Council Tax freeze hint for Fifers as extra Scottish Government funding confirmed

Finance minister Kate Forbes has outlined how the Kingdom could receive an additional £22.9 million in its annual Holyrood grant for 2021/22: a total of £725.3 million, and a 3.3% increase in nominal terms.

The above-inflation increase includes money to cover the income that would have been raised if Fife increased council tax by 3% next year – giving the authority the option to freeze rates until 2022.

SNP group leader and council co-leader David Alexander has hailed the proposed budget – yet to be debated and passed by MSPs – as “positive”.

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Fife House, HQ of Fife Council
Fife House, HQ of Fife Council

However, the Leven, Kennoway and Largo councillor also criticised the UK Government for delaying its planned autumn budget until next month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak tore up his plans due to the coronavirus pandemic – meaning Scottish ministers have had to make assumptions about the settlement they’ll receive from Whitehall through the Barnett formula.

Mr Alexander said: “In terms of public affordability, given the horrendous circumstances people are finding themselves in right now, there is the opportunity to freeze the council tax.

“There is additional money to finalise the plans for the doubling of free childcare which is very positive news for working parents and the hundreds of new jobs that will be created as a result.”He added: “This is still a draft budget so there may be changes. There is also a UK budget to come.”

However, Cllr David Ross, Labour group leader and Cllr Alexander’s counterpart felt the government allocation fell “well short” of what the council needs to continue delivering services at their current levels.

Mr Ross said: “Just because this budget settlement isn’t quite as bad as in recent years, doesn’t make it good.

“Council tax aside, Fife’s core grant from the Scottish Government will rise by around £8m.

“But we estimate that a well deserved pay increase for our staff, in line with the public sector pay guidance issued by the Scottish Government, would cost around £10m, quite apart from other cost increases we will have to meet. So once again this is a cut in the real terms funding of local services.”

The settlement figures came as analysis of the proposed local government settlement suggests Fife is among the more fortunate beneficiaries compared with other similar councils.

It receives around £61 per head compared with an average of £55 for authorities with similar geographies or levels of deprivation.

Ms Forbes said the budget would help councils as they continue to battle the impact of the pandemic.

She added: : “This budget is being delivered in exceptional circumstances as we continue to battle a pandemic that has shaken our society and economy to the core.

“The local government settlement will help to fund those vital public services that are much valued and needed.”

Fife Council will meet to debate and agree its 2021/22 budget on February 25.

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