PARENTS at a Clacks nursery facing admissions cuts have been left outraged at the lack of debate on the proposal at last week's budget meeting.

Despite their petition being acknowledged, members of Banchory Parent Council feel "unheard, disempowered and misled" after a cut targeting the ELC was approved at the Thursday, March 9, Clackmannanshire Council budget meeting.

Two days before the budget meeting, a petition was heard from those behind the campaign, which had garnered the signatures of 461 residents.

A savings proposal for £483,333, originally outlined in the council's official budget engagement booklet, would leave the Banchory ELC class without "any new admissions for session 2023-24" – prompting the petition.

Last Tuesday, councillors were asked to dispose of the petition by agreeing either that it merited no further action or that it required "consideration by council within the context of deliberations associated with the upcoming General Revenue Fund budget for 2023-24".

While councillors decided on the latter option, the issue was mentioned briefly once by Cllr Graham Lindsay at the Thursday meeting as he seconded the budget.

No one brought it up in debate and there were no alternatives presented at any point.

The policy saving, which now also indicated another saving of £290,000 for 2024-25, was passed with the rest of the budget.

Tullibody's Cllr Darren Lee declared an interest in the item at the outset of the meeting and was unable to participate on matters relating to Banchory while four of the five Labour councillors were also absent.

Cllr Craig Holden did abstain from the vote, later explaining he felt the budget should have been kinder on households amid the current economic climate.

Members of the parent council say they were informed that following the Tuesday meeting, the matter would be discussed again more fully on Thursday "and that council officers would be required to present alternative options for making the financial savings".

DECISION: The cut was approved at Kilncraigs last week. Picture by LDR Danyel VanReenen

DECISION: The cut was approved at Kilncraigs last week. Picture by LDR Danyel VanReenen

At the meeting Cllr Lindsay spoke of the decision to take school transport off the chopping board, spoke of the investment to come in the next 20 years such as Alloa wellbeing hub and a new-build Lochies School.

The spokesperson for education also spoke of the P5 swimming programme, investment in the education psychology service for young people, expansion of free school meals and much more.

He added: "The planned reduction in intake will move forward, we have had some significant further discussions on this off the back of Tuesday.

"The planned reduction in intake will move forward as proposed; however, we will continue to work with the school community to ensure we meet the needs of young people and families in that particular area."

Emma Wilson, chair at Banchory Parent Council, said: "The biggest takeaway I personally have from this as a member of the community is the complete lack of confidence and trust in our local government, having had a detailed insight into the way in which decisions that affect our lives, are made.

"Anyone can understand the extremely challenging decision making process that exists for councils to produce budgets that balance, across all services.

"However, the very least we can expect, when the proposals go out to public consultation, is that options are presented with transparency.

"At every turn, as a member of the community I feel unheard, disempowered and misled.

"The right to petition and have this petition heard and acted on, based on the strength of voice around any given issue has also been completely undermined and I am astonished that there has not been any scrutiny to the fact that this was not followed through as required.

"I have also always been an avid voter and for the first time I have asked myself the question 'what's the point?' which is a very sad day for our democratic rights."

It is understood that at the Tuesday meeting, council chief education officer Colin Bruce outlined the rationale behind the savings.

He said the decision is not only about financial efficiency, although it is a benefit.

UNHEARD: Banchory Parent Council member Kathryn Beaton and Chair Emma Wilson presented the petition to councillors last Tuesday. Picture by LDR Danyel VanReenen

'UNHEARD': Banchory Parent Council member Kathryn Beaton and Chair Emma Wilson presented the petition to councillors last Tuesday. Picture by LDR Danyel VanReenen

It was explained that cutting three-year-old provision at Banchory would provide extra space for the high percentage of children in Banchory's catchment with additional needs.

According to Mr Bruce, most of this savings would come from "staff efficiencies."

Speaking following the budget meeting, Cllr Lindsay told the Advertiser the decision to reduce take in at Banchory ELC "was not an easy one and was carefully considered".

He thanked parents for engagement and said the administration listened carefully to the arguments laid out.

He said: "On balance, it is our view that that we needed to accept the proposal set out by education [officers] to enable more space to be created to meet the changing and increased needs that continue to exist for the young people in the school.

"We also needed to consider the efficiency of the education ELC service and we believe this proposal allows the council to continue to operate within its means.

"With two very high quality ELCs, Tullach and St Serfs, only a very short walk away, and Tullach offering extended hours all year round, we felt that the quality and offer of early learning and childcare provision for our youngest children and their families would not be impacted.

"We will, of course, continue to work with the proactive parent council to ensure this is absolutely the case in reality going forward."

While the proposal became policy last week, Clackmannanshire Council did not respond to the Advertiser's request for comments on transparency and commitments made.