The Church of Scotland is calling on Midlothian Council to step back from making cuts it says will hit the poor and the elderly the most.
In a written response to the council’s consultation addressing Midlothian Council’s Financial Challenge to 2021/22, the Presbytery of Lothian asked the council to look again at those proposed cuts that it believes would limit the health and education opportunities for disadvantaged young people, impact the quality of housing enjoyed by council tenants, lead to more homelessness, and impose greater limits on older people.
The church has also written to Midlothian’s MP and MSPs asking each “to do all in your power” to put pressure on those responsible for allocating finance to local authorities.
The letter on behalf of the Presbytery of Lothian, which brings together all Church of Scotland congregations across Midlothian and East Lothian, is signed by Moderator of the Presbytery, Rev. David D Scott, and Presbytery Clerk, John McCulloch.
The decision to write to Midlothian Council was taken after Presbytery received a report from its church and society committee.
Committee Convener, Rev Sandy Horsburgh, said: “Midlothian Council simply shouldn’t have been placed in the situation of having to consider cuts of this scale. The county is experiencing particular pressures from the rapid increase in its population.
“It seems unjust that so many jobs are projected to be lost and so many vital services cut in an area which should be seeing greater investment in order to meet real needs.
“Our hearts go out to the people who fear for their jobs and livelihoods, and also those bearing the heavy responsibility of making decisions to deal with a problem they didn’t create.
“The Presbytery and its congregations in Midlothian offer our renewed commitment to prayer for all those who work in Midlothian Council, our appreciation for the unstinting service offered to the community by the council, and a commitment to work in partnership with the council in whatever ways are possible.”
John McCulloch believes saving money by moving more services online will hit some groups disproportionately.
He explained: “While there is a clear benefit in terms of cost and convenience of moving more council services online, those predominantly older people – without the skills and computer equipment necessary – and those without an adequate broadband connection, because they live in a rural community, will be left behind.
“At the same time, everyone’s safety could be compromised if proposals to reduce regular maintenance of roads, cutting back on winter gritting, ceasing open space CCTV maintenance activity and potentially reducing street lighting are taken forward.”
In its submission and its letters to politicians, the Presbytery commended Midlothian Council for the open consultation process it has initiated.
And it has encouraged congregations and church members to attend meetings and submit their own responses.
The presbytery offers to explore whether congregations might take over some of the maintenance of church yards.
And it says it supports those proposals that will raise additional funds from those who can afford to pay.
Midlothian Council Leader, Councillor Derek Milligan (Labour), commented: “Many thanks for all the help, support and understanding of our local churches and religious groups, many of whom sent representatives to our budget engagement meetings.
“We are aware that these cuts have the potential to have the most impact on our most vulnerable residents.
“All we can do at this time is to assure local churches and communities that we are working hard to protect those people as much as we possibly can.
“We look forward to continuing to consult with church groups over the coming months and years.
“I would like to thank the churches for helping pressure the Scottish Government for adequate funding for council services.”