Falkirk Community Trust business plan delayed

Cecil Meiklejohn
Cecil Meiklejohn
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Falkirk Community Trust has been forced to delay a business plan that will show how it hopes to save the millions being slashed from its budget.

The trust will not be able to report back until the end of a consultation asking people how they feel about community halls closing and leisure services changing.

A meeting of Falkirk Council heard that 816 people had replied to the online survey so far. But the consultation has been widely criticised on social media with Labour councillor Joan Coombes labelling it a box-ticking exercise and “an embarrassment” to the council.

In a bad-tempered debate that lasted for well over an hour, councillors blamed each other for what they agreed was an unsatisfactory consultation.

The SNP say that they cannot start the consultation they planned to have because the opposition refused to back their plans to close under-used and dilapidated buildings and use the cash to fund a major investment programme.

Depute Provost Anne Ritchie said: “I will admit it’s not great, it’s not getting to the point of what our constituents want.”

But she blamed the questionnaire on the opposition’s amendment which was delaying the timetable for change.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “We are where we are. The consultation we have had to do is very high level without much detail. By necessity now it has to be two-part with a more detailed assessment coming down the line.”

However, Labour and Conservative councillors say what they wanted was to find out how their communities would be affected, especially specific towns, such as Bo’ness, which many felt was bearing more than its share of cuts. 

Conservative group leader Lynn Munro agreed with Cllr Meiklejohn that it was just the start of a fuller consultation.

She said: “At least this survey is a beginning in terms of understanding what our communities want.”

Councillor Allyson Black (Lab) said the reality was that closing facilities would make inequality worse and people without transport would be unable to access services and it was better to consult and get it right than rush into it.

The online consultation will be followed by focus groups in the three areas – Denny, Bo’ness and Grangemouth – which will look at how specific closures would affect people.

Chief executive Kenneth Lawrie told councillors there was a clear understanding it is a two-stage consultation and said: “That there is a need for deeper discussions with communities is without doubt.”

Instead of reporting in November, Falkirk Community Trust will now bring forward its plan in January though some councillors are worried that won’t give them time to scrutinise plans for the council’s budget meeting in February.

Councillor Robert Spears, the administration’s portfolio holder for leisure, culture and heritage, said: “Our aim is to maintain as many facilities as possible and maintain them so they are both secure and safe – an investment plan is the best way to secure this.

“Time waits for no-one and delays will not only affect the Trust but the leisure provision for us all.”