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

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February is the month for romance. It is also the month for budgets.

The Scottish Government's budget will finally be passed (or not) on Wednesday, February 21. The local government budget for Argyll and Bute will be agreed on Thursday, February 22.

While there is always doubt about whether a minority government will be able to garner support for its budget, the local council has no such anxiety. The ruling administration has a clear majority and they are assured that their budget will be passed.

There is another significant difference between government and council in regard to budgets. The Scottish Government announced their draft budget in mid-December, and their plans are subject to scrutiny in parliament until the third week of February.

In contrast the council’s budget will be unveiled shortly after 2pm on Thursday, February 22 and is likely to be passed within the hour. The opportunity for scrutiny or debate is non-existent.

This year Argyll and Bute Council have come out well from the allocation of grant funding from the government. We had expected more cuts and instead there will be a modest surplus.

But the years ahead still look grim. Substantial reductions in funding over the next two years are forecast as the policy of austerity continues to gnaw away at public services. The public sector is caught in a pincer of decreasing resources in real terms and increasing demand.

The toils of the health service have been well publicised this winter. The media focus has been on the hospitals and A&E departments, and only brushing over the acute crisis facing primary care.

Patients are making more visits to their GP than ever before. There is a shortage of GPs, the GPs who are in post are stressed, and recruitment is in decline. Social care is stretched to the limit as more frail, elderly people are unable to be completely independent.

This bleak picture will not be turned round by throwing more money at it. Simply increasing the supply of services is not sustainable in the long term. It will only be improved by reducing the demand for services.

That means changing our lifestyles. Health services need to spend more on prevention and less on curing.

Governments are moving in this direction. The smoking ban, minimum pricing of alcohol, car seat belts are initiatives to prod us in the right direction.

There is no silver bullet to solve these problems. But we can move forward by becoming more self-reliant and less state-dependent