All public organisations – from the NHS, police and councils – are facing financial pressure as a result of a sustained austerity policy from the UK Government. It’s worth noting that many other councils are in a worse financial position than Edinburgh.
This is in no small part due to the efforts of the previous administration and, in particular, to those of Cllr Alasdair Rankin who is now in his sixth year of looking after the city coffers. While the amount of money we need to find this year to balance budget is high, it’s a relatively small amount of the council’s overall spending.
The proportion of the Scottish Government’s funding decided by Westminster is still too high. A consequence of this is UK Government austerity will still affect our ability to invest in public services. However, I’m pleased the Scottish Government is now looking at how best to use the limited tax powers the Scottish Parliament has as a potential way to help alleviate the financial pressures. If you support (or don’t) the ideas being put forward get in touch to let them know. Citizen engagement is important.
The council administration will, hopefully, put its budget proposals out for consultation this week. This is a vital part of our annual budget setting process as gives everyone in the city a say over the decisions being taken.
One proposal in particular has generated significant debate in the capital and across the country – the suggested changes to the music school. I’m grateful to everyone who emailed their local councillors and to those who got in touch directly with me. Our consultation process has always been an open one where everyone’s views are actively encouraged. While this is a new administration, in the last five years consultation has always led to a change in the overall proposals. My message to the people of Edinburgh is: give your view to help set the budget you want!
I hope it’s clear from the budget proposals where our priorities lie. There are a number looking at how the council can be better run and more efficient. While I understand some changes to the council’s staffing of internal functions, like communications, can be challenging for the council’s workforce, it does provide us with an opportunity to make savings without necessarily affecting frontline services. There are also proposals examining how the council might use additional revenue streams as a way of combating budget pressures. Both strands of work are deliberately aimed at protecting the services our city depends on. I appreciate that an increase in council tax can feel burdensome on already tight household budgets, but the alternative of having to reduce spending in key areas of public service is not an easy or equitable one. The proposals being consulted on are based on more budgeted resources for our social care services, protecting important services like youth work and delivering key administration pledges on investment in roads and pavements and other priorities. The budget is an important part of delivering the council’s programme and I’m confident that we can start making progress on our promises to the city. Almost all our public institutions are having to operate with fewer resources available. Edinburgh isn’t immune to those effects.
But with an engaged population playing a full part in the decisions we’re grappling with, our city and public services will be the richer.