Council services in Fife will be “unrecognisable” in several years if funding cuts from central government continue, it has been claimed.
David Ross, the leader of Fife Council, said that the public had every right to be concerned about the impact of budget cuts on services as he outlined his administration’s spending plans ahead of next week’s budget.
He confirmed that council tax is to rise by 3% across the board, in addition to the increases already imposed on high bands by the Scottish Government.
However, despite further savings, Mr Ross still expects the council to be operating with a budget gap of around £41 million by 2019/20.
Asked if the public should be concerned, he said: “Absolutely.
“We’ve been making savings for many years, but the current year and next year have been significantly worse.
“It’s predicted that will go on, and if it does then the council and council services are going to be unrecognisable in a few years time.
“We think people value their local services and we will do our best to protect them.
“But it will mean cuts and job losses over time.”
A new efficiencies programme, Enabling Change, is to be introduced, which Mr Ross claims will save around £35 million over the next three years.
Much of this is to be achieved by allowing more staff to work remotely and an increased use of online and phone services for public interaction.
However, it is believed that around 279 full-time equivalent jobs could be lost over the next three years.
He added that he hoped that many of these could be achieved through early retirement and said that everything would be done to avoid compulsory redundancies.
Asked how difficult balancing the books had become, Mr Ross added: “It is very hard.
“Part of the problem is because of the efforts we have put in, people don’t necessarily feel the cuts.
“There is an element of we’re crying wolf but some services have been cut back, particularly health and social care.”
Impact of council tax rise
Owners of larger homes will also experience a “significant impact” from increases in council tax, Mr Ross warned.
He has claimed that the current system of taxation is “broken” and said that it impacts unfairly on older people or those who are asset rich yet cash poor.
Mr Ross has confirmed that council tax in the region will rise by 3% from April across all bands, with those in bands E- H also to be affected by revised bandings approved by the Scottish Government.
“We’ve been allowed after a ten year freeze to put council tax up by up to 3% and we’re going to do that,” he said.
“If we didn’t do it, it would mean us making an extra £4.6 million in cuts.
“There is our 3% across the board increase, and on top of that the Scottish Government has increased the E- H banding, which will have a significant impact on people with bigger houses.
“We have no control over that, we have to implement it.”
With increases from both Fife Council and the Scottish Government combined, homeowners living in band H properties can expect to pay around £600 more per year in tax.
Those living in band E, the lowest affected by the Holyrood re-bandings, can expect to pay closer to £150 a year extra from April.
For people living in homes in bands A to D, which will only be impacted by Fife Council’s 3% rise, costs will increase by £22 a year for those in the lowest band, rising to an extra £33 per annum for those in band D.
While sympathetic to those facing increased charges, Mr Ross blamed the rise on previous Scottish Government decisions.
Adding that he would like to see a new taxation system introduced, he continued: “We think the council tax system is broken.
“We recognise that it has all sorts of unfair elements in it and we think a new system needs to be devised.
“We recognise that not everyone in a big house is necessarily well off, particularly older people whose family have moved on, and they’re now being faced with huge increases in bills.
“If for the last ten years we could have raised the council tax by 1% we wouldn’t have had this problem.”