Local government is of course a devolved matter so the cuts are not just accidental or consequential cuts; they are a direct result of Scottish Government policy to limit and direct spending and reduce the size of our Councils. We are specifically required to employ more teachers than we actually need (£39m) and freeze Council Tax (£70m). So the only options we are left with are to cut services and increase charges to service users.

Cutting funding to councils is seen as the easy cut for the Scottish Government and last year we had what was called a ‘flat cash’ settlement which meant a real terms reduction of minus 4.7%. Last week the government presented their draft budget to the Scottish Parliament. I was hoping for a budget that creates jobs and banishes the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland. Unfortunately, their spending proposals mean that our share of the budget is to be cut this year again. Fortunately our strategic approach to budgeting with a three year budget means we have already factored their cuts into our planning processes.

There was some good news though from the Scottish Government. Despite their previous reluctance to take any direct action to help families affected by the bedroom tax – on the basis that they didn’t want to let Westminster off the hook - they have finally responded to our calls for intervention and allocated £20m to support people affected by the bedroom tax. A year later than required and less than half the money needed, and only committed to this funding for one year, but it is at least a step in the right direction. Labour in the Scottish Parliament had called for the full £50m of funding to be built into the Scottish Budget and to continue beyond the referendum year.

The Council continues to make good progress with its strategic priorities. Our Schools regeneration programme remains on track in relation to Kilpatrick Secondary School, Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s High School, and the Bellsmyre Schools projects. There is still a long way to go and many obstacles and challenges to overcome but we can now begin to put some more focus on the rest of the schools estate. Our ten year capital plan includes a further £20m of capital funding for the primary schools estate during the term of this administration and we will need to carefully consider how to make best use of this funding and maximise the benefit.

In relation to employability the Council has invested over £4m in our five year, Jobs, Growth and Investment programme to help local people. So far this has helped create 658 employment opportunities in West Dunbartonshire and since May 2012 the Council itself has recruited a further 587 posts. We were also highly successful in securing £933,000 from the Scottish Government’s Youth Employment Scotland fund to support another 290 jobs. Our jobs and apprenticeship programme continues to receive cross party support but the real stars are of course the council officers who plan the day to day activities and compile the successful bids for funding.