A £1-a-week council tax levy was proposed today to plug the Capital’s school repairs budget shortfall and keep classrooms safe.
Members of the city’s Green group urged education chiefs to approach the Scottish Government and make the case for a “special school repair and improvement levy”, which would be charged to the average council tax bill and vary according to tax band.
The proposal comes as a police and the Health and Safety Executive probe continues into the death of 12-year-old schoolgirl Keane Wallis-Bennett, who was killed when a “wobbly” modesty wall collapsed on to her at Liberton High last week.
Councillor Melanie Main, Green education spokeswoman, said the council only had half of what it needed for the proper upkeep of schools and children’s centres.
She said: “An additional £10.5 million a year would allow the repairs backlog to be addressed in full and fund the additional borrowing needed to improve schools.
“£10.5m is £1 a week extra on council tax – surely a small price for a well maintained school estate and no less than Edinburgh needs and future generations deserve.”
Cllr Cameron Rose, leader of the Conservative group, said he agreed with Cllr Main in that there “does need to be a prompt response for the need for repairs” but that increasing council tax was the not the best option.
He said: “The council has a £1 billion budget and there are many other areas where it has not been as efficient as it should have been. I think there are plenty of other sources where finance could be obtained.
“The council needs to become more efficient and there will be savings that can be made elsewhere.”
Lindsay Law, parent representative on the education, children and families committee, also said she would be “cautious” about raising council tax but that every avenue needed to be explored to raise the needed funds.
She said: “I think no-one’s in doubt that we need to invest more in school estates and I have asked for all avenues to fund that to be explored for example things like appealing to central government. However, I would be cautious about immediately raising council tax because of the effect that could have on people who are already struggling, especially families with children.
“It’s been quite difficult in the recession so I would be cautious but I welcome the council looking at all ways of funding the improvements because schools are incredibly important – they are important in the future of our country and they have to be safe and secure for all our children.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Edie said £10.5m would clear out the council’s fund reserves and that there would be legal problems if the council broke its agreement to freeze council tax.
He said: “I don’t believe the government’s financial regulations would allow us to use council tax because it would be capital expenditure. We would have to go back to the Scottish Government because that’s where all of our capital comes from.”