FINANCES will be at the top of the agenda for the councillor elected in the Clackmannanshire North Ward by-election next month.

The need to reduce expenditure is a pressing issue for the local authority, which faces an indicative funding gap of around £10.3million for 2018-19.

Following a report from Audit Scotland, the Accounts Commission said it was "seriously concerned" about the financial position of the council and has requested an update no later than June of next year.

Alex Stewart has pledged to work with his fellow Conservative colleagues to address the financial and organisational challenges in the immediate future, if elected.

He said: "The council’s expenditure has greatly exceeded its income for a number of years, resulting in the drawdown of local services, efforts to reduce staff and the use of financial reserves to balance the budget, none of which has solved the serious financial situation.

"The county needs stability and optimism for the future, and although reductions in services and staff are painful, a root and branch re-design of the council structure, top to bottom, and new ways of delivering essential services is, I believe, the only way to put the council on a firm path to sustainability and financial recovery.

"The council needs to make serious painful decisions in key areas to improve and safeguard the communities within the county, and it is the duty of every councillor to act in the best interests of the whole county."

Greens candidate Marion Robertson has placed emphasis on the need for elected members and officers to work together to make scarce resources stretch further.

She has highlighted areas of concern for her – the decline in living standards, low community morale and the lack of faith in local government to be able to change lives for the better, which she called "striking".

She will also champion the key issue of education, working to target the additional money Green MSPs negotiated to protect educations services including learning assistant posts, pupil/teacher ratios and music tuition.

Ms Robertson said: "Scottish Greens want communities to have much more say in how council money is spent.

"If elected, I would propose the introduction of a participatory budget target and plan.

"This would ensure greater accountability of councillors and transparency of decision-making, improve outcomes for residents, and start the long-overdue process of engaging communities in decisions which directly affect them, re-instilling a pride in what their communities stand for.

"Voting for a Green councillor will always be a positive vote, one which ensures it’s not more of the same, and which will always put people and communities first."

For SNP candidate Helen Lewis, the impact on council services from Westminster austerity cuts is "alarming" and forces the council to reduce many services while trying to protect the most vulnerable.

If elected, she will throw her weight behind the party's plans for the local authority.

She said: "The current SNP administration’s proposals on senior management restructuring and reorganisation to focus on People, Place and Performance needs to be advanced more quickly and I would add my support to this process.

"My first priority will be to meet with local groups and individuals. I have delivered a letter to every household inviting them to share their concerns for the area and have received many response.

"This will give me the starting point for an ongoing dialogue to ascertain and help achieve people’s aspirations for the area.

"I look forward to working with councillors and officers to identify immediate savings. This needs to be an ongoing process with a priority to retain efficient and vital services."

In the long term, she believes there needs to be support for local businesses, and for others to set-up in the area, and would encourage the council to work with companies and local groups to achieve that.

While Afifa Khanam, Scottish Labour candidate, believes the council has to deal with its realities, she says the problem lies with Holyrood for "chronically underfunding local government".

She said: "Clackmannanshire is having to make cuts three times greater than Glasgow, despite having a tenth of the population.

"These are cuts the Scottish Government have forced on to us resulting in the proposed closure of the Cochrane Hall, stopping funding of the cafe society in Coalsnaughton, expecting pupils to walk from Tillicoultry to Alva Academy.

"At the same time increased council tax for less services.

"Scottish Labour have put forward tax proposals that would see those with the lowest incomes pay less, whilst the rich pay more.

"That would end those cuts to Clackmannanshire Council and every local authority in Scotland. Unfortunately the SNP and Tories opposes these progressive measures."

Ms Khanan would challenge the level of cuts from the Scottish Government and would focus on what it legally required of the council first and foremost.

Then, she would look to ensure that resources are used effectively to make communities "vibrant" with particular attention to those in poverty.

Damian Sherwood-Johnson hopes to represent the Liberal Democrats in Clacks and suggests the severity of the proposed cuts was not inevitable.

He said: "A measure of playing politics and difficult decisions not taken when necessary led to this. The highly critical report of the Accounts Commission makes this clear.

"Local people – as employees and users of council services – are now left anxious and worried about the impact on their future.

"Cuts to the breakfast club, a reduction in the number of learning assistants, and the end of funding to some charities may solve immediate financial problems but will lead to greater problems for our society in the future."

He said political posturing will "exacerbate the situation" and advocates reaching out across the political divide and having courage to make difficult decisions.

He added: "As the sole Lib Dem, I would be in an advantageous position to facilitate this. The immediate priority is to resolve this financial crisis which is not just about this budget but the budgets for subsequent years.

"This creates an urgency to start to plan and consult now so as to avoid this annual frenetic activity to balance the budget. There is a need for greater creativity and innovation to find solutions to this challenge."