Duns respite unit feels the pinch as cuts begin

NURSERY education for three-year-olds in the Borders will not now be provided because of £2.45million of council cuts.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 7th October 2010, 5:17 pm

Recruitment of more school teachers and a proposal to provide free school meals to all kids in deprived areas have also been hit.

Another casualty is the newly opened respite care complex in Duns with one of the houses now to be let out on a short term basis.

A full council meeting last week heard that 2.45million would have to be saved in the 2010/11 budget because of government spending cuts.

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Further government cuts are expected this month although it is not yet known how this will affect Scottish Borders Council.

"It is imperative that action is taken by the council to reduce expenditure both in the short term and in the long term," chief financial officer Richard Webb told the council.

"This will require not only the reduction in budgets but also rigorous management and delivery by departmental management teams.

"It is essential also that procedures, behaviours and attitudes towards spending within the council are conditioned by the stringency and reality demanded by the financial context within which the council is required to operate."

Mr Webb warned that spending would be restricted to the absolute essentials in certain areas.

These include: *Recruitment into posts which are not regarded as "business-critical";

*Commissioning of external consultants;

*Attendance at conferences;

*Employment of temporary staff;

*Payments to voluntary organisations;

*Business travel;

*Non-contractual overtime;

*Supplies and services;

*Concordat commitments not yet committed.

This last category includes the provision of nursery to three-year-olds and free school meals to all children in deprived areas.

A proposal had been put forward to give free school meals to all children at seven primary schools in deprived areas of the Scottish Borders but this will not now go ahead. It would have cost 139,000. Nursery for three year olds was budgeted at 207,000.

There was also a proposal to recruit 12 more primary teachers at a cost of 281,000 but this will not go ahead either.

The school summer clean has been axed saving 60,000 as well as the excess transport budget (236,000).

In Social Work there is to be a reduction in direct care packages which will hit people with "moderate" needs. Those deemed to have "critical" and "substantial" needs will not be affected. This will save 60,000.

In Duns, Station Court, which was recently opened to offer respite care to disabled people will also be affected. Only one of the two houses will be used for respite care with the other being let out on a short-term basis thus saving 20,000.

Mid Berwickshire councillor Frances Renton, who is also SBC's portfolio holder for social work, explained: "We have two houses for respite care at Station Court but we have found that there is just the need for one of these at the moment so we are going to let out the other one on a short time basis to disabled people. We will continue to monitor the situation."

Of the cuts in general she said: "Although we knew it was coming it is still a blow."

The council also proposes to make savings of 10,000 by introducing care and repair adminsitration charges and another 10,000 from small repairs service charging.

Mr Webb said: "There is a risk that if the budget reductions are not met in 2010/11 the council would not be in a position to meet fully the further funding reductions in 2011/12.

"There is also a risk that unanticipated pressures arise during the remainder of 2010/11 and that all or part of the 2.45million may be called upon to relieve the pressure."

•A total of 1,612,800 in debts had to be written off by Scottish Borders Council in 2009/10.

Officials have warned that next year the level of debt that has to be written off could be even greater due to the current gloomy economic climate.

This year's debts are due mainly to companies going bust, unpaid rents at homeless accommodation and non-payment of council tax.

The amount written off relating to council tax was 186,572.93 while 179,258.51 relates to unpaid rent at homeless accommodation.

A total of 243,957.51 owed to the council was due mainly to firms going bust.