IF I HAVEN'T already seen you, I would like to start by wishing you a Happy New Year.

In addition to the snow, Clacks is being hit by another storm in the next month – the council budget.

Despite Scotland receiving a real-terms increase in its Block Grant from Westminster (as admitted by Finance Secretary Derek Mackay in the Scottish Parliament), and the fact we already benefit from £1,750 per head higher spending than other parts of the UK, Edinburgh is still pushing through punishing budget cuts to the county.

I have received calls and emails from many constituents voicing concerns ranging from proposed cuts to music tuition through to bus routes. Almost every elected representative knows that Clackmannanshire Council faces financial pressures. In fact, as per the council’s Corporate Risk Log – ‘independent analysis suggests Clackmannanshire is experiencing amongst the greatest budget pressure of all 32 councils [in Scotland]’ (as reported by this paper 17/1/18).

These pressures have led to the council’s proposals to cut front-line services as outlined in their Budget Consultation 2018/19 document. The inflammatory document proposes cuts to the services most needed in the county, to name a few:

· Withdrawal of music tuition (from schools) – £196k saving

· Reduce school transport to statutory levels – £250k saving

· Stop financial support to community run halls – £12k saving

· Stop funding to third sector organisations, such as Sauchie Active8 – £32k saving

· Stop supported bus services – £175k saving

There are many more proposals in the online document, but I have highlighted some of the worst above. It is unacceptable that when Scotland’s funding is going up, and Edinburgh is increasing taxes on people earning over £26k per year, the Wee County loses out. Especially when the economy secretary is Clackmannanshire’s MSP.

Although the council proposals do talk about ‘Corporate redesign’ to reduce back office costs, I do not believe they go far enough. We need to be tackling the structural costs in Clacks Council and pushing the SNP administration in Edinburgh for more funding.

I cannot accept that when the SNP claim to put ‘investment’ and ‘inclusive growth’ at the top of their economic agenda, one of the most deprived counties in Scotland is having its budget cut.

Westminster played its part in the autumn budget, increasing funding and giving more money to frontline services, such as police and fire Scotland through a VAT refund, now Edinburgh needs to support and not threaten the county.

I will be engaging with councillors and MSPs over the next few weeks to oppose these cuts and look for alternative sources of funding to help mitigate these SNP cuts.

In other news, I recently launched my petition to keep Bank of Scotland in Alva and RBS in Alloa. RBS customer service has been appalling, removing a branch without first consulting with local communities. Clacks needs more banks and investment, not less.

I have also written a letter to the treasury minister responsible for the publicly owned bank to lobby for reconsideration of the decision to close the branches. I remain unconvinced by the supposed necessity of the closures, or by the mitigations RBS have proposed as alternatives.

I will be meeting treasury ministers this week to continue to campaign on your behalf, to achieve the best result possible.

If you share my concerns about these closures, you can sign our petition on my website, lukegraham.org.uk, or else you can pop into the office at 38 Primrose Street, Alloa.

As always, if you have any concerns please email luke.grahamoffice@parliament.uk or pop along to my office on 38 Primrose Street.