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Free Saturday buses and no cuts to events as Perth and Kinross Council sets budget

Perth and Kinross councillors rejected a number of controversial proposals when they met to set their budget

Perth and Kinross Council leader Grant Laing
Perth and Kinross Council leader Grant Laing said around £4M in planned budget cuts had been avoided. Image: Angus Findlay

Bus passengers will travel free across Perth and Kinross on the first Saturday of every month as part of the council budget agreed on Wednesday.

The £120,000 scheme was one of a number of surprise additions to the Perth and Kinross Council spending plans for 2024/25.

Councillors also rejected a recommendation from officials that they cut funding for local bus routes by £775,000.

And members agreed to look into a business case for setting up a new bus service in the region. This could involve a publicly owned company, or a public interest or franchise model.

Councillors heard the need had become more pressing in the wake of Stagecoach’s announcement on Tuesday that it is considering axing a number of Perth and Kinross services.

Stagecoach bus driving through a village
Public transport was uppermost in councillors’ minds following this week’s Stagecoach announcement. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Carse of Gowrie Labour councillor Alasdair Bailey said the news had come as a particular shock to his ward, where villagers could be left with no daytime services.

And he told fellow councillors: “This is coming for your wards too. Mark my words.”

Controversial cuts left out of Perth and Kinross Council budget

Elsewhere, councillors agreed NOT to cut spending on the events budget.

The proposal sparked an outcry when it emerged in council papers last week.

Ian Fenwick, director of Perthshire Local, branded it “a ridiculous idea”.

The switch means gatherings such as the Perth Christmas lights switch-on will still go ahead.

However, there was recognition that the council will have to work harder with businesses and others to promote its events – and prove it is getting value for money.

Perthshire Local director Iain Fenwick walking through Perth.
Perthshire Local director Iain Fenwick had led opposition to proposed event budget cuts. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

Councillors rejected a number of other cuts put forward by officials last week.

Funding for primary school swimming lessons and breakfast clubs will continue.

Reductions in gritting and road sweeping will not now go ahead.

And the council will continue to fund existing school crossing patroller posts, while encouraging Tayside Contracts to work harder to fill those which are vacant.

A planned cut in funding for Pitlochry Festival Theatre has also been rejected.

Council leader Grant Laing said the successful amendment put forward by the SNP group and supported by a majority of councillors had avoided around £3.9 million in recommended cuts to services.

Additional spending agreed for communities

In addition, councillors agreed to a series of new measures, which had not been proposed by officials previously.

Flood prevention measures in Dunkeld and Perth’s Buckie Braes will receive a £1M boost.

Sandbags piled outside property in Dunkeld
Dunkeld will get funding to help avoid a repeat of the flooding which caused chaos in January. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Culture Perth and Kinross will get £190,000 so it can work with communities on ways to keep their local libraries open.

That follows a protest by ‘Save Our Library’ campaigners in Birnam, Dunkeld, at the weekend.

Another £200,000 is going towards modernising the Perth and Kinross visitor ranger service.

Protestors outside Birnam Arts building by Dunkeld
A large crowd gathered outside Birnam Arts where the library is based. Image: Marion McKinnon Photography.

The Big Hoose Project which supports families living in poverty with free access to everyday essentials will receive £70,000.

And following input from opposition parties the budget also includes funding for a number of local towns.

Crieff Community Trust is in line for £40,000 a year towards its efforts to regenerate Crieff

Another £35,000 is being made available for Tulloch play facilities and £13,000 for the Letham for All community fridge in Perth.

And Live Active Leisure will receive an additional £60,000 a year to maintain leisure facilities in Pitlochry.

Group of protesters outside Pitlochry High School
Pitlochry protestors raised the alarm over the future of local leisure services last week. Image: Marieke McBean

This follows a protest in Pitlochry last week over plans to close the Atholl Leisure Centre and turn Pitlochry High School into a community campus.

Government money dependent on council tax freeze

Members voted by a majority of 22 to 13 in favour of the amendment from the SNP group, which was further amended to include suggestions from opposition parties. Four councillors abstained.

The meeting heard Perth and Kinross could be in line for an additional £1.69 million from the Scottish Government.

That follows a Cosla announcement last week that Scottish councils could share in an extra £62.7 million when the UK Government sets its spring budget next week.

However, the additional funding will be dependent on authorities freezing council tax, which Perth and Kinross has agreed to do.

Perth and Kinross Council logo on wall of council HQ in Perth
Perth and Kinross Council is freezing council tax. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Other big ticket measures include £300,000 to help bring empty commercial spaces back into use.

Another £200,000 will be invested in supporting Community Asset Transfers.

And additional funding will be made available to encourage community access to campuses.

However, there was disappointment from Conservative councillors that the budget failed to acknowledge their campaign to save the public toilets in Auchterarder, Crieff Blairgowrie and at Perth’s South Inch.

Councillor Angus Forbes said more people taken part in the informal toilets consultation than the council’s own consultation on the creation of a new national park.