West Lothian Council has held its hands up and said: ‘Folks, we have a problem’.
And in a bold move, rather than burying its heads in the sand, it has asked for help in trying to resolve the issue.
The problem has arisen, according to council bosses, because the Scottish Government has failed to provide sufficient funding to cover increasing demands on council services.
As a result, and the fact that West Lothian has an increasing population consisting of both the young and the elderly, the council realises it cannot balance the books – and is projecting a £30.4 million deficit.
This means that in order to fund vital services that the public expects, such as refuse collection, education, elderly care and roads/transport, savings have to be found elsewhere – and that’s where the public come in.
In 2012 the council ran a public consultation, Delivering Better Outcomes.This looked for people to tell them what their priorities were and what measures they thought should be looked at to help make savings.
On the back of that, the council developed priorities and has drawn up budget measures/proposals. And it now wants people to comment on those measures.
The authority’s chief executive Graham Hope said: “This is a very challenging time for us and those challenges will only become more acute over the next three years.
“Like any household or business, we can only spend the money that we have and difficult decisions have to be made. We have budget measures and a long term financial plan which, if we make the necessary budget savings, will enable us to deliver services for our communities and get through this very challenging time.”
The wide-ranging public consultation on the proposed budget-cutting methods was launched yesterday.
Council leader John McGinty said: “The next step in the process is to engage with the public, families and communities so we can tackle the difficult decisions together.
“We don’t have any choice in that we must reduce spending and increase our income so that we can meet our £30.4 million budget gap. For the council, it is vital that the services which are provided have the greatest positive impact.”
It is important to note that the £30.4 milllion is not the only budget reduction that the council and its residents have had to face in recent years.
The council has faced budget cuts every year since 2008 and since 2012 has already made savings of more than £14 million.
So the council has already implemented many changes to services and has very little room left to manouevre further.
Nobody should underestimate the difficult decisions that lie ahead.
However, the consultation is a prime opportunity for people to have their say.
Everyone is urged to take the time to visit the council’s website or look through its Bulletin and take part in the consultation by having their say.
John added: “It is important to know what people think about the measures and that everyone has an opportunity to participate.”
The consultation closes on Friday, November 21, and can be viewed at www.westlothian.gov.uk/yoursay14