Budget approved

Tuesday February 13th 2018

Midlothian Council has approved its budget for 2018/19 which provides for spending on services of £201.5 million. In approving the budget, the council rejected a number of the savings proposals put forward by council officers as part of a package of measures to meet a growing budget shortfall.

Along with plans to generate additional income, increase charges and transform the way services operate, the approved savings mean that the council has balanced its budget for the coming financial year, addressing a £10.43 million shortfall.

At a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (February 13), councillors also agreed to increase council tax by 3 per cent from 1 April 2018, raising the Band D equivalent tax from £1,246 to £1,283 a year.

Following a public consultation held between mid-October and mid-December 2017, a number of savings proposals originally put forward by council officials were either rejected or amended by councillors at the budget meeting.

A proposal to close branch libraries and withdraw the mobile library service will not go ahead. A proposed £200,000 saving in the service has been reduced to £50,000 on the basis that no libraries will close as a result.

Councillors have rejected a proposal to remove the non-statutory school crossings service. A specific proposed increase in letting charges for after school clubs has also been rejected, although they will be subject to the basic increase in hire rates which will apply to everyone hiring facilities.

A proposed reduction in the education budget has been reduced by £97,000 which will allow lifelong learning staff who support young people moving into employment, training or further education to be retained.

There will be no budget reduction in early intervention and prevention in children’s services but a 10 per cent reduction in the budget for learning assistants in schools will see less staff recruited to support a growing population than had previously been planned. The cost of school meals is also set to increase.

A charge for instrumental music tuition in schools will be introduced but will be limited to 50% of the savings target originally set by council officials. Pupils in receipt of free school meals or benefits will be exempt and a second proposal to introduce instrumental tuition charges for those sitting SQA courses in S4 to S6 will not go ahead.

£4.620 million in adult social care savings planned for the next four years by rebalancing care expectations have also been rejected. Although a charge for housing support for under 65s will be introduced, the proposal to increase charges for telecare, which provides security for vulnerable households, will not go ahead.

There will be no reduction in the roads maintenance and winter maintenance budgets and proposed reductions in the amount of street sweeping and grass cutting that the local authority carries out have also been rejected.

The council also voted against proceeding with a plan to extend the frequency of bin collections from two to every three weeks and has rejected the proposal to close Penicuik recycling centre. There will be no charge to the public for providing replacement bins and recycling boxes, although developers of new estates will be charged for the initial bins and boxes provided by the council. A charge for commercial waste will also be introduced at the Stobhill recycling site.

Council support for gala days and events will continue and there will be no reduction in the large and small community grants budget for voluntary organisations. The council has also rejected proposals to make savings by stopping supported bus grants, reducing community transport, reducing the ‘ring and go’ scheme and ending the taxi card scheme.

A review of the concessionary charging policy for leisure centres, aimed at saving £100,000, has been approved.

The 68 grass football and astro pitches across Midlothian will be reduced by around 10, with consideration given to the introduction of hybrid pitches which use a combination of natural and artificial grass. The number of floral displays and shrub beds will also be reduced, bringing about a saving of £65,000 next financial year.

A proposal to save £430,000 by withdrawing the council’s community safety service has been rejected in favour of making a reduced saving of £300,000 with the retention of two part-time and two full-time posts.

The proposed transfer of welfare rights and advice services has also been rejected and instead, council officers have been asked to bring forward proposals to improve access to welfare rights services in Midlothian.

Two planning officers posts which were to have been lost as part of the savings will now be retained, with costs to be met from developer contributions. The council’s pest control service will also be maintained, with an increase in charges meeting the cost of the part-time post which had been proposed to go as part of the savings proposals.

The post of community learning centre manager at Newtongrange will also be retained, pending the outcome of discussions within the local community on the redevelopment of the village centre.

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.

Over the same period, the council plans to carry out a fundamental review of the services it provides and the way in which it provides them, recognising the ongoing financial challenge.

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