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Angus residents could face ‘large rises’ in council tax as council faces ‘worst financial position on record’

The sombre faces of those in charge at Angus Council (L-R) Ian Lorimer, director of finance; Councillor Mark Salmond, finance convener; Councillor David Fairweather, council leader; Margo Williamson, chief executive.
The sombre faces of those in charge at Angus Council (L-R) Ian Lorimer, director of finance; Councillor Mark Salmond, finance convener; Councillor David Fairweather, council leader; Margo Williamson, chief executive.

Residents in Angus have been warned they could face “large rises” in council tax and “damaging” service cuts as the council deals with its most challenging financial position on record.

Local authority chiefs have unveiled some of their spending proposals for 2022/23 with a stark warning for locals.

The council’s own finance director says that unless more cash comes from central government, it could be forced into large rises in rates and significant cutbacks to balance the books in the coming years.

Despite that, the council says it hopes to keep any council tax rise low next year – though it has not revealed specific plans ahead of a budget meeting on Thursday.

However, it has set out some areas where spending will be cut.

Why could Angus locals face big council tax rises?

Ian Lorimer, the council’s director of finance, says in a report that the financial context around this year’s budget is the “most difficult in the 26-year life of Angus Council“.

He said: “The outlook for the years beyond 2022/23 looks even more difficult financially.

“This raises concerns and presents significant challenges for the council’s financial sustainability and the services the council will be able to provide in future.”

Mr Lorimer says the current model is reaching the point of being unsustainable, and the risk of services failing is getting greater every year as “staffing levels get squeezed further and further”.

Director of finance Ian Lorimer.

He added: “It is simply not practical to expect the council to continue to absorb huge increases in costs year after year, given the scale of savings and efficiencies already made.

“Unless there is more funding provided through the grant system for existing core services, or councils are given new income generation options, the future looks to be one where large cuts in services and large rises in council tax will be required to ensure the council can remain financially sustainable.

There has to be significant concern about how further necessary reductions in costs… can be made without drastic and damaging reductions to services

Council leader David Fairweather

“Efficiency savings and service redesign will, of course, continue to play a role in helping address financial sustainability concerns but these measures will be an increasingly small part of the solution.”

Councillor David Fairweather, leader of the council’s independent/Conservative/Lib Dem administration, says spending plans for next year are “balanced” but that some cuts “make for sombre reading”.

And he is worried that savings will be unachievable “without drastic and damaging reductions to services”.

Council leader David Fairweather.

In response, the Scottish Government claims councils are being given extra cash to help deal with certain pressures this year.

A spokesperson said: “In 2022/23, Angus Council will receive £240.4m to fund local services, which equates to an extra £14.4m to support vital day-to-day services or an additional 6.4% compared to 2021/22.

“In addition, all councils will receive their fair share of the currently undistributed sum of £482.9m.”

Where are cuts are set to be made next year?

The council says it intends on bridging some of the funding gap next year through £6.8m of savings via its ongoing Change programme.

But the rest may need to be filled with council tax and the use of reserves.

Many of the proposed savings will be achieved through the non-filling of vacant posts and deleting budgets for items including mobile phones and staff mileage.

However, education and schools will not escape untouched as there are plans to reduce various budgets including for free fruit.

Councillors also expect to save some cash through a lower uptake of free school meals, while there could be a 1% drop in budgets devolved to secondary school head teachers.

Elsewhere, there are moves to save money in staff reductions in the finance department – but councillors are being warned there is a “high risk of service failure” if there are more cuts in this area.

A similar warning is reflected among proposed cuts to staffing in legal and democratic services.

Where will the council be investing?

Angus Council has also set out a range of areas where it plans to invest or maintain freezes to charges.

These include:

  • Car parking
  • Public toilets
  • Council-funded bus services
  • Winter maintenance
  • Green bin charges
  • School holiday and fun programme
  • Glen Clova Project which supports women and children affected by domestic abuse and poverty

Elsewhere, the council has a £176m capital plan for the next five years which includes:

  • £11m for roads – primarily fixing potholes
  • £50m for a new Monifieth High School
  • Upgrades to toilets at Arbroath and Montrose academies and at Webster’s High School
  • A commitment to a new A90 Montrose link road

Councillors meet on Thursday to agree their spending plans for the year ahead.

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