PEOPLE who stand to be elected as councillors want to make a difference in their communities and I have been so proud of the positive impact this council has had in very challenging financial circumstances.

We recognise that our citizens are struggling with rising costs and our cost of living fund is aimed at trying to help those who are most adversely affected.

Through this, we have put money into local food banks, supported a variety of community groups and invested in holiday programmes in order to give our communities a welcome boost.

My focus as council leader is and will always be on protecting frontline services and ensuring the council can carry out its core functions for the benefit of local people.

Although this is a complex piece of work, it is always at the forefront of our minds when I and my colleagues have to make decisions on behalf of the council.

The problem we face though is that costs are rising to incredibly high levels which are having an impact on the money we have to spend to provide these services.

While this is happening, the funding we receive isn’t rising at the same rate – and something has to give.

The reality of this is becoming more and more apparent and difficult decisions are having to be made.

We were facing a deficit of around £17million for the 2024/25 financial year at the council meeting in December 2023, when some budget options were taken to reduce this.

This level is now at £8.3m, which means we have to make savings in order to deliver a balanced budget – a statutory requirement of any council.

We simply cannot opt to do nothing.

Unfortunately, the SNP government are not helping us as much as we hoped. They cut our core funding and changed the settlement mechanism so that better-off councils got a greater share of the resources, which meant West Dunbartonshire lost out.

They have also withheld £45m of Barnett Consequentials and will use the £147m of local government funding they have to support services to fund a council tax freeze instead.

Over a ten-year period, this is a loss of £1.47billion that could have been spent on council services.

Of course, the real effect is much worse as councils could have raised some local funding to support services.

The better-off councils also get a greater share of the funding for council tax, as they have a bigger council tax base as they have more homes in the higher council tax bands.

The SNP have also cut local government capital spending by £54.9m and is cutting the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund by £16.7m, which undermines the work that councils do to regenerate our communities.

While we are in such challenging times, I commend the hard work of our council staff who continue to deliver for our communities.

I am buoyed by their enthusiasm and passion to do right by the local people of West Dunbartonshire, who I also want to thank for their patience during this difficult period.