Falkirk school hours could be cut and jobs lost in leaked report

Reducing the school week in Falkirk by 2.5 hours could be back on the table as councillors consider their options for massive cuts to services in a bid to save £29 million this year.
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A leaked report from the council’s budget working group shows that is just one of many possible cuts councillors will have to consider seriously as they set out the district’s budget, with the closure of local libraries, cutting school services and shutting council-owned sports arenas also suggested.

The confidential report reveals that shortening the school week across the district would save the council a total of £1,637,000 every year – but would also mean a loss of 47 full-time equivalent jobs.

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Other drastic options include Falkirk Town Hall closing for good and its programme of professional events ending – potentially saving over £500,000 annually.

Cutting school hours could be back on the agendaCutting school hours could be back on the agenda
Cutting school hours could be back on the agenda

Services have already pledged to make substantial savings for the year ahead – but no increase in grant from Scottish Government combined with soaring costs for things such as pay means that a second wave of cuts has now been requested.

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Children’s Services – which is by far the council’s largest service – is being asked to look for savings of around £8 million in the year ahead.

As well as the overall option to cut school hours from 25 to 22.5, there is also a suggestion that reducing senior pupils from 32 to 30 periods a week, would save £910,000, with a loss of 26 members of staff.

School house could be cut across Falkirk according to a leaked reportSchool house could be cut across Falkirk according to a leaked report
School house could be cut across Falkirk according to a leaked report
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Cutting home-to-school transport for secondary pupils would save the council £275,000 a year.

Outwith education, the pest control service – previously cut and then restored – is once again highlighted to cost £100,000 every year.

The council says these are just ‘options’ and no final decisions will be taken until the final budget meeting in March.

But the fact that the local authority desperately needs to save £29 million next year in order to balance its books means councillors have already been warned several times that they will need to make “difficult decisions”.

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And this report makes very clear just how hard those choices will be.

Falkirk Community Trust services – which will be under full council control by April – offers several targets: removing financial support from Muiravonside Country Park and Farm would save £111,000 every year; closing the Bo’ness Hippodrome would save £100,000.

Closing four of the district’s libraries could save over a million pounds annually, although services could move into other buildings.

Closing Bo’ness Recreation Centre would save £555,000 annually, while closing Grangemouth Athletics Stadium would save £270,000.

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The list is extensive and by no means all of these options will be chosen.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that some of these closures would inevitably take several months, reducing the savings that would be achieved this year.

There are also political considerations – Falkirk Council previously mooted cutting the school week, which led to such an outcry the plans were soon abandoned.

And with elections in May, no councillor will want to make such an unpopular choices.

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There is also a long-standing commitment not to use compulsory redundancies which councillors of all parties would want to maintain.

But after a bruising report from the Accounts Commission, which criticised them for using reserves rather than make difficult decisions, they don’t have much room for manoeuvre.

The report, by Chief Finance Officer Bryan Smail, states: “The funding position has been reducing annually while our cost base increases so the ability to identify areas to save has become increasingly difficult.

“We recognise this offers members difficult choices but there are no alternatives to balance our budget.”

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A spokesperson for Falkirk Council said: “As part of the budget preparations, many different financial options are put forward for discussion with elected members of all parties.

“These allow elected members to see the impact of certain decisions could be if adopted and approved.

“This can include the setting of Council Tax as well as potential alteration to our services.

“No decisions on any proposals are taken until the meeting of all elected members at a meeting of the Council on March 2 where a full debate will take place.”

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Yesterday, it was announced that Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes would give Scotland’s councils a £120 million boost, after all 32 council leaders appealed for a bigger settlement.

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