Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Daily Record
Daily Record
Jenny Foulds

West Dunbartonshire's new Labour leader warns of "tough decisions" ahead of next budget

Supporting residents with cost-of-living hikes and regenerating the area while making “tough decisions” to close an upcoming massive budget gap are among priorities set out by the new Labour council leader.

In his first interview since taking on the top role, Martin Rooney told of his ambitions for West Dunbartonshire while laying bare some of the challenges which lie ahead – including a projected upcoming budget gap of £13.8million.

It’s the third time the Lomond ward councillor has been council leader, having led the administration from 2012 to 2017, after Labour snatched control from the SNP last month.

Speaking to the Lennox Herald, Martin said the party’s campaign – which even saw him leafleting the streets of Haldane on his 60th birthday – resonated with residents.

He said: “We’ve run a strong campaign over the past few years and have been effective in holding the previous SNP administration to account.

“We’ve been actively engaging with the community over issues that have mattered to them.

“I spent the last 18 months telling my group that we would win 12 seats and they didn’t totally believe me, but they campaigned with that in mind and that’s what we got.

“I turned 60 in April and celebrated my 60th birthday campaigning out in closes up in Haldane.”

He added: “I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday though, I carried on leafleting as they’d have told me to take it off.”

Martin has spent the last 29 years working for the Ministry of Defence, having joined the army at the age of 17, but is retiring this week to solely focus on his council leader role.

West Dunbartonshire Council's winning Labour group. (Lennox Herald)

He said: “I leave on June 10 so that I can dedicate the next five years to West Dunbartonshire.

“I’m joined by a fantastic group of councillors and we all work as a team.

“I think the collective strength and shared values are what will drive us forward.

“We want to see regeneration, we want to help those in need and we want to give people opportunities.”

He said there were big plans ahead for the region which are due to come to fruition, explaining: “We’ve got the £22.5m plans for the Artizan centre in Dumbarton which I think will get the town buzzing again.

“We’ve got the Alexandria regeneration plans, housing site at Garshake, the City Deal project and the Scottish Marine Technology Park at the Carless site.

“There are fantastic opportunities ahead and lots of things which are very positive but we need to be mindful of the fact the budget gap is going to be a bit of a stall this year.”

Martin said the council has a huge projected funding gap of around £13.8m next year and says much of this year will be about figuring out how to tackle that.

He said: “That’s got to be balanced before March 31 next year but we really need to start thinking about it now.

“We’re very limited because the majority of our funding comes from the Scottish Government and we need fairer funding so we can make sure that we can provide adequate public services to our local residents.

“As well as that we have a big challenge in supporting our staff. They’ve had two years where they’ve concentrated on saving lives and helping people get by through the public health emergency.

“We’ve got to do what we can now to save their jobs and to save their services because that £13.8m has got to come from somewhere.

“We’ll have to look at every option to close that gap because legally we have to do that. We don’t have any other option.

“At the same time we still want to invest and grow the authority area.”

Millions of pounds of reserves have been used to plug budget gaps over the past few years but Martin claims the cash pot is now dry.

He continued: “We had a Change Fund, which brings about improvements in how we do things and helps fund things like staff restructures, and when Labour was in power we left £3.3m of funds but now it’s all gone.

“It’s been used to balance the budget but left a big revenue risk which isn’t a good situation because we’ve got to solve that.

“It’s a really huge challenge. We’ve spoken to the trade unions and they know it’s a real challenge.

“You can’t close a gap like that without tough decisions.”

He said ensuring the area is “open for business” is a priority, adding: “We need to protect the things we’ve got, look after the parks, make sure communities are cleaned and tidy and the potholes are fixed. That all makes a big difference.”

Martin said as looking at ways to save money, the council must also address how to support residents dealing with their own financial hardships due to the cost-of-living crisis.

He explained: “Prices are going up faster than people can keep up with them. That’s a real challenge for household budgets.

“There are lots of people who are working full-time and are facing the big price rises as well, so it’s not just the poorest in society who are affected.

“We had put forward a budget which had a lot of initiatives to address it, such as £1000 a month to foodbanks and £1000 a week in energy vouchers, but it was voted against.

“We will be revisiting elements of the budget and will be looking at what we can do this year to support residents because the cost-of-living crisis is happening now.”

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.