Community Councils across Midlothian unite against council “savings proposals”
The Midlothian Federation of Community Councils and Midlothian’s Third Sector Forum took rapid action in response to Midlothian Council’s proposed service cuts against an astonishing £14M budget shortfall, calling for an opportunity to address the councillors at their meeting yesterday. Brian Farrell, MFCC vice chair and chair of Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council represented the 15 community council chairs in chambers alongside Lesley Kelly representing Midlothian’s Third Sector Forum of 35 voluntary organisations. Collectively they called for unified action from Midlothian Councillors to resolve the budget gap largely due to Scottish Government funding no longer meeting the massive growth in our community. The service cuts are almost unthinkable and neither organisations feel the impact has been properly assessed.
“The cuts proposed by Midlothian Council are unacceptable and will disproportionately affect the lowest paid, elderly and those without digital skills or devices. Midlothian Council key priorities for 2022-23 are to improve health and learning outcomes and prevent child and household poverty, yet these cuts will significantly increase the inequalities in these areas. The suggestion that volunteers can take over services is unworkable fantasy. The impact of these proposals has not been fully and properly investigated with councillors expected to make decisions without accurate information. MFCC recognise the crisis in local authority funding which must now be addressed by Councillors, COSLA and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy. Our message is simple – No more cuts.”
Robert Hogg, Chair of Midlothian Federation of Community Councils
Coverage across press and radio of the “stinging open letter” along with a protest outside Midlothian Council reflected the community mood. Meanwhile proposals discussed with Councillors Ellen Scott, Douglas Bowen and Kelly Drummond at the Newtongrange Community Council meeting last night include getting fairer distribution of funds currently set by a COSLA agreement, lobbying for an alternative growth grant from Scottish Government and a rise in council tax.
“We recently undertook a survey of third sector organisations which looked at how much funding they received from the Council, and what the benefit of this was. We found that for every £1 invested, £6.08 of benefit was returned. The £6.08 figure includes additional external grant funding levered in, volunteer hours costed at the real living wage, and financial gain for clients (e.g. maximising their benefits). Between the loss of the additional funding for Midlothian, and the impact on statutory services of removing front-line preventative activity, the disinvestment in the sector may not actually lead to any costs savings.”
Lesley Kelly, Chef Executive, Midlothian Third Sector Interface
Councillors will vote on the proposals February 21. Here’s the letter in full and you can view the meeting webcast here.
MIDLOTHIAN FEDERATION OF COMMUNITY COUNCILS
For the attention of:
Dr Grace Vickers, Chief Executive, Midlothian Council
Cllr Kelly Parry, Leader of the Council & SNP Group Leader Midlothian Council
Cllr Derek Milligan, Labour Group Leader, Midlothian Council
Cllr David Virgo, Scottish Conservatives Group Leader, Midlothian Council
Owen Thompson MP, Member of Parliament for Midlothian
Colin Beattie MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Midlothian North and Musselburgh
Christine Grahame MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
Jeremy Balfour MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Sarah Boyack MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Miles Briggs MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Foysol Choudhury MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Sharon Dowey MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Emma Harper MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Craig Hoy MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
The Rt Hon. Alison Johnston MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Carol Mochan MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Lorna Slater MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Colin Smyth MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Sue Webber MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Lothian
Martin Whitfield MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Brian Whittle MSP, Member of the Scottish Parliament for South Scotland
Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing & Local Government, The Scottish Government
AN OPEN LETTER IN RESPONSE TO ‘SAVING PROPOSALS FOR 2023/24’ – 27th January 2023
On behalf of the Midlothian Federation of Community Councils, we write to express our deep disappointment and grave concern regarding the ‘Saving Proposals for 2023/24’ published by Midlothian Council on Friday 20 January 2023.
The consensus of all Midlothian Community Councils, representing our respective Communities, is that the proposed cuts are detached from any meaningful social analysis or consideration. They represent a rushed technocratic economic response; one which will disproportionately sacrifice community services and resources which are vital to the social cohesion of the county, relied upon by those most in need, and will damage the provision of education and safety within this Council area.
We note the lack of focus on inward expenditure; administration or management. Similarly, no mention of repurposing the considerable level of income received in recent years from developer contributions (Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)); works which largely proceeded against the wishes of the wider communities.
Given the timeframe for identifying, assessing, and agreeing proposed saving cuts is tight, we had hoped for much more visible challenge from our elected politicians; especially given the current political synergy between the Midlothian Council administration, our Holyrood & Westminster elected representatives, and the current Scottish Government. The proposals in their current form would devastate much of the progress which has been achieved over many years and would risk wiping out the efforts of many volunteer and community groups, merely on the grounds of economy.
The proposals place an unrealistic and wholly inappropriate dependence upon volunteers, presumably expecting volunteer groups across the county to make up for Midlothian Council withdrawing their own support, resource and expertise from numerous pieces of work and services. As a group we would gently remind the Council, both officers and the elected representatives, that volunteer groups themselves have been stretched for many years, especially during and since the COVID pandemic at a time when local authorities withdrew from providing visible, coalface services and support (many which have yet to return to pre-COVID levels). To rely upon volunteers to this degree (volunteers who themselves will be significantly disadvantaged by these cuts) speak of a mindset of panic in the Council. This at a time when we should all be focused on devising plans and priorities which serve the public and our communities as best as possible during the current challenging economic conditions. The plans published at present fall very short of achieving this.
The feedback we have received has remarked on the notion that these proposals were formulated or inspired by the responses to public consultation (a consultation which incidentally appeared to be administered predominantly online) is not persuasive.
While we recognise the considerable financial restraints facing the public purse over the coming years, the saving proposals published at the present time are entirely inappropriate in their present form. We believe the bigger issue is the formula that is used to determine how much funding each local authority receives. Midlothian Council has been one of the fastest growing areas in Scotland for some years, yet we receive the same proportion of funding from COSLA as we always did. To build and maintain the infrastructure required to host the many, many, new developments in Midlothian, a much fairer division is required. We insist that you apply pressure on The Scottish Government to conduct an independent review of Council Funding.
In conclusion, none of the proposed cuts would be necessary if Midlothian Council was funded appropriately and fairly. We do not accept them. We do not want to pit group against group trying to fight for whose cause is more important, they are all important. We must stand together in solidarity.
Bonnyrigg and District Community Council
Danderhall & District Community Council
Eskbank & Newbattle Community Council
Howgate Community Council
Mayfield & Easthouses Community Council
Newtongrange Community Council
Rosewell & District Community Council
Tynewater Community Council
Dalkeith and District Community Council
Damhead and District Community Council
Gorebridge & District Community Council
Loanhead & District Community Council
Moorfoot Community Council
Penicuik & District Community Council
Roslin & Bilston Community Council
Correspondence: CONTACT- MIDLOTHIANFEDERATION@GOOGLEGROUPS.COM