Council cuts fightback is underway

Tracey Rapson and her daughter Amelie (11) of Bonnyrigg. Tracey has set up a petition against music tuition cuts proposed by Midlothian Council. Amelie currently receives free clarinet tuition.
Tracey Rapson and her daughter Amelie (11) of Bonnyrigg. Tracey has set up a petition against music tuition cuts proposed by Midlothian Council. Amelie currently receives free clarinet tuition.

Three petitions have been set-up opposed to specific elements of the proposed Midlothian Council cuts recently put out for consultation.

The wide-ranging proposals announced two weeks ago are aimed at bridging an anticipated budget gap of £13.5 million next year, rising to £45m by 2021/22, with a public consultation to be carried out before councillors finalise the budget early in 2018.

Petitions against three of the proposals – the end of free music tuition, plans to close all but one of Midlothian’s libraries, and cuts to public services – have quickly found major support online.

Council leader Derek Milligan(Lab) blamed the proposals on the Scottish Government’s cut to council grants, and he urged local people to engage in the consultation.

Tracey Rapson of the Midlothian Community Concert Band started the petition ‘Say NO To The Proposed Budget Cut of Our Midlothian Schools Music Tuition Service!’

She said: “The petition all happened very quickly, I got 1,119 signatures in a matter of days which is amazing.

“I set it up as music is really important in my family. I played an instrument at school when I was little and I can see how important that is.

“I have got a 19-year-old son who started an instrument in primary school then suffered a mental illness, and if it hadn’t been for learning percussion as part of the high school band then he would have just dropped out of school, it was the only thing that kept him going.

“I know we have got cuts coming and I know it’s only a proposal at this stage but I want the council to seriously resist this cut.”

Although she admitted she would pay the fees for her daughter Amelie, Tracey believes this cut would discriminate against children from a poorer background. She added: “It’s a totally divisive system and so short-sighted. Statistics have shown that learning an instrument helps you academically as well.

“I strongly believe education should be free for all and that includes the arts.”

The work to identify council savings is likely to see a radical overhaul of some services, resulting in staffing cuts, increased charges and reduced service provision.

As well as opposition to the end of free music tuition, a petition has been set-up by UNISONto fight cuts to public services, which they say could see ten per cent of the council’s workforce lose their jobs.

Grace Chalmers, UNISON Midlothian branch secretary said: “If the proposed cuts are accepted this will have huge detrimental effect for services provided by the council. The local economy depends on a healthy public sector as council workers spend most of their money in their local communities.”

While, Laura Cockram’s ‘Save Midlothian Libraries’ petition was set-up to protect “one of the most precious resources in our community.”

Midlothian Council leader, Councillor Derek Milligan (Lab) said: “We appreciate the concerns people will have about these proposals and the much wider impact the Scottish Government’s funding cuts will have on these vital local services.

“As well as asking residents and community groups to take part in the budget consultation, I would urge them to support the case I will be making to Finance Minister Derek Mackay to stop the cuts to council budgets and to make more money available for the services we so badly need.

“The Scottish Government’s demands for housing growth in Midlothian are inevitably putting a huge strain on our services and the impact of continuing funding cuts will be devastating for our communities.”

Search ‘Tracey Rapson’ for the music cuts petition and ‘Laura Cockram’ for the libraries petition here.

For Unison’s petition click here.