East Lothian’s Labour-led administration has proposed a budget for 2017/18 that will protect the county’s vital frontline services, including schools and care for older people, from SNP cuts, support communities and continue to invest in the local economy and jobs.
Led by Councillor Willie Innes, Labour councillors have worked hard to produce a budget which will deliver for local communities, including £169 million for new capital projects across the county.
After nine years of budget cuts and a council tax freeze which have starved local services of much-needed additional investment, the budget proposes a modest 3 per cent rise in the council tax.
However, East Lothian taxpayers will also be hit by an SNP Government imposed council tax increase. As a result of this unprecedented national increase, householders who live in Band E properties will see their council tax bills increase by £102 next year. For band F householders, the rise is £202. In band G it is £326 and in band H it is £503.
Labour has been calling for a serious alternative to the council tax for years, something the SNP also claimed to want. But instead of scrapping it they have forced these national increases on local people and even tried to grab the extra funding back to use on their pet national projects.
Cllr Innes and Iain Gray MSP have also condemned the SNP opposition’s budget as demonstrating that they care more about their own electoral prospects than protecting East Lothian’s economy and public services.
Local Nationalists claim Ministers have not cut local council funding, but SNP leaders in neighbouring Midlothian and Edinburgh have admitted that SNP Government cuts have hit their areas hard.
The SNP budget proposed using £6m of the Council's reserves and cutting £9.5m from staffing costs or 'efficiency savings' over the next three years meaning some 300 council staff, more than 10 per cent of the current total, could be cut under their plans. This would threaten to disrupt the provision of essential frontline services.
The SNP also proposed to spend less on adult social care over the next three years than the Labour-led administration, which would put additional pressure on vital services for the most vulnerable local residents.
Labour Leader Cllr Willie Innes said:
"The Labour-led Administration has set out a budget to protect essential services and support local communities. It prioritises our schools and care of older people, while also maintaining our commitments to growing the local economy, creating jobs and building more affordable homes.
“What our budget will not do, despite the SNP Government cuts to our funding, is put at risk the progress we have made in managing the County's finances over the last five years. In contrast, by raiding the council’s reserves and making huge cuts in staffing, all in order to propose a smaller initial increase in the council tax, the SNP would put the future of local services at risk.
“Cllr Currie wants to try and buy the election, but the reality of the cuts imposed by their SNP bosses can be seen in neighbouring SNP-led Midlothian, which is increasing council tax by the same amount as us. At the same time, it is SNP Ministers in Holyrood who have imposed the extra council tax hike on higher tax bands.
"I know local people will not be fooled by Cllr Currie's divisive smoke and mirrors budget. When he and Cllr McLennan were last in charge of the council between 2007 and 2012 East Lothian was the most debt-laden authority in Scotland. We cannot afford a return to the SNP's financial recklessness.
"We have balanced financial prudence with the need to defend and protect the vital services so many local people rely on. Our promise going into the local election campaign is that we will always stand up for East Lothian and put its interests first."
Iain Gray MSP added:
“Willie and his team have performed miracles over the last five years. Despite the huge budget cuts imposed by SNP Ministers over many years, they have maintained essential services and boosted the local economy. They have now set out a sensible budget to protect vital frontline services and take the County forward in a positive way over the next few years.
“Meanwhile, opposition SNP councillors are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes when it comes to the cuts imposed by their own Government. With the collaboration of their little helpers, the Greens, they first denied making cuts at all, then agreed to alleviate them as part of the Green budget deal, and have now gone back to denying there are any cuts. It has been an astonishing piece of political chicanery which has probably left even their own supporters feeling baffled.
“What is clear here in East Lothian is that we have a dedicated team of Labour councillors who will always do the right thing for our County, up against a bunch of Nationalists who will always put their obsession with independence and the need to defend their own government before what’s best for East Lothian.”