Falkirk Council’s executive has agreed a plan that aims to shake-up the council and how it delivers its services in a bid to save £76m over the next five years and maintain vital services in the face of ever deeper cuts.
The five-year business plan put forward by chief executive Kenneth Lawrie was dubbed ‘Orwellian doublespeak’ by Labour councillors – but council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said it was the only way to protect and continue to deliver a broad range of services.
She said: “It’s clear that the financial climate we’re in isn’t going to get much easier. There won’t be more money around but there will be more demands on public sector in general.”
Presenting his vision for the future, Mr Lawrie told councillors it will involve “spending to save”, with the council investing in digital technology to make more council services available online, while staff numbers will be cut by 385.
It also aims to involve communities more to do tasks previously done by the council; and wants to become more ‘entrepreneurial’ to generate income.
“The idea is that if we take a long term view we can create a more sustainable programme and we can move away from an annual process of ‘salami slicing’ where we need to cut and reduce services,” council leader Cecil Meiklejohn told members of the executive committee.
“We need to take a planned approach to operating within resources or we risk critical services becoming unsustainable.”
The Labour group, however, refused to support the plan, which will involve cutting Falkirk Council’s workforce by 385, dubbing it “another austerity budget carefully crafted into the five year plan”.
At the meeting, Labour councillor Joan Coombes said: “This is a post-truth plan – an Orwellian nightmare – where enabling communities equals ‘do it yourself’; transformation enablers means spend more money to cut quicker; digital services means de-humanised, impersonal contact and entrepreneurial means charge as much as you can get away with!
“This is doublespeak at its best! The plan does not provide what our residents need or want!”
Labour group leader Robert Bissett, said: “It is clear the SNP are failing Falkirk by taking Tory cuts and quadrupling them on to councils. This is a political choice to harm local government and the most vulnerable; it is not a political necessity.”
The Labour group was also unhappy at what they saw as a major change in the council’s practices being taken to the executive rather than a full meeting of Falkirk Council.
Their bid to present the plan to a full council meeting in June was defeated by eight votes to four.
Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “What executive members were being asked to agree a direction of travel allowing work to continue on developing the business cases of a suite of transformational projects that will help to bridge the councils financial gap over the coming years. At the point at which financial decisions require to be taken, this will be brought before the full council for members to decide .
“Audit Scotland in their report on Falkirk Council last year highlighted our transformation programme in meeting our medium term financial planning lacked progress and pace, without which we would not be able to bridge out budget anticipated gap, nor be in a position to invest in services. Falkirk Council is lagging behind other local authorities in developing a five year plan, this is as a result of lack of acknowledgment on the changing financial climate by the previous Labour led administration.
“What we have clearly had is an attempt to thwart progress and outright politicking, at a time when we know that pace of change is required in order to plan for the Council’s future financial stability and retain services particularly for our most vulnerable people, demonstrating a lack of maturity and responsibility by Labour members.”