Fears as council ‘must cut £138m’ to balance books

The city council is consulting with residents over which services are most important to them.
The city council is consulting with residents over which services are most important to them.
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NATIONAL spending watchdogs have questioned the ­viability of the Capital’s finances amid swingeing cuts to sports centres, community police and public toilets.

The parlous state of ­Edinburgh’s accounts was laid bare in a landmark Audit ­Scotland report which highlights how the city must find total savings of £138 million – up from £107m reported only last year.

Edinburgh College student Cameron Conner. Picture: Jon Savage

Edinburgh College student Cameron Conner. Picture: Jon Savage

A wide-ranging package of budget cuts and fee hikes was recently outlined in a bid to achieve savings of nearly £30m next year and £67m by 2017-18.

Football pitches may not be lined and grass-cutting could be axed, with crippling fee hikes for parking and elderly care also in the pipeline.

The latest proposals come on top of £71m in planned savings, which are being generated through service reviews and efficiency drives, and have already been booked by the council. Leaders at the Accounts Commission today voiced concern about whether the total cash gap could be bridged as the savings target soars.

They said “significant changes” in the way the ­council operates would have to be pushed through “over a relatively short period” if city bosses were to have any hope of balancing their budget.

And they warned of additional pressure caused by ­Edinburgh’s long-running statutory repairs scandal and the need to tackle a schools and roads repair backlog running to tens of millions of pounds.

Douglas Sinclair, Accounts Commission chairman, said: “The City of Edinburgh Council has made some progress and that is encouraging.

“But it still has a long way to go, amid increasing demands and rising levels of required savings.”

Mr Sinclair said the absence of a full strategy for ensuring the council has enough skilled staff and managers equipped to drive through ­crucial reforms was a ­“significant omission”.

And he revealed he had asked for a further report next year, by which time the Commission expects to see major improvements.

Senior opposition figures acknowledged the scale of the spending squeeze but urged council chiefs to ensure frontline services were preserved.

Scottish ­Conservative Lothians MSP and local government spokesman ­Cameron Buchanan said: “That’s what people pay their council taxes for, and things like potholes, litter and the general state of the streets is what this city is judged by. Instead of simply slashing from the top, it’s clear the council needs a root and branch review of how to make these savings.”

Councillor Gavin ­Corbett, finance spokesman for the Edinburgh Greens, said Audit Scotland’s warnings underlined the importance of ­granting the Capital greater autonomy in how it raises ­revenue. “The city council needs to be able to control what it asks residents to pay for services, to secure more income from visitors and to be able to get big businesses to pay more for the benefits which locating in Edinburgh brings,” he said.

City leaders stressed the £67m figure cited by Audit Scotland had been provided in May this year and was part of ongoing public consultation over existing budget proposals.

Calling on residents to make their views known before the consultation closes on December 19, chief ­executive Sue Bruce said: “The city council faces tougher financial challenges than many others, due to the city’s growing population and its demographics.

“Our plans recognise the challenges we face, some of which are legacy issues, and we expect to deliver significant progress over the next 12 months.”

‘I hope people speak out over disability service cuts’

PLANNED cuts to the city’s council budget will have a “devastating” impact on residents with disabilities, charity leaders in the Lothians have warned.

Directors at the Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living (LCiL) highlighted particular concerns about a proposed 20 per cent reduction in funding to the voluntary sector over three years, adding that it would lead to closure of services aimed at the disabled and elderly.

And they have urged residents and organisations working with the disabled to make their views known before a budget consultation closes on December 19.

Florence Garabedian, LCiL chief executive, said: “There is still time to change the views of those who have proposed these savings and for City of Edinburgh Council to explore the negative consequences which these could have on disabled people, people with long term conditions and older people.”

The call has been backed by Edinburgh College student Cameron Conner, 16, who has mild cerebral palsy and said: “Speaking out would give people with cerebral palsy a voice and it might get them to come out and say something [themselves].”

Stressing the positive effect dedicated training programmes while a pupil at Boroughmuir High, he added: “[They] definitely made my confidence grow. I think that was what got me into my college course.”