Ian Swanson: Edinburgh City Council is in the money '“ but it's still not enough

IT looks like there is some rare good news on the financial front for Scottish councils. The Greens' price for backing the SNP's budget at Holyrood last week included an extra £170m for local government.
Closing pools was not popular with the Capital publicClosing pools was not popular with the Capital public
Closing pools was not popular with the Capital public

For Edinburgh, that translates into an additional £12.4m. And when added to the better-than-expected allocation for the Capital in the Scottish Government’s original budget proposals at the end of last year, it means the city council has £27.1m more funding than it was anticipating.

No doubt Finance Secretary Derek Mackay put forward his initial cash proposals in December bearing in mind that he would have to do a deal of some sort to get his plans approved and that council funding was high on the Greens’ agenda.

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And, of course, the extra cash does not solve all the problems facing councils like Edinburgh. Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro reminded last week’s full council meeting: “We still have one of the lowest per capita grants in the country and a projected shortfall for this year.”

He also pointed out the council had made savings of £240m and shed 1,446 full-time staff and there was more to come.

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Edinburgh to get £12.4m extra next year from Scottish Government budget

But at least there is a bit more that can be spent over the next 12 months – and at least some of the cuts proposed by the council and put out to public consultation at the end of last year might now not go ahead.

Thanks to a public outcry, the ­council dropped one of its proposed savings – the plan to close Edinburgh’s world-renowned music school – before the budget was even released for consultation.

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Other controversial proposals include a £25 annual charge for garden waste collections; cutting £420,000 from Edinburgh Leisure’s funding and making it pay another £375,000 for the council carrying out maintenance at sports pitches; an increase in parking charges and an extension of the restricted parking zones; and scrapping the council’s Night Team service for residents plagued by noise and anti-social behaviour.

The consultation showed the Edinburgh Leisure cuts – which sparked warnings that sports centres and swimming pools could have to close – were the most unpopular of the ­proposals. And a majority of respondents said they did not believe the ­garden waste charge would work.

The SNP-Labour administration has been debating what shape the final budget proposals should take and will set out their plans ahead of the crucial budget meeting of the council on February 22.

But finance officials have already proposed that £8.5m of the extra cash should go towards urgently needed repair work at schools and other council buildings where a £153m maintenance backlog has been uncovered; with another £4m pencilled in for social care; and £3.5m for a pay rise for council employees.

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Homelessness is another area where more funding is urgently required to end the practice of putting families with children into totally unsuitable bed and breakfast accommodation.

So it remains to be seen whether the coalition decides to press ahead with the Edinburgh Leisure cuts or the garden waste charge or the other ideas it asked the public to comment on.

But it is clear that, even with an extra £27.1m on the way, there is no shortage of important services for the money to be spent on.