Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to invest heavily in the two areas which the majority of its residents see as being the top spending priorities.
At its budget meeting today, the authority approved plans to spend some £30m of capital on education over the next three years, and £21m on its roads network over the same period.
This represents over £20m more than had been earmarked for these two key areas in the draft budget papers.
Among the proposals agreed today are to spend millions of pounds on new schools in Dunoon and Campbeltown and a new swimming pool and leisure facility in Helensburgh.
The council also agreed to freeze council tax for the fifth consecutive year.
Council leader Councillor Dick Walsh said that despite facing ‘the worst set of economic conditions for a generation’, the budget agreed today represented a ‘budget for growth’ in Argyll and Bute.
“This budget puts significant additional capital into Argyll and Bute – creating jobs, improving our infrastructure and improving lives across the region,” he added.
The council has adopted a strategic, three-year approach to setting its budget.
Councillor Walsh said: “The approach we took allowed us to plan the necessary savings in advance, and so give ourselves the maximum timescale in which to work out how best to protect our frontline services while at the same time boosting our spending in the areas which most matter to our communities.
“Our success in achieving this is down in no small part to carrying out one of the most comprehensive public consultation exercises ever undertaken in order to engage with the widest possible cross section of the community.
“The consultation has enabled us to gauge what people across the area think are the most important areas to safeguard, and to finalise our budget accordingly.”
In terms of revenue spending, the council agreed the savings proposals outlined in the budget pack – the majority of which relate to management and operational issues.
However, members decided not to raise charges for school meals, as had originally been proposed.
The council agreed to allocate £700,000 towards a new Resilience Fund, which will be available over the next three years to fund proposals to enhance resilience for civil contingencies such as the aftermath of severe weather.
Councillors also approved an additional £750,000 for ‘preventative spend’ - to go towards making changes in early years and health and social care, for the benefit of Argyll and Bute’s most vulnerable people. This is over and above the target contributions set out in the Scottish Government’s change fund proposals.
A further £200,000 has been earmarked for the establishment of a youth employment/opportunities fund based around learning choices for the 16+ age group, to ensure young people leaving school can successfully access training, employment, further or higher education.
Among the other areas of additional revenue spending agreed today are:
A contribution of £11,000 in 2012-13 and 2013-14 to the Jura Passenger Ferry, which has faced significant financial challenges over the last few years. This sum represents 20% of the annual running cost of the service.
A one-off grant of £20,000 to Auchindrain Highland Township museum
£10,000 a year towards providing additional support to community councils and community councillors
An additional £50,000 in 2012-13 for the Argyll Mausoleum project at Kilmun
£1,000 a year for the next three years to support the Lantern Parade in Lochgilphead, subject to a service level agreement
£100,000 a year for 2012-13 to 2014-15 to provide for festive decorations across Argyll and Bute
Chief among these is an allocation of £12.5m to go towards a new primary school campus in Dunoon and a new Campbeltown Grammar School. When the contribution from the Scottish Government is taken into account, the value of the new buildings will be £27.5m.
Councillors also agreed to put £7.5m towards a new swimming pool and leisure facility in Helensburgh, and a further £2.275m towards flood defences on the Helensburgh pier head site.
In addition, £2.595m has been allocated to the council’s office rationalisation programme in Helensburgh, under which the former Clyde Street School site will be transformed into new council offices and community facilities. The other various offices across the town will then be closed and sold off.
And the council has also committed £2m for capital works at Dunoon pier.
But the areas of greatest capital spend over the next three years will be education and roads.
“Education and the quality of our school buildings is a vital matter, and we have increased the capital funding for education by £2.126m to ensure that we have some £17m of capital expenditure to target on our school buildings over the next three years,” Councillor Walsh said.
“When the total cost of the new schools in Dunoon and Campbeltown is taken into account, this means that close to £45m will be spent on improving our school buildings over that time.
“As regards roads, significant improvement has already been achieved through the additional £3m of capital funding allocated in 2011/12. We’re determined to build on this, so have now committed an additional £8.2m for roads reconstruction over the next three years, which will give us a total annual spend of £7m over that time. This represents the most significant investment in Argyll and Bute’s roads network for many years.
“The condition of our roads network has a direct effect on economic development. So too does every £1 spent on construction. So committing an extra £50m-plus to capital projects over the next three years, as we have agreed today, is going to have a massive impact in terms of economic development across the area. ”
Councillor Walsh stressed that the council’s structured approach over the last few years towards service reviews and financial management has protected frontline services at the same time as creating resource to allow the authority to invest for the long term benefit of the area’s residents.
“This is a prudent budget, at the same time as being a budget for growth and recovery,” he added.
“It is not only affordable across the three years, but is also sustainable going further forward into the future. It represents sensible use of borrowing to promote essential capital investment which can be funded within planned budgets.
“It is a significant achievement to not only manage to make the necessary savings of £74million between 2011 and 2014/15 – largely through robust management and efficiencies – but also now to agree a budget which strikes a balance between ensuring assets are available for service delivery and creating a platform for economic and social well-being and development.
“The decisions taken today meet our corporate objectives of working together to improve the potential of our people, our communities, our area and our organisation. This is a budget shaped both by and for the people of Argyll and Bute, and I am delighted it has been agreed.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our communities and our partners in the years ahead in an effort to make this an even better place in which to live, work and visit.”