Edinburgh people can't hide from money worries - and neither can the council - Kevin Lang
“Kevin, I just don’t know how I’ll do it”. This was the heart-breaking message I got from a constituent last week as she described her fear that higher fuel bills and rocketing food prices were going to leave her unable to both heat her home and feed her children this winter.
She is not alone. While the psychodrama of Downing Street has dominated the recent news cycle, I’ve found ordinary people are more worried about how to make their stretched household finances add up. It’s not about paying for any of life’s luxuries, it’s about the basics; food, clothes and fuel.
In my five years as a councillor, I’ve seen how local councils often sit at the front line of helping the poorest and most vulnerable in times of need. It is councils who are left to pick up the pieces of bad decisions, whether taken at Westminster or Holyrood.
But seldom have councils had such little resource to respond to the challenges of the day. Seldom have we been so cup-tied in the money we have to act at times of crisis.
Regrettably, the situation is set to get worse. Looming ominously on the horizon is the need to find an eye-watering £77 million of cuts from Edinburgh Council’s budget, all because the Scottish Government’s real-terms cut to the council’s central grant. It is forcing councillors to have a sobering look at what it can still afford to do and make tough choices.
Just last week, me and other leaders of the different political groups on the Council were invited to meet with the council’s most senior officers for an important update on the scale of the financial challenge. Labour were there. The Liberal Democrats were there. The Conservatives were there. But where were the SNP and the Greens? Neither their leaders nor any member of their groups bothered to show up.
This may be just the latest chapter in the SNP and Green’s five-month huff at having been kept out of running the Council. They may be in denial there is even a financial problem. I suspect they simply do not want to see or hear the realities of the cuts which both their parties are choosing to inflict on core public services.
However, the time for burying heads in the sand is over. We are just a few months away from the council having to set the most challenging budget, certainly in all my years as a councillor.
My constituent cannot put off decisions about what to spend her money on; neither can the Council. I don’t want my constituent to have to choose between eating and heating. Similarly, I don’t want Edinburgh Council to have to choose between different vital local services, which the most vulnerable rely on.
So, if SNP and Green councillors really are going to ‘sit out’ important budget meetings like the one from last week, I hope it’s because they are too busy telling their parties’ MSPs to provide local councils with the funding we need to help my constituent and the tens of thousands of others.
Kevin Lang is the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Edinburgh Council