Leader warns links with other authorities could become a thing of the past

Partnerships are under pressure in the Forth Valley area
Partnerships are under pressure in the Forth Valley area

Concerns over cash are now having another unpleasant knock-on effect for the local authority.

Not only are budgetary constraints forcing Falkirk Council to consider making cuts and changes to its own services and personnel, the current lack of financial clout is also breaking up partnerships and bonds which have been forged over decades.

To put it plainly, money issues seem to be driving a wedge between the once close-knit trio of authorities in Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling – as well as other partner organisations like the police.

Last week the council was hit by a bombshell from Police Scotland, stating the force would no longer provide traffic management at public events.

Falkirk Council leader Craig Martin said: “Police Scotland is pulling out of a lot of things it used to be involved in. They are obviously looking at everything they do with their operational staff.

“The idea of these partnerships was to bring authorities together and share funding responsibilities and they were seen as the way forward at one time. However, as the budgets continue to be cut these councils and organisations are coming out of the partnerships.”

Police Scotland’s announcement came out of the blue for Councillor Martin and his colleagues.

He said: “It’s only recently Police Scotland have said they are not legally responsible to stop road traffic at public events. Until April this year we were just doing what we always did.

“We have no policy in place on this, but we are going to create one over the summer and, unfortunately, it looks like it will cost these local groups who organise the events money to manage the traffic through a Temporary Traffic Restriction Order.

“At least we are giving people a year’s notice on this. The big issue for us is protecting the public. It’s about road safety – we need to make sure we, as a council, do not take a decision that leads to someone getting hurt.

“We understand in some parts of the country Police Scotland is still carrying out this traffic management. We are looking to write to the Scottish Government to see if there can be more consistency from Police Scotland.”

Councillor Martin said it was a similar situation to 2014 when Clackmannanshire and Stirling announced they were pulling out of the Forth Valley CCTV Partnership and then Police Scotland failed to guarantee it would continue to fund the project.

This led Falkirk to review its CCTV options and eventually forced the council to relocate equipment from Alloa to Falkirk and cut full-time CCTV monitoring across the district to save money.

Mr Martin said: “My worry is the long-term future of these partnerships which were established over the last 20 to 30 years to share the costs between the three authorities.

“These partnerships have been working very well. The break-up of these partnerships is purely down to financial issues and we have seen it happen with the CCTV.

“Sadly when it comes to cost cutting it is the joint partnership funding which some councils look at first. It’s an easy cut for them because it doesn’t involve their own staff or services.”

The current crisis surrounding Bandeath Dog Shelter is a prime example of financial hardship leading to the erosion of once strong partnerships.

Falkirk Council leader Craig Martin hopes the situation Bandeath finds itself in will not be experienced in the future by other joint initiatives like Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Camelon.

Since 2004 the annual cost of Bandeath, currently £86,000, has been shared between Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling councils and Police Scotland.

The shelter’s future was placed in jeopardy when Clackmannanshire and then Police Scotland gave notice they were withdrawing from the partnership late last year.

Due to these withdrawals, Falkirk and Stirling councils would each have to pay at least £43,000 per year to fund the shelter.

Officers have since given notice Falkirk Council is withdrawing from the existing partnership agreement on the understanding it would be necessary to establish an alternative means of providing the stray dog service.

Councillor Martin said: “It’s not a budget issue for this council. We have a statutory duty to remove stray dogs from the community whatever happens. Obviously we would rather the shelter remained in Bandeath and it was kept in the public sector and not run privately.”

The Forth Valley Sensory Centre Trust is currently funded by Falkirk and Stirling councils, NHS Forth Valley, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Action on Hearing Loss.

If budgetary concerns forced even one of those organisations to pull out of the partnership then it could threaten the centre’s future.

Mr Martin said: “I’m really worried about the Sensory Centre in Camelon – it’s one of the best facilities of its kind in Scotland. I fully understand other councils and organisations have their own priorities, but I think we should be discussing things like this a bit more.”