Fifers are facing the prospect of seeing their council tax bills go up from April – but by exactly how much still remains to be seen.
Looming local council elections in May mean the political battle lines have been drawn across the region, with the majority of candidates of various political persuasions already selected by their parties ahead of the all-important vote.
Before that though, some tough decisions lie ahead in the first half of what will be another challenging year for Fife Council – not least the council’s spending proposals for 2022/23, which will be outlined and likely rubber-stamped on February 24.
Free rein for councils to set own council tax rates
Fife’s SNP/Labour joint administration will be putting the finishing touches to its plans over the coming weeks, but it is understood that Fife is considering raising council tax after finance secretary Kate Forbes gave local authorities free rein to set their own rates this year.
That is a marked change on last year, when Ms Forbes announced a £90 million fund giving councils the equivalent of the income from a 3% rise in council tax if they chose to freeze rates for 2021/22.
Looking ahead to the coming year, council co-leader David Alexander has confirmed that any rise for 2022/23 is unlikely to be above that figure – although talks are still ongoing on what the finances will look like.
The SNP councillor said: “In general terms it’s vital for everyone in every sector that we get on top of Covid and return to a normality that will allow renewal and recovery.
“The economy, national and local, our public services that have done heroic work over the last two years, and people’s lives, deserve space to progress.
“At the same time there are worrying things on the horizon.
“Inflation is starting to rise at an alarming rate for several reasons e.g. energy prices, and shortages through Covid and Brexit.
“In April, national insurance rates are due to increase by 10%.
We are not facing cutbacks in the coming year… however, initial forecasts for future years are concerning”
Council co-leader David Alexander
“Household budgets are going to be under pressure as the cost of living increases, although positively the Scottish child payment will double to £20 per week.
“But in terms of the council we have a reasonable budget that should ensure the council tax does not increase by more than 3% for 22/23.
“We are not facing cutbacks in the coming year and will be implementing new Scottish Government initiatives.
“However, initial forecasts for future years are concerning.”
Major projects across Fife
With 2022 in full swing, Mr Alexander is looking forward to seeing progress on a number of major construction, regeneration and infrastructure projects across Fife, particularly on the establishment of the Levenmouth rail link and the new super college and high school campus in Dunfermline.
However, the ongoing Covid crisis and other potentially unforeseen variables means the council will have to remain flexible and adaptable for every eventuality.
“There are things to be optimistic about and others that give cause for concern,” Mr Alexander added.
“It’s important that people who require help contact the relevant authorities as early as possible.
“Fife’s public services and communities have responded well to unprecedented challenges and a lot of support is in place for people who require it.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson has confirmed that all councils will have “complete flexibility” to set a council tax rate that is appropriate for their local authority area.