THE dawning of 2024 signalled the start of a new year and while I hope it’s a happy and prosperous one for all, it will also bring a new set of challenges.

Sadly, West Dunbartonshire Council is likely to face financial challenges this year, against a national picture of local authority budgetary shortfall.

This will mean that some unpopular decisions require to be taken to help balance the books.

In part, this is because of the Scottish Government’s commitment to freezing council tax, without fully funding the cost to the local authority purse.

This means that the decision will create a further financial problem for councils like West Dunbartonshire.

Tough decisions had to be taken last year to help fund a budget gap and the same is likely to happen this year.

Nobody wants to take these decisions and see residents affected by cuts to services – least of all councillors who live in the area and are also likely to see the effects first-hand themselves.

Last year’s budget left £9 million in unachieved savings, on top of a further £10 million shortfall faced this year, although successful attempts to close this have reduced the deficit to a projected £17 million.

March will see West Dunbartonshire’s councillors face some hard choices they would rather not make, in order to close the gap – created largely by the Scottish Government’s financial package for local councils added to decisions they have taken but refused to fund.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, the council has already committed to continuing some popular initiatives from last year.

Free fun days throughout the council area will continue during school holidays, this provides a range of activities including funfair rides, arts and crafts and crazy golf for all the family at a selection of local parks.

The swim and gym scheme will also continue, which sees free swim sessions offered to all West Dunbartonshire pupils during school holidays, while those aged 14 and over can also enjoy free gym sessions.

2023 marked a good news year for our schools and nurseries after His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education produced a series of glowing reports on schools and nurseries inspected, despite the challenges the Covid pandemic presented for education.

It is great news to hear that pupils are thriving in a council like West Dunbartonshire, where communities face additional challenges.

I am also extremely proud that the council has been able to lead the way with a number of progressive initiatives such as recognition of the impact of Menopause on the female workforce, the Domestic Violence and Abuse policy which is aimed at supporting any member of staff facing the fallout from domestic abuse and additional measures to support those dealing with early pregnancy loss.