PARKING charges and elderly care fees are set to rise so tens of millions of pounds in extra funding can be unlocked for upgrades to crumbling schools, the Evening News can reveal.
New budget proposals for 2015-16 show city leaders plan to boost capital budgets through an ambitious £28.5 million savings package, including £6.8m of “headroom” cuts which come over and above reductions of £21.6m identified earlier this year.
They say that every £1m in savings on day-to-day running costs will allow them to borrow £12m – meaning up to £82m could be levered in for desperately needed improvements to essential infrastructure.
While stressing that detailed spending priorities have still to be finalised, finance chiefs today indicated dilapidated schools and roads would likely come top of the list.
But the cash boost will come at the expense of services in a host of other areas, with motorists and the elderly set to be hit particularly hard.
Plans have been unveiled for a £750,000 saving in the city’s parking department, which it is understood will be achieved through hikes to charges for permits and pay and display tickets.
Old people, meanwhile, face an eight per cent increase in fees for council care homes, while hourly rates for home care will jump from £13.50 to £15.50.
Community policing and homeless hostels have also come under threat, with plans in place to slash dedicated payments by up to £500,000 amid wider cuts of £1.5m which would affect local groups and housing support teams.
And major question marks have emerged over the city’s sports centres and swimming pools, after it emerged council bosses are looking to deduct £500,000 from the grant they pay to arms-length company Edinburgh Leisure.
City bosses admitted the Capital faced tough spending decisions but insisted proposed savings would help them boost services in those areas of greatest importance to residents.
Councillor Bill Cook, deputy leader for finance, said: “It’s best value – it’s trying to get the maximum benefit out of the money we’ve got and that’s been our position from day one.
“I think in general terms what we are trying to invest in is roads and schools – I think those would be the two main areas.
“[But] we want to understand what the public think and what our colleagues in the City Chambers think. Inevitably, there will be political debate around how we spend money – there always is.”
Among other areas in line for big savings are public toilets – a proposed £300,000 cut would see a number of conveniences outside of the city centre closed – and libraries, where opening hours are set to be shortened as part of a £250,000 reduction.
Hugh Dunn, the council’s head of finance, said the savings proposals were aimed at achieving improved services.
“£22 million is what we need to balance the budget, but my understanding is that members also have aspirations elsewhere as to demands for services and people’s aspirations,” he said.
“To take account of that, members have said ‘let’s see if we can go for the higher figure and what would the implications of that be for services in Edinburgh’.
“That’s why we’re going out to consultation. If we can achieve that then you can start looking at where people want to see improvements or increased capacity in service, or better buildings, and repairs to buildings.
“The motivation is improvement – we’re not just satisfied going for £22m. We’re actually trying to push against the barriers to say ‘can we actually achieve a bit more than what we need to balance the budget because the carrot could be better services?’.”
But community leaders and opposition politicians have lined up to voice concern and urged city residents to make their views known before spending decisions are finalised.
Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesman, said: “I’m strongly in favour of the budget finding space to fund capital improvements such as addressing the £25m school improvement shortfall or repairing pavements and parks.
“I don’t have the detailed savings proposals in front of me yet so I’ll need to see these in full but, even at a glance, some of them don’t look pain-free. I do wonder if they can realistically be cut year after year which is what is needed to fund capital investment.
“Audit Scotland has recognised that councils are trying to fund rising demand for services – like care for the elderly and school places – out of a fixed budget. That’s always going to cause pain somewhere in the system, so the fundamental need is to allow councils much greater freedom to raise revenue to invest in services.”
Conservative group leader Cameron Rose said roads should be a priority, but claimed the money could be found from improved efficiency.
He said: “We desperately need to get more efficient on roads. We have third world roads in some areas of the Capital and it is a sad reflection on Edinburgh. Roads affect everyone – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”
He said there were plenty of ways the council could make savings without putting up parking charges.
“There are many ways in which this administration could be more efficient in things like waste collection and other basic services. Many people feel the council still has an anti-car agenda. I know the administration have distanced themselves from some of this package by saying these are proposals from officers. I suspect they are flying some kites to see how people react to them. This is people’s opportunity to give their views.”
Resident leaders said proposed cuts to community policing were worrying at a time when Police Scotland’s budget is already under pressure.
Steve Kerr, chair of West Edinburgh community safety panel and member of Corstorphine Community Council, said: “I would be concerned about any suggestion that there are plans to reduce the resource. With budget cuts of £70m on Police Scotland, the amount of money available generally will be less and if the council contribution is going to be less, I would have serious concerns.”
Finance leader Alasdair Rankin stressed that nothing was set in stone, with the final budget likely to be amended to reflect residents’ concerns.
“What we’re doing is putting this out to consultation and all sorts of groups – trade unions, community councils, individual residents, third sector organisations, the whole of civic society in Edinburgh – will be welcome to respond to these measures that we’ve put in the budget,” he said.
“When we collate them all, we’ll have a look at those, we’ll take them into account and we will produce a final budget in mid-February next year.”
HOW IT ALL ADDS UP
Savings proposed include:
Parking: Reform parking charge structure – £750,000
Sport and leisure: Reduction in service payment to arms-length company Edinburgh Leisure – £500,000
Christmas: Reduce provision of festive lights and trees – £130,000
Care homes: Further five per cent per cent increase in charges for council care homes for older people, on top of already agreed three per cent rise – £147,000
Home care: Increase charges for home care from £13.50 per hour to £15.50 per hour – £80,000
Allotments: Increase allotment charges – £150,000
Public toilets: Closure of some public conveniences outside the city centre – £300,000
Community grants: Reduce third party grants (includes police, housing support and grants to community groups) – £1.5 million.
Libraries: Review of libraries opening hours – £250,000
Garden waste: Review approach to garden waste collection – £100,000
Bus services: Review value for money in supported bus services – £200,000
Disabled transport: Review the way taxi card is funded – £800,000
Disabled services: Reduced staffing ratios in day services for people with disabilities – £200,000
Grass-cutting: Change grass-cutting maintenance practices council-wide – £200,000
‘A BIT LIKE YOUR MORTGAGE’
CITY leaders said plans to boost capital spending by maximising savings on regular running costs were similar to the way in which mortgages work.
For every £1 million they are able to secure in savings, additional borrowing capacity of £12m is unlocked for investment in key projects.
Hugh Dunn, the city’s head of finance, said: “It’s a bit like your mortgage – you probably pay £500 a month and that £6000 a year allows you to service a value of £70-80,000.
“So it’s similar here. If you make a saving of £1m, that then gives you capability to spend £12m. But to do that, you need to demonstrate that borrowing is prudent, affordable and sustainable.
“That’s why we’re saying that if we want to do any additional borrowing next year, we need to try to set out a framework, a map, as to how we would deliver these budget savings [on an ongoing basis].”