All local authorities are facing considerable pressure on their budgets due, above all, to reduced central government funding.
But there are also pressures from a rising birth rate, people living longer and current economic conditions both here and on a worldwide scale.
I fully recognise these challenges and intend to meet them by having clear priorities and achieving greater effectiveness and efficiency in delivering the services the people of the city expect.
Our priorities are reflected in the draft budget we have set out for next year. These are our 53 pledges, made at the outset of this administration. They can be summed up as the protection of frontline services and investing to provide effective support for our most vulnerable residents. We also need to foster the city’s economic development to increase employment opportunities. We will support older people, improve schools, nurseries and facilities and services for children to the best of our abilities. Within our financial constraints, this means becoming the most effective and efficient council we can be to ensure we get the maximum value for the money we spend. I am determined, with my colleagues, to drive that forward within the council.
Since the election in May 2012, we have demonstrated sound financial management, producing a balanced budget in the council’s major service areas and across the ouncil as a whole. We are implementing our plans to achieve major savings in the council’s buying of goods and services, property rationalisation and improved partnership working. We aim to ensure that we can maintain, and wherever possible, increase investment in frontline services.
The Edinburgh Guarantee has been a successful council initiative to help young people in particular into employment through apprenticeships and work experience and we will continue to do that despite our financial pressures. We also support the voluntary sector and continue to buy services directly from third sector organisations.
We do really want to know people’s views on how the council spends its money. We are here to listen as well as to make decisions – decisions for which we are accountable to the people of the city. That is why we are consulting on our draft budget with residents, the voluntary sector, the business community and community organisations from this month through to December 20. We will then analyse the responses we receive and take them into account in formulating our final budget proposals for consideration at a meeting of the full council on February 13 next year. I encourage everyone to let us know their views. Every comment raised will be considered.
This is exactly what happened following our budget consultation last year. Some of our major budget decisions for this year, such as doubling spending on roads and substantially increasing our investment in education, were influenced by responses we received from the public. So I encourage people to speak to councillors, email or use the feedback form at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/budget and let us know your views.
I am sure that, on a personal level, everyone understands today’s financial challenges very well and has a clear sense of the financial pressure on public services. It is all the more important, then, that we give them confidence that the council, whose services touch everyone’s lives, is performing efficiently and delivering the services on which they rely to a high standard. That is exactly what we are determined to do.
• Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance and budget convener at Edinburgh City Council