Plans to increase council tax bills for East Renfrewshire residents by almost five per cent have been rubber-stamped.

The move was agreed by East Renfrewshire Council today as it set its budget for 2020/21.

The 4.84% hike in council tax – the maximum allowed by the Scottish Government – will raise almost £3m as council chiefs try to plug a massive financial black hole.

Council bosses insist that, despite "challenging" financial circumstances, the local authority has set a "balanced" budget for the year ahead, "ensuring the services which matter most to residents are protected."

A budget shortfall of £18m, which is expected to be reduced when the settlement from the Scottish Government is finalised, will be met in the year ahead through savings, additional revenue from council tax and £3.5m from the council's reserves.

The council had proposed to cut funding for culture and leisure services, make savings from devolved school management budgets and reduce the extra support available to some pupils but these will now be reviewed in light of yesterday’s agreement on the Scottish Government’s budget.

Councillor Tony Buchanan, leader of East Renfrewshire Council, said: “In setting the 2020/21 budget, it has once again been extremely challenging.

"Until yesterday, the cash funding we receive to spend on vital day-to-day services was to be reduced by about one per cent on a like-for-like basis but now we understand our funding will be closer to a flat cash settlement.

"Whilst this is a welcome improvement, tough decisions still have to be made in order to balance our books, whilst also ensuring we can still support young people, the elderly and the most vulnerable people in our communities.

"The decision to increase council tax has not been taken lightly, as we know it will put an extra burden on residents, but without generating this additional income, there would have to be further reductions in funding to our schools, public infrastructure such as roads, our parks and recycling services.

"Having balanced the books, we will continue to work harder than ever to deliver services which meet our residents’ needs now and in the future.”

The council also confirmed no compulsory redundancies would be required in the coming financial year.

Prior to yesterday’s announcement of additional funding from the Scottish Government, the council also planned to identify further savings of £1.3m during the year ahead.

However, following the announcement, these further savings will no longer need to be identified and some of the "most difficult" savings will be reviewed in the months ahead.

Plans to spend £209m over the next 10 years on a range of ambitious capital projects were also outlined.

These include £25m on six new nurseries nearing completion across East Renfrewshire; £30m for a new leisure and learning campus in Neilston, with work due to start next year; £26m for improved new leisure facilities in Eastwood Park; £1m for telecare systems to allow older and vulnerable people to live in their own homes; £580,000 to transform Bonnyton House, in Busby, into an integrated centre of excellence for older people in East Renfrewshire; and resurfacing 30 roads in the first year of a £15m programme of investment in maintaining and improving carriageways and pavements.

A commitment has also been made to build more new council houses for rent.

Councillor Buchanan added: “Despite our very challenging savings target and the tough financial climate, we remain absolutely committed to delivering a wide range of ambitious projects to improve the lives of residents.

"We can already see many of these coming to fruition, with six new nurseries to open in August, new homes opened for our tenants, the award-winning Maidenhill Primary already a thriving school community, the Greenlaw Business Centre set to welcome its first tenants soon and with plans progressing to invest £30million to improve education and leisure facilities in Neilston.

"The great progress we have made in such a short space of time to deliver these projects highlights some of the real achievements that have been made by East Renfrewshire Council. We are a council that delivers.”

Opposition councillors warned of increasingly tough times ahead for local authorities and proposed an alternative budget.

However, following a vote, the administration's budget was approved and will now be taken forward by the council.