Fife Council - Fife House with a white Fife Council van

The Fife Council Draft Budget… The count down starts now – Have your say

Potential 7.5 per cent Council Tax rise.

With less than four working days to comment, the citizens of Fife face a tight timeline to respond to 19 pages plus of information with just 7 pages of explanatory text.

To put the draft budget into  perspective we all at some time have to  face life’s challenges.  They may be in our career, our family and our finances.  Often the financial challenges can take their toll and one  may need help from others to decide what to do.

Government grant cut…
£38m deficit instead of £21m

Fife Council is no different.  Their income £752m, which for most of us is out of our league and their spend – well in our terms it is enormous, that is £791m  (The greater portion of the spend being staff salaries and office accommodation),  that figure  would make most peoples’ credit card turn up at the ends.

But as a result the Council have ended up with a deficit of £38m  instead of the £21m already budgeted for.  The £16m plus increase is as a result of a cut in the Scottish Government support grant.

Therefore,  the Council is like a family, that is trying to make ends meet.  Typically, one tries to make savings or increase your income.  On that note Fife Council is like you and I.

When savings are not savings?

But some pages in their draft document are  not clear.  The Council refer to savings, as a generic term.  As you will see later I mention the example of Council Tax Income.  There you will see a figure of 1.5m savings.  That is not a  saving but £1.5m of additional Council Tax coming into the Council from a variety of new builds etc.

Which reminds me…  In my youth I asked a female friend  of mine to go out and do a bit of shopping for me.  After a couple of hours she returned and happily announced that I had been saved £20.  There, I was waiting, waiting eagerly,  for four crisp blue £5 notes to re-enter my wallet.  She smiled and looked into my eyes. Her eyes twinkled.  A twinkle with a concentrated spark  ( I recognized that smile, the spark, and it always worried me).  Her face – full of beams of sunshine, said it all.

As opposed to a saving she needed more money. More money from me! The upshot, I was short of £20.  I had not saved a bean!

At which point I dived into my wallet and drowned in a sulk.  The pain deepened as I sunk further into my wallet with despair.  My wallet emptied, as I extracted those four hard earned fivers. The money just floated out of my hands.  It sailed away.   I had smiles  on the outside,  but on the inside… disappointment!

Fife Council  – Their Budget Challenges

Fife Council similarly have a budget challenge, and this includes:-

  • A backdated equal pay settlement.
  • A reduction in grant from the Scottish Government of 3.6%, more than what was expected.
  • And nine years of static council tax.  Therefore to alleviate this it  has been suggested there could be a 7.51% increase.  The Council Tax yield after the deduction of  a £4m penalty is a cool £7.5m.

Therefore, like anyone with such challenges the Labour administration need your input, so please do complete and return your comments to Fife Council on or before 4th February 2016.  This is essential as the Council have made it clear that they want YOU to join the conversation see –Let’s Talk.

Councillor David Ross
Councillor David Ross encourages you to participate

There you will see how easy it is to do.  Fearing nothing, we had a go ourselves.

Firstly you need to download the document from the Fife Direct Website.  The link is here at Let’s Talk.  Which may be a challenge to some members of the public that do not have Internet access. We understand there are paper copies that are available to the public from local offices and libraries.

We downloaded and opened the Draft Revenue Budget and then shouted Agh! or some other not so polite words!

We thought… We will never understand this!  So we had a cup of tea, put our feet up and relaxed. Then looked at it a bit more.

When we did we found there was a good bit of explanatory text (Pages 1 to 7) and that really did help.

An index to the 19 page document…

To help you we have listed the important bits here:-

  • Table 1 (page 3) – Original draft summary budget prior to the Scottish government grant decision.
  • Table 2 (page 4) Revised draft summary after the government grant decision. This has an item updated budget assumptions  section (See Appendix 2). The figures in table 1 do not relate to table 2 because of the equal pay settlement.
  • Appendix 1 – Draft Revenue Budget 2016-2019 (page 8 – High level list of savings).
    There is an Options to close heading with the words Operational Savings and Proposed additional savings below it. You can find details of these in appendix 2 and appendix 3 respectively.
  • Appendix 2 (Page 9) – Summary of Revised Assumptions see Table 2 (If there is a bracket around the assumed figure it means the item is spend, not a saving) and there is also a reference to savings of £1.5m on Council Tax income. This is not a saving as such. What is meant here is an increase in Council Tax Revenue of £1.5m.

There is also a summary of operational savings.  You can find details of these here http://publications.1fife.org.uk/uploadfiles/publications/c64_OperationalSavings.pdf

There are total savings of £5.366m for the operational ones and £9.450m for the updated assumptions.

  • Appendix 3 (Page 10) – Proposed additional savings £4.279m
  • Appendix 4 (Page 12) – Further Possible Budget Savings £5.440m
  • Appendix 4 (Page 13)- Rejected Additional Savings  £11.371m ((Remember this is a draft so they could be ruled back in)
  • Appendix 5 (Page 14)- Temporary Savings £9.373m

We were curious about this one for no other reason than…

When the word temporary is used by government departments etc it always is a cause for concern.  We always remember the story about the introduction of income tax as a temporary measure in 1803. Two old pence on each pound was charged on income over £60 a year (equivalent to £5,641 as of 2016).  In the main we all still pay income tax.   Therefore it is a tax that was a temporary measure that is still with is,  and  I must say costs a lot more than one new penny in the pound.  Just a thought… income tax at less than 1% of your income.  Wow!

So we asked some questions

You talk about temporary savings can you explain how that will operate?

“These savings will be for one year only and it will be a reduction in budgets.”

Will you put your workers on short time for a year?

“No, employees will not be on short time for a year.”

The Temporary Savings

Can you please explain some examples of temporary savings?

  1. Reduction in Supplies and Services

“This is a reduction in budgets for consumable items such as printing, stationery, equipment etc”

  1. Reduction in Maintenance of Building

“We have a budget to allow us to undertake routine maintenance on buildings, for one year only this budget will be reduced, meaning that some maintenance will not be undertaken.”

  1. Reduction in Maintenance of Roads.

“Similar to buildings there is a budget to maintain roads, for one year only this budget will be reducing, meaning that not all road maintenance work will be undertaken.”

  1. Review of inflation

“Inflation is applied to some budgets to reflect the increase in prices, given the financial challenges, we have reviewed this requirement and will not be applying inflation to some items.”

  1. Review of Staffing Budget – vacancy management

“Services will be asked to hold vacancies and manage the recruitment process, meaning that there will be a delay in recruiting some staff which will result in a saving.”

  1. Review of Trust Funding

“Fife Council has a number of subsidiaries and trusts which are receive some of their funding from the Council.  Given the scale of the challenges and the need for the council to make reductions, we are reviewing the level of funding we provide to these organisations.”

  1. Review of Capital Plan – planned slow down

“This reflects the revenue savings that would be generated from a reduced level of borrowing to fund the capital programme.  This has been calculated on the basis of the level of underspend on the capital programme this year and reported to committee last week.”

  • Appendix 6 (Page 15) – 7.51% increase in Council Tax.
  • Appendix 7 (Pages 16) Further Areas for Potential Savings.

This includes proposals to shave off 30 minutes from the working time of staff and close the Council Offices for half a day a week.

  • Appendix 8 (Pages 17-19) Transformational Proposals – looking at other options and efficiencies.

So that is it apart from TLAs…

TLAs the downfall of man

Oops! I should have said (TLAs) Three Letter Abbreviations which some think is our downfall!

Here are the abbreviations we spotted.

IJB – Integrated Joint Board

CCFM – Catering, Cleaning and Facilities Management – which is a Business Unit of the council

PBB -Priority Based Budgeting – this was a report prepared looking at the methods of budgeting for Transportation Service. The report proposed a number of initiatives which are now in the draft budget and identified with PBB.

To summarise, we have looked at this draft budget to find out how easy it is for you to have your say.  We believe it is well worth everyone contributing to the Let’s Talk debate.  You just need a cup of tea, a little bit of time and perhaps a lot of patience.

Councillor Altany Craik
Councillor Altany Craik explains the consultation process

And to that end  please do contribute.

Just for a word of encouragement we have asked Councillor Altany Craik somes questions about the process

1) What will Fife Council do with your comments when they receive them?

“The responses will all be collated and analysed.  we will get a copy of all consultation responses to consider.”

Will my suggestions abouts savings and additional revenues be listened to?

“On the revenue raising ideas, nothing is off the table – we need to balance the budget through a combination of efficiency, savings, raising revenues and transforming processes and service delivery.”

Altany then added…

“There can be no sacred cows in terms of consideration.”

Thank you Altany, the bottom line, your expert input is needed by Fife Council.

So, it is now time, first of all to start reading and secondly writing your responses.  Once you have done so please submit your comments, suggestion and ideas on how to make the budget work.  That is before time runs out on this Thursday, 4th February 2016!

Helen Grant Book Signings in Fife

Helen Grant at her book signing
Helen Grant at book signings in Fife on Saturday 4th july. Helen meets with readers in Waterstones’ stores in Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy

Crieff based fiction writer Helen Grant had a busy Saturday in Fife doing book signings. The signings took place on 4th July 2015, in Waterstone’s Kirkcaldy at 11am, and Waterstone’s Dunfermline at 2pm.

Helen writes thrillers with international locations, all of them published by Penguin Random House. On Saturday she signed copies of Forbidden Spaces, a trilogy of thrillers set in Brussels, of which the last book, Urban Legends, was published in March 2015.

As well as signing copies of the trilogy, Helen chatted to readers about her books – in particular about their urban exploration theme. The books involved extensive research and she used her experiences of living in Brussels to add more atmosphere to her story.

Helen aims to make her stories as realistic as possible, and to that end she has visited nearly all the locations in the trilogy. The places visited include an abandoned factory, the Gravensteen castle in Ghent, a disused railway tunnel and the Brussels sewers!

As you will have guessed, Helen lived in Brussels before she moved to Crieff. Her life in Brussels inspired her to write the trilogy. Consequently, as she now lives in Scotland Helen is working on a new novel set in Perthshire. Like her other books, it is a thriller and has exciting elements of mystery and intrigue.

As always Helen’s fans appreciate her special signed copies and look forward with anticipation to her new Perthshire novel.

Ferrytoll Junction partial closure Friday evening / Saturday morning

Upcoming works means a partially closure of Ferrytoll junction between 10 PM on Friday 10 April 2015 and 6 AM on Saturday 11 April 2015.

The closure is required in order to remove the support system for construction of the edge beams / parapet supports on the first half of the new bridge at Ferrytoll (FT04). During this time the north half of the existing gyratory will be clised.

This will allow the next phase of construction works on this new bridge to continue and follows on from similar partial closures successfully undertaken in early November 2014 and January 2015 for other works associated with the new bridge.

Motorists who normally use the following routes will be diverted via Admiralty:

Forth Road Bridge – Ferrytoll Gyratory – Ferrytoll Park & Ride or Inverkeithing
B981 North Queensferry – Ferrytoll Gyratory – Ferrytoll Park & Ride, Inverkeithing or Forth Road Bridge
King Malcolm Drive – Ferrytoll Gyratory – Ferrytoll Park & Ride, Inverkeithing or Forth Road Bridge
Castlandhill Road – Ferrytoll Gyratory – Ferrytoll Park & Ride, Inverkeithing or Forth Road Bridge.
Signage will be in place along the diversion routes to guide road users.

Access to all routes for motorists approaching Ferrytoll Gyratory from Ferrytoll Park and Ride or Inverkeithing will be unaffected by the closure.

In the event that the beam lift has to be postponed due to technical difficulties (for example due to high winds) the lifts will be postponed to the next available night and a further update will be issued to road users.

Castlandhill Road, Rosyth overnight works 11th and 12th Feb 2015

Minor patching works will also be undertaken overnight 11 and 12 February 2015 on Castlandhill Road. These works will be undertaken using stop/go control.

King Malcolm Drive and B981 junction – surface repairs overnight 11th and 12 Feb 2015

Repairs will be undertaken to the road surface at the above junction (currently operating as a roundabout) overnight 11 and 12 February 2015

In order to allow safe execution of these works the roundabout will be suspended overnight and a system of 4-way traffic lights will operate while works are ongoing. The roundabout will be reinstated on completion of these works.

Leek and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

8oz Smoked Bacon (derinded and chopped)
Ilb Leeks (trimmed and finely sliced)
8oz Diced Potato
1pt Chicken Stock
2tblsps Fresh Chopped Chives

Method

Dry fry bacon till juices start to run and cook for 2 mins, remove with slotted spoon and set aside. Add leeks and potato to pan, cover and sweat for 5 mins, Stir in the stock and bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15mins. Cool slightly and blend till smooth. Add chives and bacon and reheat.

Recipe by Grace Gray Fife

Used by the kind permission of Scotland4me

2nd February 2015 – Dalgety Bay Stagecoach buses to Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy all Change

Travelling from Dalgety Bay to Edinburgh at the bus stop opposite Pentland Rise on Monday 2nd February 2015? And you are … looking to catch the X58 to Edinburgh at 9:23?

If so you will have a long wait!   StageCoach have changed the bus times.  You should have tried to catch the X62 at 9:08 .  That is right there is a new service at a new time.  Fortunately,  a X58 will appear at 10:08 and every hour thereafter until 20:08 when the X58 becomes a X62 again.

Below we have extracted most of the services that run through Dalgety Bay to Edinburgh.

However, the X60 still runs stopping at Dalgety Bay Railway Halt. You can find full details of all Dalgety to Kirkcaldy/Edinburgh services from 2nd February here:-

http://www.stagecoachbus.com/getTimetable.ashx?code=XHAX053&dir=INBOUND&date=03%2f02%2f2015

X58  0523
X58  0608
X53  0620
X62  0634
X57 0648
X62 0702
X53 0715
X57 0745
X58 0809
X53 0843
X62 0908
X58 1008
X58 1108 then every hour until
X62 2008  then every hour until the last bus to Edinburgh 2208 and on a Friday 2308