Edinburgh Council budget debate: Despite student politics and stunts, the adults in the room eventually prevailed – Iain Whyte
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That some parties care only for posturing rather than serious decision-making was evident as last week’s budget meeting approached. It was confirmed with the voting stunts pulled at the meeting.
The SNP announced plans to rig the Council Tax banding system and heap yet more misery on anyone who happens to live in a Band E property or above. Two different versions of their plan for “discounts” for lower bands were found likely to be unlawful. Implementing this risked everyone in Edinburgh ending up with a 20 per cent Council Tax increase in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
Thankfully, council lawyers stopped this madcap scheme that didn’t take account of ability to pay for anyone in a higher band property or that many modern flats have much higher bandings than similar cost older ones. A stunt for a headline? Well, their SNP colleagues in the Scottish Parliament have had power since 2007 to deliver their pledge to “scrap the unfair Council Tax”. They haven’t.
When the meeting came, we had the theatre of SNP’s Green allies voting for other parties’ budgets to get the Labour budget dropped early from consideration. The claims were hyperbolic. Some SNP and Green members were “making Labour choose” between the Lib Dems’ budget and their joint ‘left-wing’ proposal. For others, it was all about £279,000 to set up a team of bureaucrats to write climate change reports.
The truth is the week’s antics from the SNP and Greens were just about making a scene. None of the four budgets proposed much more than tinkering at the edges of the £1.3bn the council will spend next year. With a £70m blackhole to fill, and the lowest grant levels in Scotland thanks to the Scottish Government, there’s no room for manoeuvre.
The SNP/Green budget did have the most changes with 14 different plans, each of which was apparently vital for the future of the city or even the planet. However, these only added up to £2.7m or 0.2 per cent of council spending. They were micro-managing so much, they put £60k aside to create a single job for yet another bureaucrat.
Further proof that this was about theatre not principle was their choice of the Lib Dem budget. It contained a reference to ending the “no compulsory redundancy policy” and another to considering outsourcing, both anathema to the SNP and Greens.
The faux outrage abounded on Twitter. Labour councillors must “hate” the Greens if they chose the Lib Dem budget over theirs. And those Greens who voted for a Conservative budget then changed their vote immediately in the next round “did so at huge personal cost”. It was a political tactic so don’t make me laugh.
The Conservative, Lib Dem and amended Labour budgets used what little movement was available to councillors to increase spending on roads and pavements and cleaning up our streets.
I obviously preferred the Conservative version but the bottom line of ending up with the Lib Dem budget is a lower-than-expected Council Tax increase, nearer the four per cent we proposed, and more resources for basic services that are failing. That’s a victory for the public from the remaining grown-ups in the room.
Iain Whyte is Conservative group leader on Edinburgh Council