Feb 25 2010 by Alistair Watson, West Lothian Courier
WEST Lothian Council are set to slash services and around 1000 jobs over the next three years as they face up to a potential £45million funding gap.
Council chiefs are preparing for what they have described as the biggest challenge local authorities have ever had to face — a 12 per cent reduction in real terms in the money they receive from the Scottish Government from 2011 to 2014.
To bridge this gap they say they will need to find around £45million of budget savings but the figure could be more.
As well as substantial job losses services are set to be cut and reduced while charges may be introduced for others. The number of council buildings could be reduced from 43 to 17 and poorly used facilities such as swimming pools and libraries could close.
Council officials hope to get rid of the jobs by putting a freeze on recruitment, redeploying workers and offering staff a reduction in hours or voluntary redundancy.
However, while describing it as “the last resort” council leader Peter Johnston didn’t rule out compulsory redundancies.
“We know that a tsunami is coming but we’re not sure how high it is going to be. At present we are preparing for what could be a £45million funding gap. Clearly this is a significant amount of money. In addition to this the council have to plan to manage other financial pressures,” the council leader said.
“We don’t just want to move to compulsory redundancies – that is the last option we want to have.
“However, it would appear that however we look to address the shortfall we are going to have to have a reduction of around 1000 posts over a three-year period.”
Contingency plans have already been passed by the council executive for a redesign of the senior management structure that will lead to the loss of one director and two heads of services.
A consultation process will now begin with trade unions, staff and stakeholders about the redesign of council services. Members of the public will also be asked to prioritise which services they would like to see remain.
Council chief executive Alex Linkston said: “We want to focus the debate on not what we are going to cut but what we would like to retain. We are talking about losing potentially 12 per cent of our budget but we’ve still got 88 per cent left.
“We’ve still got hundreds of millions of pounds to spend here, we’re still employing over 6000 staff, we’re still a huge organisation and it’s terribly important that we deliver the money we’ve got left to the public’s priorities. We’re looking for a genuine debate before we make the final decisions.”
For more on the council’s plans see page three.