Libraries, Lollipops and Voluntary Grants look to be safe

Sunday February 11th 2018

Midlothian Council Fairfield House Main

The Labour leadership of Midlothian Council have submitted detailed budget proposals ahead of Tuesday’s full council meeting, which if accepted by the other councillors, would see Libraries, Lollipop men and women, Vountary Sector grants and many other ares spared the budget cuts previously threatened.

Amongst a list of proposals, it is proposed to limit the introduction of the music tuition charge to 50% of the amount previously proposed and that the council, rather than parents/carers, will meet the cost of music tuition fees for SQA candidates in S4 to S6.

Midlothian Council needs to set a balanced budget for the financial year starting in April 2018 which deals with the current budget shortfall of £10m.

Derek Milligan, the Leader of the council, told Midlothian View that they have listened to the public’s feedback given in the budget consultation meetings and read the letters and emails they have received and have therefore presented their detailed proposal to the Council meeting on Tuesday.

Councillor Milligan also said:

“The council cannot continue to do budgets like this, being reactive to the annual budget process. We intend to start a continuous bottom-up / cross council service review programme. This programme will be overseen by a three member cross party working group, in addition to the Council Leader, and recommendations from that group will be reported directly to Council.”

The Council meeting takes place on Tuesday at 10:00 and you can either watch live or on catch-up later HERE. Given the importance of this particular budget to Midlothian residents it is recommended to watch.

 

Here are the Labour Group budget proposals in full.

Midlothian Council Labour Group Budget Proposals.

Introduction

When Labour formed the Administration of Midlothian Council in May last year we inherited a budget that already had a planned overspend of £4m. Within days we discovered that a £2.5m overspend had been incurred in 2016/17 and that there was a projected unplanned overspend for the current year of another £2.3 million. This meant the Council was on track to spend £6.3m more than it was taking in in this current year.

Substantial efforts have been made to bring the additional overspends in the current year under control and some significant headway has been made.

While we acknowledge, and have to deal with, the consequences of the immediate financial position, we do not accept that it needs to be like this, and will continue to fight for fair funding from both Westminster and Scottish Governments.

Prior to coming to any view on the proposals put before us, we first obtained detailed briefings from officers so our group fully understood the implications arising from the proposals being made. We then embarked on a meaningful engagement programme, led by representatives of the administration, during which we met with, user groups, trades unions, representatives of the voluntary sector, individual staff and groups of staff, after school clubs, community councils, school pupils and community youth groups, representatives of national groups and many individuals. We also provided opportunities for people to feedback their views on line.

We have listened carefully to all the views expressed and have read the many emails and letters that we have received before coming to our conclusions. We have taken account of the Equality Impact Assessments which accompanied the officer recommendations and had
these re-assessed to reflect our amendments.

To produce a balanced budget for the 18/19 financial year, we have little choice other than to accept a number of officer recommendations, which will reduce levels of service in a number of areas. We are aware that this undoubtedly will have a detrimental impact on our communities, however we have rejected or amended a number of proposals which we believe will have too great an impact on hard working families and our most vulnerable,
which we are not prepared to accept.
We have had to take this approach, which is similar to those taken in previous years, because the timescales prevented us doing otherwise. However, we fundamentally believe that the huge budget gaps projected for future years makes it imperative we take a different
approach going forward.

Over the next 15 years Midlothian will be Scotland’s fastest growing Council area. This presents us with some difficult challenges. For example: –

  • The number of school places required will double
  • The number of people over 65 will rise from 13,300 to 20,200 by 2028
  • The number of over 75’s will double.
  • The number of over 90’s will treble.

However, this also presents us with some exciting opportunities.

Labour is committed to delivering world-class education here in Midlothian within the resources available. Most of our schools are currently less than 15 years old. We have developed a programme of school building that will ensure that we will have the capacity to deal with the expected growth in the coming years. The developers of the new housing estates will predominantly pay for these. We are developing our new high schools using a “centres of excellence” model, which will help provide our young people with the best start in their working life.

In Midlothian, we have almost 5,000, individuals or families on our housing waiting lists, despite having built over 1,000 new council houses over the last 10 years. Labour has a plan in place to build at least another 1,000 over the next 5 years and are committed to delivering this. We are committed to achieving this while still maintaining high standards within our existing stock. For clarity it should be noted that the full cost of our housing programme is met from Council Rents and Government Grants and not from Council Tax.

Here in Midlothian the proportion of our population involved in volunteering is among the highest in Scotland. This Administration recognises the importance of the Voluntary Sector, our partnership with it, and how vital it is to maintaining the fabric of society.

We need to ensure that Council targets support to organisations, groups and individuals who make the most positive contribution to delivering services that are vital to our most vulnerable people, or can make the best contribution to ensuring that our young people get the best start in life. We see the voluntary sector as a vital partner in preserving what we can of the services that so many people rely on.

We listened to the concerns of our citizens regarding the safety and security of our communities and we have already reinstated one of the Police CAT teams removed by the previous administration, with the second team due to come on stream by the end of March, bringing an additional 14 front line police officers back to Midlothian.

In order to ensure that we can continue to make progress on these issues we need to place Midlothian Council on a more sustainable financial footing. We believe that the Council needs to carry out a fundamental review of the services it provides, prioritising resources to the services that are most important to those in most need in our community.

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.

Cuts in grants from both Westminster and Holyrood over the years, together with 10 years of Council Tax freezes have left us in the position we are currently in.

Until we have Governments in the UK and/or in Scotland prepared to accept that we need to raise taxes to pay for the services that people need and expect, we will continue to have these serious financial difficulties. Until then we are required to work within the constraints placed upon us, prioritising our resources to make sure we protect our most vulnerable.

To that end, we have the following amendments to the papers presented by officers today.

If accepted, these amended budget proposals will result in a surplus of £0.200m which should be earmarked to fund training for staff who are displaced to assist in enabling them to transfer into jobs in areas of growth within the Council.

Detail of Amendments

We intend to reluctantly accept the majority of the proposals presented by Officers, however we have rejected or amended the following.

Abolition of Welfare Rights Service

Universal credit and changes to other benefits are causing huge issues in our communities. We cannot afford to remove these posts as they are invaluable to support those suffering from the effects of austerity from both the Westminster and Scottish Governments. We therefore reject this proposal completely and ask that officers bring forward a report about improving access to Welfare Rights Services in Midlothian which meets the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Overall Reduction in Planning Service (2 Posts)

While we accept the amount suggested here we believe the method of achieving it should be by requiring major developers to contribute towards provision of these 2 posts which would concentrate on processing the large applications as quickly as possible, while ensuring the independence of the planning process.

Delete post of Newtongrange Community Learning Centre Manager

While discussions are taking place within the Newtongrange Community regarding the redevelopment of the village centre it would not be right to prejudge the outcome by accepting this proposal.

Reduction in the Grants Budgets

Many of the papers in the officer recommendations before the council refer to the voluntary sector or community groups picking up responsibility for services or mitigating service reductions by working in partnership to deliver services in the future. In these circumstances, we do not believe that there should be any reduction in overall grants to voluntary organisations. We would expect that voluntary organisations work together creatively to ensure as efficient delivery of their services as possible.

In order to achieve this we propose to extend the Grants allocated at the June 2017 Council by a further six months to give voluntary groups a full year allocation. During this period we need to review the method of allocation to ensure that the Council’s strategic priorities and objectives are being met by the allocation of the grants. We would look to work in genuine partnership with all community organisations over the coming months to revise the Council’s policies on this.

Deletion of Pest Control Services

From the feedback we have received from users this is clearly a valued service. We believe that this saving should be achieved by increasing charges for the service, rather than deleting the part time post.

Reduction of Early Intervention & Prevention Services
The mitigating factors given in the proposals for this saving include the potential benefits in early intervention afforded by the introduction of the 1,140 hours free child care, however this will be phased in gradually over the next few years. In the meantime, we need to make sure that those in most need of protection receive that protection and therefore we reject this saving at this time.

Charging for Instrumental Tuition

With so many areas of Education spending protected by statute or indeed by necessity and given that Education accounts for 45% of the Council’s budget, it is important that we are able to find savings or identify income generation within the service wherever possible.

It is our view that the decision of the previous administration to make music tuition free, while a laudable aim, was not appropriate when Councillors were aware that our financial position was becoming more and more difficult.

We recognise that within the proposals from officers there are safeguards, which will ensure that those least able to pay will not, and those who are often caught in the middle, can be assisted by bursaries. However, we recognise there are great concerns, expressed at all of our consultation meetings and in correspondence we have received, about the effect this may have on the numbers of pupils who may no longer choose to take up music, which we accept has wide ranging educational benefits. We therefore propose that while we support the introduction of charges for music tuition that this be limited to 50% of the levels, being proposed by officers.

Charging Schools for Instrument Tuition

During the budget engagement process, Head teachers and other teaching staff stressed the importance of music tuition in their schools. By limiting the increase in charges to parents, and given the need to find savings within education, we are prepared to accept that schools should meet the cost of music tuition fees for SQA candidates in S4 to S6.

Review let charges for after school clubs

After school clubs have developed in Midlothian over several years and are a vital resource for modern working families.

Through the budget engagement process it is clear that, within the ASC’s there are wide variations in charging policies, levels of contributions from volunteers; pay, conditions and training for staff; the quality and quantity of the facilities used.

It has also become evident that Midlothian Council does not have a clear policy on after school clubs and how they can be best contribute to the needs of Midlothian families.

The Labour administration believes that the Council, after school clubs and parents must, in the coming year, work together to formulate policy, which ensures that clubs make a realistic contribution towards the cost of the Council facilities they use and which ensures that they are charging realistic prices which reflect families ability to pay.

On that basis, we reject the proposal for the reduction in the subsidy (from 5% to 50%) for After School Clubs use of Council facilities. However, they should pay the basic increases in rates for hiring facilities agreed elsewhere in this paper.

We would like to thank the After School Clubs who engaged in constructive discussions on these matters and look forward to working with them and Parents over the coming year to secure their continuing contribution to our communities.

Remove Primary School Swimming

Swimming is an essential life skill, and while there may be alternative ways for some parents to provide this, we believe that this service ensures that all children have the opportunity to learn to swim. We reject this proposal.

Reduce Central Education Budgets

Within this budget saving proposal is the removal of a number of Life Long Learning staff (Funded from the Homelink budget) who have been instrumental in supporting many of our hardest to reach young people into positive destinations. We believe this is a vital service that helps make sure some of our most vulnerable young people get the best start in their adult life and we therefore reject £97k of this saving to ensure this service is retained.

Rebalancing Care- Rebalancing Expectations

There are already savings of £1.040m within the transformation strand of work within adult social care in 2018/19 and there are £4.620m in further savings proposed by officers for future years. Recognising that there are increasing demands on this service and that there have been significant overspends in the past, we are not confident of the Council’s ability to realise these savings in full in future years. We therefore do not agree the future savings proposed on this item should be reflected in the future years projections.

Telecare/Housing Support

We reluctantly accept the increase in charges for housing support for under 65’s noting that the charges are means tested and the most vulnerable will be protected. However, we reject the 100% proposed increase in telecare charges, which is a flat rate non-means tested charge.

In doing so we acknowledge that the telecare facility not only provides security for our most vulnerable, but also must prevent potential additional costs for our health service.

Community Safety Team

We do not accept the proposal to withdraw the full funding from the provision of a community safety team. While we have already delivered on our election pledge to fully reinstate the CAT teams this Group has never viewed this as a binary choice between these two services. We believe that an essential component of the effective use of the CAT teams has been the quality of the data on which the Council and the Police rely in order to
effectively target this resource. We therefore agree that, in addition to retaining the resolution service, to also retain a data analyst post at 0.5 FTE and a Police Anti-Social Behaviour Officer post at 0.5FTE. We agree that the Police are not always the appropriate response to anti-social behaviour and therefore agree to retain 2 Anti-Social Behaviour

Officer Posts.

We also look to officers to negotiate with other Social Landlords in the County to attempt to obtain a contribution from them towards these costs. We therefore reject £130k from this item to provide the above.

Library Services

While the Council is moving to shift public interaction with the Council from phone/in person to electronic we still have to accept that not every member of the public, particularly the old and vulnerable have access to computer facilities in their homes. Our local libraries are much valued resources within our communities, providing access to computers for those who don’t have this at home and advice on how to use them where required. They are also focal points within our communities and play a hugely important role in community life. We therefore oppose the closure of any of our libraries, however we accepted the revised and greatly reduced £50k saving proposed on the basis that no libraries will close as a result.

Charging for Waste Bins and Boxes

We only partly agree this proposal. We agree that developers of new estates should be charged for initial bins and boxes, but reject charging the public for replacements due to loss or vandalism.

Extend Collection Frequencies

We believe that a fundamental review of all front line services is required and we therefore reject this proposed saving at this time. Midlothian incurs considerable landfill costs resulting from significant numbers of our residents who do not participate adequately in our recycling arrangements. Additional measures for enforcement need to be put in place to make sure that they do.

Close Penicuik Recycling Centre

Given the requirement for a fundamental review of all front line services it would not be prudent at this time to accept this saving.

Reduce Street Sweeping Frequencies

Previous cuts in these services have already led to significant deterioration in the condition of our streets and we therefore reject this saving.

Reduce Grass Cutting Standards

Previous cuts in these services have already led to significant deterioration in the condition of our parks and we therefore reject this saving.

Stop Support for Gala’s and Events

Local Galadays are important Historical tradition, particularly in our mining communities and are an integral part of the identity of Midlothian. We therefore reject this proposed saving. However, we need to look at the level of resources afforded to each community to ensure a fair distribution of both finance and support provided.

Review Spending on Road Maintenance

Previous cuts to this service has already led to significant deterioration in the condition of our streets and we therefore reject this saving.

Reduce the Winter Maintenance Budget

We do not consider a further reduction in this budget is acceptable. The budget has been cut over the past few years and, as a consequence, in the current financial year, which has not included a particularly bad winter we have already gone over budget. We need to radically rethink the service we provide to our residents and reduce the expectations that some of our residents have. We require a report on ways in which we can work with the community to resolve this.

Remove the non statutory school crossing service where crossing controls are in place

While this represents a change from the original officer proposals we still believe that there are problems with it. We do believe there is a need to look at areas where they could be removed. However, it is not as simple as removing where crossing controls are in place. There are still dangers in some areas even though there are crossing controls in place. We therefore reject this saving.

Stop supported bus grants and reduce community transport support

The few remaining supported bus services are vital lifelines for their communities. However, there are many more areas that are not adequately served. With Councils no longer able to provide the support it is more vital than ever that the Scottish Government re-regulates or nationalises public transport. We therefore reject this proposal.

Reduce the ring and go scheme

This scheme provides vital transport links where no bus services exist and should be retained. We therefore reject this proposal.

Stop the Taxi Card Scheme

This scheme provides vital transport links where no bus services exist and should be retained. We therefore reject this proposal.

Pass all disclosure costs to employee/volunteers

This would represent a further burden for the voluntary sector and we therefore reject it.

Cessation of Sporting Grants

We reject this saving proposal.

Recommentations to Council

Accordingly The Labour Group proposes the following recommendations to Council:-

a) Note the position in respect of the Scottish Government Grant Settlement for 2018/19 as set out in section 2;

b) Note the current projected cost of services, key assumptions and resultant budget shortfalls as set out in section 3 and endorse the key assumptions on which the budget projections are based;

c) In line with the provisions of the Grant Settlement package set a Band D Council Tax of £1,283 for 2018/19 as set out in appendix 1;

d) Note the continuing uncertainties and the potential impact as outlined in the differing scenarios as set out in section 6;

e) Consider the Change Programme elements proposed by the Strategic Leadership Group as set out in section 8 and:-

I. Approve the amended savings proposals associated with the additions to the Transformation Programme as set out in the amended appendix 2;

II. In respect of the Strategic Leadership Group savings proposals associated with the additions to the Transformation Programme in later years, which were for noting, to :-

i. Remove the savings targets for Integrated Health and Social Care resulting in the amended savings targets as set out in appendix 3;

ii. At this time note the exclusion from the assessment of the remaining budget gaps for later years of these amended savings targets amounting to£1.245 million for 2019/20 rising to £7.345 million by 2021/22;

iii. Note that this provides a clearer assessment of the remaining financial challenge facing this Council for future years as set out in the amended table 10 below;

III. Note the amended operational savings summarised in the amended appendix 4;

IV. Approve the amended service review and policy savings proposals as set out in the revised appendix 5;

V. Note the additional income, as amended , anticipated from fees and charges as set out in section 8.7 and remit to the Director of Resources, in conjunction with the Leader of the Council to finalise the detailed charges set out in appendix 6;

f) Approve the resultant amended allocation of £39.750 million to the Midlothian Integrated Joint Board for 2018/19 in respect of delegated services;

g) Approve the resultant 2018/19 service budget as set out in the revised appendix 7 with a contribution to Earmarked Reserves of £0.200 million;

h) Agree that this earmarked reserve of £0.200 million be utilised to support training and development opportunities for staff who are seeking redeployment;

i) As stated in our budget amendment proposals, continuing to deal with the financial challenges faced by this Council in this way are impossible. Therefore Council agrees that the Chief Executive in conjunction with the Council Leader bring forward as part of a revised transformation programme proposals which include a bottom up / cross council service review programme. This programme will be overseen by a three member cross party working group, in addition to the Council Leader, and recommendations from that group will be reported directly to Council;

j) In considering the recommendations not only consider the contents of the overview of feedback from engagement activity set out in appendix 9 and the amended overarching EQIA set out in appendix 10 but also record our gratitude to all of those in our Community who participated in the engagement activity and who have helped inform these recommendations;

k) Otherwise note the contents of the report.

Appendix: Midlothian Council Labour Group Amended and Rejected Proposals

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