The Labour/SNP council’s budget paper this year makes the bold statement that “no area of the council will be exempt from maximising efficiency and effectiveness”.
A very useful sentiment in hard-pressed times when taxpayers will be keen to maintain the services they receive and limit the impact on their family budget.
Let me be absolutely clear – the budget Labour and the SNP propose utterly fails this test.
On the face of it they will make a few savings this year to balance the budget. But their lack of forward planning leaves a huge hole for next year and beyond. Where they have targets to make the council more efficient they are failing – we now need to find more savings in future because they have only achieved half the procurement savings they promised last year to balance the budget.
And where they claim to be listening to the public of Edinburgh, and reversing some of the more unpalatable cuts they proposed in an earlier draft of the budget, they are doing so with one-off funds. That just stores up more of a problem for the future, meaning even more cuts in a year’s time.
It all sounds familiarly like Gordon Brown’s approach in Government – spend other people’s money now and worry about the consequences later.
Even the good spending on things like repairing our Third World roads and pavements will reduce dramatically in future years as the money runs out.
To show the real inefficiency of the council, I will use the example of the city’s environmental services – known as bins and street sweeping to the rest of us. In late 2011, Labour and the SNP combined to reject a plan for a partnership between the council and the private sector which would have guaranteed £100 million savings over seven years and gave further guarantees of improvements service standards.
Instead, they embarked on an in-house plan with far lower targets for service improvement and savings and, crucially, no guarantees. But lower targets haven’t brought success and they have wasted over £10m of our money in the last two years compared with the partnership plan.
And what has happened to service performance? Well, we all remember the chaos of unemptied bins in late 2012 and early 2013. Our bin collections remain amongst the most expensive in Scotland, even compared with the sparsely-populated Highlands and Islands, and our recycling rates are way off the target the council sets itself.
I want to see a far more efficient council. A Conservative-run council would be one that works with others – including the private and voluntary sectors – where that will improve our services and reduce costs; a council that reviews its staffing levels and reduces unnecessary tiers of management to target more of our spend at frontline services; a council that really prioritises its spending, rather than wasting money on extras like the CoSLA fee of £250,000 a year for little benefit (something I see Aberdeen has rejected this year).
Environment is only one example of where service improvements and efficiencies can be combined. There are many more. The council can live up to that bold statement from the budget papers, but not under Labour and the SNP.
• Cllr Iain Whyte is finance spokesman for the city’s Conservatives