Budget could be a big turn off

NORTH Lanarkshire Council has targeted Christmas as just one of the many areas it looks to cut back on to realise £73.3 million worth of savings over the next three years.

Last week chief executive Gavin Whitefield unveiled an options package worth £105.7 million with up to 1,387 jobs on the line.

Among the areas the council is looking to save money is doing away with Christmas lights in town centres from 2015 to save £300,000; while the annual £10 gift to pensioners could cease next year saving £905,000.

Elected members could have to cut their travel expenses to save £220,000, charges for pest controls would raise £135,000, increasing cemetery fees adds £740,000 and axing 110 senior management posts is worth £5.7 million.

The hardest hit departments will be learning and leisure, environmental services and housing and social work services who have options worth £42.6 million, £16.5 million and £32.4 million respectively to consider.

This could see the loss of 20 lollipop people, 27 binmen, 28 gardeners, 35 janitors and around 200 teachers.

Mr Whitefield stressed the council had no choice but to make savings.

He said: “This isn’t a situation of our making, this a situation that has happened to every part of the public sector, but is putting unprecedented strain on council services.

“I would emphasise that the package of options does not represent decisions, proposals or plans and I recognise that many of the options are extremely unpalatable but we have a duty to balance our budget.”

In previous years charges for the garden assistance scheme and car parking have been accepted by the council only for elected members to decide they wouldn’t be introduced at a later date.

Charging for the garden assistance scheme to raise £293,000 is once again an option, but Mr Whitefield says some charges are never implemented due to good planning, not political point scoring.

He said: “The approach taken by the council still allows savings to be made and balance the budget.

“One of the benefits of looking at these issues and planning so far ahead is it gives a bit more flexibility to influence the final package.”

A consultation will be launched in October and Mr Whitefield is of no doubt it will influence the elected members deciding the final package in December.

He said: “Our previous consultation on cuts showed several examples of services being retained due to the will of the public.”

Both Motherwell and Wishaw MSP John Pentland and Bellshill MP Tom Clarke have hit out at the level of cuts being forced on the council, but absolved the local authority of blame.

Mr Pentland said: “I am very concerned about these potential job losses, but let us be clear where the responsibility for these cuts lies.

“They are a direct consequence of the Scottish Government’s deep cuts in local government budgets, who are not just passing on UK cuts, they are more than doubling them.

“I tried to make these points at First Minister’s Questions, but was not called to speak. They may have avoided the question in the chamber, but they still need to address the issue, and it is one which will return to haunt them.”

Mr Clarke, who also represents Coatbridge and Chryston, added: “I deeply regret that the workforce within North Lanarkshire Council has been dealt this severe and massive blow.

“We need to be clear that the responsibility for such draconian measures is not the fault of North Lanarkshire Council because they are obliged to live within the financial constraints laid down by the Scottish Government.

“The real blame for this tragedy is the combined effect of a cabinet of millionaires at Westminster with scant regard for local government and a Scottish Government evidently more interested in separation than dealing with the priority of retaining much needed jobs and services within our communities.“