THE council has rubber-stamped a £203m budget for the next year with elected members vowing to support those who had 'fallen through the cracks' during the pandemic.

The agreed spending plan includes an additional cash boost of £100 for up to 4,000 households who normally receive council tax reduction.

Councillors across the chamber also agreed to put in place an extra £10m to support communities through the coronavirus outbreak.

A three-year capital budget to meet infrastructure costs of nearly £61m was also agreed by all parties.

A new £4m Covid recovery fund is now in place to support people and help services recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a £6m jobs recovery fund will support increased employment and training.

Council leader Stephen McCabe praised his colleagues and officials for managing to balance the books during 'extraordinary circumstances'.

But the Labour man warned of 'significantly more challenging years' ahead as he highlighted a near-£10m black hole which still needs to be plugged over the next two years.

He said: "These are extraordinary circumstances we are facing and there are huge challenges ahead, so members rightly agreed we try to set the budget on the basis of minimum reductions to services and jobs and I think we have done that.

"The most positive thing about this budget is we have been able to balance the books with any significant cuts to services or jobs.

"But doing that in future years will be significantly more challenging.

"Using reserves is not a sustainable strategy, and we have a funding gap of £9.6m over the next two years, which is a sobering thought for all of us.

"Since 2008, the council has approved savings of £63m - an average of £4.4m a year."

The council decided to use £1m in reserves to balance the 2021/22 budget and agreed the allocation of £4m of savings towards the estimated gap for 2022/23.

Last month, elected members agreed to freeze council tax rates for the next year and access an extra £1.1m grant offered up by the Scottish Government.

But Councillor McCabe repeated his argument the freeze would be of no benefit to a large chunk of households.

He said: "It is worth remembering that around a quarter of households in Inverclyde will receive no benefit from the freeze, which is why we have brought forward our own proposal to credit £100 to the council tax accounts of nearly 4,000 of these households and to support those who may not be eligible for other Covid-related support."

Councillor Elizabeth Robertson - who heads up the local authority's SNP group - insisted the Scottish Government's grant would help to tackle inequality.

She said: "I’m fully aware that things have not been ideal.

"However, I simply cannot get my head into a space where I see that additional money coming into our area is anything other than a good thing.

"I think we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of having a poverty mindset, where we think only of the more we could have rather than the much that we do have."