of the Tory government’s welfare reform proposals, will mean a massive cut in the council’s income. This level of savings cannot be achieved by cutting services at the edges.

I suspect achieving the massive culture change by committing to speaking to the public and listening to them will be the hardest decision of them all for this coalition when it sets the budget.

Councillor Colin Smyth

Labour group finance spokesman


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