COUNCIL chiefs have warned of a serious risk to public health from increased food poisoning outbreaks and infestations under its own proposed cuts to environmental health and pest control budgets.

Midlothian Council is proposing severe reductions to services amid a battle to close a projected shortfall of £45 million within three years.

Under the plans, all pest control activities will stop, despite council officials admitting it will lead to more infestations which would spread to neighbouring properties.

The council is also planning to cut two environmental health officer posts, even although officials admit it will cause “a significant risk of major impact on public health and public safety, such as, for example food contamination outbreaks”.

Other measures include raising council tax bills by three per cent every year until the cap is lifted, charging parents more than £300 a year for music tuition in schools and axing all subsidised bus routes.

School dinner prices will also rise, severely disabled people will lose their free taxi service for appointments, refuse lorries will carry advertising and householders will be charged for new bins, a move the council admits will face “hostility”.

Every library bar one will close, street cleaning will stop at weekends, sports hall charges will be hiked and after-school clubs will be hit with a 45 per cent rise in rent under the savage cuts aimed at balancing the books.

Critics are now asking whether councils across the country can keep the public safe as they face an unprecedented funding crisis after years of a council tax freeze and reduced cash from the Scottish Government.

It comes as councils are facing a financial black hole of more than half a billion pounds in only two years’ time unless they make major cuts, according to an official analysis.

The Accounts Commission forecasts the gap between the amount local government spends and its income could grow from £87m in 2016/17 to an estimated £367m in the current financial year, before rising again to £553m in 2018/19.

Midlothian Council leader, Councillor Derek Milligan, said: “Midlothian faces unprecedented financial challenges, as a result of the continuing, severe cuts in Scottish Government funding at a time of growing demand for vital public services.

“Seventy-five per cent of our funding comes from the Scottish Government and the amount we receive is being drastically reduced year after year, despite the increased pressure from a fast growing population on education, health, social care, child protection and other services.

“All of this means that the council now needs to take some very tough decisions which will undoubtedly have a severe impact on our ability to deliver services at current levels.”

Severe cuts to environmental health officers across Scotland has already been blamed for a rise in food poisoning outbreaks, such as E.coli, as the number of inspectors are reduced.

Tom Bell, chief executive of the Royal Environmental Health Institute Scotland, said it had “serious concerns about the reducing numbers” of staff employed by Scottish local authorities.“The Institute’s concerns are about how, with these drastic reductions in competent staff, local authorities can continue to protect the health of the public they serve,” he added.

Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Miles Briggs said: “These plans should be alarming not just for people in Midlothian, but across the whole country.

“Under the SNP government, this seems to be the kind of bleak future local authorities are facing. Everyone understands the need for councils to be leaner and more efficient than they have been. But these proposals go further than almost anything else we’re used to seeing.”

Earlier this week, East Renfrewshire announced it is making £26m worth of savings and axing hundreds of jobs yet will also increase council tax bills by nearly 10 per cent.

A COSLA spokesman said: “COSLA are in talks with the Scottish Government regarding the spending review and will be presenting a strong case that local government cannot sustain further cuts, as experienced over the last two years, without significant impact on services and jobs, and most importantly the communities we serve to protect.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish budget from the UK Government. Councils will receive funding through local government finance settlement of more than £10.4 billion for 2017/18.”