WELCOME to my first column of 2018 and a Happy New Year to you all.

Like every other year I’ve started as council leader – this being my eleventh – 2018 promises to be a year of challenge and progress for the council and for Inverclyde.

Arguably the biggest challenge over the next few months will be for the political groups to agree a council budget, trying to minimise cuts to services and jobs. 

Although the Scottish Government grant reduction was lower than we had been led to expect, the council still faces a potential £10m budget gap over the next two years.

A public consultation will commence on 15 January on a range of savings proposals drawn up by council officers. We want to hear your views on these proposals and any other suggestions you might have for addressing the budget gap.

At the same time we will keep lobbying our Scottish Parliament representatives for a better deal for local government so we don’t have to implement damaging cuts to local services and jobs. I am expecting all our constituency and regional MSPs to stand up for Inverclyde.

All is not doom and gloom however.

This year will see further significant progress towards our goal of renewing our entire education estate by 2020 with the completions of the new £9.1m St Ninian’s Primary School and £3.4m Glenpark Early Learning Centre and the refurbishments of Moorfoot (£5.1m) and Lady Alice Primary (£3.8m) Schools. 

Glenbrae Children’s Centre will move to a new £1.1m home in the refurbished former Strone Area Centre in Aberfoyle Road. Work will start on the £6.1m refurbishment of St Mary’s Primary School and a £1.7m extension to Gourock Primary.

2018 will see the opening of our new £2m children’s home on the site of the former King’s Glen Primary School in Greenock and work starting on a similar facility in Port Glasgow to replace the existing Crosshill Children’s Home. These new high quality facilities reflect our desire to do our best for the children in our care.

The quality of the care we provide to these children is demonstrated by the recent inspection reports on our Neil Street and Kylemore Children’s Homes by the Care Inspectorate, where all grades awarded were at the highest grade of ‘Excellent’. 

Kylemore has also been awarded the UNICEF UK Level One Rights Respecting Award, a first for a residential children’s unit in the UK. 

It is expected that our units at Crosshill and Neil Street will achieve this award in 2018.

We can look forward to progress on a number of major regeneration projects this year, including the road realignment on Baker’s Brae in Greenock and the creation of an enterprise hub.

I am hopeful that work will finally start on two of our City Deal projects – the creation of a dedicated cruise berth with visitor facility at Greenock’s Ocean Terminal and roads infrastructure improvements at Inverkip to facilitate the redevelopment of the former power station site for investment in excess of £100m in business space, leisure facilities and housing.

An exciting and no doubt testing year lies ahead.