Everybody knows that local government finances are being squeezed right now.
The Westminster government has cut overall spending dramatically, and in turn the revenue funding provided by the Scottish Government to councils such as Edinburgh is dipping significantly.
Due to the council tax freeze, the city council has no way of raising additional revenue, and on top of this the Scottish Government has also ruled out innovative ways of providing funding, such as a tourist tax.
It is in this context that the city council has to set a budget. It is sure to be difficult, and it is why the administration has released its draft revenue budget for consultation, five months before we set the budget in February, and why we are seeking the input of Edinburgh residents. But we also have to look carefully at our buildings, and our capital spending, and especially our schools.
On coming to power in 2012, the coalition administration made a pledge to press ahead with new high schools at Portobello, James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir. Despite setbacks – most notably with Portobello – all three are progressing, with the private bill to address the issue of Portobello Park being heard in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month.
On top of this, funding has also been secured for a new St John’s Primary School and St Crispin’s Special School, while the funds to provide new classrooms at schools under pressure have been doubled.
However, we also made a pledge to “provide adequate investment in the fabric of all schools”, and having initiated a comprehensive conditions survey across the school estate this is something I believe should be a focus of the city council over the next few years.
Despite recent reports about “crumbling classrooms” it is clear that the vast majority of our schools – nearly 90 per cent – are rated either A or B by the Scottish Government.
We have several outstanding new schools like Tynecastle High or the fantastic joint campus at Forrester and St Augustine’s, which has some of the best sports facilities in the country. In total, over the last 15 years, the city council has built 12 new secondary schools, 15 new primary schools and five new special schools. As any impartial observer would note in comparison to other authorities, Edinburgh’s school estate is far from crumbling but overall is in very good condition.
However, there is still much to do. I want to see all our schools rated A or B, and I believe that should be the ambition of our council.
It will take significant work and significant funding to make it happen, but it is within reach, even within the tight financial constraints we find ourselves in.
Having fully assessed the conditions and survey results, we will step forward with a targeted funding programme in order to ensure that we spend the limited funding we have wisely and where it is needed most. The last thing we need now is knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole statements (as seen from Green councillors) or a funnelling of funding toward those who shout loudest.
There has undoubtedly been a lack of maintenance and repair funding not just over the last few years, but over several decades.
We need the Scottish Government to work with us and release additional capital funding so that we can address this issue. As the council’s convenor for education it is something I remain committed to seeing through.
• Paul Godzik is the convener for education, children and families at Edinburgh City Council.