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Providing vital help to vulnerable residents during the current cost-of-living crisis is at the heart of North Ayrshire Council’s Budget for 2022/23, council leader Joe Cullinane has said.
With energy bills on the rise and expected to increase further in the months ahead, the council’s budget has focused on measures to help mitigate the spiralling costs.
Although the scheme is in the early stages of development, the council has approved as part of its budget to invest more than £1.7million to work with a specialist partner to provide support to help residents access vital grants and receive money-saving energy advice.
It is hoped that this energy-based support scheme will help ease the squeeze on household incomes and will offer residents access to energy-saving measures such as boiler replacement and insulation to reduce bills.
As reported in last week’s Banner the council approved a £365.3million revenue budget for 2022-23 which will see a council tax rise of three per cent from April 1.
Council leader Joe Cullinane said: ‘The focus for us when setting this budget is to help our residents. Having supported people through two years of the pandemic, we all now face a serious cost-of-living crisis as energy bills soar.
‘In choosing to target our support for families, we have recognised that energy prices, which are rising by an average of 54 per cent, are fuelling the cost-of-living crisis.
‘We believe that targeting the £1.725million of council funding, which is almost the equivalent of a three per cent council tax increase, to reduce the energy bills of those families most in need, provides more short, medium and long-term benefits than freezing the council tax.
‘We will accelerate this project at pace to ensure people feel the benefits as soon as possible. However, this is not a one-off scheme – we hope that the initiative will help ease financial pressures on our residents for years to come.’
Even with a rise of three per cent, the majority of households in North Ayrshire will actually be paying less council tax this year.
With the Scottish Government rebate, approximately 55,000 households in North Ayrshire will see bills reduce by between £110 and £123 in 2022/23 even with a three per cent increase.
He said that the budget also aimed to preserve vital services and protect jobs and would create almost 100 full-time equivalent posts – largely in the health and social care and education sectors.
For the second year in a row, it was agreed to freeze council fees and charges.
Councillor Cullinane said: ‘Our residents are at the forefront of our minds when setting the budget, and while no-one wants to see the council tax rise, the impact of not increasing it would have serious financial repercussions in the years ahead, leaving our residents facing the prospect of a 6.75 per cent rise next year and putting jobs and services at risk.’
For 2022-23, the council received a £2.72million increase in core grant funding from the Scottish government when compared to last year, worth about 0.9 per cent, however, the increasing demand for services and rising costs means that cuts were still required to bridge the funding gap of £4.5million.
The bulk of these were approved in previous budgets and are aimed at having minimal impact on frontline services.
Over the past 12 years, North Ayrshire Council has had to cut more than £118m from its budget and the money raised from council tax is key to the council delivering a balanced budget and maintaining frontline services.
Currently, it is anticipated that the council will continue to face financial challenges in the coming years with indicative funding gaps of £10.729m and £8.785m for 2023-24 and 2024-25 respectively.
Meanwhile the council’s capital budget, also approved last week, will deliver investment worth £410m over the next decade and will play a key role in the area’s economic recovery from Covid-19.
The capital budget supports investment in buildings, infrastructure and regeneration projects and the newly-approved programme will see a focus on improving roads, investing in the school estate and fulfilling commitments to a green and sustainable future and becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Although impacted by significant rising costs and inflation, the capital plan will be central to delivering ambitious and regenerative projects.
Councilllor Cullinane added: ‘While our revenue budget pays for day-to-day services, our capital budget gives us a chance to invest in significant infrastructure projects.’