Budget protests u-turn

Tuesday February 12th 2019

Midlothian Council cuts demostration

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Schoolchildren and residents took to the streets to take part in noisy protests outside Midlothian Council’s headquarters as plans to cut music tuition were under debate.

Elected councillors were persuaded to reject plans to cut instrumental music lessons from their schools during a budget debate which also saw plans to close libraries and leisure centres, and withdraw school crossing patrols rejected.

However, plans to close schools, including a review of all the county’s current Roman Catholic school provision, remained in the budget for the year ahead.

Council tax will be increased by the maximum allowed next year of 4.79 per cent which, along with additional Scottish Government funding, reduced a local authority funding gap of more than £11million to £9.739million.

The protests outside the council’s Dalkeith headquarter were sparked after a list of proposed cuts was released to the public two weeks ahead of the meeting.

Barriers had to be put up after hundreds of youngsters turned up alongside teachers and families to make their case.

As well as scrapping musical instrument tuition, council officials drew up a list of cuts to public services which would take them down to the bare bones.

At the budget meeting, which was held as protestors made their views known, council leader Derek Milligan put forward amendments to the list of cuts on behalf of the Labour administration.

And he paid tribute to the young protestors standing outside.

He said: “I want to acknowledge the strength of feeling which has been shared in recent weeks and indeed outside today where many of our young people have taken the time to come along and tell us how they feel about the services Midlothian Council provide.

“It is our job as a council to listen and to react in a way that people see hope.”

Councillor Kelly Parry, SNP opposition leader, said her own children were among those taking part in the protest outside the chambers, adding it was “quite a predicament to be in to be inside this chamber while your family is outside”.

She criticised the council leader for what she called his “list of doom” in reference to the original plans which were released, telling him: “You did not need to go out and put fear and alarm into our communities to make them turn up in their masses, playing politics with our children’s future and hopes.”

However, Mr Milligan warned that the decision not to push ahead with some of the proposed cuts was just delaying the inevitable unless more Scottish Government funding was given to local authorities.

He said of revised funding from the Scottish Government to Midlothian Council: “It is still well short of the funding we require to protect services and cope with growth.

“While the movement does allow us to avoid some of the measures that would have most negative impact on our communities, it must be understood this is simply avoiding these cuts for another year should the Scottish Government fail to carry out an independent review of method used to distribute funding to local government.”

Cuts to the council’s instrumental music tuition and creative arts service will not go ahead. The closure of three libraries and three sports centres was also rejected, along with closing public toilets, closing Penicuik recycling centre, closing Buccleuch bowling green, reducing roads maintenance and removing supported bus travel and community transport. Free swimming lessons for Primary 4 pupils will continue and the council’s Active Schools team will be retained. Reductions in learning assistants, adult and youth lifelong learning, and school crossing guides have also been rejected and funding for the Midlothian community policing team will continue.

To balance its budget for 2019/20, the council has approved a series of other savings measures and utilised the additional Scottish Government funding announced on 31 January. The Council Tax rise of 4.79% has also been approved which will take effect from April, resulting in a Band D tax of £1,344.

Savings and other measures to increase income which have been agreed include reductions in senior management, closing Vogrie golf course, reducing grass cutting and shrub bed maintenance, reducing cleaning in non-school buildings, stopping the taxi card scheme, increasing car parking charges, reducing the budget for school transport, and ending funding for the community safety and healthy lifestyle development teams.

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