City council budget: What opposition groups would have done instead

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Have your say

The Lib Dem/SNP administration has unveiled its budget for the year ahead. Now the opposition groups on the council explain what they would have done instead

Put an end to ridiculous waste

By Steve Burgess

Council tax- payers will be horrified that up to a million pounds is wasted on the Council’s annual political pantomime, in which all parties (except Greens) produce their own separate budget.

Instead, Greens want to see all parties get round the table to agree the budget and put an end to this ridiculous waste. Of course, it would be difficult to argue with much of the pre-election giveaway that the LibDem-SNP administration pushed through last week in the hope that this will save them at the polls in May. But these handouts take place against a background of Draconian cuts to jobs and services made in last year’s administration budget, many of which, like library cutbacks, are only gradually becoming known. Voters may also find it difficult to forget the tram debacle, school and nursery closures, the loss of more than 1000 council jobs and all the other cuts that are ultimately the result of Tory-LibDem policy at Westminster passed on by the Scottish Government. In the face of cuts, Greens have proposed new ways of raising revenue including through a tourist levy, a council energy company and, at national level, a land-value tax. This would ensure the protection of health and social care, schools and other services that collectively we all depend on and introduction of innovative policies such as the living wage.

We need fresh start with a co-operative council

By Andrew Burns

Edinburgh is known throughout the world as our nation’s capital: a city of history, relative prosperity, remarkable beauty and a source of deep pride to all who live and work here. Yet, Edinburgh’s Council is on the wrong road. It thinks it knows best – but it doesn’t.

And for the past five years our city has gone backwards. The SNP joined the Liberal Democrats to run our city in 2007 and they have both failed us. They lack the leadership and competence to move our city forward.

Last week, the SNP/Lib Dem administration published its final local budget. This highlighted an unprecedented level of debt. After five years under this administration, we, as a city, now owe over £1.5 billion (a rise of 66 per cent over the term of this administration). This all equates to a staggering £3000 of debt for every man, woman and child in the city

And of the 32 local authorities in Scotland, Edinburgh now has the fourth-highest debt-to-revenue ratio of any council in the country.

It’s all costing the Edinburgh tax-payer some £110 million every year to service that debt, which equates to over 11 per cent of the revenue budget going into debt repayments every single year.

Yes – more than £1 in every ten, of Edinburgh taxpayers’ money goes on servicing a debt burden that’s been increased by 66 per cent since 2007.

To meet such a financial challenge, Edinburgh Labour is, therefore, determined that the council must sit alongside local people and businesses to decide what we really want for our city. We acknowledge that the council’s previous “we know best” approach is inappropriate in such a difficult financial context and believe that we, as politicians, must now work enthusiastically with Edinburgh’s communities to target resources as effectively as possible. Edinburgh Labour believes we can still be ambitious and imaginative for our city and that the time for new thinking is now. Co-operative models are being developed to good effect throughout the UK, bringing together citizens, taxpayers, communities and workers to establish new methods of service delivery. This would empower people to achieve what they think best for their own community, with council support, rather than a handful of council officials and politicians determining how resources should be targeted. In this way, Edinburgh Labour would re-establish the strong relationship of trust between the citizen and state, which has been so damaged by this SNP/Lib-Dem administration.

Our alternative budget, the full details of which can be seen at www.edinburghlabour.com, focuses on allocating any additional sums to local Neighbourhood Partnerships, to allow local people to decide how money should be spent within our communities – repairing roads or pavements; creating cycling initiatives; a play park or a community centre - whatever improvements are most needed within the funding available.

Edinburgh Labour is also committed to introducing the Living Wage for all council workers to bring much-needed social and economic justice to some of the lowest-paid people in the city. This would be linked to a new policy that would ensure that the highest-paid council employee earns no more than 12 times more than the lowest paid worker. Fairness and transparency locked in and an important principle to establish for the future.

Most importantly during these challenging times, we would invest in employment initiatives, helping unemployed people increase their chances of getting a job. Further investment would go into the creation of apprenticeships so that more young people can learn crucial skills for a productive working life, and bring general economic benefit.

Yes, money will continue to be tight in future years and the council will need to economise in other areas. But the council could do so much better.

It is time for a fresh start, with a co-operative council listening to, and working with, local people and communities.

If you believe that fundamental change is needed in the way the council works, then a vote on May 3 for Edinburgh Labour could trigger that change. If we are the largest party in the council, we will seek the best talents from all parties to form an administration with us; so that we – and you – can move Edinburgh forward together.

I smell a rat in this budget

By Joanna Mowat

The Lib Dem/SNP coalition has spent four years decrying their inheritance from Labour, castigating Labour for their fiscal irresponsibility, then produce a budget of sweeties and giveaways. When you look at the budget you can see exactly whose leaflets each giveaway will appear in. The coalition has had us make hard choices over the last four years and three months before an election can produce a big give-away budget – frankly I smell a rat.

Whilst it is pleasant to be able to give money away, the question has to be asked – is this a wise use of resources?

The Conservative group would say no it is not. Audit Scotland recommends councils to hold two-four per cent of their revenue budget in reserves – taking the £5.9 million out proposed by the coalition leaves a reserve of 1.2 per cent rather than 1.7 per cent. We proposed to keep the reserves at the higher figure. The reason for this is that while there is a small surplus this year there is a budget shortfall predicted for 2013/14 and 2014/15. There is also a lot of risk facing the council. To name two of the biggest ones – an overspend on the tram budget and costs associated with the statutory repairs disaster which are unquantified at present.

The Conservatives would have invested the surplus in making the council more efficient and ensuring that services are designed to serve the user, not the provider. We would also have invested in the city’s infrastructure, prioritising pothole repairs, reducing the school maintenance backlog and providing more bustrackers and cycling and pedestrian improvements.