Falkirk Council says it will change the way it consults the public on budget cuts – as more reductions in staffing and changes to services are on the horizon.
It has promised to use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as information and videos on its website and speaking to community councils and parent councils.
In a report to Falkirk Council’s executive, councillors were told that budget communications should be more of an “education process” and “aim to dispel the many myths surrounding council budgets”.
It has also promised to keep staff in the loop so they can find out about changes that might impact on them.
The consultation began in earnest last year when the budget engagement included an online survey asking people about council services, which more than 2000 people responded to.
It showed that 69 per cent of people who replied supported an increase in council tax. It also found that more than half think the council should sell buildings it is no longer able to afford to operate and maintain.
Many people – 60 per cent – agreed with communities becoming responsible for things like planting flower beds and litter picks. But while there is wide agreement that community asset transfer – local people running and maintaining their own community halls – is welcome, only 28 per cent say they would be willing to help run them.
And 77 per cent also believe that funding for gala days should be reduced or stopped.
But as the council starts to think about next year’s budget – and a plan that will take them into the next five years – uncertainty is the “prevailing theme” that is facing them.
Chief finance officer Bryan Smail explained that the UK Government was supposed to have a budget on November 6, but that has been deferred, while the Scottish budget was to be announced on December 12 – now the date of the General Election.
The uncertainty has made it hard to predict exactly what savings– or cuts – will be needed to balance the budget. The only thing not in doubt is that hard decisions still lie ahead. Options on the table include closing public toilets, withdrawing the taxi card budget and reducing the roads maintenance budget by £110,000, although Mr Smail stressed that these were only possibilities and no decisions would be made yet.
The council has a budget working group that meets to discuss options and all members of the council are responsible for achieving a balanced budget.
“It is a bit of a moving feast with regard to having information to plan upon but that’s the turbulent political times we’re in, so we need to look at the best information our financial officers can give us and plan accordingly,” said council leader Cecil Meiklejohn.
Labour councillors wanted to bring the report back to a future meeting to enable more detailed information on budget proposals to be brought forward.
But Councillor Meiklejohn said that all of the political groups – including her own SNP group – would have to discuss the options being put forward by officers as “it is a process we have to go through”.
Discussions will be ongoing until the budget is finalised in February.