A new leader has taken control of Argyll and Bute Council – just hours before the authority agreed a controversial budget which will mean compulsory redundancies for many staff.
James Robb of Helensburgh took the top job from Oban’s Roddie McCuish – both are members of the SNP, which runs the Lochgilphead-based authority in coalition with some of the independent members.
The council says the budget is part of a seven-year approach which aims to balance savings over a longer term, but staff in the roads and amenity services department were warned weeks ago that jobs that were at risk, and it has been reported that nearly 700 posts could go across the authority, with £6m being cut from the budget every year until 2021.
Coun Robb, spoke of the ‘very tough’ decisions that balancing the budget had demanded, but said efforts had been made to save money with as few compulsory job cuts as possible.
“We can take comfort in the joint approach which has in previous years managed to find solutions to higher potential job losses with minimal compulsory redundancies. That is quite remarkable given the geography of Argyll and Bute,” he added.
The budget proposals agreed on Valentine’s Day include protection of capital investment in roads, with £21m spent over three years as set out in the 2012/13 budget.
In other service areas, savings will allow reinvestment of £1.5m in front-line services for adult care, children and families and education.
The council will also introduce the Living Wage of £7.50 per hour from April 1 and council tax levels will remain the same for another year.
But spending on care homes, road maintenance, Homecare which looks after the elderly in their own homes, the streetscene budget which includes grass cutting and litter clearing will all be cut, while free milk will no longer be available for primary school children with their lunch.
However £300,000 has been set aside to back the Heritage Lottery project for Helensburgh’s Hermitage Park – first revealed here – and funding has also been found ‘using surpluses’ for a regeneration project in Inveraray (£350,000), the restoration of Campbeltown Picture House (£150,000) and Kilmartin House museum (£19,000).
The council says it has also reduced travel, printing and stationery costs, as well as making administration savings.
And many charges will rise, including pier and harbour dues, licence fees and commercial waste uplifts, among others. This will allow the council to make the most of any opportunities for income and in turn continue to deliver essential services against a backdrop of savings needs.
Councillor Robb said: “Savings are a significant feature of this budget, but we will keep on improving the way we do things to make sure that we are as efficient as can be. Our performance has improved across many of our services, despite the savings that have been made already. We are committed to ensuring that this continues.
“This budget has required very tough decisions for all of us and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the complex work required, not just to settle this budget but to lay the foundations of sustainable future financial planning. Thanks are due also to my councillor colleagues who have contributed to the process.”
Coun McCuish has now become depute leader, replacing Coun John Semple.
Coun Robb – already ‘area leader’ for Helensburgh and Lomond – said of the changes: “Roddy and John have done a great job and I am delighted they will both continue to play an active role in the future.
“It is an honour and a privilege to accept the role of council leader and I am committed to doing the very best for the people of Argyll and Bute in these difficult times.”
He also cited ‘difficult times’ in explaining the decision to close Struan Lodge care home in Dunoon, adding: “This move has not been made lightly and I understand this will be worrying for residents and families.
“I would like to reassure them the council will consult with all relevant partner agencies and the residents and families before any final decision is made and a further report will come before the council.”