Spending axe hovers as Edinburgh Council hunts for £28m savings

Street cleaning services could be set to suffer under plans to fight the deficit. Picture: TSPL
Street cleaning services could be set to suffer under plans to fight the deficit. Picture: TSPL
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CONTROVERSIAL plans to stop emergency repairs to tenements, extend parking zones and cut spending on road repairs and street cleaning are among measures under consideration for next year’s council budget in Edinburgh.

Other proposals being discussed include ending free lighting in tenement stairs, getting rid of one of the Lord Provost’s three official cars and trimming the civic hospitality budget.

The council needs to save a total of £28 million from the budget for 2019/20 as it struggles to cope with growing demand for services, an increasing number of pupils in schools, more old people needing care and a reduction in local government funding.

More than half the money which must be found – £16.5m – is to finance a pay rise for council employees which is not being funded by central government. Inflation adds another £6.2m to the council’s costs for next year, changing demographics add a further £9m and the budget assumes a real-terms reduction of £3m in government funding.

Savings options drawn up by council officials are currently being discussed internally by the Capital’s SNP-Labour administration.

They include a dramatic reduction in emergency services in relation to property repairs. The council would no longer carry out emergency make-safe repairs to private property or undertake repairs of common property in tenements where owners failed to do so; the much-heralded “missing share” scheme – where the council steps in to cover costs when unco-operative owners won’t agree to join with the others and then recovers the money later – could be scrapped; guidance would no longer be provided to private owners on repairs; and the council could even stop providing property search information to solicitors during the conveyancing process. Together these changes would save £329,000.

However, finance convener Alasdair Rankin stressed they were proposals from officers and said he did not back them. “I don’t see the proposal surviving in its current form. I have asked officers to look at charging under the shared repair service to see how far we can make it revenue neutral.”

Extending parking controls would mean creating new zones in Morningside, Stockbridge, Corstorphine and Leith, where the council says there are problems with commuters leaving their vehicles. A council document warns the public is likely to see the move – which would bring in a total of £1.6m – as “a money-making exercise”.

Over the past two years, cleansing has been given additional funding of £1.1m and £1m, but now it is proposed to reduce the extra amount to £750,000 – a saving of £250,000.

Similarly the road services budget was boosted by £2.5m in 2017/18 and £925,000 in 2018/19, but it is proposed to cut that to £675,000 – another saving of £250,000.

In both cases, the council document insists the savings can be achieved through efficiencies, adding “This should have minimal impact on the Edinburgh public.”

The council has already withdrawn maintenance of stair lighting in tenements. Now it could stop paying for the electricity too, saving £600,000.

But Cllr Rankin emphasised it was a proposal from officers. “All sorts of issues have been raised in discussions about this. It needs a lot more work and it’s something we’re more likely to consider in future years than for the budget next February.”

The officer proposals also include cuts to the civic budget – removing one car from the three-strong fleet used by the Lord Provost and visiting dignitaries, saving £6500; changing shift patterns for the city officers who accompany the Lord Provost on civic engagements, saving £10,000; and cutting the Lord Provost’s hospitality budget by up to 20 per cent, a saving of up to £20,000. The council document says the Lord Provost in principle supports the first two parts of the proposal but would like a more detailed review of the hospitality budget before a decision is made.

Meanwhile the council could bring in an extra £300,000 from digital advertising at tram stops; another £120,000 from large-format digital ads at Dalkeith Road, Gorgie Road and the South Gyle roundabout; and a further £300,000 from another digital ad site on the Standard Life bridge over the Western Approach Road.

The budget plan also assumes a three per cent council tax increase from April.

The council plans a public consultation on the budget next month and the final measures will be agreed by councillors in February.

Cllr Rankin said: “Given the need to balance the budget and the rising demand in areas like adult social care and education we have to look for savings in other areas. It is still very early days. The coalition hasn’t taken any firm decisions.”