AS I write this column, the school summer holidays are coming to an end and parents and children are preparing for a return to the classrooms.

It is always a stressful time for families with children starting early years, primary or secondary for the first time, while others move on to the next step in their education, renewing old friendships and creating new ones.

The council has put in place some assistance for families through the school clothing grant and educational maintenance allowance, including additional payments for children with caring responsibilities to recognise the need to encourage and support them in their educational journey.

Many children will receive free school meals but we’ve also written off all school debt for pupils for the start of this term and created a new fund to help those families who are struggling to pay for school meals over the coming years.

I want to wish all of our former students who left school at the start of the summer good luck as they move onto university, college, apprenticeships or the world of work.

Whatever your chosen path, it can be both exciting and daunting to move from the security of secondary school and into more unfamiliar circumstances.

However, it is a chance for you to form new relationships, make your own choices and create new opportunities for yourself.

Things rarely go exactly as planned and we all make the odd mistake but, on balance, most things work out okay in the end.

The council, West Dunbartonshire Leisure and local community groups and charities put on a lot of activities and events for local people over the summer, so my thanks go to all of those who gave up their time to make these a success.

I know that a lot of activities, such as the family fun days, parkruns and library and heritage activities, will continue beyond the summer holidays.

The end of the summer marks a return to business as usual for councillors.

Our pre-agenda meetings and weekly group meetings have already restarted, the cycle of committee meetings has begun and local surgeries got up and running in the first week of August.

It will be another year of challenges and opportunities for the council.

Our big challenge will be managing our funding gap for next year.

In June, we were advised that we already have an £11.8million funding gap for 2024/25 to close before March 31 next year.

It is significantly lower than the £21m funding gap this year but it gets harder to increase revenue and reduce costs each year, especially as many of our services are statutory services, which means disproportionate reductions in those areas of discretionary spend.

Despite these challenges, the Labour administration will set a balanced budget next year.