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Council Executive agrees to protect local services but warns it's facing the 'most challenging' budget in a generation

Next week (Tuesday 13 February) West Lothian Council is set to agree a long-term financial plan that will deliver local services and begin to bridge a £65 million budget gap over the next five years.

07 February

The budget plans will prioritise investment in West Lothian's schools, social care and services for the vulnerable, whilst making necessary savings for the future.

The council is planning to spend hundreds of millions of pounds, via revenue funding, to deliver local services in 2018/19, and over the following four years.

Further large scale capital investment is planned for schools, roads and open spaces, to improve and grow West Lothian's council housing stock. 

At a meeting of the Council Executive today (Tuesday 6 February), a motion from Council Leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick was agreed that means that several  officer proposals will not now be included for consideration at next week's budget setting meeting.

The proposals being removed are:

1.      Ceasing subsidies for bus services

The saving of £1.872 million has been removed from the proposed budget saving measures, and officers are to include proposals to retain the time limited funded bus routes for a further year at a cost of £290,000. Officers have been instructed to consider the opportunity to raise additional income through fare increases.

2.      Closure of three Community Recycling Centres (CRCs)

Officers have been instructed to remove the saving proposal of £321,000 to close three community recycling centres, and to develop an alternative proposal for savings in this area that allows these CRCs to remain open.

3.       Charge for brown bin usage

Officers have been instructed to remove the saving proposal of £433,000 to charge for brown bin usage, and to develop an alternative proposal for savings in this area that does not include charging.

4.      Combining Eliburn and Carmondean centres into Pathways with removal of transport

Officers have been instructed to bring forward proposals to retain the three existing day care centres at the Ability Centre at Carmondean, Eliburn and Pathways, to review the proposal to rationalise day care services for adults, and to develop an alternative proposal for inclusion in the budget report to deliver savings in adult day care.

5.      Restructure of youth services

Officers have been instructed to remove the saving of £1.270 million from the proposed budget saving measures and instructed to review the impact of youth services.  The review will identify the most effective deployment of resources and partnership working to ensure positive outcomes for young people and communities.

6.      Closure of Fauldhouse Swimming Pool

Officers have been instructed to remove this from the proposed budget saving measures.

7.      Moving mainstream instrumental music provision into the general curriculum

Officers have been instructed to remove the proposal to mainstream instrumental music provision into the general curriculum, and to develop an alternative proposal to deliver savings in this area which would retain a substantial level of music tuition.

8.      Amalgamate three Livingston libraries into one location and closure of Pumpherston Library

Officers have been instructed to review the proposal to amalgamate the three Livingston libraries into one location, and to develop an alternative proposal to deliver savings while retaining two library facilities in Livingston.

9.       Reduction in mainstream school transport to statutory minimum and removal of fare paying option

Officers have been instructed to remove this saving of £922,000 from the proposed budget saving measures.

10.  Withdrawal of Additional Support Needs (ASN), homelessness and medical transport scheme

Officers have been instructed to remove this saving of £161,000 from the proposed budget saving measures.

11.  Removal of learning and disability, physical disability and looked after children transport

Officers have been instructed to review the existing provision for learning disability, physical disability and looked after children transport, and to develop an alternative proposal to deliver efficiency savings in this area.

12.  Stopping the concessionary rail scheme

Officers have been instructed to remove this saving of £286,000 from the proposed budget saving measures.

Councillors will agree the budget and future plans at the Council Budget meeting next week. (Tuesday, 13 February).

Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said:

"The council has carefully listened to the views expressed by local people through the successful Transforming Your Council consultation and today agreed that some officer proposals should not be brought to the budget meeting, and to protect those services.

"Officers presented a wide variety of proposals for consideration and respondents backed the majority of the budget savings measures. However, it was clear that some proposals conflicted with the wishes of many people, and we have taken those views on board.

"Officers will look at alternative proposals that will enable the council to balance its budget. These alternative proposals will consider the large number of good ideas for potential future savings that were submitted during the consultation."

However, whilst the council will continue to invest heavily in providing local services, particularly in education and social care, residents should expect significant changes to some services, as the council has to bridge a £65 million budget gap over the next five years caused by Scottish Government grant funding being insufficient to meet the increasing costs and demand for services.  The council currently receives 77% of its funding from the Scottish Government. West Lothian Council is West Lothian's largest employer and due to budget restrictions, approximately 790 jobs could be lost over the next five years although 640 new posts are expected to be created, especially in early learning, childcare and in schools.

Councillor Fitzpatrick added: "We appreciate that nobody wants to see cuts and nor do we but, put simply, the council is not receiving enough funding from the Scottish Government to enable us to provide the same level of services.

"There is no doubt that, in terms of funding, this is the most challenging time that local government has had to face in a generation.

"Given that the council has already made £92 million worth of savings since 2007, it is now extremely difficult to identify further savings for the next five years that will not impact upon communities. It is inevitable that services that people have become accustomed to will be subject to change.  

"In spite of reductions in our funding, we are confident that we will make the right choices for local people and our communities, and our budget will reflect that. By aligning our budget with our plan for the future, we will help to ensure that the needs of the community are met."

The council is looking to agree a budget strategy for the next five years (2018/19 to 2022/23) alongside a new Corporate Plan, which sets out the council's key eight priority areas over the next five years.  Local people helped shape the priorities as part of the council's recent Transforming Your Council consultation which created a record number of responses from members of the public and community groups across West Lothian.

This approach has been praised by Audit Scotland who provide independent assurance to the people of Scotland that public money is spent properly, efficiently and effectively.

Council officers have also proposed a 3% increase in Council Tax for all households in West Lothian for each of the five years between 2018/19 and 2022/23. A Council Tax increase of 3% each year will raise £16.9 million over five years. All the money raised will be used to help protect local services from further cuts. The level of Council Tax will be decided by councillors at the budget setting meeting on Tuesday 13 February. 

The council's Head of Finance and Property Services, Donald Forrest added: "The budget challenges are not of our own making and reducing some services is not something we want to do. However each year all councils are required to agree a balanced budget.

"We are confident that our approach of planning ahead is the right one which will enable us to deliver the agreed priorities and to plan service and workforce changes in the best way possible."

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