In Edinburgh, gesture politics is a luxury we can ill afford - John McLellan

After last week’s Scottish Government spending review, austerity measures stemming from the SNP’s political choices will bite deep into local services. After last week’s Scottish Government spending review, austerity measures stemming from the SNP’s political choices will bite deep into local services.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 9th June 2022, 4:55 am

And as if a £1bn reduction in funding for Scottish local authorities isn’t bad enough, it appears that - in the mind of Edinburgh Chief Executive Andrew Kerr at least – the previous SNP-Labour administration’s “ambitious” plans to make Edinburgh net carbon zero in less than eight years should still be delivered.

This is despite Mr Kerr telling councillors this week that this would mean “deprioritising” other functions.

For the hard-of-jargon, “ambitious” in the 2017-22 council meant “unfunded, undeliverable and impractical, but sounds good” and for “deprioritising” read “slash or axe”.

So Mr Kerr was telling Tuesday’s Policy & Sustainability committee that services need to be cut to reach an unachievable goal which will make an imperceptible difference to global warming. Even as it stands, Scotland is only responsible for 0.14 per cent of emissions.

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The UK has led the world in carbon reduction, and a target of 2050 for net zero will be hard enough, but not to be outdone the Scottish Government raised Westminster five by declaring its “bold” plan to hit net zero by 2045.

Scottish Government figures out this week show Scottish carbon dioxide equivalent levels have halved since 1990, but for the SNP-Labour virtue-signallers of the last Edinburgh administration, 2045 wasn’t nearly bold enough so they set a 2030 deadline.

Andrew Kerr, chief executive of City of Edinburgh Council, needs to set out what spending cuts will be made to meet "posturing" climate change targets set out by the last administration, writes John McLellan.

With no detailed explanation of how it would be achieved, it was little more than a random date to grab a headline in the run-up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow last November, a posture to show how Edinburgh was in the vanguard without any substance behind it.

Insulating thousands of pre-1919 homes? Expecting hundreds of homeowners to rip out their gas central heating? Installing enough electric vehicle charging points? Assuming the mass conversion of households to electric bikes? Maybe this can happen by 2030 in the utopian dreamland occupied by extremist councillors, but not by anyone with half an eye on the real world.

Despite facing £60m worth of cuts next year and the potential of approximately £380m over the next five years, Mr Kerr was clear that net zero 2030 remained a priority. “There’s going to have to be some decisions made quite early on in the term to allow us to start make savings,” he said.

Technically speaking, it remains a priority until the new administration decides otherwise, but it would surely have been more responsible for the Chief Executive to spell out to the new council the implications of its commitments under drastically different circumstances.

Deprioritising what? Waste collections? Road repairs? School equipment budgets? Libraries? With the cost of living rising by the day as grain rots in Ukrainian barns and fuel costs soar, is this really the time to slash services which will hit the least well-off to chase an unachievable goal demanded by middle class activists?

Now aligned in opposition, the SNP and Greens lodged a joint motion calling for a report to outline options for allocating resources and officers to tackle climate change, and if the officials are doing their jobs the first option should start with a big fat zero and detail which vital services will be prioritised instead.

As costs soar, gesture politics is a luxury we can ill afford.