Late December is when Councils usually get confirmation of how much money they're likely to receive from the Scottish Government. This is an important announcement as over 80p in every £ we spend comes from the Government; Council Tax provides less than a fifth of our annual funding.
It's also a big decision for the Scottish Government. They allocate about a third of their budget to councils and understandably they want to know that we're using this money wisely. There have been months of discussions between the Government and COSLA (the "umbrella" group comprising all 32 councils). As you'd expect, the discussions have been "full and frank" at times but eventually COSLA members were able to agree that the deal that was on the table was the best one we were going to get under the current economic situation.
Two weeks ago the Council's Policy, Finance & Asset Management Committee gave me the authority to accept Fife's offer on behalf of the Council, and after a final check by our Finance folk to make sure there were no nasty surprises in the small print, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary yesterday to confirm our agreement.
The three year picture is maybe a wee bit better than we had expected but we still face a major challenge. We need to take somewhere between £80 and £90 million ot out our budget over the next three years, on top of the savings we've made since 2008. It would be easy just to give up in despair but I'm convinced we can get there as long as we're prepared to face up to the reality of the situation.
Recently we've been completely honest in starting a wider public conversation about what it is that really matters in Fife. Public reaction has been interesting. There will always be those who hold up their hands in horror at any suggestions we might change what's "aye been" but most people appreciate the fact that we're prepared to talk about difficult decisions that will be needed, maybe not this year, but in the next few years.