Cuts to the number of support staff at East Renfrewshire's schools are on the way as council chiefs try to plug a multi-million pound budget black hole.

The move is among a number of money-saving measures agreed by East Renfrewshire Council at its budget meeting yesterday.

Council leader Owen O’Donnell pledged there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the 2023/24 budget, adding that fewer than 50 jobs would be lost across the local authority.

However, savings totalling £4.1million will be made to help balance the books, with a voluntary redundancy programme for school librarians, bilingual assistants and technicians put in place.

Funding for winter maintenance, roads management and street light replacement will be slashed to save more than £500,000.

There will be further financial pain for East Renfrewshire residents in the form of a 6% rise in council tax.

This means a Band D household will pay £1,415 in 2023/24 – an annual increase of £80.

A large chunk of the £18m budget gap will be covered by the ‘reprofiling’ of PFI payments – deals which saw private sector investment in public projects, including schools and roads.

These costs will now be spread over 50 years, rather than 25.

This approach will see the council use £7.5m of a “one-off benefit” of almost £15m this year, as well as a £2.7m recurring saving, reducing the shortfall by around £10m.

East Renfrewshire’s SNP group put forward their own budget plans, which would have kept the council tax rise to 5.5%, used almost £11m of the reserves available due to the PFI changes and reduced the amount of savings to just over £3m.

It also planned to use £943,000 to “step back” from some of the worst cuts due to “leeway” provided by East Renfrewshire’s share of the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of an extra £100m for councils.

However, Councillor O’Donnell said this money was “ring-fenced” for “pay awards.”

The SNP amendment, supported by independent councillor David Macdonald, was voted down by 11 votes to seven, with the Conservatives backing Labour’s proposals.

Councillors agreed to invest £60,000 in a fund to support pupils with additional support needs (ASN) at Carlibar Communication Centre, in Barrhead, Isobel Mair School, in Newton Mearns, and ASN units at Williamwood and Carolside.

Officials had set out £4.7m of savings which could be made but the minority Labour administration, which includes independent councillor Danny Devlin, chose not to slash the number of behaviour support assistants in secondary schools.

They also held back from removing funding for campus police officers.

Funds will be brought in through an increased garden waste collection charge, which will rise to £50 to collect an estimated extra £230,000.

Burial charges will also increase to bring in £50,000, while new electric vehicle charging fees are set to raise £52,000.

Councillor O’Donnell said outlining cuts as a result of an “unfair funding settlement” from the Scottish Government gave him “no pleasure whatsoever.”

He added that the council is facing “rising energy costs and high inflation” but received “barely any extra cash on a like-for-like basis from the Scottish Government to fund services.”

It has been awarded just over £233m for 2023/24 but Councillor O’Donnell said that, after ring-fenced funding for national initiatives and a bigger rates bill for council buildings are taken into account, this works out as just £800,000 more than last year.

He said the council tax rise will “reduce the level of cuts required.”

Councillor O’Donnell added: “We do not want to make these cuts but we must take these difficult decisions to meet the legal requirements to balance our books.”

He warned that, without more funding from the Scottish Government, “further severe cuts” will be needed in future.

The council leader also said capital investment will see a £3m per year road resurfacing programme increased to £3.5m and extended over another five years.

Plans also include a £1m expansion of Isobel Mair School and the opening of the new Neilston Learning Campus.

The SNP’s budget would have prevented cuts to school support staff and roads management.

Councillor Tony Buchanan, SNP group leader, said his party’s proposals were “costed” and “deliverable.”

“We listen to our residents but, crucially, we also deliver and have a track record of delivering for our residents over the last number of years,” he added.

Councillor Caroline Bamforth, also of the SNP, said council funding issues were due to “underfunding” by the UK Government and “high interest rates, mainly driven by the appalling mismanagement of the economy by the Tory Government.”

Councillor Gordon Wallace, of the Conservatives, said he had entered budget talks with “a mindset of responsible opposition.”

He added that the administration's plan “clearly shows the concerns we voiced have been listened to” and accused the SNP of “squandering one-off benefits” from the PFI reprofiling.

Councillor O’Donnell had said the Labour group chose to “spread the benefit over the following two years.”

In addition, councillors approved future savings of just over £2m for 2024/25 to allow preparatory work to begin.