Discussions begin over further £5.2 million savings
West Lothian Council is looking to identify a further £5.2 million of savings over the next four years.
A report to the council's Partnership and Resources Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel (PDSP) sets out the council's current financial position. Further savings are necessary to fully bridge an estimated budget gap of £65.3 million over five years, with over £60.1 million of savings previously identified from 2018/19 to 2022/23.
The council is required by law to set a balanced budget and £5.2 million of savings are still to be agreed to completely balance the budget for the next four years.
The report looks at a number of options for potential savings, put forward by stakeholders following the council's largest ever consultation, Transforming your Council, which saw local people and groups make suggestions on how the council could save money. A previous meeting of the PDSP asked for the report to be prepared to allow elected members to consider options raised by the public.
Like all local authorities, West Lothian Council is facing significant budget challenges. The money the council receives from the Scottish Government is significantly less than the amount needed to cover the rising costs of delivering essential services, such as those required for the West Lothian's growing population of children and older people.
Leader of the Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: "Thank you to all the residents, groups and council staff who took the time to be part in our largest ever consultation, Transforming Your Council.
"We have listened to all of the comments we have received. As an open, honest and accountable council, it's important we consider any suggestions put forward by the public especially in a transparent way through the committee process of which this PDSP is just the first stage.
"Not every suggestion made can be taken forward, but it's important we consider as many as possible before elected members have to make difficult decisions when the council's 2019/20 budget is set.
"Panel members agreed on four key areas for savings that they did not wish officers to take forward, which were: removing breakfast club provision; means testing for free school meals for children at special schools; removing school crossing patrols during lunchtimes; and reviewing funding for gala days. Officers have confirmed that no further work will be done on these suggestions."
Cllr Fitzpatrick added: "It's very challenging to identify further savings in addition to the £60.1 million already agreed without impacting on services valued by local residents. The scale of funding cuts passed to West Lothian Council from the Scottish Government over the last ten years means that major changes to council services are unavoidable.
"A recent report by the council's external auditors, Ernst and Young, praised the council's strong financial management and long-term approach, so it's vital we continue to plan ahead for the future, and set a balanced budget each year as per our legal obligations.
"The scope for further savings will also continue to be developed during 2019, with the aims of protecting services for the most vulnerable."
Notes to editors
The Partnership and Resources Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel does not have the powers to make decisions on the savings proposals, The panel considers and comments on them. Formal decisions will be taken later at Council Executive or full West Lothian Council meetings.