Community groups have hailed the “fantastic” decision by Dundee City Council’s administration to back down from scrapping school crossing patrols as it passed a budget to save £6.2 million.
The SNP administration’s proposal to remove up to 40 patrols as part of its budget for 2020/21 was binned at the last minute following an outcry from opposition councillors and concerned locals.
Melanie Kiyani, secretary of the Kirkton Community Partnership, had launched a petition urging councillors to rethink the plans, which attracted over 500 signatures.
She said: “This is absolutely fantastic news and it’s what we had wanted.
“They have actually listened to us for once, which is not something they usually do. It could be seen as victory for community groups.”
Council leader John Alexander proposed dropping the patrollers hours after being given a petition by Ms Kiyani comprising hundreds of signatures.
He told the budget meeting: “I’m happy to hold my hand up and say we’ve listened and taken that out the mix.”
An additional £100,000 to address the recommendations of the city’s Fairness Commission was also passed as part of the SNP’s overall budget yesterday.
The SNP budget will see teachers and support staff at primary schools cut to save £234k now and £750k in a year’s time, and £150k slashed from funding for local charity groups and cash cut from local community regeneration forums.
It also includes a 4.8% council tax rise that will cost the average household just £2 a month more, according to the administration’s finance spokesman Willie Sawers.
The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups failed to attract enough votes for their alternative budgets during the relatively swift, occasionally heated, two-and-a-half hour debate.
Labour had proposed a 4.8% tax hike, binning education cuts and providing additional money to health and social care, while cutting back on hospitality and staff training.
The Liberal Democrats had proposed a “modest” 3.3% increase and cancelling a move to three-weekly general waste collections, while the Tories had suggested a 3% rise and £1 million of penny-pinching across departments.
Teachers and cleaner numbers to be slashed
Union representatives have criticised plans passed in Dundee City Council’s budget to cut cleaning staff and teacher numbers.
As part of its £6.2m efficiencies plan, the council is cutting cleaning costs by 5% to save £40,000 a year and reducing teachers and support staff to save £234,000 in 2020/21.
Speaking ahead of the budget yesterday, GMB rep Stephanie Smith said of the savings: “They might seem attractive but to real people relying on those jobs to make ends meet it means more work, unpaid overtime and demands that cannot be humanely met.”
Local Unison chair Mags McGuire has warned that cuts will place additional strain on remaining workers, claiming 40% of council sick leave is linked to stress.
She added: “This is all causing stress and this is not a coincidence. Staff are leaving and are not being replaced. It has to stop.”
SNP administration accused of ‘railroading’ plans
Councillors outside the SNP administration have called for greater cross-party working after ‘ignorant’ council tax hikes were imposed.
The Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative groups all failed at passing their alternative budgets.
Lib Dem leader Fraser Macpherson said: “The administration’s hike in council tax of nearly 5% ignores the concerns of Dundee taxpayers who had made clear large council tax increases are not acceptable.
“I have called for better cross-party working on budget preparation – we should all be working together for the good of Dundee and our constituents.”
Labour group leader Kevin Keenan said: “We’re a bit disappointed – the administration again didn’t take any of the proposals put forward by any opposition party and just railroaded their budget through.”
Conservative councillor Philip Scott said: “Under the SNP people are paying more, and getting less.”
Burial fee increases criticised by funeral charity
A charity set up to tackle funeral poverty in Dundee has expressed concern at the move to impose price rises for all burial-related costs.
Funeral Link says the 5% hike across the board will “likely contribute further to funeral poverty”.
The council’s SNP administration says the higher fees will generate an extra £30,000 of income every year.
But Linda Sterry, the charity’s service manager, has hit out at the “extremely disappointing” decision.
She said: “Funeral Link urged all councillors to oppose the increases to burial charges so naturally we are extremely disappointed at the outcome.”
Chairwoman Mary Kinninmonth had written to every councillor urging them to think again.
“Whilst those in receipt of welfare benefits will be eligible (for) the recently increased Scottish Funeral Support Payment, others will be hit hard,” she said.
Dundee City Council was a member of the steering group which led to the creation of Funeral Link, which was established last year to help people plan for affordable funerals.
Labour councillor Richard McCready said: “The bereaved should not pay the price of austerity.”
But council leader John Alexander said the £30,000 boost was one part of many in the council’s revenue raising plans.
He added: “I’ve worked really closely with Funeral Link and I’m very passionate about the work they do. That will continue irrespective of the budget.
“You could pick any one organisation and come up with a robust argument of why you shouldn’t touch it – but the reality is we need to balance the budget.”