Council treasurer hopes to avoid ‘horrible’ cuts despite £19.7m gap in Glasgow budget

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City treasurer Ricky Bell believes he can avoid the most “horrible” cuts as he looks to plug a £19.7m hole in Glasgow’s budget.

Councillors meet on Thursday to set the budget for the coming financial year — and Cllr Bell, SNP, said he is in a “much happier” position than he was just weeks ago.

He claimed an extra £14.2m from the Scottish Government had improved the financial outlook, with plans now being put in place to invest in the city, including to help tackle the cost of living crisis.

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Unions are planning to protest outside the city chambers ahead of the meeting and want to see a “no cuts budget” announced.

The cost of cleaning Glasgow streets is the highest in Scotland.The cost of cleaning Glasgow streets is the highest in Scotland.
The cost of cleaning Glasgow streets is the highest in Scotland. | Shutterstock

A leaked budget document, setting out savings options suggested by council officers, had been drawn up when the city was facing a £34m spending gap.

It included withdrawing a holiday scheme which provides free food to children, scrapping swimming lessons for primary aged pupils and increasing crematorium charges.

Cllr Bell said the annual paper is produced to give councillors options for discussion and he has managed “to avoid most of the horrible ones” in the report.

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However, cuts will need to be made to cover the almost £20m shortfall and a council tax rise could be on the cards.

The city treasurer has a “provisional” proposal for council tax, which he believes is “reasonable”, but negotiations are ongoing with opposition parties.

Glasgow’s SNP group doesn’t have enough councillors to pass a budget without support from other groups and has struck deals with the Greens in recent years.

“I need to find some friends between now and Thursday,” Cllr Bell said.

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“This is the second budget we’ve had to set while still under restrictions. All the meetings have been online and you can’t have those in-person negotiations.

“It has been really tough but you just have to get on with it.”

At stage two of the Scottish Government budget, finance secretary Kate Forbes announced a further £120m for local government, including £14.2m for Glasgow, which reduced the city’s spending gap to £19.7m.

“That has made a huge difference for us,” Cllr Bell said. “It’s meant we can start to look at some investment.

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“We’re in a much better position than we were after Kate Forbes’ first announcement, when I was really concerned.

“Clearly, I don’t think there is ever going to be enough money for Glasgow, but we’ve got to work with what we’ve got.

“It’s a budget that is built for the recovery of the city. Glasgow needs a bit of tender love and care.”

Cllr Bell said he has listened to city residents, who have raised issues over cleansing services, potholes and the cost of living crisis.

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New investment is likely to focus on the cost of living and getting money to the “poorest elements of society”.

And the city treasurer said money is allocated to keep the city’s libraries open. “I don’t think that’s one I’ll have to give up anything on,” he added.

However, unions and the Glasgow Against Closures group will meet outside the city chambers from 10am on Thursday.

Brian Smith, from UNISON, said: “This year’s budget will once again see cuts to service budgets and council tax rise.

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“We don’t know the city government’s proposals yet however most expect at least a 3% rise in council tax, which raises just under £7m.

“That would leave around £13m in service cuts or higher charges for the people of Glasgow.”

He called for the council’ reserves to cover the shortfall to deliver a “no cuts” budget while a “proper campaign is built to win more money for the city”.

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