Falkirk charges row takes centre stage

Birkhill Clay Mine in Bo'ness is to close
Birkhill Clay Mine in Bo'ness is to close

A furious row broke out over how sport and the arts are being run in Falkirk district.

Councillors were debating Falkirk Community Trust’s business plan for 2013-15 and being asked to agree to give the organisation £12 million next year.

Set up in 2011, the charitable trust assumed responsibility for the management and operation of sport, recreation, arts, heritage and library services. It now runs a range of facilities, including Grangemouth Stadium, sports centre, town halls, libraries and Callendar House, as well as many of the district’s parks.

Staff, including chief executive Maureen Campbell, transferred to the new body.

The funding agreement between the council and trust requires a business plan to be submitted annually for approval by councillors.

But when it was presented to council on Wednesday, opposition members claimed there was not enough detail and moved that it be brought back to the March meeting.

This was despite a warning from chief executive Mary Pitcaithly that a decision on the local authority’s budget had to be made now.

Although the plan revealed a spend of £620,000 on sports and parks assets next year, some councillors were unimpressed.

The decision to close Birkhill Clay Mine at Bo’ness and save £25,000 also came under fire. It was initially shut on health and safety grounds and members heard that the cost of improvements were prohibitive.

Ms Campbell said: “The annual running costs are between £50-58,000. However, it would cost around £100,000 to bring it up to acceptable standard for safe use.”

She added that talks had taken place with the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Mining Museum but no funding was available.

An amendment, moved by Councillor John McNally, to postpone the closure until a full business case for the mine could be prepared was defeated on a vote.

Moving a decision on the £12 million budget be delayed, Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn said: “I don’t believe we have enough information on how that money will be spent. I also wonder how much external money has been given to the trust because of its charitable status than would have come to the council? We need to know these things and at the moment there is a lack of clarity for members.”

With the trust planning to bring in an additional £100,000 income, there were also concerns about the planned review of fees and charges.

However, Councillor Dennis Goldie, who is one of the council’s five directors on the trust board, said; “These concerns people have about charges are addressed in the business plan where it is made clear that they should not be a barrier to participation.

“I did have some concerns when I heard of the plans to set up the trust but I can now see that it is doing an excellent job and there was a seamless transfer from the council.”

Given approval by 17 votes to 14, the plan includes a raft of capital spending proposals:

n£476,000 to replace the boilers at the Mariner Centre.

n£54,000 to improve the Muiravonside visitor centre.

n£20,000 for essential repairs to the track at Grangemouth Stadium.

n£40,000 to improve the changing facilities at Grangemouth Complex.

n£30,000 for a feasibility study at Kinneil House and design fees at Callendar House.

The trust has a target of bringing in £250,000 by attracting new customers.

Last year, it received £50,000 from the council to host a BBC Proms event which never took place. Councillors have agreed that the trust retain the cash to support a funding bid to EventScotland for a 2014 Homecoming event which requires match funding.