EDDIE McAvoy reckons the new council face a tough five years as economic realities continue to bite in South Lanarkshire.
Councillor McAvoy was unanimously supported to lead the authority again at a meeting last week – and immediately outlined his plans for the region.
He warned tough decisions would have to be made, but reiterated the council’s support for the primary schools modernisation programme and their desire to protect frontline services.
The 67 members of the new council met for the first time on Thursday with business now set to get back to normal following the elections at the start of May.
Afterwards, Councillor McAvoy told the Reformer: “Our priorities are to finish the modernisation of all primary schools by the end of our term and make sure future budget cuts do not affect frontline services.
“When you look at projections from central government, we are facing major problems with finances over 2013, 2014 and 2015, unless something major happens, and I can’t see that.
“I have dealt with budgets for 14 years and the last three have been very tight, but next year is looking even tighter.
“There will need to be major changes.
“It’s a pretty grim picture to be honest but we have the experience to deal with it, and protect frontline services and complete the primary schools programme.”
Councillor McAvoy also pointed to the growth in youth unemployment and changes to the benefits system as having a major impact on council policy over the coming years.
The UK Government’s Welfare Reform Bill will see some benefits merged and being administered by the Department of Work and Pensions, something the council say could create problems in collecting rent and leave people in arrears.
And with youth unemployment continuing to grow, Councillor McAvoy revealed he has already ordered chair of the enterprise committee, Councillor Chris Thompson, to set up a group to examine the issue.
He added: “Youth unemployment has got to be a priority and it’s something we have already put a lot of money into.
“The changes to the benefits system will affect our income.
“We are seeing a problem where we will lose revenue and people will not be able to pay their rent.
“That could lead to massive social problems.”
Despite the challenges, the council leader insists he is looking forward to the next five years and vowed to work together with other parties in the best interests of the region.
He said: “Previously there was massive co-operation between political parties to make sure we got agreements that were the best for the people of South Lanarkshire. That will continue.
“I’m looking forward to the next five years.
“There are different challenges facing us but I’ve been doing this for 17 years and I’m bringing plenty of experience to the table.”