‘We’ll try to protect schools and housing in next budget’, says Dundee council leader

Ken Guild wants to protect education in his budget decisions.
Ken Guild wants to protect education in his budget decisions.

The leader of Dundee City Council has revealed three key areas that he plans to protect amid severe budget cuts in the coming years.

Councillor Ken Guild, whose SNP administration is facing the prospect of having to find at least £28 million worth of savings from services in the city, has also admitted that the current financial position is the worst in his 31-year political career.

Mr Guild was speaking to the Tele ahead of a new year that is set to bring major challenges to the local authority.

The council’s next two budgets will see spending reduced by at least £28m, with that figure likely to rise following an £11m drop in the cash the council is receiving from the Scottish Government, as announced last month by Finance Secretary John Swinney.

Mr Guild says he has three main areas he wants to protect — education, housing and social care.

“These are the issues that affect most people’s lives directly and it is here that we are concentrating most to protect the services we can offer,” he said.

“We are going to do all we can to safeguard what’s important to residents of Dundee and we aim to do this by streamlining and restructuring.

“When I first got involved, local government was much less efficient than it is now.

“In the past six years alone, we have managed to stream our services and we will continue to do so.”

He added: “I first became a councillor in 1984 and I do not think in all that time the council has ever been in a financial situation like we are facing now.

“We have never before faced a financial challenge of this magnitude, but we have faced other financial constraints over the past 30 years.

“We have met those challenges before and we will meet them again.

“There will be light at the end of the tunnel, we just have to find it.”

How the new Harris Academy will look.
How the new Harris Academy will look.

The council has recently come under fire for its decision to reduce staff numbers in its environment department, including in street cleaning, in a bid to save cash.

There are fears from unions that more jobs will go and that the local authority isn’t doing enough to fight its corner at Holyrood and Westminster.

But Mr Guild insists he is proud of what he has achieved in Dundee, particularly since he became leader in 2009.

And he said he would do everything in his power to pull the city through the difficult times ahead. He says that among the major achievements of the past year was securing funding for the city’s £80m V&A museum.

He added: “I am looking forward to the opening of the museum, which should be of a major benefit to Dundee.

“We have also been elected by our peers as the UK’s first Unesco World City of Design.

“This is a major achievement when you consider we have a population of around 140,000 and the other members had in excess of one million.”

Looking to 2016, Mr Guild said the opening of the new Harris Academy would be a major milestone — while the authority will also be pushing ahead with the replacement for Baldragon Academy.

It’s still an aim of the council leader to bring more jobs to the city too. He said: “Dundee has unique selling points that we must make the most of when it comes to attracting business and industry to the city and to bring jobs and prosperity we need to make the most of these.

“To begin with we have one of the best ports in the north-east of Scotland. We have a natural harbour with easy access that we need to take advantage of, especially when it comes to creating jobs in renewable energy.

“We have been a bit frustrated on this front by the Westminster government being slow in issuing licences.”