Edinburgh Council budget: City needs a fair deal, not more cuts – Ian Swanson
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Cynics might think that has something to do with local elections in May.
One thing is for sure – it's going to be a different story next year. We already know from previous announcements about the likely levels of central government support that up to £60 million will have to be found in savings when it comes to setting the 2023/24 budget.
Unions will tell you the effects of previous cuts are still being felt – reductions in staffing leading to workplace stress and high absence rates in key services; a lack of support staff in schools preventing teachers from focusing on their main role; under-funding for social care leading to a recruitment crisis which threatens to leave people without the day-to-day assistance they need.
So the prospect of further cuts sets alarm bells ringing.
The crisis in social care is just one area where more money needs to be spent, not less. Edinburgh also has enormous housing pressures to cope with. And the tram extension looks likely to need extra funding since Covid means the dividend from Lothian Buses and future fare revenue will now not pay for it after all.
Councils are responsible for many of the services which affect people’s daily lives most directly – from housing to schools to roads.
And despite its Capital status, Edinburgh receives the lowest funding per head of population from the Scottish government out of all 32 local authorities. The figures on core funding for 2022/23 show Edinburgh getting £1,654 per person, compared to Glasgow's £2,215 per person.
Long-serving Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro, who is standing down at the elections in May, has made a point of asking SNP council leader Adam McVey at every full council meeting what he has been doing to argue Edinburgh's case with the Scottish government.
In January 2019, after the Scottish government said the council leader had not had any official meetings with the then Finance Secretary Derek Mackay over funding for the Capital, despite his repeated claims he was lobbying ministers, Cllr McVey insisted he had a range of informal contacts with various ministers and always took the opportunity to push the Capital's case, even when he bumped into them at bus stops.
Opposition councillors said his “bus stop diplomacy” did not seem to be having much effect.
The council did succeed in persuading the government to bring in legislation to allow two new avenues of funding for councils – a tourist tax and the workplace parking levy – but neither has yet been implemented and the pandemic has provoked fresh protests about their likely impact.
When the SNP came to power in 2007, it promised to replace council tax with a new system but that has never happened and the party's manifesto for last year's Holyrood elections only proposed setting up a citizens' assembly to look at the issue.
In the meantime, there has to be more urgent action to ensure the vital services councils provide are adequately funded – and Edinburgh, in particular, gets a fair deal.