Fife Council’s SNP co-leader has slammed his Labour counterpart for scaremongering after he suggested a choice between freezing pay or cutting jobs and services would have to be made.
Councillor David Alexander said politicians were often guilty of participating in a “financial ballet” ahead of annual budget discussions and criticised Labour group leader Councillor David Ross for presenting what he called the “worst case scenario” in comments earlier this week.
With Fife facing a projected £19.6 million gap in its revenue budget come February, Mr Ross accused the Scottish Government of underfunding local authorities and warned jobs and services were at risk without adequate support.
However, Mr Alexander believes the picture is not as bleak as some may suggest.
“Even in normal times I think we should be presenting a reasonable position to the people of Fife, not overly positive but not overly negative either,” he told The Courier.
“But in this year particularly, given the horror and sacrifices people have had to put up with, there is no place for point scoring.
“Everyone has worked wonders over the last eight months and it is important we welcome their endeavours.
“The last thing anyone wants to hear is after all the sterling efforts their jobs may be put at risk.
“There is no evidence at all that will happen.”
Mr Alexander went on to say Fife Council is actually in a better place than in previous years of the joint administration.
“Despite the scaremongering about cutting jobs, in this financial year the number of jobs in Fife Council has increased by hundreds thanks to the introduction of 1140 hours of free childcare,” he explained.
“In the year before the number of jobs also increased but marginally.
“It has been suggested that Fife Council face a black hole of £19.6 million.
“However, this includes Covid costs of £13.2 million and it is anticipated these will be covered by government flexibilities.
“If this happens Fife is facing a black hole not of £19.6m but £6.4m which at this particular time, months before we set our budget, is manageable.
“Other assumptions that can only be estimated is a grant reduction of 1%, pay awards and inflation.
“In the last two budgets the Fife Council grant from the Scottish Government was not reduced by 1%.
“In other words, the scare stories presented in the equivalent statements in the last two years did not happen.”
Mr Ross said: “Across the council our workforce has played a tremendous, valuable part in dealing with this crisis and I think we need to be recognising that and government needs to be recognising that, in not only funding local authorities for their services properly, and I very much hope we won’t see a reduction in our grant, but also recognising that the pay levels of our staff, who should be rewarded for the work that they’re doing and shows the value of some of these workers.”