Cuts to school bus services, reduced hours at recycling centres and council parking enforcement have all been approved as the local authority moved to close its £21million budget gap.
Council leader Martin Rooney previously said that West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) faces, “its most significant financial challenge ever”, as decisions were taken last week to save the local authority more than £3m in the next financial year.
However, the opposition SNP group have accused Labour of running the council “like a dictatorship” due to a lack of consultation with the public on cuts.
WDC estimates that it will generate income of up to £325,000 per year by introducing council-led parking enforcement throughout the area, with an additional £360,000 over the next three years from the introduction of a charge to use electric vehicle charging points, which are currently free of charge.
Changes to the opening hours of the area’s recycling centres will generate annual savings of £63,000 in 2023/24, rising to £113,000 in future years, whilst school transport services will be cut – bringing them more in-line with statutory guidelines.
This means that free travel would only be provided for primary pupils who live more than two miles from their school and to secondary pupils who live more than three miles away.
Education budgets will also be cut by more than £1m, in a move criticised by opposition groups for a lack of consultation.
Further decisions to help narrow the remaining £18m gap will be taken in March.
Council leader Martin Rooney said: “This council is facing the most challenging financial situation in our history and without additional funding to offset the huge increases in costs we are seeing, these impossible choices are being forced upon us.
“We have a finite amount of money and a £21million funding gap which must be addressed.
“So, even though we know our residents are relying on us more than ever, we have been left with no choice but to reduce services, risking jobs and taking money out of our residents’ pockets at a time when they are reliant on every penny.
“The situation is bleak and we are being faced with impossible choices which will impact on our residents.
“We will continue to raise this with the Scottish Government and do everything we can in our powers to seek the funding we need to protect vital services and ensure the most vulnerable in our communities are shielded.”
Labour confirmed that they had no plans for a public consultation on what services would be cut, prompting a furious reaction from SNP finance spokesman Ian Dickson.
Cllr Dickson said: “It’s unprecedented that a council would make major budget decisions involving huge cuts to council services without any public consultation at all.
“This coming year’s budget is the most challenging West Dunbartonshire has ever faced and we need to speak to our communities and hear what their priorities are so we can make measured, responsible and informed decisions.
“Labour have been running the council like a dictatorship since they were elected in May, excluding the opposition from the process is anti-democratic and excluding the public who elect you into office from even expressing an opinion is a dangerous way to govern.”
Councillor Rooney also came under fire for not demanding a meeting with Scottish Government finance chiefs over the dire financial situation facing the authority.
The Labour member was slammed by the SNP during a feisty debate at the council’s Church Street HQ last week.
Former council leader Jonathan McColl, of the SNP, said: “When we were in administration myself, as leader, and our finance convener would’ve met with the finance secretary and other ministers at least twice by December.
“Can I ask how many meetings the leader of the council has had with relevant politicians?”
Councillor Rooney said that he would only speak to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or her deputy, John Swinney.
He added that he was part of the COSLA group of local authority chiefs who had written to Holyrood demanding extra cash, labelling the funding WDC receives from the Scottish Government “a scandal.”
He said: “I’ve not had any. But in COSLA we have championed local government against the cuts that come from the Scottish Government.
“Directors of finance from across the whole of Scotland have written to the finance minister to ask for funding.
“I’ve written a letter in relation to funding which looks at the cost pressures we’ve got and explains that, essentially, the funding from the Scottish Government to West Dunbartonshire is an absolute scandal.
“I stand firmly by the word scandal. Because that’s what it is.
“We’re focusing our energies on the First Minister and deputy FM. They know they are underfunding councils.”