Edinburgh's taxpayers are forking out a small fortune for council's left-wing virtue signalling – Iain Whyte

Edinburgh Council faces a budget shortfall of about £70 million in the coming year and when performance on many of the basics isn’t where the public would like to see it, you would think that would be concentrating councillors’ minds.

Cleaner, repaired streets, caring for the elderly, properly educating children, and delivering for residents must be the priority. Yet it didn’t feel like that at the council’s policy and sustainability committee last week. This, the council’s main committee, has become the home of virtue-signalling and petty squabbling, all of which costs you extra money in officer time and less efficient ways of working. There are plenty of examples.

The first was to endorse a “plant-based treaty” urging everyone to go vegan. Setting aside that our city has chosen to take a swipe at our rural neighbours, angering farmers and the Scottish Countryside Alliance, did anyone think to ask the people of Edinburgh?

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The latest figures I can find show that 98 per cent of British households buy milk, 91 per cent enjoy red meat and only 26 per cent approve of restricting consumption of meat and dairy as a preferred way to reach net-zero. But the virtue had to be signalled, so we spent taxpayers’ money to endorse something that is “non-binding” as the council would only “be expressing support for a treaty to be negotiated at a global level”.

Next up was a push by left-wing councillors to “in-house” services regardless of whether this makes financial or service sense. Not content with a beefed-up in-house team to better manage an £18m contract to maintain council buildings, time was spent second-guessing officers on whether this could all be brought in-house.

SNP and Labour councillors led this charge despite the fact they controlled the council when the contract started in 2021. It will save the taxpayer millions, improve the standard of our buildings, and properly incorporate ongoing maintenance schedules for the first time.

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Most importantly, the contract has a minimum six years to run and would cost millions to cancel. There would also be a huge cost to pay consultants to tell the council how to do the work in-house.

The aim is to appease the trade unions but that makes no sense when the council can’t recruit workers in the trades involved because these private companies pay people more. Nevertheless, we’re to get more costly reports.

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Most people in the UK enjoy red meat, but Edinburgh Council has endorsed a 'plant-based treaty' designed to promote veganism (Picture: Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Taxpayers took another punch to the wallet when it was agreed to spend £200k on a cuddly-sounding council-owned company called Energy for Edinburgh. This was first thought of in 2014 to help create district heating and other community energy projects. However, officers had to admit it has achieved absolutely nothing in nine years and cost taxpayers nearly £90k. Anywhere other than Edinburgh Council that would be well past time to cut your losses rather than triple the waste.

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There are more examples that I don’t have space to write about, and please bear in mind this was only one meeting of one committee. I voted against all of this and more and stuck to suggesting value-for-money local services for residents. If you want better local services and less left-wing virtue signalling from the council budget, you need to tell that to councillors of all parties.

Iain Whyte is Edinburgh Council’s Conservative group leader