Tory proposals to save money rejected

Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester
Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester

Conservative proposals to save the council more than £100,000 a year by ending membership of national bodies have been rejected.

The party had called for Midlothian Council to withdraw from membership of COSLA to save £64,945 a year, leave the South East Scotland Transport (SEStran) project saving £10,645 a year and withdraw from the South East Scotland Development Plan (SESPLAN) to save £44,000 a year. But at last week’s full council meeting SNP and Labour councillors voted down the proposals.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester said: “We are trying to look at ways of saving frontline jobs and this was one area where we looked at things.

“Maybe it’s because we are a new group of councillors but we can’t see why the people of Midlothian would want to lose frontline jobs instead of paying to be members of these organisations. Most people probably don’t even know about these memberships.

“I don’t think they’re worth the money. I have attended a couple of COSLA and SES Plan meetings and so far I have not been able to work out what the benefits are.

“When we are having to make cuts of £14m over the next year, these little things all add up and this would be a saving year on year.

“We want to save frontline jobs. That’ where the people of Midlothian think their rates go, not to go to meetings.”

However the party’s proposals were heavily criticised by the SNP and Labour at the meeting. Council leader Derek Milligan (Lab) warned that the “£500,000 cost of leaving COSLA would blow out of proportion any savings we would make,” and he highlighted the benefit of “being at the top table” that membership brings.

SNP group leader Kelly Parry said COSLA is “incredibly important”, adding that the financial implications alone made her question “whether this motion is competent”.

And she was “quite aghast that members don’t value collective bargaining”.

She added: “To be leaving COSLA is absolute madness.”

Conservative councillor Peter Smaill defended the motion, citing four previous occasions when other councils had left COSLA. However his claim that “it would be much better if Midlothian was independent,” was met with laughter and applause in the chamber.

A COSLA Spokesman said: “Obviously we take issues like this seriously and would be happy to meet with any party in any council to show the positive benefits and the real value of COSLA membership.”