Edinburgh council budget: Labour plans include council tax freeze, parking charge rise, more money for roads

Edinburgh's minority Labour administration sets out its budget proposals
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Edinburgh's council tax will be frozen for next year if the city's minority Labour administration can get its budget passed next week.

The party is proposing to increase spending on roads and pavements, new public toilets, tackling homelessness and flood prevention measures, as well as reducing the use of external contractors. It would not go ahead with £8.2 million of cuts in education proposed by officials.

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But its budget plan does include a 20 per cent increase in parking charges and a delay in filling vacancies to save cash. And council housing rents will increase by 7 per cent, but with some support for the most hard-up families.

Labour council leader Cammy Day criticised the Scottish Government's announcement of a council tax freeze without consulting local authorities, but said his group had decided it should accept the policy and the resulting £16.1m compensation funding even though it did not match the 5.5 per cent council tax increase the council had been considering. "If we didn't accept that we would have to put up council by an even higher amount," he said.

Cllr Day said Edinburgh was Scotland's lowest funded council per head of population. "The Scottish average per capita is £2,350 and for Edinburgh that is £1,878, so we are around £500 underfunded per person despite the additional pressures we have as the Capital."

Councillors will meet at th City Chambers next week to vote on the budget for 2024/25Councillors will meet at th City Chambers next week to vote on the budget for 2024/25
Councillors will meet at th City Chambers next week to vote on the budget for 2024/25

And he claimed that despite Scottish Government promises that the council tax freeze would be "fully funded", Edinburgh was being underfunded by around £1.5m.

Labour's proposed extra spending includes:

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- £12.5 million a year for the next three years to invest roads, pavements, lighting  and streetscapes, including implementing recommendations from a women's safety survey

- £3.2m to ensure Edinburgh Leisure can pay the living wage and no leisure centres will have to close 

- £2m to help tackle homelessness and reduce the 5,000 households currently in temporary accommodation

- £750,000 for additional toilets at Leith Links, the Meadows and Inverleith Park and work on plans for additional permanent toilets in Portobello too

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- £750,000 per year for the next three years to improve localised flood prevention

- £600,000 to improve biodiversity in parks and landscapes, including new electricity connections to avoid using diesel generators and stop the use of Glyphosate weedkiller

- £100,000 to support projects, such as the Citadel in Leith, which lost out in the recent round of Connected Communities funding

- more funding for staff working on climate change and the drive to net zero by 2030    

Parking charges woud rise by 20 per cent under the Labour budget proposals.  Parking charges woud rise by 20 per cent under the Labour budget proposals.
Parking charges woud rise by 20 per cent under the Labour budget proposals.

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The council has found £16m as a result of being able to reduce pension contributions. Cllr Day said: "It makes no impact on the beneficiaries of the pension fund, now or in the future. But it has saved us £16m - and that's a godsend to the council. If we didn't have that hugely successful Lothian Pension Fund then we would be having another £16m of cuts." Under Labour's plans, the council would also save money through "vacancy management" Cllr Day said: "We won't fill posts as quickly as we would like to because we're not able to."

There would be a 20 per cent rise in parking charges, following a similar rise last year. Cllr Day said that aside from the council tax, the council's only money-raising power was increasing fees and charges. "It's regrettable we've had to increase he parking charges by so much," he said. "But we also have the best bus company in the country and the tram system that can get people in and around the city. And I would encourage people to use the tram and the bus rather than drive into the city centre." 

And there would be a reduction in the use of outside contractors and agency staff. "The council spends an awful  lot of money  on external contractors so we're looking to reduce that as well." He said there would be no cut in health and social care workers, but the council would be tougher on allowing the appointment of agency workers and expected to ave around £1m.

Housing convener Jane Meagher said Labour was proposing a 7 per cent rise in council house rents, but with help for people who wold be hardest hit by the increase.

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She said: "Around 75 per cent of our tenants get their rent paid through the benefit system and consequently any increase in their rent is covered. That means we have a remainder of people for whom that is not the case - last year we introduced the tenant hardship fund for those tenants for whom any increase would put them over the edge in their domestic finances. We are increasing that fund to match what we anticipate to be the demand as a consequence of that rise."

Cllr Meagher said the rise would allow the council to insulate more homes and increase the number of social rented homes across the city.

"It puts money into tenants' pockets because we're able to improve insulation, leading to much lower energy bills. And it enables us to take action on the fundamental problem which is the lack of social rented homes in this city - for every home advertised we get around 200 bids."

She said rents would rise by 7 per cent each year for five years. "But if we can stretch that to a 10-year capital investment plan that will give us an additional 12,400 homes that meet Scottish Government environmental standards and also 3,560 social rented homes."

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Last year, tactical voting by opposition groups saw Labour's budget package rejected and the Lib Dems' alternative proposals approved instead. This year, the political groups are publishing their proposals a week in advance of next Thursday's full council meeting which will set the budget and discussions have already taken place between parties.

Cllr Day said: "The other parties have been quite constructive and I hope we get to a good position this year." But he warned if other groups pressed their demands it could force the council to raid its reserves, impacting its financial position for the future. "If there are any changes in this budget now it will mean the council has to look into its reserves."

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