Falkirk Community Trust struggling to find budget savings

Falkirk Community Trust cannot find the million pound savings it has been asked to make this year – which could mean jobs are on the line. 

Maureen Campbell, Chief Executive Falkirk Community Trust.  Pic: Michael Gillen
Maureen Campbell, Chief Executive Falkirk Community Trust. Pic: Michael Gillen

The arms-length company which runs Falkirk Council’s leisure facilities and libraries was told its budget will be slashed from £11 million to £6 million over the next five years.

And while the Trust’s board did identify £1.2 million in savings, a budget review group with members of all political parties turned down most of its proposals.

Councillors heard that if savings cannot be made, the Trust will almost certainly lose staff to voluntary redundancy.

It could also mean that already stretched departments in other areas of the council would be forced to make even deeper cuts.

All Community Trust staff have already been asked to consider voluntary redundancy and councillors heard that losing between eight and ten members of staff would help save £235,000.

There are £238,000 of savings that are ‘deliverable’ – including cash saved due to the closure of Hallglen Sports Centre, which shut its doors last year when its oil-fired heating system finally failed altogether. Another saving on the horizon could come if Grangemouth Golf Club is taken over by a group of community volunteers.

But the meeting heard that the proposals were not yet “robust enough” to go ahead with this yet although things did look promising.

There are also proposals for savings that still have to be decided by councillors.

Plans to reduce hours in Denny Sports Centre, so it will be open at weekends and evenings only, would save £31,000.

Many councillors were unhappy that the Trust had failed to meet its targets.

Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn urged them to look again at where savings can be made.

She said: “My thoughts are to go back and have another look and see where other things can be brought forward.”

Conservative group leader Lynn Munro proposed a motion, saying Falkirk Community Trust should get involved in the Council of The Future Programme, which looks at new ways of doing things by using new technologies or becoming more commercial to be more cost-effective.

However, Labour councillors said it was unfair to criticise the Trust when it is being asked to slash its budget by nearly 50 per cent.

Grangemouth councillor Allyson Black said: “Yes, other departments are making cuts but no other department is being asked to make that level of cuts.”

Her colleague, Joan Coombes, said: “I’m disappointed at the reaction in the chamber today. We’re saying it’s the Trust’s fault they haven’t made the target.

“At the budget working group, the Trust board did have the savings they were asked for but all parties agreed to remove some of the proposals before it came to council.”

Questions were asked about how the Trust could generate more income.

Its chief executive, Maureen Campbell, told councillors it had become more commercial, saying in its first year it had generated £3.5 million while this year the figure was £8 million.

“The only additional facility we’ve opened in that time is the Helix,” said Ms Campbell. “That increase has been achieved by the efforts of staff.”

From 2018 to 2019 alone, the Trust grew its income by £749,000.

Ms Campbell said it typically brings in between £1m and £1.25m in external funding every year.

But she said they needed council funding as core funding that they could build on as it was extremely difficult to get funding to cover everyday running costs.