Residents in South Ayrshire will pay an average of 67p more per week in Council Tax next year after Councillors agreed today (2 March 2017) to increase Council Tax by 3% – the first increase in ten years.
This will increase Council Tax charges for an average band D property in 2017/18 from £1153.95 to £1188.57 per year – a rise of £34.62.
The monies raised by today's Council Tax increase – around £1.7 million – will be used to protect local public services and minimise the need for cuts to services following the reduction in grant funding from the Scottish Government.
As well as the Council Tax increase agreed by the Council, households in bands E to H will also be affected by Scottish Government changes to Council Tax, which will increase Council Tax charges for these properties by an additional £105-£520.
The Council decision to increase Council Tax was taken as Councillors agreed a revenue budget of £192 million – as well as a delegated budget of £69 million for the South Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership – for 2017/18 and a six-year capital investment programme of £145 million for 2017/18-2022/23.
The £69 million delegated to the Integrated Joint Board (which is responsible for allocating the Partnership's budget) includes an extra £1.5 million for health and social care in recognition of the pressure and demand for services.
Councillors also agreed funding to create a dedicated £1 million Change Fund that will be invested in health and social care improvement projects, which will help some of the most vulnerable people in local communities.
An extra £1 million has been allocated to the Invest South Ayrshire programme, which is designed to attract businesses and jobs to the area, helping local people and the local economy. In addition, Councillors approved £500,000 to support the continued development of the Ayrshire Growth Deal.
To deliver benefits right at the heart of communities, the Council agreed to invest more than £80,000 in each of the six 'localities' in South Ayrshire to be used as part of the successful participatory budgeting programme, which allows local people to determine where funding goes at a local level.
To deliver a balanced budget, the Council had to bridge the gap between the money it has available to spend, and the money it needs to spend to deliver services over the year.
To achieve this, Councillors today agreed further efficiency savings totalling £770,000 – these include reductions in contributions to external agencies as well as savings in contract and insurance costs, which will have a minimal impact on service delivery. They also agreed to remove some previously agreed savings of £540,000, which will no longer be progressed at this stage. Together with previous budget decisions, this means a total of £3.7 million efficiency savings will be delivered by the Council in 2017/18.
In addition to this, Councillors had previously approved the one-off use of £5.3 million from surplus reserves.
Councillor Bill McIntosh, Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "In the final budget from this Council, I'm very proud that – despite the savage cuts from the Scottish Government – we have delivered a balanced budget that continues to invest in our people and communities. This is all down to the prudent financial management we have shown over the past five years.
"The 2017/18 budget includes extra monies for health and social care, the economy, and participatory budgeting, which is a highly successful initiative that has well and truly empowered our communities and put them right at the heart of decision-making.
"We know how important public services are to our communities and we have worked hard to minimise the potential impact of any funding gap on service delivery – which is why we made the decision to plug more than £5 million of the gap from our surplus reserves.
"It's also why we've had no real choice but to raise Council Tax for the first time in a decade. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but as a necessary response to the harsh cuts placed on us by the Scottish Government.
"Unfortunately, for some households, the relatively small increase agreed by the Council today – which amounts to a rise of between 44p and £1.63 per week – is compounded by the national changes to the highest Council Tax bands, which we have no discretion to change.
"It's never easy to balance the books, but the approach agreed today allows us to do this without cutting jobs and without the need to close down any services, which is certainly a positive. We know the financial challenges will continue for the next administration in the months and years ahead, but our careful and considered budgeting leaves this Council on a sound footing for the future."
Councillor John McDowall, Depute Leader of the Council, added: "Local public services impact on everyone's everyday lives and we have worked tirelessly to provide the best services possible with available resources. However, it's become increasingly clear over the last five years that it's local services that have had to face the brunt of cuts from Holyrood, and we have done everything we can to lessen that impact – including, today, raising the Council Tax.
"Our budget for 2017/18 is testament to our commitment to deliver for our communities. It's using the money we have available in the best possible way to increase investment where it's needed most and where it will deliver the biggest benefits.
"To that end, I'm especially pleased that, as well as increasing the base funding we provide to the Health and Social Care Partnership, we have created a dedicated Change Fund for health and social care. This makes £1 million available to the Partnership – subject to successful investment proposals – to deliver innovative and transformational projects that make a real difference for people. This is an exciting initiative and it will be fascinating to see what comes out of it.
"Despite the major financial challenges we have faced – and we know there's more to come – we have produced yet another efficient, effective and balanced budget that will make life better for our people and communities. We can all be proud of that."
At today's Council meeting, Councillors also agreed a new six-year capital programme, which sets out total investment of £145 million in children and families, adults and older people and communities.
Within the capital programme is £63 million for improved and new build schools – including a new allocation of £7 million to fund improvements at Carrick Academy in Maybole. Additional investment of £3.5 million was also agreed for roads reconstruction and improvement – taking total investment in roads, bridges and street-lighting to more than £16 million between 2017 and 2023.
Speaking about the capital programme, Councillor Robin Reid, Portfolio Holder for Resources and Performance, said: "With new schools just opened in Dailly and Tarbolton, the new technical wing now in use at Marr, and progress being made on a number of other exciting school projects, it's clear to see that this significant capital investment is definitely paying dividends right across South Ayrshire.
"Whether we are constructing new buildings or improving existing ones, it's very much about investment in people and communities, and that's a theme that runs throughout the capital programme. The additional funding for roads is a great example of that – we know it's an issue that really matters to people and where the investment will make a tangible difference.
"And that's what matters. Our capital programme is creating a legacy for generations to come and shows just what can be achieved when we work in a planned and managed way to make the best of the resources we have.
"Our focus when setting this budget has been to protect the best interests of the people of South Ayrshire and it's clear that we've done exactly that."
Full details of the budget agreed by South Ayrshire Council today can be found here.
Council Tax notices confirming the increased Council Tax charges for 2017/18 will be issued to households later this month.