Alasdair Rankin: City budget needs smart thinking

Big decisions are made at City Chambers. Picture:  PHIL WILKINSON
Big decisions are made at City Chambers. Picture: PHIL WILKINSON
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Have your say

Most people are familiar with setting budgets of some kind. In Edinburgh, this used to be an annual event in the council’s calendar but how we spend our money is now under scrutiny all year round. This ensures everything we do delivers best value for our residents.

Despite the financial challenges all local authorities face these days, we want to continue to invest in the areas that are essential to Edinburgh and so it is important that the public tells us what is important to them.

A report published last week, which will be considered by councillors tomorrow, outlines how all of our residents can have their say in how we set next year’s budget.

This year, our draft budget for 2015-16 will be available at the start of October. I appreciate that financial information can be quite dry, so we are going to bring it to life with a new online tool we are designing to show you the consequences and benefits of cutting and increasing spend across all service areas. This will give everyone a chance to experience setting a budget for the city.

We used the feedback received last year during the engagement process to help us make many key decisions, such as rejecting proposals to cut funding for young people with additional needs and to amend proposals affecting school librarians and new kinship carers. This year this new tool, along with meetings in neighbourhoods and with focus groups, will help better inform our decisions when we finalise our budget in February.

We must ensure that we can maintain investment in services for those that need them most and so a huge amount of work has gone into improving the efficiency of our service delivery.

Over the last year, savings of some £22 million have been made from procurement, a figure we plan to increase in the coming year. Since 2012, property rationalisation and improved partnership working has cut our annual revenue spend on council buildings by £5m – and this should rise to more than £10m by 2018.

As well as making it easier for the people of Edinburgh to express their views on the budget, we’ve built on the priority-based approach used in recent years through the Better Outcomes, Leaner Delivery (Bold) initiative. We’ve recognised that we need to go beyond traditional efficiency savings and consider more imaginative and transformational approaches to delivering our services.

One of the biggest challenges we face is reconciling rising demand for our services with an ever-reducing level of funding. We’re therefore exploring with colleagues in NHS Lothian how bringing together adult social care services from April 2015 can deliver both financial savings through more efficient, joined-up working and better outcomes for service users.

We’re also reviewing how service delivery in neighbourhoods can be better co-ordinated, allowing available investment to be targeted to both priority areas and the preventative services that are vital to the longer-term sustainability of the council’s budget.

Besides reviewing our expenditure, we’re looking at a number of innovative ways of raising additional income while protecting our priority groups.

I very much look forward to hearing your views on our draft proposals, which will be issued in October and would urge you to use the tool we are developing to set your own budget for the city.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance and resources convener at Edinburgh City Council