Impact on Society in Midlothian

Tuesday October 24th 2017

Midlothian Council Fairfield House Main

Written by editor Phil Bowen

Midlothian Council has a budget problem. It’s a problem that has been known about for some years but to date only limited steps have been taken to address it. Now it has to be dealt with.

Midlothian Council is running at a loss. It’s income of approximately £200 million does not cover it’s costs, so much so that it now needs to make savings of £13.5 million next financial year 2018-19.

But that is not the end of it, the following year 2019-20 it must save £24.6 million, then £34.7 million in 2020-21 and finally a colossal £44.8 million in 2021-22.

Any of those annual figures on their own would be cause for concern but add them together and they come to £44.8 million in 2021-22 and every year after.

Council officers have drawn up proposals to make savings. All councillors, irrespective of party, have been involved in the process and now these proposals have been put out for public engagement.

People could make this a party political issue but that may not be helpful. As one prospective councillor said at a pre-election hustings in April, “Given the state of council finances, whoever gets elected may be in the unenviable position of being the most unpopular because of the difficult decisions they are going to have to make.”

Some social media commentary has said that these are ‘Labour cuts’ but in truth that is unfair. These are cuts that the council officers have proposed as a result of continuing reduction to the council’s budget by the Scottish Government and Labour, as the minority administration of the council, are duty bound to consider and reluctantly implement. All councillors, be they Labour, SNP or Conservative will have to make the tough decisions.

The breadth and depth of the proposals make for depressing reading. Here is a selection of them:

– school music tuition to be no longer free to all

– lollipop men and women to be scrapped/reduced

– CCTV in open spaces to be ceased to be maintained and so ultimately fail

– all but one library to be closed

– refuse collections to be every three weeks

– introduce charges for brown bin collection

– 10% of school learning assistants to be cut

– reduce the number of grass football and Astro pitches maintained by the council

– introduce and increase parking charges

– make some council staff redundant

– 3% increase in council tax every year for the next five years

The council are looking to increase revenue by doing what can be considered positive steps, for example:

– by investing further in the Hillend Snowsports centre, which attracts visitors outwith Midlothian

– by offering services to other councils or businesses or the public. What they describe as being entrepreneurial

The council are now undergoing a period of engagement with the residents of Midlothian. The proposed cuts have been fairly well publicised but if you are reading about this for the first time or have not had chance to understand the detail then you should either read this document presented to the latest full council meeting or go to the dedicated page of the council website

Whilst people may look at the list of proposed cuts and say “It’s dreadful to cut X or how can they stop Y”, it is unfortunate but if something is removed from the list of cuts then something else needs to be found to replace it as all councils in Scotland have a legal duty to set a balanced budget.

Now it could be that residents or council employees can spot other savings that could be made and that is being welcomed by the council, so all are encouraged to think about this.

Midlothian View has met and discussed the proposed cuts with Derek Milligan, leader of the council. In his view:

“The proposed cuts could devastate the society of Midlothian by taking away things that people want and need, for example leisure facilities, music tuition, libraries. But we need to deliver a balanced budget and if it is a choice between keeping music tuition or an elderly lady not getting her package of care then in my opinion it is the elderly lady who needs to be protected the most.

“I’m not here to make popular choices, I’m here to make the right choices.”

Mr Milligan has a meeting with Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance, early in November.

At that meeting he will seek to make the case for Midlothian’s budget not to be cut and for extra funding, as Midlothian is one of the, if not the fastest, growing areas in Scotland.

He will argue that Midlothian has one of the largest percentage populations of both the elderly and of children under 15. Both of these age groups require a significant percentage of the Midlothian budget, namely care and education.

Mr Miligan is looking to get cross party support from MSPs, including Midlothian’s SNP MSP Colin Beattie and Labour’s Neil Finlay, to make the case for Midlothian.

To hear more about the proposals and have your say then Midlothian Council have organised five engagement meetings. They are to be held in Midlothian Council’s chambers, Buccleuch Street, Dalkeith between 7pm and 8pm on the following dates

– Monday 6th November
– Tuesday 7th November
– Wednesday 8th November
– Monday 13th November
– Tuesday 14th November

Alternatively you can have your say HERE.

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