This week's Councillor Column is written by Richard Trail, SNP councillor for Helensburgh and Lomond South.

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The end of the year is welcome relief from the daily grind of those gainfully employed.

This is no less true for the heads of finance in local authorities. It is a chance to rest before the stress of the final preparations for councils’ budgets, which require to be delivered in February.

This year is going to be more intense than most. The government in Westminster was due to make a statement on spending at the beginning of November, but the general election has disrupted the system. The Chancellor cancelled his spending plans and parliament was dissolved.

The usually smooth process of setting budgets for public bodies has been frozen while a new parliament is elected. Councils are dependent on government funding for about 85 per cent of their budget.

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With no announcement from Westminster, Holyrood cannot set its budget, and councils further down the chain are left to guess what funding gap requires to be closed.

Councils have a statutory duty to set their budget by a certain date in March. We have had no indication yet of how this will be done in the current unusual circumstances. We hope that someone has a cunning plan.

The draft budget is out for public consultation at present.

The consultation is a high level affair; it does not go into the details of how much money should be spent on the various council services, but is intended to give an indication of the priorities that the public has.

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You can participate by going on to the council's website and filling in the online questionnaire.

We have become inured to the regular demand to make savings and cuts in services as public finances are squeezed.

The recent campaign messages from the main parties suggest there may be relief from the austerity policy of the past decade. There may even be a bonanza as the magic money tree is to be given a good shake.

The big spending plans may not include local authorities. Governments tend to want the credit for big, shiny new projects without local authorities being intermediaries.

They will build new hospitals, even though money spent on reducing illness is much better value.

The ever increasing demand for health services is simply not sustainable. Changing dietary habits and lifestyle choices of people will be far more effective and sustainable than building more facilities to repair the damage.

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