Some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions have been forced on the coun­cil

Rutherglen Reformer - - Working For You -

Last week the Re­former re­ported on a pe­ti­tion which op­poses a plan to limit free bus travel to sec­ondary school to pupils who live three miles or more away, rather than the cur­rent two mile limit.

The re­port said “par­ents are un­happy about the changes”. You know what – so am I.

I to­tally un­der­stand why par­ents who have been used to their kids get­ting a free bus to school don’t want to see that taken away, and not just be­cause they’ll now have to or­gan­ise that travel them­selves, and some­times pay for it.

But I hope that those who signed the pe­ti­tion un­der­stand that this change is not some­thing that coun­cil­lors wanted to hap­pen. It is a change that we had lit­tle choice over, be­cause we are legally obliged to bal­ance our bud­gets but our fund­ing has been cut.

That’s been the case for a num­ber of years now and it has forced a num­ber of in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to be taken. I went into lo­cal pol­i­tics to make sure or­di­nary peo­ple were treated well, and I’ve done ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make sure key ser­vices have been pro­tected.

We can only do so much, how­ever. The bot­tom line is that the coun­cil’s in­come from Gov­ern­ment grant is fall­ing and coun­cil tax re­mains frozen, while at the same time de­mand for our ser­vices is in­creas­ing, in part be­cause of the age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

In the cur­rent year alone changes to the fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment made by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has re­duced the cash avail­able to us by £3.4 mil­lion.

That’s a huge gap to fill, es­pe­cially as the coun­cil is al­ready very ef­fi­ciently run, hav­ing made sav­ings of more than £70m in re­cent years.

That’s why the coun­cil has been forced to achieve fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings this year – and I hold that cut in grant di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the de­ci­sion to change the rules on free bus travel to school.

It has also forced us to make re­stric­tions in other ar­eas where peo­ple have be­come used to a cer­tain level of ser­vice, such as free hall lets for kids sports, longer li­brary open­ing hours, Christ­mas grants for el­derly groups, and big sub­si­dies in ar­eas like school meals and meals on wheels.

To be clear, the coun­cil is still sub­si­dis­ing a huge num­ber of ser­vices, but in some in­stances the sub­si­dies are now a bit less gen­er­ous.

Like I say, I’m not happy about any of it, but the cold fact is that we are be­ing given less money to de­liver our ser­vices, and so we have to make changes to make sure we can keep do­ing core du­ties like ed­u­cat­ing our kids in the best schools, pro­vid­ing top-class care for the el­derly, fix­ing the roads and emp­ty­ing the bins.

Of course users of af­fected ser­vices are dis­ap­pointed. They’ve been used to us go­ing way be­yond our statu­tory re­quire­ments to pro­vide some of the best ser­vices any­where in Scot­land, and where there’s been a charge it has been one of the low­est in the coun­try.

We’re still pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble ser­vices and keep­ing costs down, but the in­evitable im­pact of the cut in our fund­ing means some things have to give. And one of those is us mov­ing to the same statu­tory dis­tances for free school buses that ap­ply to the rest of the coun­try.

Even then, we will take a sen­si­ble ap­proach. That’s why we are con­sult­ing schools and par­ents on the bus changes, and why safety as­sess­ments are be­ing car­ried out on al­ter­na­tive jour­neys to school.

But I hope Re­former read­ers will un­der­stand that some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions have been forced on the coun­cil.

And if you don’t ap­prove of them, join me in telling the West­min­ster Gov­ern­ment to end its aus­ter­ity drive, and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment to pro­vide ap­pro­pri­ate fund­ing so coun­cils can de­liver the level of ser­vices our res­i­dents rightly de­mand.

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