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List of proposed budget cuts as Perth and Kinross Council plans to axe Christmas lights event

Proposed cuts include axing all council-run events, widespread toilet closures and removal of all school crossing patrollers.

Perth's annual Christmas lights switch-on could be cut. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.
Perth's annual Christmas lights switch-on could be cut. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

Perth and Kinross Council is planning a series of savage cuts in next week’s budget.

Council officers say that at least 33 jobs should be cut in the next 12 months to meet a projected shortfall of £31m.

However, layoffs over the next three years will be at least 169 if members agree to their recommendations at full council on March 1.

PKC has a current headcount of just under 6,000.

Council tax in 2023/24 is set to rise by 3% and housing rents by 2.2% (or £1.62 per week).

And there are some big cuts in services being proposed.

These include:

  • Full removal of all council-run events.
  • Closure of all council-run toilets (apart from in Pitlochry and Dunkeld).
  • Closure of school breakfast clubs.
  • Removal of all school crossing patrollers.
  • Removal of primary school swimming lessons.
  • Removal of adult literacy services.
  • Removal of modern apprenticeship scheme.
  • Reduction in local bus service provision by 21%.

Environmental services are set to take a particularly big hit. Proposed cuts include:

  • Reduced opening of full-time recycling sites from seven days to five days a week.
  • Removal of out-of-office-hours winter treatment to footway network (with the exception of Perth city centre).
  • Reduction in winter maintenance network coverage by 20%.
  • No street cleansing to be undertaken by hand.

Some retained services may come at a much higher cost. These include:

  • Increase in charges for school meals and out of school kids clubs.
  • Increase in on-street parking charges by 20%, off-street charges by 10% and residents’ permits by 5%.

Major projects may also be put on hold. These are:

  • Revamp of Blairgowrie Recreation Centre (£36m).
  • PH20 project at Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool (£110m).

11 key recommendations to cut services

Council officials have set out the proposals, how much they would save and the potential impact for service users and staff.

Some have been on the table before, and rejected, but are once again being put forward for consideration.

Here we look at some of the suggestions in more detail.

1. Axing of council-run events

Saving: £360,000

Perth and Kinross Council’s annual events include the Christmas lights switch-on.

Though the Bonfire Night event in Perth is run by the Round Table, the council provides financial support.

Members of Julie Young Dance Studio at last year’s Christmas lights switch-on. Image: Steve MacDougall / DC Thomson.

Officers acknowledge that “financial support for events contributes to the vitality of Perth city centre in particular by providing a reason to extend visitor stays and expenditure.”

But they also point to the budget consultation in which 70% of respondents – by far the highest number – felt council-run events were the best choice for service reduction.

2. Removal of all school crossing patrollers

Saving: £179,000

Officers say there is no funding for additional infrastructure improvements or any alternative crossing provision installations.

“It is the parents’ responsibility to get their child(ren) to and from school safely”, the budget document says.

But it adds that council staff will continue to work with parents in respect of safe school travel planning.

It said: “Where there is no assessed safe walking route to school for pupils, accompanied by a responsible adult, these pupils will continue to be transported by the council.”

3. Removal of primary school swimming lessons

Saving: £60,000

Under the plans, primary swimming lessons would be removed from August 2023.

This was a recommendation in last year’s budget that was not agreed by councillors.

Back then, the local authority said it was “not a statutory requirement to provide swimming lessons to pupils”.

This year, it admits that families on low incomes may not be able to afford to take their child(ren) swimming.

This may impact on Live Active Leisure staff.

4. Widespread toilet closures

Saving: £85,000

Officers suggest closing nine of the area’s 11 public toilets.

This would mean no facilities in Auchterarder, Blair Atholl, Blairgowrie, Comrie, Coupar Angus, Crieff, Kinross, St Fillans and Marshall Place in Perth.

Crieff toilets in James Square. Image: Google.

Pitlochry and Dunkeld would be retained because they have been calculated as having the highest footfall.

The council would look to expand its comfort schemes.

5. Reduced opening times of full-time recycling sites

Saving: £270,000

Councillors will vote on whether to reduce the opening of full-time recycling sites from seven days to five days a week. This would save £170,000.

An additional proposal is to reduce daily opening times by two hours per day to save £100,000.

The report cites this may have an impact on recycling rates and performance.

6. Closure of breakfast clubs

Saving: £38,000

Free breakfast clubs were introduced in targeted areas to provide food at the start of the day.

Uptake has been limited after the introduction of charging £2 per breakfast.

The report accepts that parents who use the service as childcare would have to find alternative provision.

7. Reduction in local bus service provision

Saving: £525,000

Councillors are being urged to cut 21% of the £2.5m budget for local bus service provision.

As a non-statutory service they could decide to axe the entire £2.5m but the report stresses this would have “significant implications for mobility of the public in relation to employment, access to healthcare, further education, leisure/retail and social interaction etc.”

Perth Bus Station.

The report acknowledges that even a 21% cut would have a significant impact on travel opportunities, not just in rural areas, but also in parts of the city.

“[It] would have greatest impact on the most vulnerable in society at a time when poverty and the cost of living crisis are increasing exponentially,” it said.

8. Removal of modern apprenticeship scheme

Saving: £451,000

Removal of this budget would end corporately-funded MA and graduate work experience/apprenticeship/professional trainee opportunities.

Those currently funded (in full or in part) from this fund will continue to be supported to the end of their training programme – the latest being 2026.

Officers say increased competition in the recruitment market along with current rates of pay offered are impacting on the number of applicants for these roles.

The current split of corporate and service funded posts is 50/50.

9. Removal of adult literacy services

Saving: £451,000

Adult learning providers are commissioned to provide training leading to a qualification for vulnerable people which in turn helps them into work, training or further education.

Learners are generally already disadvantaged and includes individuals with no or very limited use of English, homeless people, people with substance addiction and people with poor mental health.

Officers accept that removing this funding would severely impact its English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) provision, which would affect its ability to support asylum seekers and refugees in particular.

Demand pressures in this area have grown and are set to increase.

10. Pausing delivery of Blairgowrie Recreation Centre

The council report says the cost estimate of the Blairgowrie Recreation Centre project has risen from £24m (October 2020) to £26.7m (February 2022) and now £36m.

This reflects completion of detailed design work and the tendering of works packages in a climate of significant inflation in construction costs.

Officers are currently evaluating an offer from Hubco and the appointed contractor BAM in terms of compliance with the council’s specification.

The new facility was anticipated to open in 2025.

How Blairgowrie Recreation Centre’s entrance would look.
How Blairgowrie Recreation Centre’s entrance would look. Image: Holmes Miller.

The new recreation centre would comprise a six-lane 25m pool, four-court hall, two-court hall/gymnasium, dance studio and fitness suite, accessible changing facilities, and all-weather pitch.

The recommendation is to pause the project as “part of a wider consideration of the capital investment needs of the Blairgowrie community.”

11. Pausing delivery of PH20 project at Perth Leisure Pool

The council recently approved funding of £90 million for the creation of a combined leisure facility on the current site of the Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool.

The PH20 project has had funding challenges for the past eight years.

An artist’s impression of how the new-look pool could look in the PH20 project.

The proposed facility includes:
• Large leisure water.
• 25m traditional pool with movable floor.
• 12.5m x 8.5m teaching pool with movable floor.
• Gym/group fitness facilities (three studios).
• Bowling – six lanes.
• Ice – eight lanes.
• Health spa; family play area; flexible conference facilities and a café.

Inflation impacting on the council’s overall capital programme has resulted in a revised cost estimate for the project of £110m.

“The current policy requirement to meet net zero levels in development
projects is resulting in significant additional costs being introduced to projects such as PH20,” the report said.

“It will be necessary to consider how we maintain both of these council commitments
within the development of this project.”

What happens next?

Councillors will decide whether to approve the recommended budget or to make amendments at the full council meeting on Wednesday March 1.