Council Budget: Jobs to go amid £120m funding gap

Vacant positions in the council won't be replaced on a one-for-one basis. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Vacant positions in the council won't be replaced on a one-for-one basis. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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HUNDREDS of jobs are set to be axed across council departments as finance chiefs slim down their workforce to plug a £120 million black hole by 2018.

The city hopes to save £4.5m over the next four years by scrapping vacant posts created through “natural wastage”.

With staff turnover at the council running at around eight per cent per year, compulsory redundancies will be avoided but outgoing personnel are unlikely to be automatically replaced.

It comes as the SNP-Labour coalition today sets out its financial vision for Edinburgh that will move to shield education from the swingeing cuts but see nearly £2m squeezed from early years services.

For finance convener Alasdair Rankin, “efficiency” and “sustainability” are the watchwords as he plots how to tackle this year’s £36m budget cuts and reduce the city’s £1.4 billion debt burden.

He stressed Edinburgh’s long-term economic map had been laid out until beyond 2020 and the city was set for its fifth consecutive balanced budget.

“What we aim to do is maintain the maximum level of services that we can within the resources that we have. To do that, one of the core things we need to do is to look at being as efficient and effective as possible,” he said.

“One of our commitments was not to have any compulsory redundancies which is a policy we can stick to.

“But it does not mean there isn’t scope to look at our workforce overall and consider if they are deployed as best they can be.

“When people retire or go to another job, they won’t necessarily be replaced on a one-for-one basis.

“Given we have an eight per cent turnover of staff every year, that does give us some scope for savings.”

He added: “We have avoided any headline cuts but not slashed the budget in any particular area and, in fact, protected it in areas like education and health and social care.”

School library staff narrowly avoided the chop after a wave of public protest – backed by renowned authors Ian Rankin and sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman – forced a rethink on introducing a “shared service” between city secondaries that would have saved £400,000

And earlier plans to siphon £1.06m from additional support needs (ASN) have been shelved amid surging numbers of special needs pupils that have left schools at a tipping point.

An extra £281,000 will now be pumped into ASN with a promise to increase net spending by 3.8 per cent in four years.

Parents previously warned that relocating pupils to mainstream classrooms would be “catastrophic”.

The News this week told how proposals to slash £500,000 from the Police Scotland budget had been scrapped after city leaders reached a deal to restore road safety education.

Police have also shaken hands on a Service Level Agreement which will offer the authority a greater say in where community officers are deployed.

But despite a five-month public consultation, motorists have not been spared the rod and are facing price hikes at the meter and outside their own homes with an extra £2m set to be squeezed from Capital drivers over the next four years.

Prices at pay and display meters will rise by 20p – pushing the city-centre rate to £3.20 per hour – while parking permits across the city centre will climb by ten per cent across the board. Several council-owned buildings will be sold off to provide both a capital receipt but also a cost saving in property maintenance.

All remaining staff at Chesser House will today complete their relocation to the council HQ at Waverley Court and offices at Captain’s Road in a move expected to provide full-year savings of £3.5m.

Finance chiefs have remained tight-lipped about which bricks and mortar assets could be auctioned off due to fears it would undermine their commercial value but revealed a condition survey and “full inventory” had been carried out on all properties.

“That means we will sell off some of those buildings, some of which are liabilities in as much as they are not occupied or doing anything useful for the council,” said Councillor Rankin.

“If we can get a tenant in or sell them off, we can generate income for the council.”

He added: “The core message is that we are in very tight financial circumstances but we are determined to deliver services to the greatest extent we can to the people of the city and make the operations of the council as efficient as they can be. They will need to be going forward, given the further savings we need to find in future years.

“We said we would look at everything and everything would be on the table. Our view is the council ought to be an efficient organisation anyway but we are in a position where we absolutely have to deliver on that.”

One controversial project whose costs spiralled out of control is the beleaguered tram line – set to go live in May.

The finance chief insisted the heavily criticised transport system will be completed within its revised £776m budget but accepted it may be “close”.

Challenges ahead but we’ve learned lessons from past

By Alasdair Rankin

At the outset of the administration, I ensured that sound financial management was one of the core pledges we made to the city.

All the indications are that we will achieve a balanced budget in the current financial year; that means it will be balanced for the council as a whole and within each of its departments. Two areas of saving will be in the way we buy goods and services and in how we manage a very large property estate.

We are examining the potential for generating energy as well as saving it by establishing of a number of companies. The emphasis will be on solar power, at least initially, although there may be scope for local hydro schemes, too. I am also responsible for the delivery of a greatly improved IT system which will make it possible, for example, to pay bills and apply for parking permits online.

We have learned hard lessons from the past. This administration has therefore put in place a much stronger audit function with the help of an external partner and for well over a year the new Corporate Programmes Office has been examining any council project or contract with a value of over £5 million. In addition the new Governance, Risk and Best Value Committee will consider the value we achieve in council spending.

As finance convener, I believe I am right to have high but achievable ambitions for the council and the quality of services that I am sure the people of Edinburgh wish to see. This means that there is a lot of hard work and there are substantial challenges ahead but I am determined to play my full part in overcoming them.