Hearts and Hibs set for new council charges over traffic disruption at city events

Hearts look set to be hit hard as the council look to make up the budget shortfall. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Hearts look set to be hit hard as the council look to make up the budget shortfall. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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HIBS and Hearts would be among the worst hit by a new charge on major events as Edinburgh transport chiefs attempt to overcome a £1.1 million bill from the associated traffic disruption.

Rugby bosses at Murrayfield are also expected to be affected by a proposed bid to make commercial operators foot the costs for barriers and diversions.

Easter Road

Easter Road

Edinburgh City Council is facing an £800,000 loss every year from sports fixtures, rock gigs and conferences.

At present, only £300,000 is recovered – and taxpayers pick up the rest.

Unlike Lothian and Borders Police, which bills organisers for officers’ time, local authority bosses said they had “seldom recovered” cash spent, but warned it was now impacting on tough budget constraints.

Costs stem from roads staff being deployed to set up barriers and manage traffic due to disruptions. This includes concerts such as Oasis and Madonna at Murrayfield and fixtures such as the Edinburgh derby.

The charge emerged as the council published its budget for next year, which also proposed:

• Introducing a 20p charge for public toilets in central Edinburgh. The so-called “bladder tax” would bring in £216,000 every year, fund a £600,000 refurbishment of loos and prevent cuts to services elsewhere;

• Dropping a special £3m fund earmarked to repair potholes and cracked pavements. Transport leaders are under pressure to make the one-off payment from last year permanent to rescue the city’s aging streets;

• A rise in parking charges. The public will be asked if they will accept a small hike in charges to raise an extra £325,000 to be spent on roads;

• Raising entrance fees to the Scott Monument and Nelson Monument from £3 to £4 from April.

Hibs and Hearts were billed about £161,000 for policing two years ago and traffic costs are expected to be significant.

If the move goes ahead in February, it is expected to be unpopular at a time when Hearts in particular are struggling to foot a £450,000 HMRC tax bill and are battling another one totalling £1.75m.

Hibs also face tough budget pressures and are carrying debt.

The Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston is also likely to be included, but marches, demonstrations, and the city’s raft of festivals would not.

A warning from financial officials stated: “The costs are seldom recovered from event organisers and it therefore represents a budget pressure. This proposal is to charge for providing traffic and pedestrian management for all profit-making events.”

Overall, the council is facing a relatively small shortfall of £10.8m for April 2013 to April 2014, when compared with previous years.

Also included in the budget is the living wage deal which will see 2000 council staff currently on the £6.19 hourly minimum wage given £7.50 an hour from January.

Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, insisted the move was just a proposal at this stage and that the reaction from the public would be key in determining whether to press ahead with the charges.

She said: “The public are paying for commercial organisations to have barriers set up and traffic re-routed at a time when we’re having to prioritise the services which we provide.

“We are looking at ways we can bring in money and one of those might be asking organisers to pay for the service by adding a few pence to each ticket.”

Meanwhile, council chiefs are being urged to make the one-off £3m to boost road repairs this year a permanent commitment, arguing that there is a long way to go to fix potholes and cracked pavements.

Neil Greig, director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “The previous council administration allocated that extra money to help the backlog in maintenance, but it is clear that this needs to be an ongoing commitment.

“The local authority group Cosla estimates that there is something like a billion pounds of repairs needed to Scotland’s roads and I’m sure Edinburgh is included in that.

“Spending money on roads is not money wasted, it’s an investment for the future.”

Opposition parties will have until January to scrutinise the plans before a vote in February.

Cuts to services are relatively marginal and there are few big-ticket projects, such as the multi-million-pound Summer Works programme to repair schools in this financial year.

Gavin Corbett, the Green finance spokesman, supported some of the pledges but questions why one-off projects such as the school programme and £3m road repair scheme could not be featured permanently.

He said: “After the sugar of additional election year funding we get the sour taste of funding reductions. £4m extra is being spent on school refurbishment this year – are we really saying that is ‘job done’ by taking it away next year?

“There will be £3m less for road repairs next year – are we really saying that all is well with the state of the roads?”

“And by dismissing innovative ways of raising income put forward by the Greens such as a hotel bed tax, the council has surrendered to the Scottish Government’s council tax straitjacket and is left scrabbling around for scraps of income like charging for all public toilets.

“Additional tax is never popular but better a bed tax than a bladder tax.”

Paul Edie, the Edinburgh Lib Dem leader, whose council administration funded the £3m one-off roads boost last year, also suggested extra cash could be found. He said: “I would be disappointed if we would go back to the stage of under-investment in Edinburgh’s roads and pavements.

“The public are always telling us one of their top priorities is potholes.”