‘Concession changes will spark fury’

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THE recession and spiralling national debt is forcing a long-overdue debate in this country about our public services.

What do we want our government, councils and public agencies to do for us? More importantly, how much are we prepared to pay for them?

The arguments are most acute at a national level and the argument over austerity versus a “Plan B”. It also dominates the city council agenda, including the row about privatisation of the likes of bin collections.

But our dependence on publicly-funded services goes much deeper than that, and here in the Capital one of the biggest other providers is Edinburgh Leisure, which runs the city’s sport and leisure facilities on a not-for-profit basis.

Still largely funded by the council, it is being squeezed not just by the pressure on the public pound but also by the ability of locals to pay to go swimming or to the gym.

That’s why it faces a £2 million shortfall which is forcing it to look at some pretty drastic options. Cutting opening hours at some facilities won’t be popular, while “efficiencies” surely means jobs will go.

But the biggest controversy will be over changes in concessions which will hit older people hardest.

No-one wants to pay more, but there surely is a case here that age is not a clear indicator of ability to pay. Many people in their 60s, who pay less, are wealthier than some in their 30s struggling to support families.

And even with these savings the funding gap won’t be bridged – raising fears for “last resort” closures of facilities, perhaps Portobello golf course and Kirkliston Leisure Centre.

These are tough calls and even though Edinburgh Leisure is an arms-length agency, as its main paymasters, councillors may yet have to decide whether to let changes and closures happen or intervene by supporting it with more public money.

That debate should not be restricted to the City Chambers, however. All who live here have an interest, either as service users or as payers.

Shred of incredibility

ANY suggestion that potentially important documents relating to the tram project have been destroyed would be astounding.

Spring cleaning is fine, but you would hope staff at the city council or TIE thought it might be worth keeping everything relating to the trams.

As we look towards the public inquiry, we must be confident that there is as complete a picture as possible. Only then will we discover who knew what, when and, more importantly, why decisions were taken.

We may never discover if valuable information has already been lost, but any shredding must stop now – and the inquiry must start soon.