IN my previous column I referred to the potential financial challenges faced by the council.

With the release of the latest update report on our draft budget for the next two years the scale of possible cuts to jobs and services has become all too clear to council employees and local residents.

This report will be considered by the full council tomorrow and members of all political groups will do so with heavy hearts.

The chief financial officer Alan Puckrin is estimating that the recurring savings required over the next two years total around £13m. This is his best professional guess. The actual level of savings could be higher or lower.

The key unknown is the level of funding the council will receive from the Scottish Government.

This won’t be announced until around the middle of December.
At this stage Mr Puckrin is anticipating our government funding will be cut by £7.4m over the next two years. This is a huge cut, accounting for over half of the £13m gap.

The other main funding pressure we are facing is the impact of inflation.

The grant councils receive from the Scottish Government has not made any allowance for inflation for many years. Councils are expected to fund both pay and non-pay inflation themselves by cutting jobs and services and increasing charges.

If the Scottish Government was to give the council the same amount of money we received last year, and agree to fund a reasonable pay award for staff, there would be no need for any cuts. We could balance the books with a modest increase in council tax.

This may be wishful thinking on my part but the reality is that the Scottish Government now has the means to end austerity.

All that has been lacking so far is the political will. According to a recent report from the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), if the SNP government had implemented Scottish Labour’s tax proposals in the last two Scottish budgets, they would have raised an additional £1bn for public services.

This would have been more than enough to stop any cuts to council services and would actually have provided additional funds for investment.

The First Minister herself has now acknowledged that taxes may need to rise.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on September 7 she said: “So if we want, as I certainly do, this country to continue to have the highest quality public services, well paid public servants, the support and the infrastructure that our businesses need to thrive, if we want to have effective policies to tackle poverty, then I think we do need to have an honest, mature debate about how best to deliver that.”

I agree with Nicola. Tomorrow the council will also debate a motion from local trade union branches, calling on us to campaign with them for a fair local government settlement and on both the UK and Scottish Governments to make money available to ensure that vital services for Inverclyde residents are maintained.

I hope this motion will be supported by all groups represented on the council.

It is time to set aside our political differences and campaign together for the best deal for Inverclyde.