Row over Falkirk Council’s public consultation on spending

SNP's Cecil Meiklejohn and Labour's Joan Coombes
SNP's Cecil Meiklejohn and Labour's Joan Coombes

A council consultation on the future of Falkirk’s leisure services is no more than “a box-ticking exercise”,  a Labour councillor has said, branding it “a waste of time and money”.

Joan Coombes is furious at the online consultation which asks people how they feel about some council buildings closing to save cash – without telling them which ones are under threat or what they’ll be replaced with.

She and members of the Labour Party local campaign forum believe the questions are so general that the answers will be meaningless – and they should be looking at which buildings will be closing and who will be most affected by their closure.

Many of the buildings threatened with closure are run by Falkirk Community Trust – which operates the council’s leisure facilities – including sports centres, community halls and libraries.

The consultation was announced after Falkirk Council told the Trust it would be halving its annual contribution to £5 million, forcing the Trust to look at ways to reduce costs and increase prices.

The leading SNP Group says closing older buildings and using the cash saved to upgrade other facilities will allow them to invest £50 million in the district’s sport and leisure facilities.

However, at a meeting in June, Labour and the Conservative groups refused to back the SNPs proposals, saying that communities who would be most affected had not been consulted.

Now Councillor Coombes, who represents Kinnaird, Carse and Tryst, says the consultation is so vague the answers will be meaningless.

She said: “To call this a survey is an insult to the people of the Falkirk area. It will be an embarrassment if this goes out in the council’s name. It’s designed, not to let the public have their say but to get people give the answers that the SNP want to hear.”

“Look at question number five: ‘I would be prepared to travel further to use improved leisure and recreational facilities’.

“How can you answer that without knowing how far or what improvements – a new coat of paint perhaps? Every answer you want to give comes with further questions about what you actually mean.

“This exercise is a waste of time and money.”

However, Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, says Ms Coombes is  “peddling misinformation and spin” and backing the SNPs proposals would have allowed more meaningful consultation.

Now, the SNP is encouraging everyone across the district to take part in the consultation.

She said: “Investment has been, sadly, lacking in many areas across our council, the extent of which has only been uncovered since taking over from the Labour/Tory coalition in 2017.

“This consultation, while not the SNP’s vision for Community Trust services, provides an opportunity for the public to have their say on what they want for services in our communities.

“It is unfortunate that this consultation will not provide the detailed information we would have liked, due to the limits placed on it by the Labour and Tory opposition. I would encourage as many of those who are able to engage with the consultation, and tell us what investment they would like made in leisure facilities in the area.”