LOCAL parliamentarians have drawn up a 20-point plan to prevent “draconian salami slicing” by a Scottish council.

Argyll and Bute Council aims to make up to £26 million worth of budget cuts between 2016-20, losing 450 full-time equivalent posts.

All workers have been offered the chance of voluntary redundancy, apart from teachers, social workers and social care staff, and council leader Dick Walsh has announced plans to request extra funding from Deputy First Minister John Swinney in an effort to balance the budget. A consultation on large-scale cuts is expected to be issued on Thursday.

Now constituency MP Brendan O’Hara, local MSP Michael Russell and Highlands and Islands regional MSP Mike Mackenzie have drawn up a list of 20 possible alternatives to slashing services.

Russell said the move is in response to calls for help from constituents. He said: “Over the past fortnight all of us have received a substantial number of emails and other representations from our constituents expressing horror at what is being proposed by Dick Walsh.

“Our briefing paper lays out why his approach is the wrong one, tells the truth about how the council has found itself in this position and makes some constructive suggestions for the future.”

Suggestions include drafting in external accountants and HR experts to create a five-year savings plan, decentralising council activities in favour of cheaper local hubs and increasing the dwindling population by accepting more than the 20 refugees currently agreed.

Mackenzie, who lives on the island of Easdale within the constituency, said: “This area is suffering the worst depopulation in Scotland but these proposals can only make that situation worse.

“The council has so far failed to make any impact on that problem but if it were to set itself the realistic target of matching the average increase in population in Scotland it would solve its financial problems within five years.

“Our suggestions for change start to address those issues and I hope that others will bring forward further positive ideas because there are many alternatives to what is being imposed.”

In a briefing document circulated by the three politicians, they claim every family in the council area “is likely to be affected in some way” by the proposed changes.

The local authority, which is run by a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, is this week expected to issue a consultation on 145 proposals, more than 40 of which relate to education.

The three politicians claim the cuts are “being pursued for political purposes” by an administration made up of people who are “strong opponents of the current Scottish Government”.

They also accuse the administration of “blackmail” by linking the prospect of cuts with Holyrood by asking for further Scottish Government cash. They said: “'Give us the money or the Scottish Government gets it’ is the desperate and embarrassing plea from the council administration.

"It is also a plea made with menace and done in a grudging and accusatory tone directed at the very people whom the council wants to help them out of this mess.”

In the briefing paper, Argyll and Bute Council is also accused of a “profligate increase in high-salaried officials” after the number of staff earning more than £50,000 a year rose from 60 in 2012-13 to 85 in the last financial year.

The action plan includes a “radical” devolution of services to the third sector, merging the council’s economic development team with Highlands & Islands Enterprise and greater use of IT services to aid remote working.

O’Hara – who supports the council plan to argue “the special case” for further funding with both the Scottish and Westminster governments – said: “We have to be honest and admit that much of the problem lies with the failure of the current administration to manage council finances and council services in an appropriate and positive way.

Last night Walsh said: “We have not had the opportunity to fully evaluate everything that the parliamentarians have said in their briefing.

“However, we do appreciate their acknowledgement of both the financial challenges that we face and the council’s reliance on Scottish Government funding.

“Given they share our interest in securing a growing population and vibrant economy for Argyll and Bute, we trust that they will support the council’s appeal for additional assistance in meeting the substantial financial challenges for which we have been planning over the past two years.

“We have said from the outset that careful consideration and input is needed from everyone who has a part to play in Argyll and Bute’s future, given the extent of the challenges that we face, in common with other Scottish local authorities. That is why we are planning a second phase of consultation on options for achieving the considerable savings that the council must make.

“Proposals for savings options have been considered by a cross-party working group which includes members of the SNP group of councillors. These proposals have been developed by working together.”

The 20-point plan

1. Use external accounting, service provision, procurement, property and HR advice to reduce expenditure and maximise income in each area of the council’s work.

2. Close down Kilmory within two years and sell the building in a process of decentralisation, utilising existing local offices with a much smaller senior staff to save £1 million per year on senior staff and £1m on central office costs.

3. Reduce councillor expenses and remuneration by 10 per cent year on year, using IT for meetings.

4. Convene meetings of local community councils and third-sector organisations to draw up a list of proposed budgetary changes, seeking to transfer work to third sector and local groups to save £1m or more in each area.

5. Invite the public to contribute ideas for reconfiguration of services and elimination of waste.

6. Establish a joint committee with the trade unions and all council groups to seek savings through agreed changes to work practices and staffing levels without redundancies.

7. Adopt a radical approach to devolving work to the third sector; reverse proposed centralisation of services.

8. Establish school clusters to merge the budgets of each secondary school and its feeder primaries and seek savings of five per cent or more driven by head teachers, parents and pupils.

9. Examine health and social care integration.

10. Review town centre improvement strategies to attempt a greater role for the private sector and more engagement with local SMEs.

11. Review the property portfolio and asset register to maximise early revenue.

12. Approach Cosla to seek a variation of its funding formula if that disadvantages Argyll and Bute. Withdraw and save membership fee if that is refused.

13. Approach Cosla and the Scottish Government to seek improvements to the SINA formula and an increase in allocation of funds to Special Islands Needs Allowance payments.

14. Approach the Scottish Government to discuss medium- and long-term financial issues, with the aim of seeking some bridging finance if possible and seeking a clearer national understanding of, and funding for, particular island pressures.

15. Approach Westminster to discuss the impact of continuing austerity, including the effect of benefit cuts which is adding to the pressures of depopulation and therefore to the reduction in council income.

16. Assess additional income likely to accrue from the devolution of the Crown Estate.

17. Put a population growth programme in place utilising the emerging conclusion of the Task Force under Nick Ferguson.

18. Institute a strategy to increase the population every year by at least the national average of 316 people to restore £30m to the council’s budget within five years, wiping out the suggested deficit.

19. Consider merging the council’s economic development function with HIE.

20. Use uncommitted reserves to smooth the process of change., which is a particular challenge because of the failure of the current administration to plan effectively for the future.