Martin Hannan: Let’s balance the books ourselves

George Osborne's cuts are set to be felt across the country. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
George Osborne's cuts are set to be felt across the country. Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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So Chancellor George Osborne wants even more cuts in the public services, no doubt to fund tax cuts for his rich pals.

Whether we like it or not, these cuts will happen – unless Scotland becomes independent – and in Edinburgh we are already seeing the effect of coalition-inspired budget cuts.

The cuts are real, they are going to get worse, and the council is scrabbling around for ways to preserve its budget. But why not try a different approach? Why should the council not be trying to raise more cash to offset the cuts?

I know this has already been considered behind closed doors, but should the council not now be considering openly all sorts of money-raising schemes?

For a start, it really is time that as a nation we should move towards a local income tax to fund local government. It is the only fair way to do things, but that system is pretty far away, as is the long overdue restructuring of the current bandings for council tax.

It defies logic that a millionaire living in a house worth a million or more pays the same council tax as someone on a low income whose house, perhaps inherited from their parents, is worth £213,000.

The bands should be extended to take account of the reality of property in Edinburgh.

It also irks me that, while I support the right of independent schools to exist and have charitable status if they meet the charity tests, why can’t state schools get the same bonus? That would save the council millions.

Again, that’s pretty far away. So let’s deal with the real situation facing the council now, and there are ways that the council could raise money, again on the basis of fairness.

Planning applications cost £382 per house at the moment, regardless of what the house is worth. That’s crazy. Why should there not be a staggered scale, with fees rising in line with the estimated cost of the house? Someone building a £400,000 house is hardly going to baulk at paying, say, £700 for planning permission.

Again, property enquiry certificates are pegged at £120. Why is there not a banding for these fees? If you are buying or selling a huge house, you are not going to even notice a £300 to £400 fee.

The council has been selling off assets, but this programme should be accelerated now that the property market is picking up. The Atria office building next to the EICC is magnificent and successful, but if we really need the money, why shouldn’t the council sell it to the highest bidder? After all, should a council even be in the business of owning office developments if the private sector has recovered?

One thing that really bugs me is that councils are just utterly hopeless at buying things. Their procurement policies, particularly for schools, are a joke, as they are all tied in to particular suppliers.

Get in experts who really know how to do deals to get supplies cheaper.

These are just a few ideas for raising cash. I am sure there are plenty more, even by council employees, so why not incentivise them to raise money. It just might work.

Fair play, John, for speaking up

Some weeks ago, I wrote that local Labour figures should be telling us what they believe about the forthcoming referendum, so as an SNP member and Yes campaigner, I am delighted that John Mulvey announced his intention to vote Yes at the weekend.

A man of integrity and the best leader Lothian Region ever had, Mulvey is no slavish fan of Alex Salmond or the SNP, but he sees the truth that independence is the only way to gain a fairer nation.

It’s been some journey for Mulvey, who was sceptical even about devolution at one time, but Yes Scotland should welcome him aboard and get him talking at public meetings.

There’s more people like Mulvey in Labour and other parties. It’s time for them to speak out.

Star girl is Jess what RBS needs

The RBS Group has been changing its whole ethos in recent times and for various reasons I have met and discussed matters with a number of the bank’s high heid yins.

The era of Fred Goodwin, pictured, is well and truly over, and they are much more customer-focused than before and that is a very good thing for the bank which, lest we forget, is one of the biggest employers in the Lothians.

As regular readers know, I praise good local service, so can I say that customer adviser Jessica Peters at the North Bridge branch of the bank could well be a poster girl for the new RBS approach.

Brew better get off to Marina’s

While I am handing out the plaudits, I have been searching for the best cup of decaf coffee in the city for ages and last week I found it at LocandaMarina, the lovely Italian bar and café at the top of Cockburn Street.

Marina Crolla runs an excellent establishment and it’s well worth a visit for fine food and coffee, decaf or not.

BLACK AND WHITE

So no panda cubs at the zoo in 2013. It’s all a conspiracy, of course. The announcement of the birth is planned for September 17, 2014, so we will all be euphoric and vote Yes. Aye, right.