Garden aid to continue for the next year

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Councillors have agreed the free garden aid scheme for pensioners and disabled people that costs local tax payers over half a million pounds a year will continue until 2017.

After that any decision on its future will be taken by the new board of the Falkirk Health and Social Integration (HSCI) Partnership.

The service pays for around 5500 householders across the district aged 65 or over who are either council tenants or living in their own homes – plus around 500 residents under 65 with a disability – to have their greens cut 13 times and their hedges twice a year.

Falkirk is one of only five of 32 local authorities in Scotland that offers the scheme.

But the spend came under scrutiny ahead of the town hall’s budget statement in February.

Faced with finding savings of £25 million this year, the Labour-led administration agreed to carry out a consultation exercise on the proposal to scrap the service.

When the Executive met on Tuesday it was told 5908 letters were issued and 813 users responded. An on-line survey attracted another 150 replies.

Councillors considered a report which outlined six options for the way ahead – including withdrawing garden aid completely.

A motion from council leader Craig Martin it continue to next year when the Integration Joint Board’s six voting members – three councillors and three members of the health board – will decide how the £550,000 funding it will receive from the council when garden aid becomes its responsibility should be spent was agreed by nine votes to three.

Before then new applicants will also have to be receiving community care support to qualify.

Councillor Martin said: “We’ve listened to the users and now find the required budget savings from elsewhere.

“Next year we will give the IJB £550,000 and let them decide if they want to spend it on cutting grass.”

SNP Councillor Tom Coleman said the council is “sitting on a £3 million underspend” - and some of that could be used to protect the service.

He claimed: “The motion is not a way of solving a problem this administration created. It’s the latest example of its stumbling and inept ways of doing things.”

FACTFILE

The Council’s garden aid scheme has been operating for over 40 years.

It is funded by the council’s general fund and housing revenue account.

Of the 6000 users asked their views, 1000 responses were received, around 13.8 per cent.

Of that figure, 742 or 91 per cent, said they wanted it retained or given other help to maintain their gardens.

The current service costs around £115 per household.