AN experiment run by the city council – and helped along by this paper – via the social media site Twitter asking people how the council could cut £36 million from its budget met with the two usual responses: why should councillors ask us when that’s what they get elected and paid for, and the inevitable “stop the trams”.
Well the news is folks that Edinburgh – that’s you – elected a council which is attempting to be more co-operative, more transparent, more reflective of voters’ wishes so it is, I believe, genuinely interested in asking people where they think the axe should fall.
Secondly, the trams are nearly here. The money is spent. There are no refunds, so collectively we all have to get over it and cross our fingers the system actually works. Perhaps even use it.
Of course, there’s no denying the mis-management and overspend on the trams is one very large chicken coming home to roost at Gogar. It is without a doubt impacting on the council’s budget through increased debt – a debt which at the moment costs £123m to service per year.
But there’s also the frozen council tax, an insidious, regressive policy where the rewards are greater the larger your home – so the idea it’s helping the poorest is bunkum – and leaves council services robbing foster parent Peter to try and make sure learning disabled Paul is given any kind of support.
Then there’s the reduced grant from the Scottish Government, because it’s had reduced grant monies from Westminster.
What is for sure is that local government finance is a mess and never more so is this exemplified than in education. The council spends £391m on education a year – that’s almost 50 per cent of its budget for spending on vital services, so it’s not surprising that this budget is going to be hit particularly hard when savings are to be made.
And so last month the council announced that £16m was to be cut from the children and families budget by 2018 (part of a plan to cut a massive £120m from the council’s total budget) with £7.5m coming from schools and early years budgets. Then this week a further £6m, it was announced, will have to go. More than £13m in a year. That is, frankly, an appalling state of affairs when the city is predicting a 20 per cent rise in pupil numbers over the next few years.
So where should this axe fall? On the kids who need additional learning support? On music lessons? On special schools? On every single pupil faced with a stressed out teacher as vacancies are left unfilled, as no time is given for lesson preparation, as sick leave is no longer covered by supply staff?
Education is what binds us together. It takes the rough diamonds of childhood and polishes them into shining, sparkly adults with brains full of important facts and functions which are supposed to then lead us all into a better future.
We all go to school. Some of us become parents and send our kids there. We all have a vested interest in turning out well-educated children taught by teachers who’ve been able to give their all. Perhaps that’s something you do have a view on after all. The budget consultation process needs your thoughts.
Policing policy is becoming a real cop-out
I’M beginning to think that we’re in serious trouble with the policing of our city.
We have a chief constable of Police Scotland, pictured above, the man in charge of the Strathclyde-ising of Lothian and Borders policing, who believes it’s an “old fashioned concept” that cops should be found at police stations – like suggesting the last place to look for a doctor is the hospital – so wants to close station counters; who has introduced quotas and targets for “stop and search”; and who believes that saunas should be closed, because the stocking of condoms and lubricants proves illegal sexual activity is taking place.
Of course he’s right. We all know that money for sex is what goes on behind these closed doors. But by pointing out that having precautions against sexually transmitted diseases on the premises is going to get you closed down does nothing but leave the women who work there at increased risk of STDs.
Run by men, the women there are at risk of disease by being asked to “bare back” before they are employed. Then there’s the risk attack from clients if they refuse certain acts.
Being a sex worker in these places is hardly a lifestyle choice. It’s one of complete desperation.
But unless the police is planning to become a social work service to help the women who work there to find other careers, to rid them of their drug habits, to help them make money, then closing saunas will do nothing but drive the sex trade “underground”.
I’m old fashioned enough not to want that to happen. And to know that a police station is where to find a cop.
Let’s keep spirit of Wombles alive
WHEN I was a child dropping a piece of litter was like committing a war crime, such was the opprobrium heaped upon you if you so much as let a bus ticket fall from your hand into the gutter.
The Wombles were cleaning up Wimbledon Common after the people had gone home and there were even public information commercials suggesting a post-Threads apocalypse if we all abandoned our duty to keep the streets clean.
Something changed at some point. Perhaps it was that “no such thing as society” line. Anyway, the council now fills 120 bin bags of litter every day in Edinburgh, costing us £1.6m a year.
Uncle Bulgaria will be turning in his grave. So Womble up your rubbish and put it in the bin. Please.
It must be Elsie next
A NEW statue to Robert Louis Stevenson, was unveiled at the weekend in Colinton. Another man – and his dog. It’s time this gender imbalance is evened out. Elsie Inglis has to be next.