Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Budgets - national and local

I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament has finally agreed its Budget - partly, of course, because it lifts the uncertainty that was hanging over the ability of our local authority (and the 31 others across Scotland) in being able to set its own budget a week tomorrow.

The degree of willingness to find consensus
across the parties in the parliament was positive; as a result we now have a Scottish Budget that is better for Scotland than the original SNP proposals.

Tavish Scott has rightly said that politicians need to think beyond tomorrow’s headlines - it is important for people to work hard for long term economic benefits for Scotland, particularly given the challenging economic situation facing the country.

For local public services, the news from the new Budget on school building is positive. The SNP has changed their position on the Scottish Futures Trust. Following pressure from the Liberal Democrats, the government has now agreed to provide a new funding stream to restart school building in Scotland to supplement the limited building possible through conventional prudential borrowing.

Local authorities and the construction industry have heavily criticised the government for paralysing investment and planning for new schools, so moves towards a proper programme of support for school building is to be welcomed.

The SNP has also changed
their position and will now engage with the Calman Commission on devolution. This is the best way to get additional fiscal powers for the Scottish Parliament, which if delivered could allow for major capital projects such as the planned additional Forth Bridge crossing to be paid for without jeopardising every other transport project in Scotland.

Professor John Curtice told the BBC on Sunday that this concession could be the "most interesting long-term consequence of all of this."

The consensus in Edinburgh will hopefully be mirrored on Dundee City Council where it looks increasingly likely that agreement will be possible on the City Council’s Revenue and Capital Budget proposals between the political groups on the Council, making the possibility of freezing the Council Tax in Dundee for a third year in a row becoming deliverable.

There will be a further meeting of political group leaders tomorrow but it is looking very promising that the necessary savings to reach a council tax freeze position may be agreed between the parties, which I think is good news for Dundee Council Taxpayers.

It has undoubtedly been
a challenge to ensure that savings are found that achieve such a position, particularly as I think all councillors want to minimise any effect on the quality of the Council’s services, but it is good that agreement now seems likely.

With the passing of the Scottish Budget today, the potential problem of it not being agreed affecting the date when councils set their Council Tax levels has been removed and it is now certain that the Council Tax will be fixed for Dundee on 12th February.