Martin Hannan: City has to seek fairer debt deal

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So now we know that council frontline services really will be hit by the cuts.

I have warned frequently that the current reductions in council budgets could not be achieved without serious cutbacks, but even I was stunned to learn that the numbers of lollipop men and women in the Capital were at crisis point.

Crossing guards, to give them their Sunday name, are a vital part of our school communities, and though the reasons for the current shortfall in their numbers are varied, there is no doubt that the shortage has its roots in sheer lack of money – or else the council could afford to pay them better and ensure there were no shortages.

It seems that the shortfall will be made up and that the council is currently recruiting new crossing guards, but be prepared for this sort of staff shortage to be repeated elsewhere in the council.

Sue Bruce’s plan to take out an entire level of middle management to save millions of pounds seems sensible at face value, and the Labour-SNP coalition might well adopt it in its entirety, but anyone who thinks this “salami slicing” will not affect services knows nothing about local government.

This SNP member has his doubts, and I know they are shared across the council (I remind you I always mention my party allegiance in writing this opinion column and I invite all other commentators to do the same).

If a social work manager’s post is axed, for example, who will a social worker turn to if there is a problem? Will that mean frontline staff having to call top management or even directors because the highly experienced middleman or woman who previously ran things is no longer there?

Far more probable is that frontline staff will be asked just “to cope” and that could lead to huge problems further down the line, particularly in the fields of care for the elderly and very young.

I am not suggesting, for instance, that tragic Mikaeel Kular’s fate would have been any different had Edinburgh and Fife councils been better off financially, not least because that terrible death has yet to be reported on fully, but certain trade unionists I know are convinced that similar tragedies will happen in future because of the inevitable cutbacks in social work staff numbers.

Teacher numbers might not be cut – then again, they might – but there will be reductions in the numbers of staff employed by the education department. That will affect the quality of education in our state schools in the long run.

So what can the council do? When individuals get into trouble financially, we call our bank managers, and sometimes they can help by restructuring debts such as loan repayments.

That’s why I would urge the council to take the suggestion of the Unite trade union seriously, and seek either a moratorium or a restructuring of the council’s debts. At the moment Edinburgh council owes around £1 billion, mostly to the Public Works Loan Board, the public sector banking arm of HM Treasury.

They charge an exorbitant interest rate of nearly five per cent compared with the current Bank of England rate of 0.5 per cent.

So why not ask for a fairer rate or a restructuring? Don’t tell me – the Chancellor, left, won’t allow it. There’s who to blame . . .

Loony officials ruining it for Dookers

I hear disturbing reports of over-officious types almost ruining the Loony Dook at South Queensferry.

Some people were hardly able to get into the water before they were “encouraged” back out again, and perhaps this is yet another example of health and safety ruling all – and why bother with rules if people are mad enough to dook anyway. I fear that many more people might just decide to do what we saw a young couple do on Ne’erday, and that is move their dook to Cramond.

No security guards, no entrance fee, just a man and a woman stripping down to bathing costumes and dashing into the freezing cold water. Good fun, but they were welcome to it.

No threat from Ibrox

I WATCHED the Edinburgh derby on Saturday and then covered the match at Ibrox, so I can say that neither of our local teams have anything to fear from Rangers.

Music to my ears at pub night out

REGULAR readers will know that I often praise good service and good food. We certainly got that at the Leadburn Inn on Saturday night.

This fine hostelry just south of Penicuik also had a big bonus attraction in the shape of that excellent trio of talented musicians, Guilty As Sin. I’ll be looking out for their next gig at the Leadburn.

Tough times to come for Dame named Sue

Warmest congratulations to Sue Bruce on being made a Dame in the New Year Honours List. For once this is a local government gong that is thoroughly deserved, if only for her work in getting the trams finally up and running.

It was for much more than that, however. Our new Dame has made her mark wherever she has gone.

I fear, however, that Dame Sue has a tough time ahead as I suggest elsewhere, but she will approach the task with her customary good sense and will definitely maintain an equilibrium that others at the city council might do well to copy.