TACKLING holiday hunger will be a key priority of this year’s spending in West Dunbartonshire - but councillors clashed over how best to do it.

Setting the 2019/20 budget had been left to the final days of the financial year, when councillors faced making millions of pounds in cuts and had planned to send the most unpalatable ones to a public consultation.

But with more money from the Scottish Government, and redirecting income from selling off council land, the SNP-led administration and council officers plugged the £4.5 million gap.

And they promised new spending to particularly support some of the most vulnerable in the area.

Fees for almost all services will rise by four per cent, with an extra 10 per cent on others, and council tax, as previously agreed, will go up by three per cent.

Read more: West Dunbartonshire Council looks set to announce balanced books for budget

So-called ‘management adjustments’ will save more than £2m, but were subject of sustained questioning from opposition councillors.

With foodbank use increasing and sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse continuing to see some of the highest rates in Scotland, the SNP locally put their new spending priorities to these areas.

The SNP promised £100,000 in each of the next four years for their holiday hunger fund. Another £35,000 a year will support services for victims of rape, sexual violence and gender-based violence, working with Rape Crisis West Dunbartonshire.

West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare (WDCF) and Food 4 Thought will each benefit from £25,000 a year in the next four years.

And there will be £500,000 to support groups who work with children and young people.

Another £110,000 each year will increase the qualifying household income thresholds by £1,000 for school meals.

An alternative Labour budget would have made more use of reserves and scrapped the management adjustments.

They also pitched £400,000 for holiday hunger.

But the parties were widely split on how to deliver such support.

Councillor David McBride questioned why the SNP was putting the burden on the third sector for addressing holiday hunger.

And Councillor Douglas McAllister highlighted the North Lanarkshire Council model, providing holiday activities and “it just happens hungry children are fed as well”.

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Finance convener Councillor Ian Dickson added there were some members of the community who did not trust the council but would speak to community groups.

Concerns were raised by both the Community Party and Labour about management adjustments and cuts to dozens of jobs.

But Cllr Dickson told the meeting: “Service restructure is done so the same service can be delivered in a different way, more efficiently.

“In the same way as when we used horses and carts to plough fields and then we brought in tractors. It made things more efficient. Think of all those jobless horses.”

He continued that the council workforce had increased by more than 300 people, insisting nobody would be made redundant and there was no service reduction.

But he acknowledged there was a new cut to community centres.

And Cllr Jim Bollan hit back that the social work service was in “crisis” because of a lack of staff.