Councillors refuse to back Falkirk chief executive’s five-year business plan

Councillors refused to back a new five-year business plan put forward by the chief executive at a meeting of Falkirk Council today (Tuesday).

Kenneth Lawrie told councillors that the plan would help them face the financial uncertainty that lies ahead and allow them to push on with projects that would save cash, rather than making cuts.

The proposed business plan looks at the priority areas for spending an estimated £2.9 billion over the next five years.

That includes spending £1.1 billion on children and young people through our Children’s Services and £370 million in the Health and Social Care Partnership.

Kenneth Lawrie (Pic: Michael Gillen)

But, there is estimated to be a budget gap of £70 million over the next five years.

Mr Lawrie told councillors that around 30 per cent of that could be saved through transformational projects - and a robust business plan would be the key.

He had been asked to return to council with an update after a three-year plan - to cope with the uncertainties of the pandemic - was agreed just last September.

Mr Lawrie said: "Then, and now, the financial uncertainty caused by COVID-19

Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council

makes it very difficult to prepare a robust financial model.

"Financial uncertainty at an international and national level have a consequential impact on the Council’s ability to meaningfully project what our financial situation may be."

These uncertainties include what the core Scottish Government grant will be and what extra funds might be released to help with Covid recovery.

Councillors in the SNP minority administration backed Mr Lawrie.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said the plan was "a dynamic document" that would respond to changes and challenges as they arise.

She also praised the Scottish Government's response to the pandemic.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: "We've already seen how effective the Scottish Government has been in areas where they have devolved responsibility in managing the pandemic differently.

"They will continue to do so, but so much more could be done with all the financial levers that come with being able to run our own country."

However, she added that local government had proved its worth during the pandemic and said the beginning of a new parliament would be a good time to "reset the relationship with Scottish Government".

"However, while these conversations are ongoing, we still need to plan for the current and emerging challenges," she said.

The Labour and Conservative members, however, were not convinced.

Labour group leader Robert Bissett said they couldn't support the five-year plan because of "the continuing uncertainties caused by Covid 19, Scottish Government funding and the constitutional instability".

He also urged the administration to bring forward more detailed proposals that would show how transformational projects would save money.

Conservative group leader James Kerr said: "Who knows what will happen in the next five years?

"We're not through the end of the pandemic and we've still to face what it will look like after the furlough scheme stops."

Labour and Conservative groups' combined votes meant that the plan was rejected.

Mrs Meiklejohn said: "It feels as though opposition to the plan is for the sake of it - I haven't heard a single credible argument."

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