Leader: ‘Councils must involve public in decisions’

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COUNCILS across the country are facing a near impossible balancing act at the moment.

Maintaining services on budgets which are being squeezed tighter than ever is always going to mean bad news for someone. The trick is trying to spread the pain while ensuring frontline services are protected.

We have already revealed this week how draft proposals to East Lothian Council suggest closing some rural schools and axing non-statutory free school meals.

Today, attention turns to cultural venues, with the recently revamped Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh among those which could lose out to the tune of £50,000 over the next two years. Opening hours of museums might be reduced while mobile libraries could be cut back.

Other proposals may see charging for music lessons.

They are at the moment merely suggested savings, but what it illustrates is how council officials are being forced to examine all options, including politically difficult and unpalatable cuts, to simply balance the books.

East Lothian is obviously not alone in facing difficult decisions. Similar plans are being drawn up in town halls up and down the UK.

It is up to local councillors to stand up for services in their areas when the horse trading begins.

They need to be sure the council itself is operating as efficiently as possible and that savings which do not impact directly on the public are made first.

Then there must be an open and thorough debate involving community representatives and stakeholders before any decisions are taken.

A saving today may end up costing more in the longer-term so it is crucial the right decision is made.

Everyone accepts that belts have to be tightened, but that won’t make it any easier to swallow for the parents who have to move their children to another school or the theatre staff who face losing their jobs.

Council administrations across the country are walking a budget tightrope at the moment. It will only be by involving the public in a proper debate that they will make it to the other side.