Council concern over balancing the books

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Councillors face a crunch meeting next month to try and agree a way to slash spending by millions of pounds in 2017.

Officers had been working on ways to recommend how around £20 million could be trimmed off the bill – but now there are fears the figure could be as high as £25 million as they wait for confirmation from the Scottish Government about how much the annual Revenue Support Grant will be worth.

At a special meeting of the full council expected to go ahead on December 19, members of all parties will be given an update on the impact the final figure could have on the town hall’s ability to balance the books next year.

The council is under severe pressure to save money.

Last month members of the executive were given a series of options to consider that could cut costs by £11 million.

But with at least another £9 million of savings needed, just how the council can move forward will once again be under the spotlight.

In an effort to keep local taxpayers involved, a public consultation exercise has been launched.

Last night (Wednesday) a council spokesperson said: “The public can view and comment on the proposals at www.falkirk.gov.uk and the information has been viewed over 19,000 times since it went live on October 18.

“Briefings have also been held for community councils and parent councils.

“The council is faced with having to make savings of over £20 million for 2017/18. The exact amount will not be known until the Scottish Government announces the settlement figure next month, however it could be as high as £25 million.

“Savings proposals have been developed by officers and have been the focus of engagement during October and November, but it is anticipated further savings options will need to be identified following the government announcement.

“The further report to councillors in December will form the basis of the final options, but no final decisions will be made until the council meets to decide its budget in February.”

The council is battling to find ways to protect services and its workforce.

In October there were warnings hundreds of jobs could be at risk unless a new deal covering terms and conditions can be agreed with the unions which has the potential to save £1.4 million.

That will only happen however if over 1400 employees currently paid 37 hours pay for working 35 hours a week agree to either work the extra two hours or reduce their pay by two hours.

The council has very little time to put its budget package together in time for February.

Councillor Craig Martin, leader of the Labour-led administration has warned “tough choices” lie ahead and urged all parties, in particular the members of the SNP opposition, to think hard about the decisions which will have to be taken in a matter of months and make a positive and constructive contribution for the sake of thousands of householders across Falkirk district.

No easy way

Trying to balance the books will hit the council’s three main services hard.

There will be no ‘winners and losers’ as the town hall continues to look for ways to hit the savings targets that will be needed to meet the Scottish Government’s relentless demands for every local authority in the country to produce a balanced budget for the start of the next financial year.

There is no hiding place for children’s services, development services and corporate and housing services.

Together, they are likely going to be told to do their jobs with a total of £10.6 million less to spend between them and over 160 fewer full time equivalent posts.

There will also be savings expected from the strategic reviews approved by the council in February, while the budgets provided by the council for the new Integration Joint Board for Health and Social Care as well as Falkirk Community Trust are also being examined as part of the tough money-saving process.

Council leader Craig Martin said; “We have asked for comprehensive budget options to be brought forward at this stage to allow us to get the views of various groups and interested parties. Their responses will help us make informed decisions and help us prioritise by need.

“No decisions have been taken, but there are some very tough choices ahead for us to make and communities should be prepared.”

Over the last two years the council has reduced its workforce by seven per cent, but the financial pressures over the last decade have still seen a budget gap of more than £108 million created.

Councillor Martin admitted: “We’ve made savings, but there are no easy options left.”