IT'S already looking like a busy 2018 and first up is negotiation and debate over both the Holyrood and council budgets.

Like last year, Green MSPs are holding constructive discussions with the SNP government to try and deliver a Scottish budget that protects services and improves public sector wages funded by fairer taxation.

Austerity budgets have been getting handed from Westminster down to Holyrood and onto councils for some years now.

Last year, we prioritised council funding in our discussions and it worked. We secured £160million for council services across Scotland that resulted in around one and a half millions pounds extra coming to Clackmannanshire, taking many proposed cuts to vital local services off the table.

This year the Scottish Government draft budget is again threatening a gap in council funding which cannot be closed by modest rises in Council Tax alone. Clackmannanshire is facing one of the biggest budget gaps of any council in Scotland.

Years of politically unstable leadership have not helped address the financial challenges the council has faced, but regardless of the reasons, a financial austerity gap has now grown that needs to be closed.

Proposed cuts this year are again out to public consultation and will be familiar to residents in the Stirling Council area too.

As one of the biggest council budget lines, education is again facing a battering with proposals to reduce school learning assistants by a fifth, reduce secondary school subject choices, withdraw music tuition and sport services while stripping school bus services back to the bare minimum.

All of these cuts could have a big impact on the educational opportunities and experiences that are available for our young people.

Alongside education cuts there are proposals to slash vital voluntary sector projects such Clackmannanshire Healthier Lives and even the winter pavement gritting regime. All of these cuts would just result in more money being spent further down the line as people get ill or injured, resulting in more public expense for an already struggling NHS.

Wages in the public sector have also been static for many years, with teachers for example facing spiralling workloads leaving many to put in dozens of extra hours of effectively unpaid labour every week. It's right that a fair wage settlement is put in place for all public sector workers that reflects the growing cost of living.

Something has got to give and that's why the Green focus on using the tax system in a fairer more progressive way will be at the heart of our discussions in the last few weeks before the final Holyrood budget is set.

Poor quality public services damage us all, poor and wealthy alike. But those with the broadest shoulders can and should be expected to pay a little more to protect services.

The draft budget recognised that we can use income tax bands to set rates more appropriate to a person's circumstances. We have the chance now to push this further, not to raise money for the sake of it, but to cancel those very cuts that are being threatened in Clackmannanshire in the next year.