Council chiefs warn of difficult times ahead

Council HQ
Council HQ

East Dunbartonshire Council chiefs have warned that the most savage cuts are still a year away - on the eve of their latest cost slashing budget.

Councillors will meet in the authority’s Southbank Marina headquarters tomorrow evening (Thursday) to thrash out where the latest savings need to be made.

More than £5.1million needs to be shaved off spending in the latest round of cuts and savings for 2014/2015.

Over the last seven years a total of £35million has been lopped off budgets in order to make the books balance with ever-smaller resources, including a continuing freeze on council tax.

None of the prospective savings for 2014/15 had been announced as the Herald went to press - with the administration and opposition SNP group set to reveal contesting budgets at the same time, before debating their individual merits and voting at Thursday’s meeting.

But, speaking to the Herald late last week, council leader Rhondda Geekie and chief executive Gerry Cornes said next year’s budget (2015/16) would be the toughest to date.

In this year’s budget council officers have identified £3.5million in ‘organisational planning’ savings - changes to make the workings of the council more efficient, which have a limited effect on front line services.

It would leave the smaller figure of £1.686million to be saved from a combination of cutting back and increasing charges on council services.

Councillor Geekie warned that the decisions were getting tougher year by year.

She explained: “We have now made most of the more acceptable cuts and are now looking at things that we have rejected in previous years.”

But chief executive Gerry Cornes said that the next three years would be even harder - with another £20million in savings to be made and ever-diminishing options over where the axe should fall.

He said: “We need to raise awareness that the majority of the public service cuts haven’t come yet - it’s been estimated that Scotland-wide only 40 per cent have been delivered to date.

“The next three years will be hugely challenging because we have made most of the organisational planning cuts we can, meaning that a significant percentage of the £20million will come from front line services.”

Work on where to make the cuts is to start next month, with the council launching a consultation exercise to gauge the mood of residents.

Councillor Geekie said: “We need to challenge people and make it clear that the effect of a certain service not being cut back could have implications for vulnerable people who aren’t necessarily so visible. We also have to see what people are willing to do for themselves - like what we did with the town halls - and see if they’d be prepared to take over responsibility for certain services.”

The consultation is expected to include computer simulations of the effects of individual cutbacks.

Mr Cornes added: “I don’t think people are necessarily able to visualise what £1million of cuts actually looks like, never mind £20million.We have to help them with that.”