Funding drop forces tough decisions in town hall

Falkirk Council has had to make some tough financial decisions this year
Falkirk Council has had to make some tough financial decisions this year

Councillors have approved a budget that will protect householders from council tax hikes and maintain teacher numbers – but warned the price will be hundreds of jobs.

As the town hall battles to deliver £25 million of savings over the next 12 months, everyone will be hit in the pocket, from pensioners living in care homes to parents buying their kids a school dinner.

The council has a net revenue budget of £335 million to deliver services in 2016-17 - down by 3.4 per cent or £9.6 million.

To help balance the books around 230 job losses are inevitable.

Children’s Services face losing 11 per cent of its learning assistants in schools and management, admin and clerical posts to save over £1.3 million.

Staffing levels in community learning and development will be cut and a number of librarians replaced with library assistants to trim another £700,000 from the wage bill.

Corporate and housing departments will also be expected to operate with fewer people, saving another £1 million.

The council hopes the job losses can be achieved through voluntary methods, but warned given the scale of the cuts needed it is possible the option of compulsory redundancy will be required.

Talks with the Trade Unions are continuing.

Spending on roads will be cut by £200,000 and rationalising winter gritting routes will save £150,000, reducing the frequency of grass cutting and street cleaning around £400,000 and scrapping the garden aid scheme £275,000.

Emptying thousands of green and blue bins every four weeks will save a further £350,000.

From April the council will also no longer manage community halls, saving £190,000, funding to Falkirk Community Trust will be cut by £1 million and investment in the voluntary ‘Third Sector’ by £500,000.

A special meeting of Falkirk Council agreed the 2016-17 revenue budget when it met yesterday (Wednesday).

At the start of what predictably turned into a day-long debate, Councillor Craig Martin, leader of the Labour-led administration, said: “I apologise to the people of Falkirk district for the cuts we are being forced to inflict on our families and communities.

“There were alternatives, but because the ruling political party in Scotland wants to continue with the austerity programme they argued against at last May’s election this council has been forced to agree a settlement package or lose an extra £11.5 million.

“We have all read the Scottish Government received a three per cent cut in their budget, but then passed on a grossly disproportionate six per cent cut to Scottish Councils meaning local services are being hit twice.

“John Swinney has taken a massive gamble with his change of approach, doubling the size of the cut in one year and springing it on the country at the last minute.

“We had less than two months to produce a balanced budget. All the negotiations with the government had councils expecting a 1.5 per cent cut which would have placed an extra £3 million cut on Falkirk’s budget, but John Swinney decided to almost treble that, inflicting a further £7 million cut on the people of Falkirk, a total cut in our grant of £10 million.”