Review of Falkirk Community Trust could be ‘disastrous for staff and community’

Question marks remain over Falkirk Community Trust properties, despite confirmation that no closures will take place for this budget.

In January, a leaked report had revealed that several properties, including Falkirk, Bo’ness and Grangemouth town halls – along with several libraries and sports centers – were all being considered for closure in order to save cash.

Now, councilors have now been told that many of the options – including a proposal to cut the school week by two and a half hours – are no longer being considered.

But the latest, publicly available, budget papers say that the Community Trust – which will come under full council control in April – will look to make savings of around £1 million in the year ahead through a review.

That figure includes £230,000 that has already been saved by the loss of two very senior members of staff.

However, Councilor Joan Coombes said there was not enough detail in the latest papers about how the council will find the other £770,000.

She said: “This report, to me, is a sad and sorry reflection of what’s going on in local government everywhere.

“I think it’s very vague and I may be over-reacting, but I think it could be disastrous for our staff and our community.

“I agree that leaking the previous options to the press was very wrong, but I also think it’s wrong for us not to discuss and highlight some of the horrendous decisions that will have to be made very shortly.”

While councillors agreed last year that bringing the Trust back in-house would create a more streamlined service, that decision does mean the loss of £1 million in rates relief every year.

Chief executive Kenneth Lawrie told councilors that the fact that the Trust was being brought in-house made it very unlikely that any of the proposed closures would be acceptable.

He added that he did not think they were necessarily the best way of dealing with the challenges of the Trust and its finances.

He said: “What is proposed is that a review takes place with a savings target attached to it, during the coming period, in order that savings options can be identified.

“Ultimately that would be reported back to elected members for decisions and it might include proposals round about facilities or the generation of income or other potential changes in service.

“None of that is decided at this stage but we felt that it was important given that all services are having to bring forward very challenging proposals that there was a need to attach a target to a review of services from the Trust.

Cllr Coombes replied: “I’m not sure that a review in due course is really what I was looking for.

“I know that many of our communities are very concerned and nothing that we can say right now can allay the fears that this has definitely been taken off the table.”

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However, the SNP council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said that a review may well highlight synergies that could be made as the Trust is merged into the council structure – and there could be more opportunities to increase income.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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