Falkirk Council: Warning more changes needed or face face cuts and closures
Falkirk councillors have been given a stark warning that more change must happen quickly if they want to avoid more service cuts and even closures.
The council is facing a budget gap next year of £18 million – and that could well increase, particularly if council staff get the pay increase their unions are currently pressing hard to get.
Senior managers told councillors that the Council of the Future (COTF) programme – projects that save cash by transforming how services are delivered – was absolutely vital to addressing the crisis.
Stuart Ritchie, director of corporate services, warned councillors that speeding up and expanding the COTF programme was vital.
He said: “There are still savings that need to be found and I think we’d all agree that its best to deliver these savings by transformation, rather than budget cuts.”
Each year, before the council sets its budget, officers come up with a ‘menu’ of suggested savings that councillors have the task of choosing from.
But Mr Ritchie warned councillors that there would be no easy choices this year.
He said: “We don’t have enough savings options on the table, be that transformation or budget cuts, to plug the gaps that are forecast over the next five years or so.”
“So there is a significant piece of work for us to come up with projects that are, whatever shape they are but, ideally, transformational in nature.”
He reminded councillors of the budget meeting earlier in the year and said that a number of suggested savings had not been taken up by members for political reasons.
“We could have been doing more if elected members had taken different decisions,” he said.
Last year, COTF programmes had a budget of £1 million to invest in such things as digital technology that would ultimately help cut costs and improve efficiency.
But during an audit of Falkirk Council this year, the auditors, PWC, had been critical of the lack of clear information on how exactly the programmes were saving money in the long-term.
Mr Ritchie told councillors they had now taken that advice on board and developed a new system of reporting that made it very clear what stage each of the projects was at.
Chief executive Kenneth Lawrie agreed that it was “critical” to pick up the pace of change and he said the work done he felt that the work done with the auditors was proving to be “a real turning point”.
“We have made progress but we need to do more and when we see the budget gaps going forward, we can see the criticality of this work,” he said.
“But I think the work with PWC feels like a real turning point in terms of delivery and robustness and consistency and we need to build on that to make the transformation programme work.”
However, he added: “The auditors will pick up on the fact that we haven’t taken up all the savings from Council of the Future and we still have a long way to go.”