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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Marie Sharp

New East Lothian schools plan to be 'slowed' as council looks to cut costs

A £42 million project to build two new schools to support East Lothian's growing population of families will be "slowed" as part of measure to tackle the county's budget black hole.

Councillors agreed on Tuesday to a range of mitigation measures proposed by officers to help ease the pressure of a £5m deficit in this year's finances.

Among the moves agreed are the mothballing of some council offices and reduction in temperatures in those remaining open to 18 degrees to save energy costs.

READ MORE: First look at East Lothian vision for future primary schools

A planned £1.5m refurbishment of Musselburgh's The Brunton Hall, has been shelved in favour of a small £50,000 a year budget for minor upgrades.

And plans for new primary schools to service the new town of Blindwells and housing at Craighall, in the west of the county, will be delayed to remove funding commitments from this year's budget.

At a meeting of East Lothian Council finance chiefs said the decision to stall the schools would not have a major impact on their final completion - without ruling out any delays further down the line.

In a report to councillors, they said: "The pace of work to progress new schools at Blindwells and Craighall will be slowed, pending assurance over developer contributions for these schemes.

"The total estimated cost of these schemes combined is £42m, and expenditure of £1.25m has been incurred to date."

Councillor Neil Gilbert asked for reassurance the decision would not impact on families who were expecting to attend the new schools.

Ellie Dunnet, head of finance, told him: "The slowing of the financial burden will bring it into the next financial year."

Last month councillors agreed to left officers come up with plans to tackle the financial gaps in its budget after being told the current pressures posed the highest risk the local authority has ever faced

A £2m underpayment in funding from Scottish Government to cover a staff pay increase and £1.2m in additional energy costs for council buildings helped created an additional £5m budget gap this year.

Executive director of finance Sarah Fortune told the meeting: “It is now very clear the scale of financial pressure has reached a level we simply cannot sustain.”

The detailed report to councillors outlined discussions with Scottish Government to find flexibility over some ring fenced funding which could be reallocated as well as cutting costs.

Among council buildings confirmed for temporary closure to save energy costs are two block of offices at the council's Haddington John Muir headquarters which currently house SNP councillors, landscape and countryside teams and amenity services.

They are expected to move into the main building while the East Lothian Works offices in the town's Lodge Street, which have been closed during the pandemic, will formally close.

Council leader Norman Hampshire said the moves were all vital to support the council as it tries to balance its books and keep public services going.

He said: "The challenges we are facing as a council are absolutely huge."


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