Congregations fear poorest and elderly will be hit hardest
Church of Scotland congregations across Midlothian are calling on Midlothian Council to step back from making cuts in education, housing, library services and transport that they say will hurt disproportionately the poor and the elderly.
In a written response to the Council’s consultation Addressing Midlothian Council’s Financial Challenge to 2021/22, The Presbytery of Lothian asks the Council to look again at those proposed cuts that would limit the health and education opportunities for disadvantaged young people, impact the quality of housing enjoyed by Council tenants, lead to more homelessness, and impose greater limits on what older people are able to do.
The Church has also written to all MSPs and MPs serving Midlothian asking each to ‘to do all in your power to bring pressure to bear on those who are ultimately responsible for allocating finance to Local Authorities’.
The letter on behalf of the Presbytery of Lothian, which brings together all Church of Scotland congregations across Midlothian and East Lothian, is signed by Moderator of the Presbytery, Rev. David D Scott, and Presbytery Clerk, John McCulloch.
The decision to write to Midlothian Council was taken after Presbytery received a report from its Church and Society Committee. Committee Convener, Rev Sandy Horsburgh, says everyone realises that Councillors and their staff do not want to make any of the proposed cuts:
“Midlothian Council simply shouldn’t have been placed in the situation of having to consider cuts of this scale. The county is experiencing particular pressures from the rapid increase in its population. It seems unjust that so many jobs are projected to be lost and so many vital services cut in an area which should be seeing greater investment in order to meet real needs.
Mr Horsburgh adds: “Our hearts go out to the people who fear for their jobs and livelihoods, and also those bearing the heavy responsibility of making decisions to deal with a problem they didn’t create. The Presbytery and its congregations in Midlothian offer our renewed commitment to prayer for all those who work in Midlothian Council, our appreciation for the unstinting service offered to the community by the Council, and a commitment to work in partnership with the Council in whatever ways are possible.”
John McCulloch says saving money by moving more services online will hit some groups disproportionately:
“While there is a clear benefit in terms of cost and convenience of moving more council services online, those predominantly older people without the skills and equipment necessary, and those without an adequate broadband connection, because they live in a rural community, will be left behind.
“At the same time, everyone’s safety could be compromised if proposals to reduce regular maintenance of roads, cutting back on winter gritting, ceasing open space CCTV maintenance activity and potentially reducing street lighting are taken forward.”
In its submission and its letters to politicians, The Presbytery commends Midlothian Council for the open consultation process it has initiated and has encouraged congregations and church members to attend meetings and submit their own responses. It offers to explore whether congregations might take over some of the maintenance of church yards, and says it supports those proposals that will raise additional funds from those who can afford to pay.