East Renfrewshire Council set its annual budget for 2023/24 earlier this month.

When we started our budget engagement process, I warned that we would have to make some very difficult decisions to balance our books as a result of a £30million funding gap over the next three years.

The council has faced spiralling inflation and soaring energy costs but the Scottish Government has given us barely any extra cash on a like-for-like basis.

Our budget gap for 2023/24 stood at £18.1m. There are only a number of ways to bridge this funding shortfall – we can increase council tax or charge more for services, we can use reserves or we can cut services.

We received some good news on reserves, as we were able to spread debt charges on some of the excellent new schools we have built to 50 years, rather than 25 years.

This generated a one-off benefit of £14.8m and a recurring benefit of £2.7m.

We used £7.5m of this one-off benefit and the £2.7m ongoing saving to reduce our budget gap to £7.9m.

If we were to close our budget gap over the next three years by only using council tax and not making cuts, council tax would have to go up by more than 50%, which is clearly unacceptable.

To fill the remaining gap of £7.9m, we took the difficult decision to raise council tax by 6% and cut services by £4.1m.

This increase is almost half the rate of inflation and will mean an annual rise of £80 a year (£1.54 a week) for a Band D property.

East Renfrewshire’s Band D rate remains around the average of all councils in Scotland for the delivery of some of the best services.

It will be over £80 a year cheaper than Glasgow and remains less than neighbouring Renfrewshire and East and North Ayrshire.

We listened to your concerns raised in the budget engagement process. You told us you were prepared to pay a little bit more in council tax to protect vital services and we have delivered on that.

In education, we have protected teacher numbers, Pupil Support Assistants and the length of the school week. We have also saved our grass-cutting service and the recycling centre in Barrhead will remain open.

I am delighted we have not only removed a proposed saving impacting pupils with additional support needs but were also able to create a £60,000 investment to support our most vulnerable children.

We will continue to build excellent new schools, with the Neilston campus due to be delivered towards the end of this year.

This budget process has been a very stressful time for our staff, who every day go above and beyond to deliver vital services.

In November, we estimated up to 550 jobs could be at risk over the next three years. After the budget, fewer than 50 posts may be affected in the year ahead and there will be no compulsory redundancies linked to this year’s savings.

We should be in no doubt of the very real financial challenges facing this council in the years ahead due to the unfair funding settlement from the Scottish Government.

I encourage you to join me in lobbying for change by contacting your MSP or MP.

Our priorities will be to continue to support the most vulnerable in our communities, with projects such as our £4.4m Cost of Living Recovery plan being extended into next winter.

I remain determined to support our communities through these uncertain times.