An SNP-Shaped Council Budget for 2018-19

An SNP-Shaped Council Budget for 2018-19

This year’s Council budget proposals will be decided at the Dumfries & Galloway meeting of Full Council on Tuesday 27th February.

When my SNP colleagues stood for election last May, we set out a manifesto which made a lot of commitments to the people of Dumfries & Galloway and, working in a partnership Administration, we’ve included and financed as many as we can in our first budget.

This is just the first year of a 5-year commitment and some things will take longer than others, so we’ve started by investing in economic regeneration with the £1 million Town Centre Living Fund, available to towns across the region, aimed at converting town centre buildings back to residential use. We’re investing in a tourism marketing scheme to promote our region in Europe, with a focus on food and drink tourism, which is central to our economy.

But visitors and residents will find it hard to get around if the road infrastructure isn’t fit. We know the region’s roads have suffered badly over the winter, so we are protecting the roads maintenance budget, and investing an additional £500,000 on capital works to extend the usable life of the network with the priority on carriageway repairs. We’ve also, unlike other proposals on the table, protected investment in the local bus services which had previously been hit with a loss of evening and Sunday timetables.

When SNP Councillors say something is a priority, we mean to back it up with action and deliver on our word. Instead of talking about ‘Anti-Poverty’ while sitting on the money, our administration is going to actually make sure it reaches those in need. We’re increasing spending on initiatives to tackle poverty, including funding to provide school meals during school holidays, and during study leave to combat holiday malnutrition, providing funding for free sanitary products for every school in the region, as well as funding to reduce the cost of the school day for those who struggle.

We’ll also be using the Council’s Area Committees to distribute local anti-poverty funding and have set aside support to mitigate the impacts of Universal Credit when it is rolled out later this year.

Additional Support for Learning (ASL) is an important area of activity for us, and there will always be challenges that crop up even as we work to improve how schools manage their resources and cater for children and young people. To this end we are investing £100,000 per year for each of the next three years in providing ASL support for children and young people who are looked after by the local authority. I’ve seen budgets as recently as last year where hidden in the words it told a different story from the figures, and it’s that kind of disparity that leads to confusion, distrust, and people resigning in protest over this emotive subject.

The challenges of providing good-quality public services in an age of increasing need and diminishing public sector resources require the maturity to take and stand by difficult decisions. But we also know that clear priorities and an approach which works in genuine partnership with our communities will help us meet those challenges, deliver on our promises for Dumfries & Galloway. All the public sector partners and public bodies have to realise that you can’t spend the same tax-payers’ pound more than once, and we need to lead with that in mind.

Supporting adult health and social care with our region’s demographics means trusting our NHS partners and working closely with them. so we will make sure the funding from the Scottish Government goes straight to the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) and this area of activity, delivering a cash flat settlement instead of the cuts many other local authorities are imposing.

We have instructed a review of care charges for adults with disabilities, and to ensure no-one is further disadvantaged in this coming year we have instructed the IJB, as a condition of receiving the full funding, that no care charges will increase this year.

In terms of capital investments we will be funding new wi-fi in the region’s secondary schools to get with the 21st Century, pushing hard on Stranraer Waterfront, Phase 2 of Dumfries Learning Town and the Borderlands Growth Deal. Progress with Stranraer Waterfront in particular has been very slow in the past, but with political direction we are now working to get costings for these projects to give firm funding allocations. These are priorities and they will be delivered.

Other investments will be in “inclusive play” and a community play equipment fund will see a total £1,000,000 investment in delivering play parks accessible for all, helping communities to replace worn out play equipment where it’s needed most.

We made a commitment to deliver participatory budgeting in our manifesto, committing to 1% (£3m) of the Council’s revenue budget being spent as our communities think best by the end of this Council. We are starting by rolling out this approach to the resources spent on parks, grass-cutting and maintenance of public spaces. We are serious about empowering communities and that means giving people a say over how their money is spent.

Finally, we promised a new Modern Apprenticeship Scheme in our manifesto, and while we won’t be in a position to launch the scheme this year, we have instructed the preparatory work with a view to a new scheme being up and running in 2019.

We’ve are focussed on achieving all of this against the backdrop of continued UK austerity, which the Scottish Government has worked hard to mitigate but cannot remove. This will be the eighth year of austerity – with £86m of savings made since 2010. We know that austerity has failed and we also know that if it continues our Council will need to save another £46 million over the next three years. We need to move away from spending today’s money on what we did yesterday, when it no longer delivers what we need, and start investing in smarter services that we can sustain as we look to the future.




I was quite rightly pulled up at Moffat Community Council on Tuesday night for not keeping the blog updated. Please accept my apologies.

In case anyone is not aware the Council elections are a week today and then there’s another election on 8th June. It feels like an endless pre-election period at the moment, but there it is. That is the caliber of the characters currently leading this UK version of democracy.

There were some drafted blog-posts scheduled for issue at the end of last year, but the volume and range of Council case work, community meetings, Committee papers, group work duties, as well as the process within the SNP of getting properly confirmed and nominated to stand as a candidate for re-election in Annandale North, made me realise I didn’t have time. I needed to review what and how-best to publish.

I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter more recently to post updates relating to council service issues as I’m also trying to find a way to link the council case reporting system to what gets published. Until recently this required mapping the use of a number of systems and practices, which was very labour intensive and time consuming. My plan (which may well gang aglay) is to streamline how I publish updates and comment so that it fits better in-to and not additionally on-to the working week. I suspect I’ll move away from a “This week in Annandale” approach.

Providing I get re-elected that is! Unsurprisingly my focus recently has been working with my local Annandale and Eskdale SNP Branch members and excellent volunteers, alongside the Annan SNP Branch, to campaign for an increase in the number of SNP Councillors in Annandale & Eskdale Area and hopefully, for the first time ever, an SNP-led Council. Sylvia Moffat and Henry McClelland are my candidate colleages and we have been supporting each other where possible to ensure we are contacting as many residents and voters as possible across the whole area (This equates to roughly 30,000 voters!)

Anyway I have some people to reach now in Annandale North and some materials to deliver so best get on.


This week in Annandale 21/11/2016

This week in Annandale 21/11/2016

In a nutshell: this week have been busy with our Political Group meeting, reading committee papers, Policy & Resources Committee, Police Consultation meeting, Moffat Community Council, ICT Focus Group for Digital Council, Annandale & Eskdale Area Committee, Constituents’ and Community Councils’ case work, Pension Sub Committee, Templand Community Council AGM and meeting, Johnstonebridge Community Council (and Development Trust), meeting with Unison, engagement session with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service around resourcing, recruitment and shift-patterns, meeting of Local Government Liaison Committee.

This week in Annandale 14/11/2016

This week in Annandale 14/11/2016

Stop nicking lead from Lochmaben Primary School!

Education services and the Police are tackling this one now – hours after the Parent Council meeting the leadhead was at it again which has triggered a more urgent action plan. Shame for the children who’s school-time is getting totally disrupted by leaky roofs and all the subsequent repairs.

Union representation

We’re trying to listen to the concerns being raised by Unions operating in Dumfries & Galloway and have met on a number of occasions, and more regularly now than years ago. With ‘Reshaping’ of the Council and trying to work within a budget, there is a corresponding amount of stress and uncertainty within the workforce, particularly around staff receiving proper training and information for new or emerging roles. Are staff having to follow one policy book while management beat them about the head with it? Fog of war.

Lockerbie community meeting

This was well-attended and kicked-off an hour before the Community Council meeting in Lockerbie Town Hall. There was a passionate and candid introduction by Ian McLatchie and a lot of contributions and feedback from local residents and community groups who mainly got the gist of trying to find positive ideas to go Forward with. There is plenty of scope for a Community Action Plan, similar to the one recently undertaken by Beattock and Moffat, to carry out independent consultation of the community and build an evidence-based and relevant case for proposals that can be put to Dumfries & Galloway Council, Scotland’s Towns Partnership, Scottish Government and other agencies to really make meaningful improvements to the town.


Well done to Sylvia Moffat who stood as the SNP candidate for the Annandale North by-election. The share of the vote increased since the last by-election in 2012 and she came in a much improved 2nd place. It was always going to be a challenge in November, just a few months before the 2017 Council Elections but the she and the quickly-assembled team worked a much better organised campaign on local issues.

This week in Annandale 07/11/2016

This week in Annandale 07/11/2016

Annandale North By-Election:

Only the SNP candidate, Sylvia Moffat, seems to have provided any literature on how she will use her role as councillor to influence things the council can influence in the ward for the benefit of residents. Other literature I’ve seen posted through doors is of an MP and MSP talking about a referendum and using their candidate to send a message to someone/body/thing.

Currently of course D&G Council doesn’t actually do referendums; it tries to focus on delivering education, maintaining the roads, recycling our waste and other local authority duties like planning and licensing. I’ve even seem MPs in my area waste tax-payers’ money and time on local authority matters – that’s what Councillors are for! MPs are elected to represent your interests and concerns in the House of Commons. They can propose new laws as well as raising issues that matter to you by asking government ministers questions about current issues including those which affect you as local constituents.

To add insults to injuries, there are already Councillors from that very same party who should be busy working at a local authority level. Not wasting time and tax-payers’ money embarrassing the reputation of the Council by  trying to and have a referendum for Dumfries & Galloway to leave Scotland. It’s like they don’t know what the role of Councillor empowers you to do?! Maybe it suits some career politicians to blur the boundaries so that we’re never sure who’s best-placed to deal with which issue. Small comfort for you if that same party’s philosophy is mercilessly cutting disability benefits, threatening pensions and throwing money at undemocratic institutions – it’s seemingly all ok so long as they keep shouting about referendums rather than do anything constructive. Don’t waste your vote.

Syracuse Trust

Syracuse Scholarship application process will open 17th November. Forms and guidance will be available on the Lockerbie Academy website (search for ‘syracuse’ on the homepage)

Friends of Lochmaben Hospital

Attended the Friends meeting with a very active group of volunteers who are already getting Christmas pressies and movies organised for patients.

Ward Visit

This was a chance for local community groups to speak to Director of Communities on supporting projects such as Lockerbie Old School Hub, Mens Shed, Lockerbie Swimming Pool, Proudfoot Institute, and many others.

Kirkpatrick Juxta and Kirkmichael Community Councils

A double whammy for a Wednesday evening. Beattock is part of the Beattock Moffat Community Plan which is to be published imminently and shows the potential developments and link between Beattock and Moffat, such as the cycle path, Beattock Station re-opening and other amenity and public realm projects. Parkgate and Nethermill are still needing bus shelters but I’m advised that the infamous Parkgate shelter on the A701 is to be replaced in December. I have a meeting arranged in Nethermill next week with council officers and community reps to see what’s possible.

Welfare Reform Sub Committee

Always an opportunity for cheap politicisation because of the effects of poverty, especially on children in Dumfries and Galloway. I tried to ensure that the Committee agreed to write to UK Government and ask for support through DWP and more sympathetic Welfare Reforms as well as looking at further Economic Powers so that Scotland can properly tackle what Westminster has failed to in addressing the causes of poverty. Usually there is a clamour for more Scottish Government money to put a sticking plaster on the symptoms, and although this is always welcomed in the short term, it won’t solve the underlying problems.

Annandale Transport Initiative AGM

First visit to Gretna for some time but was invited along as an Annandale & Eskdale Councillor but was only 1 of 11 that could make it on the night. The financials made interesting reading but from a Council perspective we really need to look at a strategic model for supporting Community Transport Initiatives that augments the work of the Health and Social Care Partnership or IJB as well as use our MPs to ask questions of the UK Parliament for creative solutions around fuel duties, rural transport pressures and the reality that our geography will never change (well, it will but veeeeeeeery slowly.) The constituency MSP was booked to give a talk after the AGM and although I had gone to listen and learn, ended up getting drawn into a bit of a debate which turned out to be interesting.




This week in Annandale 31/10/2016

This week in Annandale 31/10/2016

Arla – made in the Solar System

People put a lot of importance in knowing where their food is produced and it has been a big positive for Lockerbie to have product branding spread throughout the country – Lockerbie Butter and Lockerbie Cheddar. It will be a loss to the pride of the town and region to know that, even though we supply the milk, produce the butter and produce the cheese, someone buying it in a shop will have no idea where it was made other than Britain – what does that even mean? Big business can’t reduce everything to bland anonymity, although it will try. Give credit where credit is due – it’s made in Lockerbie.

This was raised at Royal Four Towns Community Council

Along this stretch there is a “vulnerable” siting of the BT cabinet at Parkend Bridge.  There is concern that vehicles could clip it when approaching the bridge from the south. Have asked Council officers to work with BT on this one.

Blogflash: Moffat -collapsed gully at Crosslaw Burn fixed!

Football. Proper local football

Victory for Moffat Thistle 2010 AFC in the Scottish Amateur Sunday Trophy Round 2 vs Coadys AFC

They now have a functioning Council pavilion and Service Level Agreement and arrangement in place for the Beattock pitch – that took a lot longer than I thought to get sorted from first meeting the team representatives (the Council took a long time getting the pavilion done despite regular pressure) – but I hope it helps strengthen the club both now and in the future.

However, I have had some feedback from some Beattock residents about litter being left after games. I’m not sure if this is the visiting team or not but please can Thistle players tidy up any plastic bottles, tape, cans and McDonalds bags or do a quick check round after the match so the pitch is left tidy for other people? Would be good PR.

Police Station recycling

Inspector McKnight and Constable Cowan will be attending the public Moffat Community Council on 22nd November where the Police Scotland Estate Consultation is on the agenda. An extended welcome has been made to Kirkpatrick Juxta community council and residents given their closeness (physically) to Moffat.

Lochmaben Community Council

The lift at Lochmaben Town Hall is broken and has been re-reported after the Contractor and engineers have attended Lochmaben Town Hall to investigate the fault on several occasions.  The new part needs to be installed by the Contractor which may take ages.

Ecclefechan Community Council

Just went to find out what the community council was up to and enjoyed a welcoming, positive and proactive meeting. This will become one of the community councils within the new Annandale North ward boundaries as of next May’s Council Election so I felt I should be prepared…

SOSA (South of Scotland Alliance)

If we had bacon, we could have bacon and eggs, if we had eggs – brilliant.

Basically here is what SoSA (sometimes I don’t capitalise the ‘o’ – crazy) will be screaming for at the meeting with DFM John Swinney on 5th December:

Prioritise the South of Scotland in the Programme for Government by

1. Enterprise and Skills review – make whatever Scottish Enterprise is actually effective for Dumfries & Galloway

2. Invest in key road and rail infrastructure

3. Complete the Digital Connectivity for South of Scotland – broadband and mobile coverage

Clear, simple, difficult to disagree with. Repeat as necessary.

Beattock Station Action Group

Craft Fair in Moffat Town Hall with live music! Nice.


This week in Annandale 24/10/2016

This week in Annandale 24/10/2016

Lochmaben: a Planning Application site visit to look at the permission in principle for housing just off the B7020 opposite the bowling green and entrance path to Castle Loch. Ended up being approved at Committee the following day but will tie in extending the 30mph limit further down the Dalton road which should help road safety.

Moffat Community Council updated everyone present on the Community Plan that’s being finalised following the public event in the Town Hall. Various other matters were discussed and you can stay alert with their Facebook Page.

Lochmaben Action Group AGM was a very welcoming event with a bit of Halloween decorating duties thrown in for the next day’s Lunch Club in the Portakabin. The Portakabin has a few years of life left in it and is being well-managed and used by local groups but there is still a grey area over which ‘cost code’ it falls under within the Council. Council link officers are in good communication with the group though, which is reassuring. The plans for a kitchen upgrade look like they’ll make a big improvement.

Thursday evening challenge:

  1. ANCBC – This is the company whose Board (made up from community representatives) determine the awards of community benefit funding from Harestanes windarm (Scottish Power Renewables) to groups in Annandale and Nithsdale, based on criteria-assessed applications professionally processed by Foundation Scotland. Attended as an Independent Observer.
  2. Johnstonebridge Community Council – salt bin delivered finally (just in time) to Beechfield Lane… but with no salt. Oh you Council you. Anyway this is coming next Wednesday. The old salt bin is still up at the Old Johnstone Hall so this needs relocated to somewhere useful. B7076 issues around the bus shelter and road safety also being followed up.
  3. Templand Community Council – arrived near the end of the meeting but was able to provide a couple of updates on Council matters and hear more about a water contamination problem at the end of the village.
  4. Royal Four Towns Community Council – I bit off more than I could chew so didn’t have time to get to Hightae after attending the first three meetings – I’d pre-warned the secretary so no harm no foul, but sent a councillor report by email to update on issues that were being followed up.

Note: still busy with some Annandale North By-Election activity…

On Community Transport…the Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP announced new funding to help 60 people get trained to be trainers in D1. The programme will run until March 2019. Funding will pay for training and sitting the test but will target people who want to train others in the future. Ideally a good spread of trainers with at least one person in each local authority area would be best. Once trained, trainers would have to wait 3 years before they can train others. The fund is open now so if you’re interested, complete the application form.