The SNP administration of Falkirk Council was successful in pushing through its budget proposals for the year ahead at a meeting which was initially drowned out by anti-cuts protestors.
Loud music and chanting by Falkirk People’s Assembly and local trade union branches, unhappy with how the council plans to bridge a £17 million budget gap, brought a halt to proceedings just 20 minutes into yesterday’s (Wednesday) meeting.
Provost Billy Buchanan had to ask for music being played outside to be turned down almost as soon as things got under way. With speakers regularly being interrupted, Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn soon intervened and stopped the meeting until there was quiet.
She said: “I fully support the right to protest and understand their right to do so.
“However, it would’ve been helpful if they joined us in the gallery to listen to the debate and it’s disappointing they haven’t but that’s where we are.”
Once all the volume died down, the administration was able to have its 2019/20 budget proposals, which include a three per cent rise in council tax, passed as the Conservative group eventually ditched its call for special waste uplift arrangements — predicted to save £300,000 — to be spared to sway the vote, following a number of amendments made by Labour, which suggested a 4.5 per cent tax hike.
The council tax rise will mean Band D payers will face a £34 annual increase, contributing £1169 in total.
The SNP also opted not to follow the suit of other councils by introducing car parking charges for staff or a levy for tourists to the region, citing the need to inspire more people to the area.
To try to close the gap, Falkirk Council — allocated £272.44 million from the Scottish Government for the next financial year — will reduce children’s services by £3.89 million, corporate and housing services by £3.12 million and development services by £2.45 million, which includes making brown bin collections monthly rather than fortnightly, estimated to save £166,000.
Just over 130 full-time equivalent jobs will be lost as part of the council’s savings plan, however, 90 new positions will be created within education.
Falkirk People’s Assembly had made its feelings heard prior to the meeting beginning, and during, as members feel the cuts are unnecessary and will harm people across the community, from children to the elderly.
However, the administration is confident its proposals are fair.
One key aspect of the council’s plans is modernisation, something the administration believes its Council of the Future initiative can help it to achieve.
Mrs Meiklejohn said: “This has been a challenging budget this year but we feel we have managed to produce a balanced budget.
“Service users will not see a significant change in the services provided.
“In the main we all want the same and that should bring us together to work collectively to create a fair and balanced budget for the people of Falkirk.
“Looking to the future we need to retain a broad range of services we deliver. We can’t keep top slicing them, therefore we need to look at ways of providing alternative services, making them more accessible and fit for purpose.
“The Council of the Future programme delivered £5 million to this year’s budget gap. It’s proposed to invest £1 million to support the transformation programme and is estimated to produce £9 million of efficiencies for 2020/21.”
Other major ways the council plans to save cash include reducing street cleansing (£200,000), cutting down on vacant posts within design, roads and transport (£250,000), removing grounds maintenance nursery provision (£120,000) and reducing loans fund capital charges (£700,000).