Council budget ‘leaves public services in crisis’

Edinburgh City Chambers. The capital's local authority is facing funding cuts similar to other councils across Scotland
Edinburgh City Chambers. The capital's local authority is facing funding cuts similar to other councils across Scotland
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BUDGET plans aimed at saving £85 million have been officially approved – sparking warnings that public services across the Capital are now in “crisis”.

The move means a raft of spending reductions and fee rises will take place, including cuts in grants to public sports body Edinburgh Leisure, shorter opening hours at city-run museums and galleries, and parking charge increases of up to 50 per cent.

The situation is one of severe crisis in funding, a severe crisis which is impacting on services – not only in the city of Edinburgh but across the whole of Scotland.

Proceedings began yesterday with around 40 protesters in fancy dress gathering in front of the city chambers.

Bearing banners and beating drums to highlight their fears, they called for city bosses to show leadership by mounting a campaign against future cuts.

Senior councillors have insisted the approved budget for 2016-17 will allow them to balance the books while continuing to deliver frontline services.

But they admitted a reluctance to rubberstamp proposals which it is feared will damage the quality of assistance provided to vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly. Among the agreed reductions is the removal of a six-strong dedicated team which helps pupils with emotional needs.

There are also plans to make elderly, ill and infirm residents buy their own bathing equipment if they are assessed as having “low-level” or “moderate” care requirements.

Council chiefs are looking to save at least £147m in total over the next four years.

Calling on the Scottish Government to “let go”, city leader Andrew Burns said it was imperative local authority bosses in Edinburgh and across Scotland were given greater autonomy and control over their own revenues.

He said: “We’re being forced to take decisions that can, and will, only impact on public services.

“This is the most difficult budget settlement I have had to deal with. This is not the budget that any of us would want to set but it’s being driven by deliberate choices made elsewhere, in both the Westminster and Holy­rood parliaments.

“Local government funding in Scotland is broken. Everybody knows it but Holyrood has failed to act, over 17 years, to

reform council funding.”

He added: “We could do so much more with a few more levers under our control. Only around 20 per cent of our funding comes from the council tax.

“Four-fifths of our funding comes directly from central government. In most other European and North American countries, local government would have control of around 40 per cent of their revenue.

“How can it be right to have all that devolution from Westminster to Holyrood but no further to local councils? It has to stop. As well as Westminster, Holyrood needs to let go.”

The funding squeeze has also sparked concern over the future of key projects, including plans for an entirely new primary school in south Edinburgh.

We told earlier this week how senior education figures had voiced doubt over delivery of the proposal amid a £12.3m funding gap and “the worst ­local government financial settlement since devolution”.

Union bosses said services in the city were in “crisis”.

Duncan Smith, member of the Edinburgh Trade Union Council executive, said: “The situation is one of severe crisis in funding, a severe crisis which is impacting on services – not only in the city of Edinburgh but across the whole of Scotland.

“There has to be particular campaigning for the pot of money from central government to be expanded.

“Instead of contracting, it has to rise. We live in one of the richest societies in the world. Are we saying we cannot provide services for the elderly? It’s just unacceptable.

“Edinburgh should also have more control over its tax base, which is something that supports local democracy.”

Anna Hutchison, member of the Power to the People group, which is based at Wardieburn Community Centre, said: “It’s the impact that all of this is ­going to have on services that’s really worrying people.

“If they get rid of the community learning and development workers and they get shifted about, there won’t be anyone to sustain the services. The worker we have at the moment could be sent to another post. It’s good for the community if we have the same staff to build up the group.”

She added: “What I would like to see is the Labour and SNP administration pressuring the Scottish Government, which can then pressurise Westminster – and that does not seem to be happening.

“When I speak to Joe Public, they see Edinburgh is a rich city but it’s just not filtering down to the areas that need it.”

Opposition figures said the agreed budget was an indication of timidity and missed opportunities.

Councillor Iain Whyte, Conservative finance spokesman, said: “The Labour-SNP administration has wasted four years ignoring the need to restructure the council and make it more efficient.

“They have finally started to accept some of the necessary measures to manage the workforce that we Conservatives have been calling for over a number of years.”

Green finance spokesman Cllr Gavin Corbett said: “The Green budget offered the choice of softening that blow on frontline services and providing extra money for social care and schools.

“The council’s own budget consultation showed over 60 per cent support for council tax rising to support services. The organisations coming to the council today to speak on the budget urged the council to be more challenging to governments – both UK and Scottish – about cuts to services. Sadly, however, it seems that the council prefers to hide behind the threat of Scottish Government penalties rather than be bold enough to stand up for the Capital, stand up for children and older people, and stand up for decent services.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com

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