Nov 11 2009 by Robert Mitchell, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
COST-CUTTING council officials are on a collision course with their elected bosses over plans to hit the most vulnerable members of the public in the pocket.
Proposals to slash £15 million from next year’s local authority budget have targeted frontline services by taking away free community alarms from nearly 12,000 OAPs and making people fork out more for home support.
And another money-spinning idea sure to anger businesses struggling through the recession would see car parking charges introduced in town centres across North Lanarkshire.
These three controversial plans are for the 2010/11 financial year which begins next April but the leader of Labour-controlled North Lanarkshire Council has said his administration will not permit them to happen.
However, at the moment, he is only extending that commitment to the next year and with the council needing to reduce its budget by a further £60 million over the three years from 2011/12 to 2013/14 it raises the possibility that they could eventually come into force as the local authority attempts to plug a £75 million black hole over the four years.
For now though, NLC Leader Jim McCabe says: “One thing this Labour administration has no plans to do in the next year is charge for services where there is no charge or increase charges that already exist outside of normal inflation. That is why the Labour group at North Lanarkshire will resist, for example, proposals for next year to increase the home support taper charge, charging for community alarms and charges for car parking.
“This Labour administration will continue to deliver frontline services and look after the most vulnerable in our society. We will continue to demand efficiency in everything the council does. But that will not mean hitting people in the pocket at a time when they are already struggling.”
At the moment the council’s community alarm service is provided free of charge to 11,676 elderly people, and North Lanarkshire is one of the few areas in Scotland where this happens. Officials proposes a charge of £2 per week kick in next year to create around £1 million per year for the council coffers.
Home support sees the council apply a contribution charge of 25 per cent to people who need it, which is one of the lowest in Scotland with the country’s average being 50 per cent. Officials reckon that increasing the charge by five per cent will coin in £175,000.
And the proposal sure to anger drivers and businesses is the recommendation that a series of car parking charges be introduced across North Lanarkshire. Officials reckon the charge “will improve management of the town centres” and pull in £300,000 of revenue every year.
These three controversial proposals are only a small part of the £15 million budget cuts.
Other ideas in the efficiency savings include the closure of Whiflett Library; cutting £400,000 from the £700,000 spent on furniture and fittings; franking and mail costs are to be cut by £23,000; staff travel is to be reduced by £35,000 in Finance and Customer Services; cancelling the special uplift service on public holidays will save £20,000; reducing gritting in residential 20mph advisory areas would save £100,000; cancelling campus police officers in high schools to save £97,000; reviewing car mileage requirements in Housing and Social Work will save £250,000; a “more focused” school meals package would save £170,000; a cleaning review in primary schools will save £140,000; and ending the mid-day clean in high schools will save £110,000.
The council’s chief executive Gavin Whitefield said that “there should be no compulsory redundancies” among the workforce of around 17,000 from the 2010/11 budget cuts.
In a letter sent to staff he added: “We’ve made every effort to ensure the impact on jobs and working conditions is kept to an absolute minimum. Where such an impact is unavoidable, we will consult with trades unions about the way forward.”
The budget proposals will be put before councillors on November 7 and 26 and the papers contain £16 million of proposed savings, from which councillors will need to decide on £15 million of cuts.