East Dunbartonshire residents are facing a hike in council tax for the 2019/20 financial year.
At a meeting of the full council on Thursday, February 21, the new rate was agreed after being moved by the council’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat joint administration, rising by 3.95 per cent.
Prior to the meeting, a tax increase of at least three per cent and almost five per cent seemed inevitable. The council’s latest funding package from the Scottish Government factored in a three per cent increase, leaving the local authority with an almost £8 million budget shortfall.
This gap threatens to grow to more than £41m over five years. The new council tax rate will allow the council to raise more than £3m and reduce the shortfall.
Opposition councillors proposed alternative solutions – the SNP group moved for a three per cent increase while the Labour Group wanted the council to impose the largest possible increase of 4.79 per cent, claiming this was needed to prevent additional service cuts when the full budget is set in March.
“It all comes down to one thing – we haven’t got any money,” lamented Councillor Stewart McDonald (Kirkintilloch East and North and Twechar).
SNP group leader Gordan Low (Bishopbriggs South) said that with families already facing financial challenges, this meant that it was prudent to impose the three per cent.
He also said that the funding package from the Scottish Government was a net gain in finances, due to a number of grants included alongside the core funding to support specific priorities of the government. He also pointed out that the Scottish Government’s own block grants from the UK Government were being severely reduced.
Joint council leader Vaughan Moody, (Liberal Democrat, Bearsden South) commented: ‘’The SNP is still peddling the myth that their budget allocation to councils is a real-terms increase. But what they don’t reveal is that much of this so-called ‘extra money’ is ring-fenced for national projects such as the expansion of nursery provision and Frank’s Law, and will make no difference to the core functions of the council.
‘’To put it simply, for every £100 the council got last year, we will get £102.70 this year. However, once you strip away the ring-fenced money, which the council cannot use for core services, that £102.70 has actually gone down to £99.60.
‘’That is why we have had to increase the council tax by 3.95 per cent, but we have avoided raising it by the permitted maximum of 4.79 per cent as we realise family budgets across the area are stretched. 3.95 per cent is less than £1 a month over 10 months for our lowest banded properties and less than £3 a month over the same period for our highest banded properties.
‘’However, even with this increase, the council is still facing a budget deficit of some £5.3m, and some difficult decisions will once again have to be made at the budget meeting on March 21.’