Nearly 750 jobs are to go after North Lanarkshire Council agreed cuts of £62.4 million in setting the authority’s budget for 2013-2014.
Council leader Jim McCabe said his priority had been to “protect jobs and services as far as possible” and told fellow members at last week’s meeting: “Under the circumstances, this budget is the best that could possibly be achieved.”
Staffing issues will now be considered by the policy and resources committee. Officials say they hope to achieve the reduction in personnel over the next three years through voluntary means and the non-filling of vacancies.
The cuts to be implemented include increasing cemetery fees, charging for blue disabled badges and reducing grounds maintenance. Some of those rejected included controversial plans to review classroom assistants and close breakfast clubs and nurture classes, reduce bin collection frequency and reduce the speed of road repairs.
Members also voted to allocate £100 million to the continuation of the Schools and Centres 21 building programme and £3.4 million from an underspend to the youth investment programme, which aims to help 5000 people into employment.
Levels of council tax remain frozen at £1098 for a band D property. Rents will increase by 1.5 per cent for a third consecutive year: an average of an additional 81p per week.
Councillor McCabe said: “I remember when the budget was straightforward and all we had to do was allocate growth money and set council tax. Those days are long gone and this savings package has been extremely difficult.
“There’s going to be pain and I’ve said that from day one. People are going to lose jobs but I’ll take every chance I get to protect front-line services. People sweeping the streets, caring in homes, emptying bins, are the most important.
“Nobody in this chamber is setting this budget – it’s being set for us by two right-wing dictatorships in government. That has to be recognised somewhere and I don’t believe 2015-2016 will be the end of the challenge.
“The position we’re in isn’t of our making but we’re elected to serve the people of North Lanarkshire and have scrutinised every pound and prioritised as best as we can to help the most vulnerable.
“We’ve rejected options on cuts to care homes, suicide prevention, and we won’t charge for community alarms. We’re giving funding to Citizens’ Advice in recognition of their vital work in our communities and, as the start our young people get is vital, we’ve rejected cuts to classroom assistants, transport provision, nurture and breakfast clubs.
“This budget has meant we’ve had to make some very tough choices. It’s not being set by this council but by two governments who don’t share people’s priorities.”
Airdrie North councillor Andrew Spowart agreed: “This is a budget we didn’t want to set. It’s being determined in Edinburgh and London and we’re presiding over draconian cuts.
“We need to change the organisation and that will involve difficult decisions, but in the circumstances this is as good as it’s going to get.”
Opposition members criticised Labour’s presentation of their budget, in which they outlined which cuts from the original list of 281 would not be implemented, rather than stating those which would.
Coatbridge North councillor Julie McAnulty noted that had the information been made available earlier, saying: “We could have gone through it and had a meaningful debate”.
Her SNP colleague, Murdostoun representative John Taggart told the majority group: “You haven’t been honest with people. There are lot more cuts here than you’re letting on to the public and it’s absolutely scandalous.”
However, Councillor McCabe insisted cross-referencing the budget papers and original proposals “isn’t rocket science” after the budget was passed 41-24 in a vote following an hour-long debate.
The SNP proposed an alternative budget, covering one year only and suggesting savings of £20 million.
Opposition leader David Stocks, Airdrie Central councillor, said: “The strait-jacket we’re in is with PFI schools. We’re delighted they’ve been built but these huge payments will be being made long after our time. The council tax freeze might not suit the Labour council, but it suits the punters.”
Frances McGlinchey, Strathkelvin independent, said: “The indication is that it could have been worse but we won’t know where the pain is going to be until it starts hitting and the fear in people has been terrible.
“I don’t feel the council can congratulate themselves for putting forward this budget. The consultation wasn’t healthy and 3000 responses isn’t good enough.”
Commenting on the budget, Health Minister and Airdrie and Shotts MSP Alex Neil said: ““The job of a Labour-led council is to do all it can to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods. Unfortunately, the budget approved last week by North Lanarkshire Council is likely to lead to well over 700 job losses at a time when unemployment in North Lanarkshire is already one of the highest in Scotland.
“The council have a moral duty to minimise job losses and to do all they can to help those who will lose their job because of these budget cuts to find alternative employment.
“The council must also give a guarantee there will be no compulsory redundancies, a policy which has been successfully implemented by the Scottish Government.”