Cross-party calls for city to reveal its budget plans

The City of Edinburgh Council Headquarters in East Market Street. Picture: TSPL
The City of Edinburgh Council Headquarters in East Market Street. Picture: TSPL
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The city council has been ordered to quickly come clean with its budget plans after potential service cuts were leaked to the media.

Green councillors secured cross-party support for the SNP-Labour administration to speed up the release of detailed proposals of what will be cut from next year’s budget after council officer proposals were leaked to the Edinburgh Evening News.

We revealed proposals being considered to balance the books including severe cuts to schools and the closure of public toilets – while free music tuition and emergency tenement repairs could face the axe as the authority attempts to shave £28 million from next year’s budget.

Following the Evening News’ coverage, Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett, won unanimous backing of the council’s Finance and Resources Committee in calling for detailed proposals to be released as soon as possible.

He said: “There is clearly public interest in what the budget specifically for next year will look like. That is a much more detailed debate and it’s where recent headlines about school budget cuts, music services, common building repairs, public toilets and many others have come from.

“There is a real danger that a two-month consultation about budgets becomes entirely dominated by concerns about proposals that only councillors in the ruling SNP/Labour groups have sight of. That is no way to make billion pound decisions.

“I secured cross-party backing yesterday [Wed 27] to require council officers to publish specific options for the 19/20 budget as soon as possible. I originally thought that could be after the Scottish Government publishes its own draft budget in mid-late November. But it is now clear that it’ll have to be far earlier.”

Fellow Green Councillor Claire Miller hit out at the leakers inside the administration as she backed the calls for more urgency in bringing forward next year’s proposals.

She said: “I’m really angry to be honest. It’s incredibly 
disrespectful and I’m really cross about the whole thing.  Anybody who has been involved in that should take a long hard look at what they’ve done here.”

Finance and resources convener Cllr Alisdair Rankin labelled the leaks a “betrayal of trust” but refused to rule out any specific service cuts until the council knew how much funding it would receive from the Scottish Government, likely to be announced by the end of November.

He said: “It’s very disappointing that we have come to this position – it seems to me there’s been some attempt to muddy the waters.

“People will be interested and concerned about what happens in next year’s budget. The administration will firm up its proposals and they will be in the public domain. I don’t think we will be endorsing them or entirely ruling them out in some form or other. A great deal with depend on where we find ourselves financially at the end of the process.”

Conservative councillors, who backed the Green proposals, said school workers will face anxiety until the budget is agreed.

Conservative finance spokesman Cllr Graham Hutchison said: “There’s very much a responsibility on the administration to come back and say ‘we won’t support this’ and to clarify the position – otherwise that uncertainty is going to hang over people for potentially five months.

“I have serious concerns around how that information is in the public domain.”

The council’s top officer, chief executive Andrew Kerr, said staff who could be affected by the leaked proposals will be given reassurances.

He said: “I think it’s unfortunate for our staff and none of our staff like to be in that position. We will try and communicate as positively as possible.

“It does cause lots of anxiety in the staff so we will be putting lots of communications out this week. It’s a long term process – of course we are considering every single thing we have to consider right across the board.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com