Last-minute plea to stop Falkirk Community Trust coming back under council control

A last-minute plea to stop Falkirk Community Trust being taken back under council control will be made at a special meeting of Falkirk Council.

By Kirsty Paterson, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, 5:49 pm

Councillors are being urged to “show courage and leadership” by changing their minds, to avoid having to pay an extra £1.1 million in rates every year at a time when the council is facing a massive deficit.

The special meeting has been called by the Labour group leader, Robert Bissett, in response to another plea by three former board members of the Trust.

Well-known local historian Ian Scott – a former chairman of the Trust – hopes to address the meeting, with the support of fellow signatories Bob Tait and Alex McQuade.

Councillor Robert Bissett.

In a final letter, they beg councillors to reconsider the decision that will mean a loss of rates relief, as the Trust has charitable status which the council does not.

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The Community Trust is an arms-length organisation which manages a range of facilities including libraries, sports centres, gyms, museums and swimming pools on behalf the council.

But once it makes the final move to full council control, legislation means that decision cannot be reversed.

Historian Ian Scott

In an open letter the former directors say: “In about five weeks time Falkirk Community Trust will be no more and the people of Falkirk will be well over a million pounds poorer next year and every year thereafter.

“This would be completely unacceptable in normal times but today the Council is facing a huge deficit which can only mean cuts in services and higher charges.

“If there was ever an argument for terminating the Trust (and we certainly don’t think there was) then the changed circumstances we now face make it an utterly reckless decision.

“It should be reversed now while there is still time.

“We once again plead with Councillors of all parties to act quickly (and together) to stop and reverse the process in the interests of the future of our community.

“We know that it takes courage and leadership to reverse big decisions but in this situation it is absolutely vital.”

SNP and Conservative councillors, who voted to make the change, say that the move will mean better synergies between the Trust and council services.

But the Labour group has never supported the decision, arguing that the Trust has continued to close the subsidy gap every year since it was created in 2011.

Cllr Bissett believes the issue is so important he has asked for a special meeting of Falkirk Council.

It will be held on March 2 - just before the budget meeting, and will be live-streamed.

Eight councillors, including Provost Billy Buchanan, called for the meeting.

Recent pleas for the decision to be reversed have not met with success.

SNP Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “It is now almost exactly a year since the Council took the decision to bring the Trust services back into the Council.

“Since that time a huge amount of positive and constructive work has been undertaken by both Council and Trust staff to prepare for the transfer and discussions have been ongoing with Trust staff to welcome them.

“To reverse the decision at this late stage would mean that all of that work would be lost and would be hugely unsettling for the staff transferring.”

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