01 January 2010

Public say no to service cuts

Here is an article from Scotland. East Lothian Councillor Stuart MacKinnon is facing the same kind of budget questions we had here in Vancouver.

Published: Thursday, 31st December, 2009 7:00am

East Lothian Courier (Scotland)

THE vast majority of residents are against proposed cuts in the county's library and education services, the results of East Lothian Council's budget consultation have revealed.

The public's 'top three' preferred options for tackling the local authority's inevitable financial straits over the next five years were the freezing the corporate resources and the chief executive's office budget, replacing the current provision of annual flower bedding and hanging basket displays with more sustainable planting, and introducing coastal car parking charges.

The 'You Pay, Have Your Say' paper was designed to allow residents in the county to decide which services they would like to see unaffected by the looming budget cuts. But the public consultation events have proved to be far from popular with only a handful of residents showing up to voice their points of view.

The council received 240 written responses, 184 e-mail responses and 171 blog entries during the consultation period. They also received a further five petitions containing 2066 signatures which all concerned the proposed scaling down of the county's library service.

Public consultation events took place in all the county's six towns throughout November and December and featured structured exercises which were designed to allow participants to weigh up and discuss the various cost-cutting options.

The public results showed a dislike for the idea of reducing school staffing, a tendency not to favour restrictions on adult social care, and, in general, opted for a more general rationalisation and redesign of services.

Despite the poor turnout at the public meetings - only 135 people attended - the county's residents have sent a clear message to the council demanding the library service are left untouched by the proposed budget cuts.

Education was also high on the list of public priorities with an overwhelming majority of respondents against any cuts in the education budget whatsoever.

Over 2,200 people recorded a negative response to the closing of the county's smaller libraries, which are seen by many as a lifeline within their communities. 422 said they were unhappy about the possible reduction in school staffing, while 177 voiced their displeasure at the possible reduction number of management posts within schools.

The vast majority of the public results were dominated by negative responses to the proposed cuts, but budget-slashing suggestions such as reducing council office costs by having fixed working hours, pay top council managers less and by charging those who fail to use the recycling boxes were given as alternatives.

The council say initial reactions at the consultation events favoured ending the council tax freeze which has been in place for two years, but a more detailed examination of the results delivered a different outcome - with a majority in favour of continuing the freeze.

Cllr. Stuart MacKinnon, depute leader of East Lothian Council, said: "Although the administration will make the final decision on the budget this exercise will help to inform councillors as they put together their budget proposals. There are some interesting results and I would like to thank everyone who took the trouble to participate in this innovative process."

Labour councillors had boycotted the workshops in protest at the administration's public consultation.

Councillor Willie Innes, chairman of the East Lothian Constituency Labour Party, said: "The results of the public meetings are extremely disappointing for the current administration, and only backs up what we initially thought, that the meetings were fundamentally flawed.

"The way they were structured into a workshop scenario left people having to choose between services. It's up to the politicians to make these tough decisions, not the public. That's why they get paid."

The results of the month-long consultation period were published on the council's website on December 23.

Full reports on the public budget consultation are available on the website, and the council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, February 9, to decide its budget.

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