Coun­cil needs to make £5.2m cuts

Gala days and cross­ing pa­trols won’t face the chop

West Lothian Courier - - 11.10.2018 -

West Loth­ian Coun­cil is look­ing to iden­tify a fur­ther £ 5.2 mil­lion of sav­ings over the next four years.

But bosses have stressed that gala days, free break­fast clubs and school meals and cross­ing pa­trols will not face the chop.

A new re­port has re­vealed the coun­cil’s cur­rent fi­nan­cial po­si­tion, adding more sav­ings are nec­es­sary to fully bridge an es­ti­mated bud­get gap of £65.3 mil­lion over five years, with over £ 60.1 mil­lion of sav­ings pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied from 2018/19 to 2022/23.

The coun­cil is re­quired by law to set a bal­anced bud­get and £5.2 mil­lion of sav­ings are still to be agreed to com­pletely bal­ance the bud­get for the next four years.

The re­port, pre­sented to the coun­cil’s Part­ner­ship and Re­sources Pol­icy De­vel­op­ment and Scru­tiny Panel ( PDSP), looks at a num­ber of op­tions for po­ten­tial sav­ings.

Th­ese had been put for­ward by stake­hold­ers fol­low­ing the coun­cil’s largest ever con­sul­ta­tion, Trans­form­ing your Coun­cil, which saw lo­cal peo­ple and groups make sug­ges­tions on how the coun­cil could save money.

A pre­vi­ous meet­ing of the PDSP asked for the re­port to be pre­pared to al­low elected mem­bers to con­sider op­tions raised by the pub­lic.

Like all lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, West Loth­ian Coun­cil is fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant bud­get chal­lenges.

The money the coun­cil re­ceives from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment is sig­nif­i­cantly less than the amount needed to cover the ris­ing costs of de­liv­er­ing es­sen­tial ser­vices, such as those re­quired for the West Loth­ian’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of chil­dren and older peo­ple.

Leader of the coun­cil, Lawrence Fitz­patrick, said: “Thank you to all the res­i­dents, groups and coun­cil staff who took the time to be part in our largest ever con­sul­ta­tion, Trans­form­ing Your Coun­cil.

“We have lis­tened to all of the com­ments we have re­ceived. As an open, hon­est and ac­count­able coun­cil, it’s im­por­tant we con­sider any sug­ges­tions put for­ward by the pub­lic espe­cially in a trans­par­ent way through the com­mit­tee process of which this PDSP is just the first stage.

“Not ev­ery sug­ges­tion made can be taken for­ward, but it’s im­por­tant we con­sider as many as pos­si­ble be­fore elected mem­bers have to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions when the coun­cil’s 2019/20 bud­get is set.

“Panel mem­bers agreed on four key ar­eas for sav­ings that they did not wish of­fi­cers to take for­ward, which were: re­mov­ing break­fast club pro­vi­sion; means test­ing for free school meals for chil­dren at spe­cial schools; re­mov­ing school cross­ing pa­trols dur­ing lunchtimes; and re­view­ing fund­ing for gala days. Of­fi­cers have con­firmed that no fur­ther work will be done on th­ese sug­ges­tions.”

Coun­cil­lor Fitz­pat rick con­tin­ued: “It’s very chal­leng­ing to iden­tify fur­ther sav­ings in ad­di­tion to the £ 60.1 mil­lion a l ready agreed with­out im­pact­ing on ser­vices val­ued by lo­cal res­i­dents. The scale of fund­ing cuts passed to West Loth­ian Coun­cil from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment over the last ten years means that ma­jor changes to coun­cil ser­vices are un­avoid­able.

“A re­cent re­port by the coun­cil’s ex­ter­nal au­di­tors, Ernst and Young, praised the coun­cil’s strong fi­nan­cial man­age­ment and long-term ap­proach, so it’s vi­tal we con­tinue to plan ahead for the fu­ture, and set a bal­anced bud­get each year as per our le­gal obli­ga­tions.

“The scope for fur­ther sav­ings will also con­tinue to be de­vel­oped dur­ing 2019, with the aims of pro­tect­ing ser­vices for the most vul­ner­a­ble.”

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