Planning for Change
Midlothian Council is consulting on the “reshaping” of local services in Midlothian despite the spectre of a potential £18.8 million funding gap based on expected growth and cuts to the 75% of council income that comes from Scottish Government. We found positivity in the approach and a search for a vision for Midlothian.
Three members of the NCC (Linda, June and myself) attended the second of four consultations on Saturday (April 27) to contribute to what turned out to be a brief explanation of why the council was focussing on mid-term (3 year) budget and working examples of initiatives in the broadly blue sky thinking the council is looking for to inform financial strategy this summer 2019. The event and so far rapid feedback was organised by Annette Lang, Strategic Service Redesign Manager (Services with Communities), and you can find an explanation, resources and her updates on the community input in the council pages. Counsellor John Hackett from the Council Cabinet and Operations portfolio (or as he puts it “pot-holes and dog poo”) gave a summary of the position and how these consultations would feed into the strategy’s priorities and how the council can support communities to do more or work in partnership with others. Dr Grace Vickers (Chief Executive) and Dr Mary Smith who heads up education, communities and economy provided some very experienced support for the exercises and it was reassuring to have people so invested in education and development (see Mary’s February update on Borders Rail).
Finally, we were treated to a brief explanation of how Newbattle High School, the event’s venue, was shaping itself as a “Digital Centre of Excellence” with partnership working with the likes of University of Edinburgh and Fitbit and unique programmes like commercial drone licensing (here’s a brief take on this coincidently by Borders Rail!). This might have been an obvious choice for venue as both a showcase for Midlothian Council’s recent development efforts and with the prospect of our student population doubling in twenty years being one of the many factors cited for the budget funding gap.
The theme’s for workshopping were:
- Working with you, for you
- Clean, Green and Sustainable
- How can we serve you better now and in the future?
- Reducing costs, demand and increasing income
- Making the most of what we have
There was some general discussion reflecting the negative experience in Newtongrange so far about change and lack of control, with decisions to remove the pool and flower beds being implemented without a chance to prepare or our community and importantly offer alternative plans. Dealing directly with Drs Vickers and Smith there’s clearly a gap in communication between us as it was revealed the War Memorial flower beds were never at risk. So in essence, the starting point for this consultation was improving communication about (the need for) change.
The communities raw thoughts on these have been captured here in a document, and I recommend you take a look at how we are responding as a community so far, with emphasis on sustainability and the environment. There were many questions underpinning the discussion, like the curious “How can we improve the way we communicate with you about road defects and repair programmes?” but I think of most value is the search for vision of what Midlothian wants to become: “The clocks have gone forward its 2040 in Midlothian? What do you want Midlothian to be like? What have we preserved? What’s changed? What do you think the essential services for the future are?”
This had me thinking about Nitten and what the village would look like when I’m retiring. Any “vision” was a little hazy to be honest and it inspires me to look at what we can draw out of our 2017-22 Coal Field Regeneration Trust Community Action Plan (see below to remind you!) in conjunction with this wider Midlothian work and the ongoing village Masterplan when that next opportunity arises (NCC will keep you posted).
I need to catch up with Linda and June about their experiences and to give a better sense of how we responded together on behalf of the NCC, but my focus for Newtongrange was very much on “joined up working and joined up services” to reduce costs as this approach falls within one of our current NCC aims of protecting and improving our services. Specific examples that I thought would suit our village were how we can protect our Library by developing it additionally as a Council shopfront, Post Office and an integrated IT service for isolated people, along with how you could improve learner outcomes, population health and school run (drop off time, parking and congestion) issues by making an early drop available in our park. But there are many great ideas to explore and I can report a tangible willingness to embrace new ones, backed with examples like the very recent opening of a “reuse” facility at Stobhill, and council income generation opportunities like properties for market rate rent (which might help balance the books and our communities’ increasing proportions of young families and seniors, your thoughts on this welcomed!). I think with the support of the City Region Deal, the backing behind the Newbattle High School initiative, Midlothian Council is maintaining a commendably positive outlook but we need to work quickly and closely as underneath the gloss are “inevitable” cuts to services.
At the time of writing there were two further opportunities to get involved: on the 1st and 6th of May, you can book here and you can pass your thoughts on directly to HaveYourSay@midlothian.gov.uk. Please also copy the NCC in email@example.com so we know what you are thinking!