Edinburgh Council's democratic debate over new budget is put into perspective by Vladimir Putin's attack on our twin city Kiev – Robert Aldridge
It was a sobering thought to sit debating the council’s budget while our twin city of Kyiv in Ukraine was under attack by the forces of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship in Russia.
The council is at its best when it unites, as it did, to condemn the outrageous and vile oppression of citizens.
We sometimes take our basic freedoms and rights for granted. So while all the political parties fiercely and robustly debated priorities for the coming year, we did so (mostly) in a spirit of mutual respect, and absolutely secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be shot or imprisoned for having a different point of view.
This year saw the Scottish government shake its magic money tree at the last minute and release some badly needed extra funding for one year only to councils. A cynic might say the last-minute cash was given because of the local elections in May, but nonetheless it is welcome.
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As Lib Dems, we have been listening hard on the doorsteps over the winter and we put forward a budget to tackle the basic issues residents raise with us time and again.
We need to sort our paths, pavements and potholes. The current council has failed abysmally to keep pedestrians, cyclists and other road users safe through poor maintenance. Could it be that the ever-growing network of potholes is a cheap means of enforcing the 20mph speed limit?
We deserve better, including ensuring that potholes are permanently fixed and sealed, in our budget plan Lib Dems put almost twice as much extra into this as any other political party on the council.
The SNP and Labour on the council have made a huge cut to the money each school has to spend on its own priorities. As Lib Dems, we recognise that schools each have different pressures and priorities and so our budget restored those funds.
Fly-tipping is an increasing scourge. We can do something to stop it. In our proposals, we scrapped the charge for bulky uplifts. The SNP and Labour promised to do this when they were elected first but have failed year on year to do anything about it.
With more frequent bad weather events, flooding and blocked gullies are a growing problem. With so many gullies silted up, we need extra action to clear the backlog and get back to a maintenance system which works better.
Our parks and greenspaces have been neglected for too long and we put extra investment into them, including new toilets and lighting.
But our budget was defeated. Other parties had different priorities. That is what democracy is about – celebrating and debating different views, And the people of Edinburgh will have a chance to vote on which approach they prefer at the local elections in May.
So as we in Edinburgh need to focus on getting our basic services right, let’s also spare a thought for those in Kyiv who need all the help we can give to get their basic right to democracy restored.
Robert Aldridge is a Scottish Liberal Democrat councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle and leader of his party’s group on the council