The Fife Council Draft Budget… The count down starts now – Have your say

Fife Council - Fife House with a white Fife Council van

Potential 7.5 per cent Council Tax rise.

With less than four working days to comment, the citizens of Fife face a tight timeline to respond to 19 pages plus of information with just 7 pages of explanatory text.

To put the draft budget into  perspective we all at some time have to  face life’s challenges.  They may be in our career, our family and our finances.  Often the financial challenges can take their toll and one  may need help from others to decide what to do.

Government grant cut…
£38m deficit instead of £21m

Fife Council is no different.  Their income £752m, which for most of us is out of our league and their spend – well in our terms it is enormous, that is £791m  (The greater portion of the spend being staff salaries and office accommodation),  that figure  would make most peoples’ credit card turn up at the ends.

But as a result the Council have ended up with a deficit of £38m  instead of the £21m already budgeted for.  The £16m plus increase is as a result of a cut in the Scottish Government support grant.

Therefore,  the Council is like a family, that is trying to make ends meet.  Typically, one tries to make savings or increase your income.  On that note Fife Council is like you and I.

When savings are not savings?

But some pages in their draft document are  not clear.  The Council refer to savings, as a generic term.  As you will see later I mention the example of Council Tax Income.  There you will see a figure of 1.5m savings.  That is not a  saving but £1.5m of additional Council Tax coming into the Council from a variety of new builds etc.

Which reminds me…  In my youth I asked a female friend  of mine to go out and do a bit of shopping for me.  After a couple of hours she returned and happily announced that I had been saved £20.  There, I was waiting, waiting eagerly,  for four crisp blue £5 notes to re-enter my wallet.  She smiled and looked into my eyes. Her eyes twinkled.  A twinkle with a concentrated spark  ( I recognized that smile, the spark, and it always worried me).  Her face – full of beams of sunshine, said it all.

As opposed to a saving she needed more money. More money from me! The upshot, I was short of £20.  I had not saved a bean!

At which point I dived into my wallet and drowned in a sulk.  The pain deepened as I sunk further into my wallet with despair.  My wallet emptied, as I extracted those four hard earned fivers. The money just floated out of my hands.  It sailed away.   I had smiles  on the outside,  but on the inside… disappointment!

Fife Council  – Their Budget Challenges

Fife Council similarly have a budget challenge, and this includes:-

  • A backdated equal pay settlement.
  • A reduction in grant from the Scottish Government of 3.6%, more than what was expected.
  • And nine years of static council tax.  Therefore to alleviate this it  has been suggested there could be a 7.51% increase.  The Council Tax yield after the deduction of  a £4m penalty is a cool £7.5m.

Therefore, like anyone with such challenges the Labour administration need your input, so please do complete and return your comments to Fife Council on or before 4th February 2016.  This is essential as the Council have made it clear that they want YOU to join the conversation see –Let’s Talk.

Councillor David Ross
Councillor David Ross encourages you to participate

There you will see how easy it is to do.  Fearing nothing, we had a go ourselves.

Firstly you need to download the document from the Fife Direct Website.  The link is here at Let’s Talk.  Which may be a challenge to some members of the public that do not have Internet access. We understand there are paper copies that are available to the public from local offices and libraries.

We downloaded and opened the Draft Revenue Budget and then shouted Agh! or some other not so polite words!

We thought… We will never understand this!  So we had a cup of tea, put our feet up and relaxed. Then looked at it a bit more.

When we did we found there was a good bit of explanatory text (Pages 1 to 7) and that really did help.

An index to the 19 page document…

To help you we have listed the important bits here:-

  • Table 1 (page 3) – Original draft summary budget prior to the Scottish government grant decision.
  • Table 2 (page 4) Revised draft summary after the government grant decision. This has an item updated budget assumptions  section (See Appendix 2). The figures in table 1 do not relate to table 2 because of the equal pay settlement.
  • Appendix 1 – Draft Revenue Budget 2016-2019 (page 8 – High level list of savings).
    There is an Options to close heading with the words Operational Savings and Proposed additional savings below it. You can find details of these in appendix 2 and appendix 3 respectively.
  • Appendix 2 (Page 9) – Summary of Revised Assumptions see Table 2 (If there is a bracket around the assumed figure it means the item is spend, not a saving) and there is also a reference to savings of £1.5m on Council Tax income. This is not a saving as such. What is meant here is an increase in Council Tax Revenue of £1.5m.

There is also a summary of operational savings.  You can find details of these here

There are total savings of £5.366m for the operational ones and £9.450m for the updated assumptions.

  • Appendix 3 (Page 10) – Proposed additional savings £4.279m
  • Appendix 4 (Page 12) – Further Possible Budget Savings £5.440m
  • Appendix 4 (Page 13)- Rejected Additional Savings  £11.371m ((Remember this is a draft so they could be ruled back in)
  • Appendix 5 (Page 14)- Temporary Savings £9.373m

We were curious about this one for no other reason than…

When the word temporary is used by government departments etc it always is a cause for concern.  We always remember the story about the introduction of income tax as a temporary measure in 1803. Two old pence on each pound was charged on income over £60 a year (equivalent to £5,641 as of 2016).  In the main we all still pay income tax.   Therefore it is a tax that was a temporary measure that is still with is,  and  I must say costs a lot more than one new penny in the pound.  Just a thought… income tax at less than 1% of your income.  Wow!

So we asked some questions

You talk about temporary savings can you explain how that will operate?

“These savings will be for one year only and it will be a reduction in budgets.”

Will you put your workers on short time for a year?

“No, employees will not be on short time for a year.”

The Temporary Savings

Can you please explain some examples of temporary savings?

  1. Reduction in Supplies and Services

“This is a reduction in budgets for consumable items such as printing, stationery, equipment etc”

  1. Reduction in Maintenance of Building

“We have a budget to allow us to undertake routine maintenance on buildings, for one year only this budget will be reduced, meaning that some maintenance will not be undertaken.”

  1. Reduction in Maintenance of Roads.

“Similar to buildings there is a budget to maintain roads, for one year only this budget will be reducing, meaning that not all road maintenance work will be undertaken.”

  1. Review of inflation

“Inflation is applied to some budgets to reflect the increase in prices, given the financial challenges, we have reviewed this requirement and will not be applying inflation to some items.”

  1. Review of Staffing Budget – vacancy management

“Services will be asked to hold vacancies and manage the recruitment process, meaning that there will be a delay in recruiting some staff which will result in a saving.”

  1. Review of Trust Funding

“Fife Council has a number of subsidiaries and trusts which are receive some of their funding from the Council.  Given the scale of the challenges and the need for the council to make reductions, we are reviewing the level of funding we provide to these organisations.”

  1. Review of Capital Plan – planned slow down

“This reflects the revenue savings that would be generated from a reduced level of borrowing to fund the capital programme.  This has been calculated on the basis of the level of underspend on the capital programme this year and reported to committee last week.”

  • Appendix 6 (Page 15) – 7.51% increase in Council Tax.
  • Appendix 7 (Pages 16) Further Areas for Potential Savings.

This includes proposals to shave off 30 minutes from the working time of staff and close the Council Offices for half a day a week.

  • Appendix 8 (Pages 17-19) Transformational Proposals – looking at other options and efficiencies.

So that is it apart from TLAs…

TLAs the downfall of man

Oops! I should have said (TLAs) Three Letter Abbreviations which some think is our downfall!

Here are the abbreviations we spotted.

IJB – Integrated Joint Board

CCFM – Catering, Cleaning and Facilities Management – which is a Business Unit of the council

PBB -Priority Based Budgeting – this was a report prepared looking at the methods of budgeting for Transportation Service. The report proposed a number of initiatives which are now in the draft budget and identified with PBB.

To summarise, we have looked at this draft budget to find out how easy it is for you to have your say.  We believe it is well worth everyone contributing to the Let’s Talk debate.  You just need a cup of tea, a little bit of time and perhaps a lot of patience.

Councillor Altany Craik
Councillor Altany Craik explains the consultation process

And to that end  please do contribute.

Just for a word of encouragement we have asked Councillor Altany Craik somes questions about the process

1) What will Fife Council do with your comments when they receive them?

“The responses will all be collated and analysed.  we will get a copy of all consultation responses to consider.”

Will my suggestions abouts savings and additional revenues be listened to?

“On the revenue raising ideas, nothing is off the table – we need to balance the budget through a combination of efficiency, savings, raising revenues and transforming processes and service delivery.”

Altany then added…

“There can be no sacred cows in terms of consideration.”

Thank you Altany, the bottom line, your expert input is needed by Fife Council.

So, it is now time, first of all to start reading and secondly writing your responses.  Once you have done so please submit your comments, suggestion and ideas on how to make the budget work.  That is before time runs out on this Thursday, 4th February 2016!