Councillors have voted to scrap a contract with a private investment and job creation company and have their own staff do the job instead.
The decision to drop the Falkirk for Business organisation and hand the role to its new in-house Growth and Investment Unit was agreed by two votes when Falkirk Council met yesterday on Wednesday.
Labour councillor Dennis Goldie, convener of the economic strategy and development committee, led the move for change - but it came under fierce attack from the SNP who accused the administration of forcing through the move simply to get its hands on Scottish Government funding.
Councillor Martin Oliver claimed: “Falkirk for Business is one of the top Business Gateway companies, not just in Scotland but the UK. Their performance record has been superb and compares favourably with all their competitors and outperforms most. Their expertise is invaluable for business development and gives them a clear and distinct advantage over Falkirk Council’s development services department.
“This administration is more interested in the funding Falkirk for Business attracts than the promotion of new business opportunities.”
But Councillor Goldie insisted: “There is no argument we have come up with best value here. The service will certainly improve, but the businesses coming in will not recognise the change since they will be dealing with the same people they have been dealing with. What we have here is opposition for opposition’s sake from the SNP and it’s damaging Falkirk as a whole when it comes to attracting business. They are also inferring our officers aren’t up to scratch.”
Douglas Duff, head of economic development, said there was a case for forming the new unit.
Councillor Goldie added: “Falkirk for Business has done a good job but the proposed in-house model would be even better. The new Growth and Investment Unit has the potential to create £140,000 of efficiency savings and will have £1.5 million to spend on activities in the Falkirk area.”
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of the SNP Group, warned: “This is a dangerous move because it will affect continuity and business confidence. All the feedback we’ve had strongly suggests they would rather deal with people they know than with a local authority.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s vote the council considered a report prepared by officers on the way ahead. But George Stevenson, chairman of Falkirk for Business, insisted it did “not represent a fair and balanced view of the benefits and risks associated with each option.”