The last few weeks and months have seen political parties in the City Chambers gather their thoughts on budgets and priorities for the next year.
While we await confirmation of our final settlement from the Scottish Government with bated breath, I hope none of the political parties at Scottish Parliament will vote for a budget that reduces funding to local government in Edinburgh. Over the last five years, the Scottish Government’s cuts have led to over £240 million being removed from Edinburgh at a time when demand for services is increasing.
This is unsustainable. We will again anticipate further cuts which will see us required to remove many millions from our services across the city.
This is the funding that delivers front-line services in health and social care to look after our older and vulnerable people, and delivers community facilities like libraries, community centres, youth centres and investment in our schools. As a former education convener, I fully support the principle of providing the best possible learning environment for our young people.
That’s why I feel it’s especially important that the communities of west and south-west Edinburgh continue to speak to us about the ongoing schools’ review. The lack of any information on government funding for wave-four schools is of great concern to my Labour colleagues.
Only last week we heard from parents in south-west Edinburgh, and Trinity academy, reminding us of the need to properly invest in our schools estate now and in the future. I will do everything I can to ensure we deliver new schools for the capital at Trinity Academy and Castlebrae and other key areas of investment in schools to ensure they are fit for the future of the city. As for the proposed tourist tax, it was interesting, if not necessarily surprising, to see the level of support for the introduction of such a tax here in Edinburgh. The capital attracts four million visitors each year who bring investment, diversity and energy to our city, but they also bring a cost in terms of the impact on our core services.
Clearly, in order to sustain the most successful hospitality sector per head in the world, we need to continue to invest in the areas that make the city a success story.
Is it right that the council continues to foot the bill? With pressure on our budgets and increased competition from other destinations, this is an unrealistic solution. I was also pleased this week to see Scottish Labour announce their budget plans, including a commitment to delivering a tourist tax, amongst other new initiatives.
The British Hotel Association made much of a recent letter from the Cabinet Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, in which she stated that “Scottish Ministers are not willing to consider requests to explore a possible tourism levy with local government unless the tourism and hospitality industry are involved from the outset and their long-term interests are fully recognised in any work”.
They interpreted that as the Scottish Government closing the door on our plans for a levy. We took it to mean the exact opposite and are continuing to work up a business case. We will soon be in a position to consult on our proposals, encouraging a clear, balanced debate with industry leaders before presenting our proposals to Ministers.
Finally I had the opportunity to field questions from members at full council this week and reminded them of the Time to Talk day. I have encouraged members to listen, talk and act in supporting those with mental health issues.
On that issue, I am hugely proud of the pupils and parents of Forthview Primary School who recently wrote and launched their book ‘No Worries’ which tells the tale of a group of primary school children going on school camp, each facing and overcoming their different anxieties. Well done to everyone involved – we could learn a lot from them!
Cammy Day is the Labour Group leader at Edinburgh City Council