It is fitting that as we head into the New Year the Council takes stock of what we’ve spent this year and what we can afford to spend in 2013/14.
The Council is getting less money from the government and will have a cumulative budget gap of £10.5m over the next three years. That presents a real problem for us because I’m sure each and every one of you could think of something you’d like to see the Council spend more money on, not less!
As an administration we have two choices. We can continue doing exactly what we do at present, but do it less well because of budget cuts. Or we can be dynamic and bold and transform the way we deliver services so that our money goes much further.
We have opted for the second and more challenging option because it offers a brighter future for the Council and this area. We will face criticism as nobody likes change, but I would ask those of you opposed to suggest where you would find the savings required.
The administration is happy to discuss proposals but criticism without solutions makes for an empty debate. Despite the budget cuts we will still invest around £1 billion over the next five years to deliver vital services and improve the lives of local people.
Looking back over the past nine months it is clear that the Council has achieved a considerable amount. We cancelled the securitisation project saving £2.7m per year in 2013 and a one-off saving of £1m in 2012.
We provided extra money for parent councils with £275,000 over the next 5 years. Our Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP) funding will mean £19m of investment for 187 new homes.
We set out our plans for a social enterprise growth fund of £225,000. In Social Work, we abolished the charges for special needs equipment, introduced a new policy on stairlifts to remove maintenance costs and committed £20m to build two fantastic new care homes.
In Corporate Services, we have secured £4.165m for a major upgrade of ICT, overseen a review of modern apprenticeship rates and the implementation of the Councils ambitious Employability and Growth jobs programme with a minimum of 1,000 jobs and apprentices.
In Housing and Economic Development, we abolished the care of garden charges, ensured £95m extra for housing improvements, and secured £3.5m for demolition projects. In education, we are developing plans to fund building new schools, brought in improvements to the school timetable and will drive forward the raising attainment agenda.
In 2013 we will fight to continue these improvements, transforming how we deliver services so that our money goes much further. It will not be easy – the SNP cuts are a major problem. But the Labour administration is striving to deliver the best for all the people of West Dunbartonshire.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas and wish every resident a very happy New Year.
Leader of West Dunbartonshire Council