Council agrees first Medium Term Financial Strategy

Tuesday June 25th 2019

Midlothian Council

Written by Midlothian View editor, Phil Bowen

Councillors have agreed the council’s first Medium Term Financial Strategy. Though in doing so they agreed to remove planed cuts to school transport, P4 swimming and to have further discussion on music tuition.

The move is a major step change for the council aimed at strengthening financial sustainability and allowing it to plan and implement service delivery more effectively.

Council Leader Councillor Derek Milligan said:

“A Medium Term Financial Strategy is a major step change and will give us the financial stability to be able to plan ahead and invest in Midlothian to make sure it really is a ‘great place to grow’.

“That said, we’ve got a lot of further work to do to address the financial and service challenges over the next three years. There will continue to be difficult decisions in the coming months.

“We realise that some of the proposals put forward by officers were causing a lot of concerns among local people, such as the move to cut school transport arrangements and how music tuition is provided in our schools. We’ve listened and we will be coming back out to speak to local people.”

At the full Council meeting on Tuesday, the Medium Term Financial Strategy approved by councillors sets out a range of changes to how services will be delivered. These are expected to save more than £7 million. The measures include reviewing the council’s senior management structure, reducing management costs to protect frontline services and generating income by, for example, pushing ahead with plans to turn Midlothian Snowsports Centre into an all-year-round leisure destination.

However, councillors agreed the recommendations made by the six member Business Transformation Steering Group that other changes proposed in the report would be subject to further public consultation. They agreed the removal of cuts to school transport and swimming for p4 children and that further savings scheduled for music tuition would be subject to further discussion.

Councillors have agreed to work in a cross-party manner to investigate, discuss and decide what cuts will be taken. This will include councillors from all parties being involved in consulting on the cuts with the residents of Midlothian.

Today’s decision sets out how the council will bridge the projected funding gap of £4.6 million for 2020/21 and goes a significant way to addressing the projected funding gap of £18.8 million predicted by 2022.23. The projected funding gaps assume Scottish Government core funding to the council will be reduce by 2% each year. This is a planning assumption unanimously approved by the cross party Business Transformation Steering Group.

A further update on the Medium Term Financial Strategy, which focuses savings around four core themes – One Council, Preventative and Sustainable, Efficient and Modern and Innovative and Ambitious – will be brought before the full Council in October.

The amended recommendations approved today come after a public consultation – Working With You, For You, launched in April 2019. As part of the consultation, 614 responses to questions on the Medium Term Financial Strategy were also received from the Midlothian Citizens’ Panel.

Councillor Milligan said:

“We are shaping our plans to take account of local people’s views whenever possible.

“While we’re committed to place individuals and communities at the heart of everything we do, we can’t stress enough that we still have some really difficult choices ahead, especially given we’re planning for a 2% cut in Scottish Government funding.

“We will continue to invest in preventative approaches to reduce inequality. We’ll also automate and simplify our processes, making them more customer-focussed while looking at where we can work in partnership with other agencies and authorities.”

Councillor Kelly Parry said:

“As we have seen with the previous issues around school transport, parents, carers, pupils and campaigners have overwhelmingly agreed that some of the measures contained in the councils plans were unacceptable. I’m delighted that we were able to negotiate the changes that we have.”

Councillor John Hackett said:

“It’s about is all working together. Those times of councillors sitting on the sidelines and saying you are against cuts but doing nothing about it are over. I am against cuts but we have a responsibility as councillors to deliver a balanced budget. And I would like to think we all knew what the financial situation was before we stood.

“Yes, there are certain things we can look to improve such as we can change the way we do consultations as we agreed about the school transport earlier but these tough decisions will still have to be made. Blaming the UK Government or the Scottish Government will not get us out of hot water.”

Midlothian Director of Education, Mary Smith said in an impassioned contribution:

“Last year we took out 48 teachers from Midlothian and this year we are looking at taking out more. And whilst I understand the democratic right of parents to protest about cuts in school transport and music tuition, where are the protestors protesting about the cuts to teachers? I do worry that we are cut to the bone already.”

You can watch a recording of the councillor’s discussion and agreement on the council meeting’s webcast, choose section 8.3 HERE.

Note: Unfortunately there was a technical issue with the webcast recording meaning the usual way of easily navigating directly to hear an individual speaker is not available.

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