More of the same, please

Falkirk Council leader Craig Martin
Falkirk Council leader Craig Martin
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Making Falkirk district a better place to live for everyone is the aim of those in charge of the town hall for the next five years.

Young and old, residents and businesses, all will benefit from the plans being made by the new ruling administration – except for new, read ‘as you were’, with Labour once again forming a coalition with two Tories and one Independent to retain control of the local authority.

Councillor Craig Martin, who is continuing as council leader, said the election on May 3 affirmed that people backed the work the group had been doing since 2007 and wanted them to continue with the policies already in place, as well as forging ahead with the pledges made in their manifesto.

He said the mandate from voters was a clear indication that their vision for Falkirk was one which the man and woman in the street could identify with as the way to take the district out of recession and moving forward.

Mr Martin said: “There was a clear message when we spoke to people during the campaign that they recognised times were tough but they were happy with how we were handling things.

“Our aim now is to maintain a steady ship during difficult times. People accepted that things weren’t easy but recognised we were getting somewhere and overall believed we were doing a good job.

“Our priority will continue to be putting people first and working in partnership to create quality services for our citizens. Equality will be to the fore and that will be the main principal for Falkirk communities in the next five years. The vote showed that people believe the previous administration was going in the right direction.”

The council leader said it was important to ensure the local economy and his administration’s economic strategy had a firm footing for the next term. He said the local authority’s proposal to use the Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) model for investing in infrastructure had “everyone talking”.

TIF would allow the council to raise over £50 million from debt finance to invest across the district with the potential to unlock further public spending for roads and vital flood defences.

Mr Martin said: “Our TIF is different from others and now we have to ensure that we can deliver to drive forward investment in Falkirk for the next 20 years. To do that we have to welcome inward investment and not be blinkered.

“The message we want to get out there is that Falkirk is open for business. But as well as bringing in new companies and investment, we have to do all we can to help the businesses which are already here.”

Young people are the heart-blood of the area’s future and the council leader said it was vital everything possible was done to guarantee a positive future for them. Although there are already good results getting them into employment – a 5.9 per cent reduction in 16-24 year olds on Job Seekers Allowance in Falkirk in the last year, while across the UK it rose by 12.7 per cent – he said the council couldn’t rest on its laurels.

He added: “Falkirk is one of the few councils reducing youth unemployment and that reduction has been dramatic. Our employment training unit is one of the best around and they have to take a lot of the credit.

“Our innovative 14-19 strategy will improve positive destinations for young people and we are working in partnership with local businesses to deliver this. Our plans to introduce Social Impact Bonds will see us work with the public sector to improve positive social outcomes, particularly in tackling anti-social behaviour, family support and substance misuse.”

The council leader said education had been enhanced in the last five years and this was marked by the increase in attainment. However, work to improve further early intervention, particularly with looked after children, would continue.

He said: “Education is vitally important and the facilities our young people are educated in are not just the best in Scotland, but must be the best in the UK.

“However, we realise that there are capacity issues in some areas and within the next few months will bring forward a strategy to tackle the problem at Larbert High School.”

The area boasts large expanses of greenspace, much of it close to built-up areas, such as Callendar Park, and more will be done to improve parks as areas, not just for leisure, but also learning.

Councillor Allyson Black, depute leader of the council, said: “We need to develop parks for children in outlying, more deprived areas, particularly as they might not have the money to travel to other facilities. We will also be looking at making more use of our community centres.

“It’s important when we stage major events, such as the successful Comedy Festival, that we continue to look at ways of taking them to areas such as Denny and Bonnybridge so people in those communities can be involved.”

Mr Martin added: “It is exciting times for tourism and leisure in our area. The Helix park is developing and the Kelpies will be up by next year. If they have half the impact that The Falkirk Wheel has had they will do exceptionally well.

“However, I believe that we should be making much more of the Antonine Wall which is a marvellous piece of heritage on our doorstep, as well as our important role in the industrial revolution. It’s a rich source that we should be making more of.”

The depute leader said there has to be greater emphasis on making social care people-centred. She said: “We need to support people to stay at home as long as possible if that is what they want and by working with partners in health, we will do what we can to achieve this aim.

“There has been a huge increase in children taken into care, which is costly for the council. But it’s not just about money, it’s about how children are being brought up and we will do all we can for families who require our support.”

The administration has vowed to build a minimum of 500 new rented homes in the next five years. However, as well as making more properties available, it will be a priority to tackle problem tenants who blight communities.

Mr Martin said: “People need to appreciate and respect the community in which they live and became a part of it. We know communities are safer nowadays, but anti-social behaviour is still a bugbear. We need to tackle those causing problems in weeks rather than months.”

Issues such as litter and dog fouling still cause angst for residents and both councillors admitted it was a recurring topic at their constituency surgeries.

Mrs Black said: “It needs a strong hand to tackle it and that’s what we have to do.”

The administration realises that the next five years will be amongst the toughest ever experienced by local government with no let up in the recession.

However, Mr Martin said it was fruitless to waste time apportioning blame on either the Westminster or Scottish Government.

“There’s no point in looking back. It’s about working together to find a solution. The people we represent don’t care who does it, just so long as it is resolved.

“We cannot do it alone. We need to get the people, the communities and the businesses all working together. The prize is big and that is a better Falkirk in which to live and work.”