Many of you will have read reports in national newspapers or heard on the television news and radio stations that hundreds more council jobs are set to be cut in the next few years. Scotland has lost 40,000 public service jobs over the last few years following cuts to budgets and Scottish Councils again have to find millions of pounds worth of cuts and savings on top of those they have already made.

Fortunately, West Dunbartonshire Council has adopted a strategic approach to budgeting and last year we agreed a ten year capital plan and set a three year strategic budget. This meant we had a fully funded capital programme of over £120m. This approach also allows us to better plan for the annual reductions in funding from the Scottish Government and ensures that we continue to deliver the much needed infrastructure improvements and find new ways of providing services. This year we will roll forward our three year budget which means that we will be able to support more investment including another £10m identified for primary schools.

As well as this we have set ourselves clear strategic objectives which help us focus our limited resources more effectively. This has allowed the Council to target areas where we want to see real improvements, such as better outcomes for young people; elderly; and our communities. These manifest themselves in the form of improved attainment levels for pupils, improvements in the quality of care for elderly, and investments into our communities such as the £85m to improve the quality of council housing.

The Council has been particularly successful with our jobs and training programme and we took on another 97 apprentices this year. As a direct result of our employability programme we are one of the few councils who actually increased the number of employees from 4,597 full time equivalent (FTE) to 4,709 FTE employees, an increase of 112 employees compared to the previous year. There are still real challenges ahead and the Labour Administration will continue to reshape services, seek innovative solutions to problems and achieve efficiencies.

Finally, with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow now less than a year away it seems every week there is some new Games-related announcement to increase the excitement. The most important recent news was the unveiling of the route the Queen’s Baton Relay will take around Scotland and the rest of the world.

I was delighted to see that the baton will visit West Dunbartonshire just three days before the Opening Ceremony of the Games, at which point the anticipation levels, both locally and nationally, will be reaching fever pitch. This is a great honour and builds on last year’s impressive hosting of the Olympic torch relay which attracted thousands of spectators to the streets of Duntocher, Clydebank and Dumbarton. I look forward to hearing the exact details of the route, and seeing how we plan to use this opportunity to sell ourselves on a national stage.