BARRHEAD'S local authority has today voted to approve a three per cent council tax rise across East Renfrewshire.

Councillors voted 13 to 6 in favour of approving East Renfrewshire Council's  (ERC) budget for the next year at a meeting of the full council today.

The budget included a proposal to increase council tax in all bands by the maximum amount allowed - three per cent.

ERC says that this will help address any shortfalls and increase the council's income by £1,507,000 a year.

The council also approved more than £131 million in major capital projects, more than £4 million investment in services and a price cut of 50 per cent in wrap-around childcare.

The three per cent increase comes on top of a council tax rise on Bands E to H across Scotland imposed by the Scottish Government.

Council tax charges for properties in valuation band H will hit £2,841 in the next year, with properties in band A paying £773. 

But despite the council tax rise and the late addition of more money from the Scottish Government, ERC will still need to find savings of around £7.2 million.

Council leader Jim Fletcher said: “Agreeing to raise local council tax by three per cent, the first increase for a decade, was a particularly tough decision for administration councillors to take. 

"We know however from our long term financial planning that, if anything, the situation will worsen in the coming years and we will be faced with increased savings and reduced opportunities to invest in vital services.

“Regrettably, therefore, the only way to prepare for future years, protect against cuts and invest in services, is to raise council tax by three per cent across all bands.”

The budget also outlined ERC's "ambitious" plans for the investment of more than £4 million in the community.

These investments include an extra £1.6m for improving local roads and footpaths, £1.1m for projects in schools and plans to slash the cost of wraparound child care in council nurseries by 50 per cent, which ERC says will save some parents more than £1,200 per year. 

Councillor Fletcher added: “Even with the late grant settlement changes announced last week we have once again seen a like for like cash reduction in the grant received from the Scottish Government. 

“This grant reduction, combined with increasing service pressures and rising inflation, presented the council with a significant savings gap for 2017/18. This is despite the ability to retain the money raised locally by the separate Scottish Government increase in council tax for those in bands E to H.

“Today however we have agreed a package of measures to close this gap, protect frontline services and jobs and ensure vital investment in the services our residents have told us matter most to them.”

The spending can be broken down:

• A £4.1m programme of investments for key improvement projects across a range of core services

• An investment of more than £131m in capital infrastructure projects • Agreeing efficiencies and savings totalling £7m 

• Raising local council tax by three per cent for the first time in a decade

• Increase the living wage for staff to £8.45 per hour from April 2017

• A "commitment" that no compulsory redundancies will be required in this financial year

• Council also agreed to defer a number of savings proposals until next year and committed a one off payment to the East Renfrewshire HSCP Integration Joint Board to allow them more time to find a new purchaser for Bonnyton House.

Despite the increases to council tax help is still available to support East Renfrewshire residents on low incomes. 

Of the savings needed from council budgets, more than 70 per cent - £3.9m - has been achieved through being more efficient. 

The administration warned however of increasingly tough times ahead for local authorities and the need to continue to steer a course which delicately balances the protection of services and jobs with further cash reductions from the Scottish Government.  

In light of these future challenges the ERC administration called on the Scottish Government to provide longer term settlements in future years, as opposed to the recent pattern of annual settlements which makes long term financial planning all the more difficult.

A full breakdown of the budget will be included in next week's Barrhead News, in print and online.