Joe Biden, former vice-president to Barack Obama, famously said: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Ask the Scottish Government and they will say they value education. They will say they value care for the elderly. They will say they want a strong and productive relationship with local councils to get things done.
However, look at their budget, and you can see that for all the Scottish Government’s talk, the numbers tell a different story.
Despite political parties promoting their latest deal providing ‘extra funding’ of £27million, the money given to Edinburgh will actually fall this year. Provisionally, independent Scottish Parliament researchers predict that Edinburgh’s allocation will fall by more than half a million pounds. Another cut, on top of a decade of declining budgets for the capital, and against a background of growing demands and responsibilities for the council.
One of the biggest misconceptions about council funding is that councils make their money through council tax. In fact, the Scottish Government gives about 85 per cent of funding to councils directly. Council tax and business rates pay for the rest – and make up a much smaller piece of the pie.
So when the Scottish Government cut local government funding, as they have, it matters. Councils can’t make up the shortfall through other sources of revenue.
That’s just what the SNP Government – with help in recent years from the Scottish Greens – have done over successive years. They have cut council budgets by hundreds of millions of pounds.
Why does that matter? The Scottish Government don’t generally have staff in communities, so they rely on local government to carry out the day-to-day running of public service. That includes many things you would expect to be fixed and maintained: street cleaning, pot holes, our green spaces. There is no doubt that Edinburgh has suffered because of cuts to those areas.
More pernicious are the cuts to areas one might not associate so strongly with local government. Take education, where Scotland has lost 4,000 teachers. Or social care, where, dspite all the warnings, there aren’t enough beds and care staff to deal with the crisis.
In the area the Government say is their biggest investment priority, childcare, the auditors are now saying the government aren’t fully funding their promises. Indeed, the independent Accounts Commission say that the Government will be £160 million short. That means we will be short of both staff and premises by the time parents will be expecting comprehensive childcare.
The challenges that Edinburgh faces are global: the rise of technology, an aging population, and competition from other countries. However, the solutions must be local: outstanding education, a social care system fit for the 21st century and a local government which has the capacity to adapt to a changing world.
I believe Edinburgh will go from strength to strength against these global challenges – it is just a shame that the national government doesn’t value the local solutions to help us thrive.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.