Martin Hannan: Devil’s in detail to save city cash

The then Lord Provost Eric Milligan presents the 'Freedom Scroll' to Nelson Mandela in 1997. Picture: PA
The then Lord Provost Eric Milligan presents the 'Freedom Scroll' to Nelson Mandela in 1997. Picture: PA
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Perhaps I am in a minority of one, but I really cannot get too exercised about the row over the pay rise for MPs. They are not awarding it to themselves, it’s all been above board and well explained, and the independent body which made the decision to award the 11 per cent increase is beyond reproach.

If you set up an independent review system as the public wanted, you can’t then argue with its findings. And at least we are ending the farcical situation where MPs got their tea and biscuits paid for.

Obviously we will all monitor who takes the increase and who doesn’t, but my main point is that the coalition government should use the same system for all public sector pay – oops, we couldn’t allow that, could we? After all, an independent watchdog might award a lot more than one per cent to the people who actually do the work.

A rise of 11 per cent is something out of dreamland for council workers other than teachers in the Lothians who, lest we forget, had their pay rise of just one per cent imposed on them last October.

Nobody, but nobody, wants a council tax increase, and the Scottish Government has had no choice but to follow Westminster’s commands that council funding be cut, so there’s no doubt that cuts will have to be made in council budgets.

With the city council having to make cuts worth £36 million next year and with that measly pay rise for its workforce needing to be funded, where are the cuts going to be made?

The Capital coalition has put out the draft budget for public consultation and while I suspect this will be the usual “thanks for your views, now we’ll do what we first planned anyway” exercise, we should tell them what we think.

So here goes. For a start, there’s too many councillors. I am told that Edinburgh’s complaints system is now so good that councillors no longer have to spend countless hours chasing up the most burdensome area of their job, so we could surely cut back their numbers by a third, losing one councillor per ward, and still be governed sensibly. So many councillors are just lobby fodder, so why not recognise this situation and save money at the same time?

I have absolutely no problem with the draft budget’s ideas on reducing costs in the education and children and families services – the reductions are relatively small in relation to the budgets – and I am particularly impressed with the foresight shown in planning for demographic change.
I am concerned about the plan to increase Home Care charges from £12.50 to £13.50 per hour. Who is going to fund that? And what exactly does “redesign care pathways” mean in relation to the health and social care budget – a saving of £6.59m is forecast over the next four years, but it’s hard to see how that can be achieved with an ageing population.

It is that lack of explicit detail which worries me. As with many of the proposals, we really need to see nuts and bolts stuff and just exactly what will be cut and where. The draft budget is full of the words “review” and “identify” and I am not alone in thinking they mean “fudge” and “obscure”.

Privacy meant city missed out

The Freedom of the City of Edinburgh was given to Nelson Mandela in 1997 in a fairly private ceremony at the time of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.

I’ve always thought it was a missed opportunity for Edinburgh to show Mandela how much we thought of him, but I am grateful it happened, for I and other press members got to shake his hand – and yes, he truly was the most charismatic individual you could meet.

Renaming Festival Square in his honour, as has been suggested, would be entirely appropriate.

My own small tribute is borrowed from American sportswriter Jimmy Cannon’s comment on the legendary black heavyweight boxer Joe Louis.

“He was a credit to his race – the human race.”