THE leader of the opposition on Argyll and Bute Council has hit out at a lack of information on savings options as important decisions loom on the authority’s budget.

Councillor Sandy Taylor said he was “dismayed” to find that a report for a key meeting did not contain any further detail on policy savings which are proposed by the authority.

Savings options were first announced in October before being put out to a public consultation, which closed on Monday, December 16.

The council will examine the results of this consultation before setting its budget for 2020/21.

That is due to happen in February, but councils across Scotland have seen their budgeting plans thrown into uncertainty by the announcement by Chancellor Sajid Javid that he will not announce the UK government's own budget plans until March 11 – almost two weeks after Argyll and Bute was due to set out its own spending plans.

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Kirsty Flanagan, the council’s head of strategic finance, gave details to the council’s policy and resources committee of two further savings options which had been worked on since October.

Councillor Taylor told the committee: “I am dismayed that we find ourselves in this position and still don’t have any detail coming forward from officers in relation to policy savings.

“We knew in October that we had a shortfall, notwithstanding the uncertainty surrounding ferry services. Kirsty is reporting every year up to this point that there is going to be a significant budget gap, so it is not like this is news to us.

“Why, in the last two or three months, have we been told that officers are preparing further budget savings, and they are not here before us?

“Why are we not finding out what people are working on? Are there more savings to come?”

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Ms Flanagan replied: “We are about to conduct a review of loan charges, and that will give us savings, should members wish to take that up. That is one area which could bridge the gap.

“In the last couple of weeks we have also looked at the fleet [of vehicles].

“There should be a saving there that was identified after I pulled together this report.

“So there are a couple of savings options which are not being reported at the moment. I will have the opportunity to report them at our members’ seminar on Monday, January 27.”

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Cleland Sneddon, at his last committee meeting before leaving his post as the authority’s chief executive, said: “I understand Councillor Taylor’s point, but this is not a small piece of work.

“Similar work is being done in other local authority areas and we are focusing on being cleverer in managing our finances.”

Councillor Taylor responded: “I am lost for words that I should find this out today.

“We should have far more clear and explicit details. This is coming across as being far more difficult to deal with.”

Mr Sneddon said that he did not pretend communication had been perfect, with Councillor Taylor answering: “I am absolutely happy to hear about this [the new savings options], but really unhappy to learn it today.”

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