Comparing notes on Edinburgh council’s budget spending

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With the Capital’s finances agreed for the coming year, Alasdair Rankin and Iain Whyte offer their take on what

the future holds for city residents

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, convener of the finance and budget committee

This budget is different from any other in previous years. We consulted more fully, and earlier, than ever before. It also takes us away from the traditional “salami-slicing” approach of cutting a bit here and a bit there. Instead, we focused our approach on listening to your priorities and putting our resources where we believe they are most needed.

We’re putting extra millions into fixing roads and schools, funding a new care home, and supporting services that help people get back into work. We’re also protecting the funding that our hard-working and successful charities receive for the vital support they provide to people in our communities.

One really important difference in how we are approaching the budget is to put the money in services that will make a difference for the future – both in terms of better performance as well as saving taxpayers’ money. For example, by investing in fostering, we can ensure more “looked-after” children can be brought up in a secure family environment. Achieving that will be much better for the children concerned and it will better for the council because residential care is very expensive.

As well as using your money wisely, we are also looking at ways of saving it without reducing the quality of services. This work is well under way, such as the improvement programmes for the services that we decided to keep in-house rather than outsourcing to the private sector. But there will still be much more to do, so it’s essential that every area of the council’s spending is looked at closely to make sure it is efficient and effective.

We are well aware of the broader economic climate, the state of public finances generally and challenges that remain for this council specifically. The process of talking with, and listening to, you about our budget for the future will be ongoing, not just an annual event.

But the budget approved for next year will be a solid base from which to meet the needs of those we serve now and in the future.

Iain Whyte, Conservative finance spokesman on Edinburgh City Council

Every year we are told the council budget is even more pressured, so we must get good value from every pound the council spends.

The evidence in the budget is that a decision taken last year is costing savings of at least £8 million per year. It also passed up the opportunity for far better services. At a cost of £4m the council entered detailed negotiations with contractors to collect waste, maintain our parks and deliver other services.

At the eleventh hour, Labour and SNP councillors forced the council to scrap the plan – giving up contractually guaranteed savings and higher standards. Edinburgh Conservatives want to reintroduce these savings.

Instead the council has embarked on an internal improvement plan costing a further £11m. However, the evidence is that the smaller savings now being targeted will not be achieved and the services are poorer. The best example is the shambles of the new waste collection arrangements introduced in September. The savings are limited and on the ground hard evidence is that the council is struggling to provide a basic service whose reliability is widely seen as worse.

There are also big areas of risk in the budget. For example, Edinburgh has a strategy for the replacement of eight care homes which are no longer fit for purpose, but the funds to build the three new ones required by 2018 are not allocated in the Labour/SNP coalition’s budget. Instead they provided a mere £4m towards just one new care home by 2017-18. The Conservatives prioritised funding the three care homes in the next five years to reduce the risk and provide much better accommodation for the older people who need the service.

Edinburgh Conservative proposals would also make a modest reduction in staff which, along with management efficiencies, would have enabled a one per cent reduction in council tax. Stirling Council has shown this can be done. The Capital should follow suit and reduce the burden on hard pressed citizens.

These are difficult times, but there is strong evidence we could achieve much more if we operate more efficiently. Edinburgh Conservatives are confident the council can be more efficient and provide better services.

SERVICES COSTS ON THE INCREASE

THE council budget unveiled last week set out a number of inflation-busting price increases for services.

The cost of parking in the city centre is to rise by 20p an hour, meaning motorists will now pay up to £3 per hour for parking. The council estimates this will bring in an extra £340,000.

Approval was also given for the introduction of a controversial 30p charge at public toilets in the city centre.

Other fees and charges going up by more than the current 2.7 per cent rate of inflation include venue hire, allotment rentals, licence fees, burial and cremation charges, registrar’s fees, and admission to the Scott Monument, which goes up from £3 to £4.

Venue hire increases will mean charities and amateur groups using the Church Hill Theatre for an evening performance will pay £263 instead of £255. And the cost of taking the Assembly Rooms’ Music Hall for the evening will go up from £1800 to £2025.

The budget also included £125,000 for Leith Waterworld to help community group Splashback work towards reopening the pool. It will be financed by more efficient use of the council’s insurance fund.

The council’s budget – which freezes council tax for another year – includes £28.5 million of new investment despite hard times. The new spending, mostly financed by borrowing, includes £12.5m to mend the Capital’s roads, £10m for repairs to crumbling schools, £4m for a new care home and £2m for parks, sports pitches and pavilions.