New £1m ‘hit squad’ tasked with finding council cuts

General view of Edinburgh Council HQ.
General view of Edinburgh Council HQ.
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EDINBURGH city council is set to empty £1 million from its reserves to hire a team of project managers to ensure that a failure to make savings this year won’t be repeated.

Councillors will be asked to approve up to £1 million to be used to draft in experts to give “further reassurance” that the cuts to services needed to balance the books will be achieved.

The authority is currently on course to be £2.4 million over budget by the end of the financial year – with £5 million of savings to its families and communities service and £6.1 million of cuts to health and social care unlikely to be made before March.

The council’s head of finance, Hugh Dunn, said: “The vast bulk of savings have been delivered. Talking to colleagues in service areas, they say they haven’t got the project management skills and certain skills that they need to get the savings options more deliverable.

“There’s a request there that the £1m available from the transformation programme be used to get more delivery on these savings. That £1 million will need council approval to use council reserves.

“My key concern just now is that in balancing this budget, there’s probably about £10 million of one-off savings that won’t be sustainable next year.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Iain Whyte demanded answers from top officers about why savings have not been achieved this year.

He said: “We are not seeing any progress with any of these. I would have expected some kind of explanation.

“I’m particularly concerned with health and social care. Under previous management, similar promises were made and then didn’t achieve anything. I need some confidence that action is being taken to bring us back into budget. Decision making is now clouded about who is responsible for what.”

Executive director of communities and families, Alistair Gaw, said this year’s attempt to balance the budget was his “most challenging yet”.

He added: “The additional pressures on home-to-school transport have largely been driven by additional numbers of children who are requiring specific transport arrangements and additional need and complexity of need with these children. The bulk of the pressures are on special schools and additional support needs rather than mainstream schools.

“It is taking longer than we would like but it is getting our full and urgent attention. It will remain a pressure over the next year or two. I’m quite convinced that over a medium-term period we will make both substantial savings in this area and actually improve services.”