Party politics were set aside today as East Ayrshire Councillors from all parties met to agree a wide range of budget proposals designed to address a number of local poverty issues.
Leaders from three main groups were united in their desire to deliver a budget which would look after the most vulnerable people in East Ayrshire and respond to community feedback.
The budget also included a major announcement – trebling the local roads repair budget from £2m to £6m, again agreed with cross-party support.
In addition, parties agreed a clear and common commitment to tackle some of the most pressing needs in the local communities.
£160k has been allocated to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) and Council of Voluntary Organisations (CVO) to continue the work to help reduce dependency on food banks and to provide additional services around the welfare reform agenda.
A further £72k has been earmarked for the provision of free sanitary products for pupils in schools across East Ayrshire from April, in advance of a Scotland-wide initiative expected in August.
A continuation of last year’s Active Schools free lunch provision as part of the summer holiday programme was also confirmed.
Councillor Douglas Reid, Leader of East Ayrshire Council said: “Working with colleagues in the other parties to forge this year’s budget showed that we are all agreed on the need to alleviate poverty where we can.
“Last year’s initiative to provide free packed lunches as part of the summer activity programme was so successful, we will be repeating it again this year.
“We will also be keeping a watchful eye on the pilot in a neighbouring authority to provide free school lunches 365 days of the year to see if that would be a better option in the future.
Councillor John McGhee, Leader of the Labour Group, also welcomed the commitment to tackle poverty at local level. He said: “One in five people in East Ayrshire live in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland and we have the tenth largest proportion of population categorised as most deprived.
“Some actions to alleviate poverty are within our gift and I welcome these proposals and look forward to future details being developed along with our partners Citizens Advice Bureau and CVO.
Councillor Tom Cook, Leader of the Conservative Group said: “From the outset we agreed that we needed to support some of our most vulnerable communities and I welcome the proposals being put forward as part of this budget today.”
Councillor Elena Whitham, Depute Leader and cabinet member with responsibility for Housing and Communities, praised the proposals outlined for tackling period poverty in local schools.
She said: “This is a matter of personal dignity for many young people and I am pleased that East Ayrshire Council is taking steps to address it, well ahead of the Scottish Government’s own plans to roll out funding for this nationally.”
The full report can be viewed here.