HELENSBURGH Community Councillors have asked for more clarity over potential savings options after Argyll and Bute Council’s latest budget cut proposals were revealed.

HCC members gathered at the Victoria Halls last week for their monthly meeting, with the council’s budget high on the night’s agenda.

It has been a hot topic of discussion since it was announced that £9 million worth of savings must be found to plug a funding gap over the next two financial years.

And after a public consultation was circulated to gather feedback on current plans, community councillors appealed for greater transparency from the local authority before any decisions are taken.

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John Tacchi told the meeting: “Some of the suggestions to save money are criminally stupid. I just do not understand the level of thinking at the council.

“How can you consult when you cannot see figures? We do not see the budget make-up until three weeks before they have a vote on it.”

Nigel Millar said: “If you only cut, you are cutting away the muscle rather than the fat.

“There are always little things you can do to be a little more efficient.

“I want to know: what is the strategy the council has on how it goes about saving money?

“As a big business, what is your big business approach to saving money as opposed to simply cutting?”

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Mr Millar also called for more joined-up thinking between the council and Helensburgh residents, adding: “They talk about engaging the town, well there are lots of people in this town with experience of running big business: how do they go about it?

“It is unfair to expect councillors to do it. You are asking the wrong people to do the right job.

“How can we involve the town in assisting the council to do more with less? What can they learn from people who are very successful in this field?”

Addressing the two councillors present at the meeting – Lorna Douglas and Richard Trail – Mr Tacchi, a former councillor himself, said: “To my knowledge the council has been cutting since 2003 and I would hate to think what the cumulative cut is.

“Yet still we are in the horrendous situation of saying “we need to save £9 million”.

“After 16 years of cutting you’d have thought you would’ve got to the bone and then re-evaluate some of your services. We don’t know what else there is.

“We would like to know the numbers you are working with.”

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Councillor Trail replied: “What you have seen at present: they do the savings in two stages; management savings, just decided by the officers, and then policy options savings, for services, staff etc.

“One of the difficulties is that we don’t know the grant funding that will come to us in February, that’s another uncertainty.

“All we are doing at the present minute is making our best estimate at what the grant funding will be and then identifying the funding gap based on that figure and we don’t know what Scottish Government funding will come through to Argyll and Bute.”

The council last month endorsed a number of management savings but will make a final call on policy options – including school crossing patrollers, pupil support in schools and charges for services – early next year.

HCC convener Norman Muir told members that the best way to progress would be to organise another formal meeting in November to put forward possible amendments to the current proposals.

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He said: “There are things that we can usefully inject into it from our knowledge and experience of the town and it’s important to have an input into this budget.

“If there are weasel figures, we should say in an input to them as a corporate body “these are weasel figures”.

“The only way I can see through this is we either reply individually or get together as a body and go through that which we have in the way of cuts and slices and identify raisons d'être why these services should not be cut.”

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