New funds supporting businesses, families and climate change initiatives will be set up after councillors agreed South Lanarkshire’s budget for 2021-22.
In total, £10m is set to be invested in region as part of a range of measures which will also support pandemic recovery following an increased grant settlement from the Scottish Government.
Council leader John Ross (Hamilton South) hailed the cross-party budget as “an opportunity for us to actually invest” in the region adding that “it just shows what can be done when most councillors are able to put party politics aside”.
On Wednesday, February 24, councillors formally approved the cross-party budget by 45 votes to 17 over an alternative “We can do more” proposal by the Labour group.
Cuts, efficiency savings and price increases of £5.4m will supplement the £7.6m in extra funding to create the new funds.
In order to fund an anticipated pay award, £3m has been set aside following proposals from the Scottish Government.
Council tax has been frozen at £1203 for a Band D property for next year after money was set aside by the Scottish Government to support councils who chose to do so.
A £2m education recovery fund to help children and young people overcome the impact of the pandemic and restrictions on their education and wellbeing is to be set up as well as a new £2m climate change fund to improve and protect local environments.
Councillors also agreed to set up a £3m Get South Lanarkshire Working fund to help local businesses and jobs following the pandemic.
New investment of around £2m has been agreed for the maintenance and repair of both roads and pavements with further investment totalling around £1m in other areas, including winter gritting.
Councillor Ross added: “I did fear that this budget would be a particularly difficult one to balance but I am delighted to confirm today that we are in a much better position than any of us could reasonably have expected.
“The budget proposals I am presenting don’t just rule out the worst cuts that at one time we feared we would have to make to our services. Rather, they provide an opportunity for us to actually invest in South Lanarkshire.”
Four of the five political groups had been locked in talks over the past few weeks to thrash out a budget for next year.
The Labour group had been invited to take part but refused after preconditions to remove proposed cuts to school holiday lunch clubs and breakfast clubs weren’t met.
Independent group leader Councillor Margaret Cooper (Avondale and Stonehouse) chaired the cross-party meetings and said: “The talks were tough. Everyone felt strongly about certain issues and argued hard for the points they hold dear.
“We all came to the table with an open mind and an open book. We all wanted to get the very best possible outcome for everyone in our communities.
“There were times that I thought as chair, we may not find a way through but while the main opposition group abandoned its responsibility to try to solve problems and protect services, the rest of us dug deep.
“Proudly, we delivered.”
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Conservative group leader Councillor Alex Allison (Clydesdale East) added: “I believe we have a duty to represent our constituents and their views when we are elected to public office.
“Therefore, we were willing to go into negotiations with other parties to get a good outcome for all residents in South Lanarkshire. Like all those involved, we have needed to compromise on our choices to find common ground but that is what we have been able to do in the best interest of our constituents.
“I am particularly pleased that key elements had been agreed - reprioritising education spending to tackle the education deficit caused by COVID; a roads and pavements package that will help restore our streets after weather damage done in the last month; supporting communities to help themselves during the winter weather and very importantly getting local business up and running again after lockdown finishes.”
Councillor Robert Brown (Rutherglen South), leader of the Liberal Democrat group, added: “Liberal Democrats had one overarching aim in approaching the budget - which was to support, as best we could, our local area’s recovery from the coronavirus emergency.
“Above all with our COVID education recovery fund of over £2m, focused on whatever is necessary to rebuild the life chances of South Lanarkshire’s children, whether it be extra tuition, digital inclusion, a greater investment in outdoor education, or support for those who have lost out most over the last year.
“There is no one magic bullet but we know both the staff and the young people are up for it.”
Labour group leader Councillor Joe Fagan (East Kilbride Central North) proposed an alternative “We can do more” budget which would have seen support for the lowest paid council workers including a £250 bonus for the pandemic workforce and have the council pay Scottish Social Services Council registration costs.
He also proposed additional funding for free school meals to allow all P4 and P5 pupils to be eligible from August 2021 before extending to all primary school pupils in August 2022.
Councillor Fagan said: “This year had to be different because when we were faced with the cuts presented to us at the end of last year, we were faced with cuts no progressive council would ever want to consider.
“I respect the decision of other parties to enter into cross-party budget talks but I also think people out there respect why Labour decided not to participate.
“We said we would only enter talks if cuts to breakfast clubs, lunch clubs and Free at three early years provision were ruled out from the very start.
“Neither the leader of the council or the chair would agree and those cuts have therefore been hanging over South Lanarkshire for two months.”