Councillor Alasdair Rankin: Battling poverty is the focus for plans to change Capital

All over the country, in support of Climate Week Scotland and Challenge Poverty Week, citizens, agencies and other groups are raising their voices and speaking out about the very real impact of poverty and climate change. How fitting, then, that we’re taking action in Edinburgh to prioritise poverty and sustainability in all of the budget decisions we make.

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 1:52 am
The city council has delivered close to £300 million of savings since 2012. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Marking a year since we launched long-term plans for change at the council – embarking on an ambitious four-year strategy to meet the shifting demands of our city – this week I’ll be asking members of the finance and resources committee to consider endorsing three key themes – minimise poverty, promote sustainability and enhance the well-being of all citizens.

These themes, which have been developed following thousands of responses from residents to our previous budget engagements, have been distilled into a report which recommends prioritising saving and spending in the right places so that we can further focus our work.

The reality is that for all ­Edinburgh is a successful city – and it is – 80,000 people are living in poverty, including one in five children. High housing costs are a challenge for many and the life chances of people across the city are still influenced too much by where they are born and not enough by their talent and ability.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance and resources convener at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Neil Hanna

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That’s why we need to build on the work of our Poverty Commission and use our budget, where we can, to drive change to help everyone share in the city’s success.

We also need to address the impacts of growth on our infrastructure and push for “good growth”, where the benefits of the city’s success are shared more fairly.

Already, we are embracing more active transport solutions, improving access for cyclists and pedestrians, reimagining our city centre and enhancing connectivity.

We have an opportunity to look at our budget as a means of investing in those services which support our carbon neutral by 2030 goals, services which support our growing and aging population and buildings which care for and nurture our families, our school pupils and the wellbeing of our most vulnerable residents.

When we set this year’s council budget in February, I was pleased that we were able to protect frontline services. We agreed a £1 billion package of spending, investing in prevention and early intervention and ensuring sustainable and, most importantly, inclusive growth. Since 2012, we have delivered close to £300 million of savings (almost a third of our annual budget) by redesigning our services and transforming the way we do things, using new technologies to improve our services.

We are already embracing the opportunities that technology brings – like more efficient ways for ­residents and ­businesses to interact with the ­council, particularly online.

However, we need to save a further £86.7m by 2023, of which £36m will be found in the next financial year. Rather than prejudge our settlement from the Scottish Government –which we don’t expect to receive until December – we are going to focus on the bigger picture and how best to invest in the services that matter most to our residents. Once we know what our settlement will be, we will firm up our specific budget proposals.

I truly believe that, by focusing on poverty and sustainability outcomes, we can enhance the wellbeing of all our residents. Equally timely, then, that when committee meets tomorrow, we’ll meet on what is also World Mental Health Day.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance and resources convener at Edinburgh City Council.