Bute and Cowal focus group discuss council budget cuts

With the publication of the council’s budget proposals - which has indicated a reduction to the budget of £55.7 million over the next three years - further information can be gained from the consultation period which welcomed comments and suggestions from the public, and hosted focus groups across the region.

Bute and Cowal’s focus group comprised six people, of which four were volunteers with island organisations and from Cowal, a total of 14 people were involved; three represented voluntary organisations.

The focus group discussed the various services provided by the council, and gave their thoughts on what could be improved, or could stand to be changed.

With regard to leisure services, ‘people from Bute were uncertain who could manage buildings in their area although three thought the Volunteer Centre should expand its work on the island’; road operations discussions included that street lighting is an issue as ‘no lighting, more anti-social behaviour’.

Waste management was of concern - ‘What about commercial rubbish that already piles up in Rothesay town centre – some days it looks dreadful’. The general consensus was that although there was enthusiasm for better recycling, there were no protests about cuts, other than a plea for roads to be kept in good conditions.

For economic development, the focus group said that Bute would like to see a community run tourist information centre with lots of facilities to attract visitors and regain its position.

For regulatory Services, the focus group’s comments included: ‘Staff should be reduced in council – overstaffed. Council needs to behave like a private employer, not give away benefits and pay it cannot support’; ‘Private landlords should pay tax on their properties and it should be used for communities’; ‘Bute is a paradise for private landlords – it ruins Rothesay as property is not well maintained’.

With regards to schools and public transport, the focus group revealed that all participants from Bute acknowledged some schools could close, and ten from Cowal (including rural areas) agreed.

Comments included: ‘Why not increase fare and then routes would be self-sufficient?’; ‘Bute Links community bus is hardly used. Dunoon has good local transport’; ‘Lots of rural areas don’t have Sunday services – or just one each way link to town’; ‘Not many people don’t take their car on the Bute ferry – what about community car sharing to Dunoon?’; ‘Need pupil transport for those furthest away. Could most parents pay a realistic amount?’.

Cowal voted to suggest a preference for less frequent services instead of any cut to services to save money. The Bute group thought their location gave good argument to fund transport other than by council if needed.

Cleaning and Janitorial brought forth comments which included: ‘On Bute – would welcome outsourcing of catering or cleaning to create social enterprises for community’; ‘If standards fall it will reflect on schools’; ‘All school meals should be free’; ‘We can all afford to pay more for school meals’; ‘Most pupils don’t eat the fruit but should. Parents are responsible for poor diets’; ‘Everyone is having to make savings so Council should also and none of this is unreasonable’; ‘Lots of areas could go out to contract or be better run – this is about working smarter and behaving responsibly’.

The overall outcome of the Bute and Cowal focus group was that all 14 Cowal participants wished to vote to accept proposals. Bute opinion remained divided.

The document stated that overall comments centred around preserving what was good and the council needed to change the way it worked.

The general consensus was that there were staff savings to be made. People were keen to record that they did realise the situation was serious.

* The budget proposals document - some 300 pages long - can be found at the council’s website, www.argyll-bute.gov.uk