At the moment when the axe finally fell, the reaction to the council’s dramatic £85 million savings plan was strangely muted.
There was no mass picket outside the City Chambers, though the Grim Reaper was there, or at least an anti-cuts campaigner in fancy dress, with a bunch of protesters.
One was carrying a banner in support of the under-threat Drylaw Community Centre, a reminder of the impact the plans approved yesterday will have on daily life across the Capital. The threat of closure still hangs over this much-valued centre – and the same dark shadow looms over some of our local sports centres. And there are many other ways – from sky high parking charges to doubts about school improvement plans – that these changes will affect our lives.
In the circumstances, the lack of mass protests may seem strange, but there are reasons for it. Firstly, we have known for some time that the axe would fall, and many of the most controversial elements have been ditched. Credit is due to the council for the way it has opened up its budget setting process, inviting as much public input as possible before final decisions are taken.
Secondly, the undoubted pain these cuts will cause have been spread far and wide, with no cataclysmic impact in any one particular area. There will be inevitable controversy over particular spending decisions, but our city leaders can make a decent argument for saying they played a bad hand of cards reasonably well.
The big problem is that this is just the beginning. The city needs to find another £62m in savings in the coming years. We simply can’t go on like this.
The council is starting to make serious strides towards becoming more efficient, but it also makes sense for the Scottish Government to give the city powers to levy new charges whether that be a tourist tax, mansion tax, or something else.
The council tax freeze has been one of the Scottish Government’s great successes, protecting hard-working families from soaring bills, but it is starting to starve the city of decent funding. Innovative tax plans rather than a big hike for all is the answer.