A time to plan for the future but the purse strings are tightening

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Times may be tough and difficult decisions need to be made but the message from Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn is “we’re still open for business”.

Although the local authority needs to make £60 million of savings over the next five years, it will still spend £330 million in 2019/20 providing vital services to the communities across the district.

The people living within the Falkirk Council area will have a say in how that money should be spent with public consultation being launched early next month as the SNP administration gears up for the tough budget making process.

While the final decision on where money will be spent and saved is expected to be revealed in February, weeks of deliberations are underway to ensure that the best possible use is made of the cash in the town hall coffers.

Although the local authority will only set a one year budget – which Councillor Meiklejohn admitted was not the most ideal situation – it is already formulating a five year spending plan.

The most crucial factor in any decision making is that after that five years the council will be 25 per cent leaner.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “That is what we are working towards and to do that one of the things we will look at is how we manage our assets – reducing the buildings we have and making the best of those we maintain to accommodate our staff and to provide services from.

“The transformational change project will look at developing services to make them more fit for purpose and in response to what people tell us they want. They already say they want to access things 24/7 and online which we will move towards while ensuring we maintain frontline services.”

Engaging with partner organisations and in particular communities to deliver services is seen as a key way forward.

The council leader added: “We saw the tremendous impact of community engagement during the ‘Beast from the East’ when people worked together to clear paths and school playgrounds and we want to harness that in the future.”

Falkirk Council is in an almost unique position in Scotland of having a growing population, but with that comes its own issues.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: “We are situated equidistant from two main cities and people realise Falkirk district is a good place where they want to live. However, our growing population brings challenges.

“Figures show that the number of over 85 year olds in our communities is increasing as people are living longer and healthier lives but with that comes the long-term conditions which come with age and which put a strain on our services.

“We need to educate the 50-somethings about being healthy and planning for their old age – changes to lifestyle and looking at making their homes suitable for later life.”

Children services is the biggest cost to the council with a budget of around £190 million, followed by £69 million for the Integrated Joint Board social care provision.

Another £29 million is spent by development services and £26 million by corporate and housing.

Mrs Meiklejohn added: “We’re not starting out with a blank sheet of paper. There are things we have to provide and there are things which are desirable. The next step is for this to go to committee next week when we will discuss the direction for the next five years.

“The cross-party budget working group will then meet and look at what the individual services are proposing. If we are not happy with the suggestions then they will be asked to look again.

“But we also need the public to give us their views which is why the public consultation is so important and we look forward to receiving their responses.”