Concern over future of Arran outdoor centre

The Arran Outdoor Education Centre in Lamlash.

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There was growing concern for the future of the Arran Outdoor Education Centre as it emerged it faces a funding review by North Ayrshire Council as they continue to search for ways to save cash.

A council budget paper, submitted to the full council on Thursday, warned that the Lamlash centre is operating at a deficit in excess of £400,000 a year.

As a result a funding review is on the way as part of a medium term financial plan. The paper states: ‘Alternative operating models and options appraisals will be undertaken, with a view to potentially developing options that move towards a self-financing solution.’

The centre is used by hundreds of pupils from North Ayrshire and beyond, as well as local youngsters and paying holidaymakers, for a range out  outdoor activities. But it is just the latest outdoor centre to come under threat across Scotland with Glasgow City Council recently agreeing a u-turn after announcing the closure of the Blairvadach Outdoor Centre north of Helensburgh.

The news came as North Ayrshire Council set its budget which is likely to see a council tax rise of 4.84 per cent, if the recommendation was approved on Thursday.

That would lead to a band A increase of £41.32 taking the bill to £895.12 a year. Band D would rise by £61.99 taking the bill to £1,342.69.

The Arran centre is just one of the services under review which includes libraries, halls and centres, including the school library service, across North Ayrshire.

The budget papers say that:  ‘a range of potential options for service delivery should be developed, which will be subject to further consultation with key stakeholders.’

One idea, which is being pushed by councils around the country, includes handing over the running of the buildings to communities as part of asset transfers.

The Ranger service at Eglinton Country Park is also under scrutiny as well as the garden tidy scheme. Residents are charged £80 annually for up to seven grass cuts and a hedge trim under the service. But that price does not cover the cost of delivering it to the 450 eligible residents according to a council paper.

Councillors were to decide if officers should carry out further work on the possibility of making cash savings in the services on Thursday.

The rise is the council tax is highest councils in Scotland were permitted to make this year and is expected to keep North Ayrshire broadly in line with the average council tax level in Scotland. Council Tax is expected to bring in approximately £58.8m and makes up about 17 per cent of the council’s income, with the bulk of funding coming directly from the Scottish government.

The price of care at home and burials are also expected to go up as finance bosses try to raise cash to plug an £11.4 million shortfall over the year ahead to balance a £395million budget.

A number of funeral services would see a hike of 10 per cent with the price of a burial going up from £733 to £806. The cost of a lair would be £859 up from £781 – also soaring by 10 per cent.

Officials have laid out plans to increase a raft of charges by five per cent including meals on wheels, care at home, respite care and pest control.
Other  proposals to scrimp money include school staffing cuts of £850,000 and withdrawal of taxi marshall funding. Grass verges on rural roads would be cut once a year instead of twice to save £10,000.

Despite cutbacks a total of 85 new jobs will be created including roles for nursery workers and carers. There should be no compulsory redundancies.

Council chief executive Craig Hatton said setting budgets are ‘very challenging’ and it is getting harder. He pointed out the council had already saved about £100 million over the last decade.

Mr Hatton said balancing the books is ‘getting more difficult against a background of pressures including deprivation, poverty and regional inequalities that exist in Ayrshire and North Ayrshire’.

Council leader Joe Cullinane said no high impact cuts or closures were on the table.

Investment options for the year ahead include £5 million on a climate fund -to be spent on renewable energy projects. Bosses also want to put £1.2million into community wealth building and £2.78 million into growing the local economy.

A council statement said: ‘Once again, North Ayrshire Council is faced with financial challenges in setting the budget, having made more than £100 million of cuts over the past decade as funding from Scottish Government hasn’t kept pace with the rising demand and cost of services.’