East Ayrshire councillors have agreed to take the next step towards transferring local authority services and jobs to an arm's length trust - despite the concerns of trade unions.

Elected members gave their backing last week to a call from officials to move to the next step in the 'cross-cutting' process, which unions fear could result in jobs being lost.

One of the most controversial elements of the review is the transfer of the council's music tuition to the East Ayrshire Leisure Trust (EALT), a plan that led the EIS teaching union to hold a protest outside EAC headquarters, with young musicians joining to show their concerns.

Alan Scott from the EIS said that the transfer showed disrespect to the area's instrumental teachers who, he said, provide half of the music services in East Ayrshire and should not be farmed out to an arm's length trust.

He added: “We effectively view that as the privatisation of a key education service and we are here to try and persuade the council not to do that.”

However, the council and leisure trust insist the move will not mean any cutting of services, with many of the concerns stemming from issues around engagement with staff and trade unions, something acknowledged by senior management.

READ MORE: East Ayrshire councillors back 'cross-cutting' review despite union warnings

While the reviews were set up to address a £32 million funding gap over the next two years, officers insisted that they also provide ‘opportunities’ to modernise and improve what is currently in place.

The proposed service transfers, include instrumental music, creative minds, outdoor education, community and corporate catering, play and early intervention, young people, sport and diversion; community health and activity.

The transfers would save £1.8m over five years.

Richard Grierson, the local authority's deputy chief executive, said that the council viewed all of the services forming the review as ‘critically important’ and that the transfer was aimed at protecting services that could face cuts if they continue to be provided by EAC.

Anneke Freel, chief officer at of EALT, also said that the core services to young people wouldn’t change, and would have a chance to improve.

She added: “In my head I see a great pathway for young people and music.” 

By utilising the facilities such as the Palace Theatre, the trust says, young people would get added professional experience from both a performance and technical standpoint.

The trust also has plans to make use of the service to branch out into the community and adult learners who don’t get the benefit of music tuition currently.

Ms Freel also outlined the potential for additional money that could be invested across leisure and culture through a trading subsidiary.

Currently, EALT can bring in money from food and drink, but only when it is tied to a specific event. A trading subsidiary would free up many of those restrictions.

The main concerns raised at the meeting were around engagement with unions, parents, young people and communities.

The transfer to the trust would also increase the amount of many the council pays to EALT, from £5.46m to £8.71m, an increase of £3.24m.

There had been concerns from a number of councillors around the wording of the review and that agreeing the report would look like they were fully behind it when many sought more information.

Chief executive Eddie Fraser admitted officers had discussed this and said the report simply sought to agree a ‘direction of travel’.

No final decision would be taken before October, he said, following consultation with a range of stakeholders.

East Ayrshire Council Chief Executive Eddie Fraser said the council will ‘become a smaller organisation that works proactively and effectively.East Ayrshire Council Chief Executive Eddie Fraser said the council will ‘become a smaller organisation that works proactively and effectively. (Image: East Ayrshire Council)

Councillor David Richardson (SNP, Kilmarnock North) said that he had initial reservations about the transfer, but said that he would rather see the council look at the potential transfer than have to look at cutting services should they remain with the council.

Councillor Peter Mabon (Labour, Kilmarnock South) said that the assurances gave him hope but, like other councillors, insisted that more had to be done around consultation and that parents and young people should be assured and involved in the process.

It had earlier been stated that East Ayrshire is in a far better position than other councils due to ‘prudent fiscal planning’. 

The report added: "We must now plan for a future that will undoubtedly result in significant reductions in core revenue funding, escalating service pressures, reductions in external funding and other contributing factors such as the cost of borrowing, inflation and continued market volatility."

Mr Fraser said the council will "become a smaller organisation that works proactively and effectively with partners to deliver effective, efficient and economic services".

A detailed proposal stemming from the review will go before council at the end of October.