Council makes savings to help meet budget shortfall in 2017/18
Midlothian Council has approved a series of saving proposals aimed at meeting a projected £12.9 million shortfall in its budget next year.
The decision follows the announcement by the Scottish Government last week on its funding settlement for local councils for 2017/18, which will see Midlothian Council receive grant funding of £148.555 million. This includes a £2.240 million share of the Attainment Scotland Fund, for schools. The Midlothian Integration Joint Board will also receive an additional £1.5 million to help meet social care cost pressures. However council officials estimate that core revenue funding from Government for other services will be £4.3 million less than last year.
At a full meeting of Midlothian Council held on Tuesday (December 20), council officials brought forward a new programme of savings for consideration by councillors. Although a number of the proposals were rejected, savings measures totalling £4.5 million in 2017/18 will be implemented in the next financial year.
Fees and charges
The proposals include increases for a range of existing fees and charges as well as proposals for a number of new ones. It is estimated that these will generate an additional £100,000 in 2017/18.
Councillors voted against proposals to charge for instrumental music tuition in schools with funding for this expected to be directed from the recently announced Attainment Scotland Fund. They also rejected a proposal to increase the walking distance to schools from 2 miles to 3 and to increase school meals charges by 15p a day, opting instead for a 10p increase. Primary 7 children making their transition to high school will also continue to receive free meals during their visits to their new schools.
A proposal to save £100,000 by closing Penicuik recycling facility was also rejected as was the option of ending the ‘ring and go’ taxi service which provides a transport link to disabled and elderly people and those living in more remote communities.
More for community safety
A proposed cut of £30,000 in the community safety budget was also rejected. Instead the council agreed to invest a further £30,000 in community safety initiatives.
A review of public toilet provision aimed at saving £100,000 was also rejected in favour of a lesser, £60,000 savings target.
The council also agreed to bring forward renewable energy proposals as part of its business transformation programme.
Although the proposals presented by officials are predicated on a 3% increase in council tax in 2017/18, any decisions on a council tax rise, or the use of reserves to balance the budget, will be taken by councillors when they meet to set the council’s budget on 7 February 2017.
Among the areas where the council has agreed to review spending are: grass cutting, the provision of hanging baskets, planters and flower beds, and the garden assistance programme. The number of football pitches in the area will also be reviewed, along with Christmas light funding, and the council’s contribution to Pentland Hills Regional Park. The future of Vogrie Golf Course will also come under review.
Sport and leisure charges will increase by 10% next year, and a reduction in opening hours at leisure centres, at times when the number of users is low, will also be explored.
Midlothian council leader, councillor Cath Johnstone, commented:
“Faced with the need to make these budget savings, we have focused our efforts on ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities are protected. I am delighted that there will be additional funding for our schools and for health and social care, and that we will continue to invest in initiatives to keep our communities safe.
“Sound financial management means we are better placed than many councils to meet the demands being placed on us, and we are working hard to transform our services to make sure we can continue to provide the local services that people depend on.”