On the sixteenth of February, the Fife Council approved their 2017-2020 budget. Faced with diminished funding from Holyrood, the Fife Council’s new budget sees large cuts in spending and mild increases in council taxes.
In an announcement on its official webpage, the council anticipated £25 million in savings in 2017-18. The changes effected to achieve these savings are outlined in tables over five pages of appendices to the budget, which instead tally £17.7 in savings. The reason for the difference in these two figures is not clear.
The cuts span the gamut of the council’s operations, and are largely small-ticket reductions. The Council describes its new budget as “a combination of efficiency savings, reduction in services and increases in fees and charges” to address a funding gap of £29 million between the current cost of services and the funds available to the council.
The Fife Cultural Trust, for example has been instructed to review its subsidies to local theatres, saving £40 thousand in 2017-18 and £200 thousand by 2020.
One of the most notable changes is the redistribution of teachers around the council area to fill vacancies, rather than hiring. This change is envisaged to save £3 million
The largest individual saver is to be the new Enabling Change program, which examines ways of increasing efficiency through technology and new practices. This is to save £7 million in 2017-18.
Prior to the release of the budget, David Ross, leader of the Fife Council, suggested that nearly three hundred council jobs could be cut under the budget’s provisions.
Of most immediate relevance to the citizenry at large is a three per cent increase in council taxes. This figure is at the upper limit of new powers to raise taxes afforded to local councils.
It stands in contrast to the decisions of several other local councils to not make use of these new powers. The leader of West Lothian council explained its decision by noting the recognition “that finances remain tight for families not just councils.”
Fife’s increase, it is noted in the budget, was made to mimimise the needs for further cuts, as it will generate “a further £4.6 million in savings.”
“We have consistently been told by people in Fife that they wouldn’t mind paying a little more to protect their local services,” the budgetary report explained.
This is not the only increase in council taxes slotted to take effect in near future. Last year, Holyrood passed a measure increasing council taxes on higher-value residences.
The Scotland-wide changes will see increases on the council taxes payable by houses in bands E-H. Houses in band E were valued from £58 thousand in 1991, while band H includes all properties then valued at above £212 thousand.
These increases range from £105 per annum on E-band residences to £517 on H-band residences (on average).
The three per cent increase on council taxes ordered by the Fife Council will be based on these revised rates, scheduled to go into effect this April.
As students residing in private residences will know, full-time students at the University are not usually subject to the council tax during term time. However, as the university’s resources on council taxes indicate, landlords who rent to students in their own domicile (i.e., in the landlord’s house) are still subject to council taxes. In such cases, it is reasonable to expect that landlords will pass along costs in the form of inflated rents.