Midlothian Council set its budget on Tuesday, making cuts to services and increases to charges as it continues, like all local authorities, to struggle to balance the books.
The council has managed to find the £10 million savings it had to make this year. While a cross party working group is to be set-up to carry out a “fundamental review” of the services it provides.
The council tax has been risen by the maximum three per cent allowed by the Scottish Government. With Band D Council Tax set at £1,283 for 2018/19.
Speaking to the Advertiser ahead of Tuesday’s council meeting, council leader Derek Milligan said: “We have listened to everybody and put forward what we think will have the least detrimental impact on our communities. Trying to cut £10m out of a budget is extremely difficult and means you can’t do what you want to do to benefit Midlothian.”
As part of the budget decided when Labour’s proposals were backed by the Conservatives, the council will transfer all halls and pavilions to community groups. And the council will no longer run Polton Bowling Club in a bid to save £20,000 a year, with the possibility of community ownership proposed there also.
Additional income streams in the budget include a charge for commercial waste at Stobhill to bring in £35,000 in the next financial year, advertising on council refuse vehicles to raise £15,000 a year, and a 10p per day increase in school meal charges to raise an additional £160,000 in the next four years.
This year’s budget sees additional income from increased fees and charges of £142,000 rising to £254,000 a year by 2021/22. And council reserves are now up from £2m to just under £4m.
Other savings include
- A reduction of janitorial staff in half from 22 to 11 to save £225,000 a year.
- Closing five football pitches - at Easthouses Public Park, Gore Glen, Birkenside Park, Alderbank, Penicuik and Rosewell Park to save £50,000 a year, and consider the introduction of hybrid pitches.
- Ending maintenance of all public CCTV to save £30,000 a year.
- Reduction in lifeguard cover at council pools to save £100,000 a year.
- The introduction and increase of parking charges to raise an extra £50,000 a year.
- Remove regular car allowance for council staff to save £50,000 in 2018/19 and £315,000 in total.
- Ending the council’s car lease scheme to employees, saving £25,000 this year and £150,000 in total.
While the overall savings package will result in the loss of over 217 posts across the council the increase in early years provision and care will also see new posts created. £200,000 has been earmarked to support displaced staff to help them transfer into jobs in these areas of growing demand. Planned reviews of the council’s management structure will also achieve savings of £360,000 and the redesign of some support services will save £1 million over the next four years.
The controversial introduction of charges for music tuition will go ahead, though at half the price proposed by officers. With schools to meet the cost of music tuition fees for SQA candidates in S4 to S6.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting SNP group leader Kelly Parry said: “An increase in the price of school meals and music tuition is wholly unacceptable. Trying to balance the books on the backs of our children.”
However, the Labour administration refused to accept some of the officers’ recommendations, including the proposed abolition of the Welfare Rights service. With officers now asked to bring forward a report about improving access to Welfare Rights Services in Midlothian,
The also turned down the proposal to delete the post of Newtongrange Community Learning Centre Manager while discussions are taking place within the local community regarding the redevelopment of the village centre.
The council’s pest control service has been saved, as well as and the primary school swimming programme.
Labour’s proposals also retained the two council anti-social behaviour posts and saved Penicuik Recycling Centre. The removal of non-statutory school crossing patrols was also scrapped.
Meanwhile, the cross council service review programme will be overseen by a three member cross party working group. Cllr Milligan said: “We cannot continue to do budgets like this, given the financial challenges we face.
“This may mean that we have to take decisions, in conjunction with local communities, that results in us stopping the delivery of some services completely.
“It has to mean that the services we continue to deliver, are provided as efficiently and effectively as possible. What we do, we need to do well.
“It isn’t easy, there is always going to be losers when you have such a sizeable deficit to make up.
“But we can’t get to the budget every year and have staff not knowing if they have a job or not.”
While Conservative group leader Pauline Winchester said: “We hope next year the councillors will all get together and help towards making Midlothian a better place to live and a more stable council.”