THERE were angry exchanges at Fife House as councillors voted 40-32 in favour of a five per cent rise in council tax, which will take effect from April.

The minority Labour administration’s general fund revenue budget plans will wipe out an £11.5 million shortfall and give them £6.4m to invest in priorities like fixing the roads and anti-poverty measures.

But there were several flashpoints during the debate with the SNP described as “insular and cult-like” while the Tories accused them of “personal” attacks and Labour said one nationalist councillor should be “ashamed” for her remarks on poverty.

The SNP, the biggest party on the council, slammed the council tax increase for families already struggling with a cost of living crisis as “barbaric” and accused Labour of “scaremongering” about job losses and cuts to services, and of not criticising the Conservative government in Westminster for fear of losing Tory votes for their budget in Fife.

Council leader David Ross said: “We know the pressures on the council’s finances through inflation, pay and increasing demand for services so in setting today’s budget we have a choice.

“We can knock a few pence off the council tax, as the SNP suggest, but this will mean cuts to our services, like the subsidised buses, a failure to invest properly in Fife’s priorities, like the roads, and storing up problems for the future.

"Or, as Labour proposes, we can ask people to pay a little more each week so we can protect services and target support to those that are most struggling.”

The chamber was told the difference between a three and five per cent rise in council tax, for a band D property, was 51p a week and Labour’s Colin Davidson said it “wasn’t the time to be arguing over 50p”.

However the SNP’s Auxi Barrera hit back: “Fifty pence a week, £2 a month is a lot of money for a family in need.

"Of course potholes are important, I’m not going to deny that, but are they more important than feeding a family and paying the bills?”

She directed a question to Cllr Altany Craik, who put forward Labour’s budget motion, and said: “Why is he setting out to make the people of Fife poorer?

“I’m left to wonder if the leader of the coalition ever suffered from hardship, or if those proposing a five per cent rise ever had to use a foodbank or worry about paying the bills?"

An angry Cllr Craik hit back: “I grew up in Warout, one of the poorest communities in Fife for a very long time, the product of what they call a broken home.”

He added: "I’m taking no lessons from someone who says ‘Have you had hardship?’. You should be ashamed of yourself. I’m not having it.”

Cllr Ross said a decade of cuts from the Scottish Government had forced them to make tough choices and that they were facing even bigger budget gaps in 2024-25 and 2025-26, with the possibility they could be “forced to lose up to 500 more posts over the following two years”.

But the leader of the opposition, SNP councillor David Alexander, hit back: “Everyone and their dug knows that runaway inflation and an underfunded Scotland is 100 per cent down to the Tory government at Westminster.”

The SNP said they had balanced the books and still had money to invest with a three per cent council tax rise, slamming Labour’s “unnecessary and unaffordable” budget.

Cllr Alexander added: “Labour went to the press maybe a month ago with the annual Private Fraser message of doom and crisis in local government.

“They said the administration faced a financial black hole equivalent to 750 full-time staff members by 2023-24 and they needed to raise taxes and cut services to balance the books.

“The truth, and it’s there in the budget, makes it quite clear there is no financial black hole, there are no cuts in services, no 750 job losses but there is an unnecessary five per cent rise because Labour want to play politics.”

Outlining their proposals, Cllr Craik said double digit inflation meant that “everything costs more”.

He added: “At its heart our budget is about pooling and sharing Fife’s resources.

“Using the five per cent council tax rise to take a little more from a lot of our households to deliver services and support for Fife.”

He said a three per cent rise would mean an extra £3.6m of savings would need to be made next year.

Cllr Ross added: “Cllr Alexander accuses me of scaremongering about the future budget gap and the prospect of job losses but I’m only highlighting what our own executive director of finance has set out in her report, what directors of finance across Scotland have written to the Deputy First Minister about, what Audit Scotland are reporting and the SNP’s own colleagues on COSLA are saying. And this is that we are facing the most significant attack on funding for local government that we’ve seen, particularly because of the rampant inflation we’re facing.”

Cllr Alexander said the £11.5m budget gap was really just £1.5m once the £8m in reserves and £2m from the Scottish Government was taken into account.

A three per cent rise would bring in £5.4m, closing the gap and giving them £3.9m to invest.

Cllr Alexander went on: “So there’s absolutely no financial need for a five per cent increase in council tax that brings in £9m when the real gap is only £1.5m and when inflation and the cost of living crisis is biting as hard as they are.”

Cllr Alexander said that while Labour complained about ring-fenced money, it still added up to £49m of investment in Fife in much-needed areas.

SNP’s Derek Glen said the budget proposals were “paltry, unimaginative and devoid of big ideas” and claimed the £3.5m for road repairs was “throwing that money into a hole in the ground”.

He said Labour was trying to take the people of Fife “for fools” and added: “At a time of financial hardship surely it’s better not to needlessly take money from people in the first place.”

And party colleague Ann Verner said: “My heart breaks every time I have to write a foodbank referral, especially for someone who works full-time.

“The term ‘working poor’ makes me sick to my stomach.

“I know that for some of you, voting for an SNP proposal will be unpalatable, but for goodness sake, don’t make this decision political.

“Please listen to your conscience.”

Lib Dem group leader Jonny Tepp welcomed the extra £3.5m spending on roads and said the administration was amenable to their ideas to keep sports and leisure facilities and recycling centres open for longer.

Tory Dave Dempsey said money for the roads was all important and explained: “For me, and for the constituents that I represent, filling that hole in the budget that will fill the holes in the road is absolutely fundamental.”

Lib Dem James Calder said: “We need action in tackling the roads across Dunfermline, supporting those hit by the cost of living crisis and protecting our bus services. The budget agreed will do that.”