Council chiefs are to rein back on their most controversial cuts proposals by scaling down plans to slash Edinburgh Leisure’s budget and introducing help for those who can’t afford the new garden waste charge.
The moves come after the council was handed £12.4 million extra cash as a result of the budget deal between the Scottish Government and Green MSPs at Holyrood.
Controversial savings proposals put out to consultation in November included a cut of £420,000 in funding for Edinburgh Leisure and a new charge of £375,000 to the arms-length body for sports pitch maintenance carried out by the council. These sparked fears swimming pools and sports centres could have to close and playing fields could be lost or prices hiked, forcing clubs to close.
Another proposal was a £25 annual charge for garden waste collections, which critics warned would lead to an increase in flytipping. isure cuts and the garden waste charge were the two items which prompted the biggest responses in the public consultation.
A total of 378 comments were received on the leisure cuts, all but seven of them negative. And 159 comments were received on garden waste, only 20 of them in favour.
Now council leader Adam McVey has signalled a partial reversal of both plans.
He said: “We are being guided by the budget consultation. But the startling thing is numbers were quite small in terms of those that had an issue with any of the proposals we put out.
“The overall response was people felt what we were proposing was balanced, fair and appropriate. We didn’t get an enormous amount of negative reaction.
“There was some feedback on Edinburgh Leisure and there will be something to alleviate that situation.
“And we will also address concern about the charge for garden waste collections and particularly those who might struggle to afford it.”
The council had drawn up its original savings package based on the assumption its funding from the Scottish Government would reduce by around three per cent.
But when Finance Secretary Derek Mackay unveiled his budget in December, the news for Edinburgh was not as bad as expected.
And together with the extra cash from the deal with the Greens, it meant the council had a total of £27.1m more than anticipated.
The city’s finance committee yesterday agreed £8.5m of the cash should be allocated for repairs and maintenance of crumbling council buildings after a conditions survey identified 80 properties – including schools – which were classed as bad or poor.
The committee also approved £4m more for health and social care after a damning inspectors’ report last year.
And a further £3.5m will go towards a pay rise for council employees in line with the public sector pay increases planned by the Scottish Government.
Another £10.2m of the money remains unallocated so far. SNP and Labour groups meet next week to agree the final package to go to the budget meeting on February 22.