By Norman Hampshire, Depute Council Leader

IT IS A TIME of change in East Lothian.

In one of the fastest growing areas of the country, East Lothian Council has worked to protect and defend the vital public services which residents rely on.

This has included investment in new or expanded schools, affordable housing, help for older and vulnerable people and protecting the environment.

We are also ambitious to build an increasingly successful local economy – taking advantage of opportunities such as the City Region Deal and former Cockenzie Power Station site.

Yet in the last five years, the council has faced one of its most challenging ever periods. The amount of Scottish Government funding available to us – which makes up more than 70% of our income - has continued to fall.

Our response to date has been to reduce running costs by more than £24 million over this period, while delivering high-quality services to our communities.

However, like many other councils, we face further – and significant - reductions in government grant funding. Council officers anticipate needing to make savings of around £39 million over the next five years.

The reality is that it will be extremely challenging to make such massive savings while not impacting on local services and achieving a balanced budget – as we are legally required to do.

This means we are faced with tough choices and must now consider how costs can be reduced, how we might increase income, do more with less and, in many areas, how we might need to change the way in which services are delivered.

READ MORE: Council faces 'tough choices'

Council officers are looking at options which enable us to address the various challenges.

In February, councillors need to agree a budget for 2018/19. That’s why, following a number of focus groups with local people, we want to hear now from residents on our new budget consultation.

The consultation presents some possible options which would help us to address the challenges posed by reductions in the amount of funding available to us, while at the same time working in conjunction with our communities and residents to focus on our priorities and protect the most vulnerable.

Absolutely no decisions have been made and not every option in the consultation will necessarily be implemented. They do, however, highlight the kind of challenges and tough choices faced by councillors across Scotland.

For example, I would like to protect services such as rural schools which, despite in some cases operating well below capacity, are greatly valued by the communities they serve.

READ MORE: 15 options the council are considering to save money

But if we are to deliver a balanced budget and keep such facilities open, we will need to make savings or raise additional revenue elsewhere.

So it’s important for residents to have their say on the budget consultation. I would ask people to look very carefully at this set of options - which of these services matter most to you? To maintain a service, which options would you support in order to make the required savings? This is the time to make your voice heard.

The council will work in partnership to continue focusing on protecting the most vulnerable in our communities and building a more prosperous, safe and sustainable East Lothian. We greatly value your feedback in helping to shape our budget proposals.