Council urged to make ‘difficult decisions’ to bridge £70m funding gap

A report found Falkirk Council had rejected around half of cuts proposed by officials.

Council urged to make ‘difficult decisions’ to bridge £70m funding gap iStock
Cuts: Falkirk Council urged to make 'difficult decisions" to save cash.

Falkirk Council has been urged by a watchdog to make difficult decisions to bridge a £70m funding gap.

The Accounts Commission released a report on Thursday telling elected councillors and officials to better work together to put in place changes to services and savings in the coming years.

The report said the council, under minority control of the Labour Party, rejected around half of the cuts proposed by officials in the life of the administration.

Among those proposals rejected by councillors, was the decision not to cut 27 full time positions, saving £400,000.

A five-year, financial plan published by council officials in May last year showed a £70.8m funding gap over that time, but just £14.9m of savings have been outlined through the flagship Council of the Future initiative.

Another £6.8m in savings are projected through the use of zero-based budgeting, while unidentified savings of £18.3m are also planned, according to the financial plan.

Tim McKay, the interim deputy chairman of the Accounts Commission, said: “Change is required urgently at Falkirk Council.

“It is frustrating that there has been insufficient progress since our 2018 report. All councillors must fulfil their obligations to make challenging decisions for the benefit of local people.

“Councillors and officers must work together to deliver savings and deliver services differently.

“With improvement and change having been inconsistent and falling short of the Commission’s expectation, a further report in 2023 will cover what progress has been made.”

Cecil Meiklejohn, the leader of Falkirk Council, said an action plan was being designed to address the issue.

“As a council, we always strive to deliver the best for the people of the Falkirk area but know more work needs to be done to do this,” he said.

“Taking on board the views of the Accounts Commission and the recommendations made in the best value assurance report, an action plan is being developed that will build on our strengths and the work already underway to address our shortcomings.

“The plan will help us make the necessary improvements to how we work and deliver services to ensure best value for the people of Falkirk.”

Falkirk Council chief executive, Kenneth Lawrie, added: “I will take full responsibility for delivering (the action plan) along with senior colleagues, because it is our responsibility to lead by example and accept our role in the report findings and support our employees to make change happen for the benefit of our communities.”