By Democrat reporter

The SNP administration’s attitude to austerity in West Dunbartonshire appears to remain unchanged as the council moves towards the new financial year.

Thankfully, councillors from other parties have called a halt to one cuts plan to merge Active Schools and Sports Development.

This will be scrapped after councillors refused to support it.

West Dunbartonshire Leisure Trust, which manages swimming baths, sports and events held in them, was facing making £225,000 of cuts to services after losing over £2.5million in income during the lockdown.

The Trust has been forced to deal with the spiralling cost of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen the shutdown of pools, gyms and clubs for the majority of the past year, leaving them with a budget gap of £1.054m.

Proposals drawn up by the SNP included merging Active Schools and Sports Development, which would have seen the axing of five jobs, saving £48,000.

Other cuts, which include temporarily closing swimming pools during quieter hours, saving £22,500, and scrapping an early years programme to cut another £33,000, were approved.

One vacancy will also be removed, saving £13,000 and voluntary retirements will save another £18,000.

Councillors did not support plans for the merging of Active Sports and Sports Development, which run programmes to encourage young people and adults to participate in physical activity.

Labour Councillor Lawrence O’Neill said that he was concerned that the arm’s length ASSD would not be delivering what they did pre-Covid.

“I think there will be an increased need for that. I am concerned that we are going to be facing an epidemic with young people’s mental health and maybe this doesn’t take that into cognisance,” he told colleagues.

He said “I think we all have the same concerns and we don’t want to see this reduction, especially when we don’t have details over about what the impact will be.

“There’s a risk to services that will be far too important as we move out of lockdown.”

The Trust was planning to meet the £1m deficit by also using £600,000 of reserves and asking the council to use Scottish Government funding to fill a £229,358 shortfall, but the meeting heard that funding for that has now been found.

The motion, which was unanimously agreed, will need to be ratified by the full council at its budget setting meeting in March.

At the meeting, councillors also agreed the Trust’s business plan for the next year, which includes encouraging residents to restart memberships, boosting the numbers of children taking part in the Active Schools programme and widening opportunities for residents to participate in sport.

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