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Council leader lays down budget setting gauntlet to “sniping” critics

Iain Gaul.
Iain Gaul.

Angus Council’s leader has expressed his frustration at opposition councillors who “snipe from the sidelines” as hard decisions are taken over cuts to services.

Iain Gaul said he would welcome non-SNP members to take up four vacant positions on the council’s policy and budget setting group (PBSG).

He vowed that he would even fight for two of the council’s harshest critics – Arbroath councillor David Fairweather and Montrose councillor David May – to be given the chairman and vice chair roles.

Mr Fairweather accused the council of “punishing the public” with a series of cuts as it emerged the local authority recorded a £15m underspend against budget last year.

Mr May also questioned the cutbacks and highlighted that some of the money could be spent on protecting Montrose golf links from erosion.

However, Mr Gaul said that a mixture of funds being carried over into the 2016/17 budget, debt repayment costs and one-off projects and investments meant that only £2m was left unaccounted for out of £250m of revenue.

Mr Gaul said he was surprised that opposition councillors didn’t want to “take responsibility” and join the council subcommittee which sets policy and how to spend the budget.

He said: “We have four places on the policy budget setting group. We are the only council that does that so why are they not taking the places?

“Then they could say – I’m not happy about that, what else can we do?

“We are making difficult choices but at least we are making choices we are not just faffing about and making smoke and mirrors to get headlines.

“If you want to do the best for your constituents take part in it, don’t just snipe from the sidelines.”

In June there were a series of resignations from the cross-party policy setting group, with Carnoustie councillor Brian Boyd leaving in protest at the council’s decision to allow consent for a £5m golf centre extension at Carnoustie.

Kirriemuir councillor Ronnie Proctor and Forfar member Ian McLaren also stepped down in June.

“I would remind all non-administration councillors that if they have concerns about the financial management of Angus Council during these times of austerity they are more than welcome to join the group,” Mr Gaul added.

“Our revenue grant is being reduced year on year and we’ve got to live within our means. We can’t have an overspend, so by definition we must have an underspend.

“The underspend at that time was due to prudent planning and forward thinking for the budget cuts to come.

“What we have said from day one is that Angus Council will be run as a business and our product is the services that we must provide. Not want to provide, must provide, to the people of Angus.

“Green waste is not a must provide. Could we afford it? No. We changed it. People appreciate that they have a choice.

“They are not here to be dictated to by me or anybody else and that’s what we are trying to put forward.

“Most of the £15m underspend arose for one off reasons. All but £2m of that had already been invested in one off projects for service changes across the whole of Angus.”

Laying down the challenge to the council critics to take part in the budget setting process, he added: “Councillor Fairweather, I’ll make you chair of the PBSG.

“Join in and serve the people who elected you. Do the best you can for Angus don’t just make silly noises at the side.

“I would fight to make him chair of the PBSG, which is the most powerful subcommittee of the council and David May the vice chair.

“There you go guys, come ahead and deliver. Don’t just make noises to get your names in the paper because that’s not serving anybody.”

Opposition councillors have signalled their intention to bring forward an alternative Angus Council budget next year.

Arbroath councillor David Fairweather said he would not consider taking a “silver shilling” from Iain Gaul and added that the council leader should ask himself why there are no longer any opposition councillors willing to be part of the policy and budget setting group.

He said: “I find it galling that the SNP leader with his Team Angus fantasy believes that after over four years of their mismanagement I would consider taking a silver shilling.

“That he offers me an enhanced salary is baffling after stating that I do not take my responsibilities seriously.

“Last year there would have been an alternative budget put forward had it not been for the SNP Government’s late notice that they would withdraw over £8m in funding if an alternative budget suggested putting up the council tax.

“Councillor Gaul should ask himself how there are no longer any opposition members willing to take up positions in the PBSG.

“It was the SNP’s way or no way and that’s why it fell apart.”

Montrose councillor David May added: “A key issue is the freezing of the council tax for 10 years which has meant the council had to make cuts or savings which were more considerable than were done previously.

“I have in the past made it clear my opposition to this.

“With regards to the PBSG, some of the non SNP councillors are looking at an alternative budget.”