A council tax freeze has been approved in East Renfrewshire but residents will still face a hike in bills thanks to increased water charges.

The local authority passed its budget for 2024-25 at a meeting of the full council today (Wednesday, February 28).

As council Leader Owen O’Donnell outlined the spending plans for the year ahead, the local authority said it has used a range of measures to meet the challenges presented by a £12m budget gap.

In confirming the council tax freeze, however, Cllr O’Donnell stated that the compensation provided for the freeze by the Scottish Government falls short of the fully-funded freeze promised.

He said: “The council has had to make difficult decisions about the services we deliver because of real-term cuts to the level of funding we receive from the Scottish Government and their decision to freeze council tax.

“Previously, many residents told us that you would be prepared to pay a little bit more in council tax to protect the services that mattered the most to you.

“A council tax freeze ignores local democracy, puts extra pressure on the council’s finances and has robbed local politicians of the ability to take decisions based on local circumstances.”

Scottish Government Ministers initially promised £147m to fund the freeze, following First Minister Humza Yousaf’s surprise pledge at the SNP conference last October that council tax would be frozen.

This is the equivalent of a 5% hike across the board, however, councils said this left them short-changed.

Extra funding of £62.7m for local authorities was announced last week, but only for those that freeze council tax.

“Despite these challenges, we have set a budget which continues to prioritise the delivery of services which matter the most to our residents and our financial prudence over many years has served us well, allowing us to sensibly use reserves to help us close the gap,” added Cllr O’Donnell.

“We continue to show ambition – in building new schools and leisure centres, in delivering new council houses, in spending extra money on resurfacing local roads and in protecting our much-loved green spaces.”

The SNP opposition proposed an alternative budget but following a vote, the Labour/Independent administration’s budget motion was approved and will now be taken forward by the council.

Although council tax has been frozen, residents will still experience increased bills due to an 8.8% increase in charges from Scottish Water, which the council is legally required to collect on behalf of the water supplier.

The council tax compensation and use of reserves means £3.1m of savings are required for 2024/25.

The grant settlement received from the Scottish Government was £239.7m which Cllr O’Donnell said left East Renfrewshire with just a 1% increase on a like-for-like basis on last year’s settlement.

With inflation of 4%, this represents a real-terms cut in funding, according to the local authority.

The council leader also outlined the significant capital projects which the local authority has delivered, including a new Neilston Learning Campus, which opens next month, and plans for a new Eastwood Leisure Centre.

He also highlighted that spending on projects to help local people hit by the cost of living crisis passed the £7.5million mark during the year, with targeted support for low income families and those facing financial difficulties or homelessness.

“Helping those most in need in our communities is a key priority,” stated Cllr O’Donnell.

“Despite the very real financial headwinds pushing against us, we remain determined to navigate and steer a course to a better future for us all.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Ministers welcome the decision by East Renfrewshire Council to freeze the council tax in support of households across their communities.

"In the face of a profoundly challenging financial situation, the Scottish Government is making available record funding of more than £14 billion to councils in 2024-25 – a real-terms increase of 2.5% compared with the previous year if the council tax freeze is accepted.

“East Renfrewshire Council will receive £240.9 million to fund local services, which equates to an extra £18.4 million to support vital day to day services or an additional 8.3% compared with the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2023.”