Martin Hannan: Budget critics cut to the quick

Public toilets were a hot topic of debate at the city council budget meeting. Picture: Bill Henry
Public toilets were a hot topic of debate at the city council budget meeting. Picture: Bill Henry
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Who would be a councillor? Let me rephrase that – who in their right mind would be a councillor?

This thought occurred to me on Thursday morning as I watched the council budget meeting via the 
webcast. For more than two hours, despite speakers being limited to ten minutes, deputation after deputation listed their concerns about the budget that the council was about to set with its litany of cuts, or “savings” as the council reports have them.

The criticisms of the council were comprehensive and devastating.

All of the speakers were representing people who will be damaged by these cuts. Trade unionists, tenants representatives, members of charitable organisations, and just concerned citizens all sat and quietly eviscerated the council – verbally, of course, but you could see that their criticisms hurt.

For this was not what councillors were elected to do. Excepting the few who are outrightly on the make, and those who are just time servers and lobby fodder, most decent councillors were elected to serve their fellow citizens, and I genuinely believe that the majority of the city’s councillors are in that category – they want to do something good for Edinburgh and its people.

It should be a positive job – one where you can actually make a difference for people. You may not change the world, but you can definitely change people’s lives in small ways for the better.

Then they traipse along last Thursday morning and are faced with the prospect of closing this or that facility – public toilets seemed to cause particular ire – or running down services that they had hoped to boost and improve.

Most pertinently of all, on Thursday the council voted to go ahead with the reduction of middle management by some 1200 posts. How they are going to achieve that cut in numbers without compulsory redundancies will be a feat bordering on the miraculous. I just can’t see that it is possible, and anyone who thinks there will be no impact on council services or the remaining staff is frankly daft.

I have heard only one councillor admit the truth in recent weeks, and she wasn’t from Edinburgh. Rhondda Geekie, leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, was honest enough to say that the budget cuts in her council “will impact on service delivery”.

You didn’t hear much of that talk in the 
council chamber. It was a sombre, sober meeting that changed the way Edinburgh council is going to be run in future. It was also a genuine exercise in democracy, and congratulations to the people who were given the chance to speak and took it with aplomb.

As it happens, I don’t yet agree with Linda Garcia of the Women’s International Group who said “this is a broken council failing its people”. That time may come, but this SNP member accepts that, at the moment, the Capital coalition is holding things together – just. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself how much worse would the cuts have been had the Conservatives been in control. Armageddon, anyone?

Meanwhile, all the talk of unfreezing council tax and pressurising the Scottish Government to give more money to local government is wrongly directed. The real culprits are in Westminster – Cameron, Clegg, left, Osborne and the rest who attack the poor and public services. Come May, let’s turf them out.

No disgrace in this company

SO Edinburgh is the fourth most beautiful city after Paris, Florence and Rome, pictured? I have visited those three cities on numerous occasions and indeed lived in Rome for more than a year, so I can only agree with the verdict of the Rough Guide readers who did the voting. Better fourth than nowhere, I say.

Plainly speaking, it’s just gibberish

Sometimes I despair of council officials and their fascination with using language that the rest of us can barely comprehend.

One phrase from the council budget report is surely a candidate for the Plain English Campaign’s Gobbledygook awards.

What exactly does “delivery of procurement transformational efficiencies” mean?

I think it means that the council is going to find better and cheaper ways of spending public money, but I am not exactly sure.

The council goes out of its way to improve communications with the public, but using this sort of language is not helpful at all. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A lasso? Pull the udder one!

I SWEAR this story is true because the person concerned told me so herself.

A lady friend of mine, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, was driving up a country road during the recent icy weather when her car got stuck fast in the snow and slush.

Being self-reliant, she began to look for ways of getting the car out by herself. Then she noticed a piece of rope hanging from a gate, beside which a cow was looking at her vacantly.

You’ve guessed it. Calamity Jane set about lassoing the cow to help her pull out the car. Just in time the farmer arrived and funnily enough, he did not see the funny side.