​Budget cosplay while £70m care funding gap looms - Ross McKenzie

​The pantomime season was barely over this year when the opening act of the Edinburgh Council budget charade got underway.
Ross McKenzie is independent councillor for Sighthill/GorgieRoss McKenzie is independent councillor for Sighthill/Gorgie
Ross McKenzie is independent councillor for Sighthill/Gorgie

With growing pressure over Edinburgh Leisure’s failure to pay the real Living Wage, someone conveniently leaked a confidential report revealing which facilities would be slated for closure without more funding.

Cue a stream of councillors promising to use the budget to ride to the rescue and stop the closures, while also committing to pay the real Living Wage – the very thing they opposed just weeks before, claiming it would lead to swimming pool closures.

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When the budget is set this Thursday, all parties will propose extra funding for Edinburgh Leisure. They will also provide ‘one-off’ funding to stave off more education cuts, and each will find small amounts of money to spread thinly across projects that satisfy their respective political bases and electoral priorities.

But in reality, councillors hold sway over a tiny proportion of Edinburgh’s overall budget. Officers prepare the budget, then councillors make a show of fiddling around with the edges of it.

While local politicians indulge in the cosplay of ‘power’, they’ll be ignoring the single biggest challenge we face next year - a health and social care funding gap of around £70m.

In revealing this figure, the Chief Officer said the scale of these cuts would require Edinburgh residents to “change behaviour and expectations” and that “care packages will change dramatically”.

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These are heavy words describing massive cuts to basic services, but the political response has been to look in the other direction and hope that the worst effects aren’t felt until after the general election.

In this context, a Council Tax freeze is madness. My budget motion will urge the council to call the Scottish Government’s bluff. Holyrood has budgeted to give Edinburgh £16.1m to cover a freeze and they should hand that money over whether we choose to increase Council Tax or not.

I will propose a Council Tax increase to fund health and social care; the increase can be a modest increase if Humza Yousaf hands over that money or a more substantial one if he doesn’t. It’s on him and his government to choose.

No doubt this year’s budget will be carefully stage-managed to avoid a repeat of last year’s farce, which saw Labour vote through a Lib Dem budget that Council Leader Cammy Day later admitted he hadn’t read.

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There will still be plenty of councillor theatrics on the day, but with a general election on the horizon, the target audience for these performances will be the political parties they serve rather than the punters who put them in City Chambers.

Those who rely on the Council for health and social care services deserve so much better.

Ross McKenzie is Independent councillor for Sighthill/Gorgie

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