So that’s another budget year over! As Edinburgh leader to the junior partner of this coalition, I’ve been asked a lot over the last few weeks what I think about this year’s budget.
I think we have worked hard alongside our local SNP colleagues and excellent council officers to set a competent budget for the capital city. We have produced a budget that continues to prioritise education and early years – and I’m really pleased to make a firm commitment to progress our school build plans, including Castlebrae and Trinity Academy in my own Forth ward, and more across the city.
We have a budget that makes no compulsory redundancies and commits to living wage for our employees; puts more upfront funding into preventing homelessness and prioritises growth towards a sustainable and greener city.
We have also put aside a £200,000 fund to help community projects who may be struggling as a result of recent funding decisions to transition into new models and find other funding sources.
But this budget was set against the context of £33 million of cuts from the Scottish Parliament. Such staggering central government cuts represent a symptom of the SNP government’s de-prioritisation of local government, particularly in Edinburgh.
Many councillors’ spoke of exactly this during last week’s debate in the chambers. No more than my colleague Cllr Maureen Child, who called for an end to underfunding of key local services and more joined-up thinking in the chambers: “We have all been handed – yet again – a very poor one-year settlement from our Holyrood so-called partners. In our own ways we are making the very best we can of their very bad deal. There has to be a much more profound devolution of power and a proper recognition of our own identity as local government.”
Such challenging financial conditions is why I am pleased be co-chairing and leading on behalf of the Council on Edinburgh’s first Poverty Commission. I’m pleased to say we are making fast progress on this. Only last week the Commission visited residents in Moredun multi-storey flats hearing many of the issues that impact their lives.
The Commission then met formally on Thursday at Gilmerton Community Centre to discuss and hear evidence on the theme of “Pockets”, or the pressures that keep incomes low and living costs high for people in Edinburgh – pikcing up topics such as affordable credit, social security, income maximisation with Scotcash, CHAI, NHS council revenue and benefits, DWP and others.
It’s already clear to me that one of our recommendations to the city must be to have Edinburgh as a Living Wage city, and something we should be proud to champion.
Hearing that people are struggling in this city to make ends meet in the fastest growing economy in Scotland, makes it all the more obvious to me that we need to keep Labour in Leith Walk.
With only a few weeks until the by-election in Leith Walk, I hope the public will get out and vote for a new councillor to replace the hard work and community-based ethos of former Labour Councillor Marion Donaldson. I hope people will vote for a party that strive to make changes for citizens on low and insecure wages and aims to ensure our thriving city is more prosperous for all.
I’m really pleased that my friend and colleague Nick Gardner has been selected to defend the seat. Nick is well known locally and worked tirelessly when he was a councillor only a few years ago. For more information about nick check out www.facebook.com/nickcgardner.
So between 7am and 10pm on Thursday, 11 April make your vote count. Vote Labour for Leith Walk!
Cammy Day is the Labour group leader on Edinburgh City Council