Andrew Kerr, Edinburgh City Council’s new chief executive, starts work today. He can be excused a wince as he sees the in-tray awaiting him.
The council may be one of the most prosperous in Scotland, and its residents are better heeled on average than most Scottish authorities, but there are colossal outgoings, too. Of the council’s total £1.3 billion budget, housing, education and labour-intensive welfare costs eat up ever-increasing amounts.
The cost of social work alone in the Capital is now £290 million. And the central dilemma for the new boss is how to meet the requirements of cost-cutting – Edinburgh must find savings of £67m by 2018 due to funding reductions – while protecting services for care of the elderly.
Falkirk-born Mr Kerr comes to the post with wide experience in budget management and cost control. A former athlete, he has previously held senior posts in Wiltshire, Cardiff and Cornwall councils and comes with a reputation for innovative thinking. He led an award-winning development programme at Birmingham City Council and was credited with “turning around” the finances of North Tyneside Council while chief executive there.
And as chief executive in Cornwall he was a key player in devolution negotiations resulting in the county securing important powers over its health and transport budgets – the first rural authority in England to secure a settlement of such scope. That experience will be particularly relevant as Edinburgh is now working with its five neighbouring local authorities to secure a similar deal for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region.
But budget matters will prove the most testing, particularly for a city facing a demographic bulge. As matters stand, elderly care services are facing a budget cut of £5.7m this year. Services ranging from care homes to the quality of rehabilitation services for those who have suffered injury or serious illness may be at risk.
Affordable housing will also be of pressing concern for an expanding city in need of accommodation for young people starting out in their careers.
The new chief brings wide experience, a reputation for innovative thinking, experience of devolution – and, it is said, a cheerful demeanour: qualities on which he may soon have to draw to the full.