INVERCLYDE’S council tax will be frozen for the eighth year running in a budget that avoided major cutbacks but will still inflict pain.

The full council agreed unanimously yesterday to set a two-year budget for 2015-17 that will mean savings of £4.1 million and the temporary use of £3.3m of council reserves.

The equivalent of around 32 full-time council posts will go through voluntary severance or redeployment, but there will be no compulsory redundancies or cuts to school transport or head teachers, and the number of teachers will increase slightly.

It was the first time councillors of all parties had come together in a cross-party working group that held consultations with the public and then came to an overall agreement.

Council leader Stephen McCabe said that, because we are living in extraordinary political and economic times, he had proposed the cross-party group ‘to see if we could work together in the best interests of the people we represent’.

He told a low-key budget meeting: “I’m pleased all members of the council adopted a mature and constructive approach.

“The group met on seven occasions and our discussions lasted well in excess of 20 hours.

“This shows how seriously we take our responsibilities for making the best decisions in the interests of the community.” Mr McCabe said the primary objective was to protect frontline services, particularly education, care for the elderly and those with learning difficulties, and he pointed out that most of the savings are from efficiencies.

But he warned: “We should be under no illusion that our proposals will result in reduced service provision in a number of areas, a loss of jobs and people paying more for the services we provide.” The leader criticised the Scottish Government’s continuing policy of encouraging council tax freezes, which, he said, had an impact on jobs and services.

Councillor McCabe said the council’s grant would be ‘slashed’ by the government if the council tax was increased.

He added: “These are challenging times for the council. But we are still ambitious to make Inverclyde a better place for us all to live.” The SNP’s Councillor Math Campbell-Sturgess said this was a budget no-one wanted.

He said: “We would like to see a rising budget, but, as a result of austerity and the wider economic sitaution, that choice is not open to us.” Liberal Democrat Councillor Ciano Rebecchi told the chamber he was pleased to see everyone working together for Inverclyde, and independents Ronnie Ahlfeld and Vaughan Jones said everything had been discussed in great detail and that it was encouraging and positive to see the group coming together for the benefit of Inverclyde.

Despite the spending reductions, however, there will also be additional areas of investment.

These include £259,000 a year for services to schoolchildren with additional support needs, £100,000 to increase the school clothing grant from £80 to £90 per child for the next four years, a rise in the value of Christmas vouchers for older people from £12.50 to £15 and a doubling of the lowest council apprentice wage to an hourly rate of £5.46.

Bowling club improvements will be boosted by £100,000, and there will be an extra £120,000 for play areas plus £300,000 for town and village centre environmental improvements.