Services spared the axe but cuts bite

SCHOOLS, sports centres and libraries were all saved from the axe as Falkirk Council prepared its budget for next year.

But services will face changes as the local authority attempts to balance its books against a backdrop of reduced funding was the warning for residents.

A £1.3 billion drop in cash given to the Scottish Government from Westminster has seen the first fall in councils’ grant settlements since the unitary authorities were set up 15 years ago.

Putting forward the Labour-led administration’s budget proposals, Councillor Craig Martin said: “The second decade of devolved Government in Scotland is going to be radically different from the first. We have reached a political turning point. The money supply tap has been turned off.”

The council leader said there was a cut of £2.3 million with no increased funding for education, social care or policing, despite all Scotland’s authorities having to sign up to a commitment to keep class sizes down, employ more probationer teachers and maintain police officer numbers or face an even larger cut in cash.

A freeze on council tax is also maintained, stopping extra funding being raised through this method.

At Wednesday’s meeting of Falkirk Council, Mr Martin vowed there would be no closure of any council facilities, despite the need to make £8.5 million of savings due to the funding cut and the need to find an extra £6.2 million to deliver services next year because of spiralling costs.

He outlined the way ahead in a 25-minute speech, highlighting key areas where the council would exercise prudence during 2011-12. Efficiencies in the council’s middle management would be explored, along with a continuation in its voluntary severance scheme and a review of staff terms and conditions, while fees and charges for services would be reviewed – although he gave a commitment these would be kept to a minimum.

The funding for external organisations would be cut by £200,000 but this would be on a sliding scale with priority given to groups who work with the vulnerable, including Citizens Advice Bureaux

An additional £500,000 is earmarked for roads and winter maintenance with an emphasis on purchasing snow clearing equipment.

A proposal to reduce library opening hours was not a “closed book”, according to the council leader. The initial plan to cut these from 54 to 45 hours included a blanket closure on Saturday afternoons, but Mr Martin asked officials to look again at this. He added the social work budget will be increased by £3.6 million to continue providing support for the most needy.