THE dedicated Inter.Esk Cafe for young people in Musselburgh is to close as part of budget cuts approved by East Lothian Council on Tuesday.

Three Community Learning and Development (CLD) workers, who currently use office space at Musselburgh East Community Learning Centre (MECLC), are also to be relocated, with a potential saving of £380,000 in 2021/2022, and additional options for use of the building are to be explored.

The budget, put forward by the minority Labour administration and backed by the Conservative Opposition, was agreed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Withdrawing the Inter.Esk Cafe facility at Bridge Street will result in cost savings of £11,000 a year and it is envisaged that the building, a small retail/office space, will be offered for lease to interested parties in due course.

The facility was set up in 2001 to provide a computer-focused youth project that works with young people mainly aged 11 to 20 from the local community. Activities will be relocated elsewhere in Musselburgh.

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said: “The building on Bridge Street, which currently houses the café, is used for a small number of hours each week. The initiative was launched in 2001 when internet access was less readily available at home, school or in other settings.

“In recent years, visits to the building have tended to be for generic youth activities. There is limited space for such activities within the building which can be accommodated elsewhere, enabling access to a wider range of activities and resources. This will allow us to make increasingly effective use of assets in a challenging financial climate.”

Turning to the MECLC, he stressed that the centre, a council building managed on its behalf by FES, would not close and there would be no displacement of current activities. It was, he added, about “maximising” use of the building in the delivery of services.

The spokesman explained: “It is proposed that a small number of CLD staff who currently work out of office facilities within the Musselburgh East Community Learning Centre, relocate to office facilities at an alternative location. These staff are not involved with the day-to-day running of the building or the activities which take place there, as it is managed by FES under a separate contract. This arrangement continues.

“We are always keen to maximise the use of community buildings and are exploring whether it might be possible to establish additional provision within the building in the future. This will be discussed in detail with the management committee and stakeholders in due course. The proposal relates to year two of the budget – 2020/21.”

Councillor Andy Forrest, Labour, a ward member and Depute Provost of East Lothian, said: “With the current restraints on council budgets due to cuts in funding from the Scottish Government, moving the Inter.Esk Café to a new venue where it will not be a stand-alone facility will enable staff to promote digital inclusion to a wider number of people and therefore service a wider range of the community.”

He added: “With regard to MECLC, this facility has been on the rise since it was opened. Relocation of staff will not have any effect on activities that are run from or at the centre. The management group will continue to work with and support East Lothian staff with projects and activities.”

Councillor Stuart Currie, a Musselburgh member and leader of the SNP Group, said: “The whole point of the Inter.Esk Cafe was to provide facilities for young people in a safe place. We don’t have a community centre in Musselburgh. We have got the Brunton Hall but not a drop-in community centre.”

He added that there had been no discussions about the proposal with the Musselburgh Common Good Committee which he chaired although the building was in the Common Good portfolio. He added that Musselburgh and Inveresk Community Council or the wider community had not been consulted.

He described the decision to relocate CLD staff as a “cash grab”.

Mr Currie said: “My concern is that the centre was built in the heart of the community and the whole point of having people working for the council is that they should be based in the community. It is a cost-saving exercise, not about improving things. If they are not based in the community, where are they going to be? There is no point in having people in John Muir House in Haddington. £380,000 is a huge amount of money for different options around office space.”

Councillor Katie Mackie, Conservative, said: “With a £2.5m reduction in core revenue funding for the council as a result of the SNP government budget, some difficult decisions had to be made. The East Lothian Council budget consultation findings showed that where hard choices had to be made – the rationalise and review of council assets and office provision was preferred over other options.

“Whilst the Inter.Esk Café will be returned to the Common Good the activities that take place at the café will be relocated to another building such as the Fisherrow Community Centre. Relocating the CLD staff from MECLC allows other options for this building to be considered including use by East Lothian Council departments or sub-let to a third sector organisation.”

Councillor John Williamson, SNP, commented on the closure of the Inter.Esk Cafe, saying: “For the sake of £11,000 a year the Inter.Esk Cafe is going to close following decisions made by Labour and Conservative councillors at the East Lothian Council budget meeting on Tuesday. The café provides a safe place for young people aged 11-20 to meet, have access to computers, make friends and get support for any issues they are having to deal with.

“It is centrally located in Musselburgh and on a main bus route so is easily accessible to users. It is also currently being used as a venue for the 2019 Adult Learning Programme. It does great work with young people and if the provision is not continued elsewhere in the town it is our young people who are going to suffer – is a saving of £11,000 worth that.”