Gina Davidson: Chill wind of this tax freeze

There's not enough money to pay for everything. Picture: Rob McDougall
There's not enough money to pay for everything. Picture: Rob McDougall
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THE cuts are finally, really, beginning to bite. Hard. Leaving the grass to grow is perhaps the least thing we have to worry about, but it will soon become an all-too obvious physical reminder of the problems of local government finance (and let’s not forget the tram-shaped hole in the city’s council coffers).

The grass around the eight sports centres which will close because of cuts to the Edinburgh Leisure grant from the council will have to grow pretty high for us to forget they ever existed, while the people who used to pound on the treadmills or swim lengths, some on doctors orders to try that radical “get healthy and prevent medical problems rather than ask us to cure them” idea will slowly get fatter and more unfit, eventually becoming a bigger burden on the council’s social care budget and of course the NHS.

Swings and roundabouts perhaps. Except they’ll probably be chained up on Sundays soon. And as the list of cuts – including some public toilets and library hours – is mounting, so too are the price hikes in services. Parking fees: up 20 per cent. Home care charges: up £2 per hour. Allotment fees: tripled to £300 per annum.

Each day seems to bring new woe for those who use and depend on council services. Of course all of these cuts or rises are proposals at the moment as the council carries out its budget consultation, but let’s face facts, the majority will happen.

The fears about leisure centres closing for instance, ironically coming while the glow of the successful Commonwealth Games is still being felt, are not misplaced. The chief executive John Comiskey is not just trying to scare the horses. Or the vaults. He is telling the hard truth of the matter. It cannot afford to run all its centres on the money it gets.

The council has a funding gap of £67 million, or it will by 2017-18. The city’s roads are crumbling, as are some schools, as are people’s homes as statutory repairs are halted. Even the famous Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens is about to collapse.

The bin collections are, much of the time, a mess and the recycling schemes confusing. So far we haven’t heard of street lights going out, but it might not be too long. At least burials are still being carried out, though no doubt the costs will go up once more.

Now you can blame council officials and councillors for poor financial management, and there is no doubt a historic kernel of truth in that. Without a doubt the budgetary pressures of funding the tram line have also had a major impact on the council’s potential spending. But the main culprit is the council tax freeze.

One of those ideas which sounded good at the time has turned into a turkey which has come home to roost at the City Chambers.

The Scottish Government is about to get a new leader, a new First Minister in Nicola Sturgeon. It is believed that she is more left wing in her views than Alex Salmond: could that include the ability to see how tying councils’ hands behind their backs while asking them to keep spinning the same number of plates just can’t work?

There will be reluctance among many SNP politicians to scrap this regressive freeze as they feel it bought them many middle-class votes, as it is that strata of society which has benefited the most from the freeze.

But with the financial realities of not allowing councils to raise local taxes to deal with their areas’ interests really beginning to tell, will they want to have the finger of blame pointed at them?

It’s time for a melting of the council tax freeze.

IT’S GOOD TO RECEIVE

CONGRATULATIONS to Lynne McNicoll, the great woman who runs the It’s Good 2 Give charity which raises money to help young people with cancer and their families. This week she received the William Y Darling Good Citizenship Award. So well deserved.

Budge’s sterling efforts have got Hearts beating

ANN Budge is really making her presence felt at Tynecastle – and making a huge difference.

With the introduction of the Living Wage for all staff, the brilliant idea of creating a Hearts museum and her introduction of a lifetime ban on supporters who take flares to games, she is once again proving her credentials as a no-nonsense businesswoman with sound values.

Just what Scottish football needs.

Boyack deserves Labour support

DURING the independence referendum campaign, I got the chance to see Nicola Sturgeon and Sarah Boyack go head-to-head in a debate.

Sturgeon’s abilities have been clear for all to see as her very public rise to the top of the SNP has proved. Boyack, who has been an MSP for 15 years, has been rather quieter in her political dealings, though no less effective. And during that debate she gave as good as she got. As the only woman, so far, to have thrown her hat into the Labour leadership ring, I hope she gets the support that she deserves.

Green and red at the airport?

GOOD to see Edinburgh Airport getting into the recycling game to support this year’s Poppy Appeal. Assuming, of course, that it’s re-using the the red floodlight gels it must have lying around after the last time its purple tower went red. That was to celebrate the launch of the now defunct Little Red flights.