Green councilllors Gavin Corbett and Claire Miller explain why the Green budget for Edinburgh highlighted new schools, social care, homelessness and the climate emergency as priorities.
Last Thursday the council set its billion-pound budget for the year ahead. Although all opposition parties put forward their own budgets, as expected, the ruling SNP-Labour group won the day, albeit with some Green proposals on empty homes, protecting trees and tackling homelessness included.
It was always going to be a difficult budget. Action by Green MSPs in Parliament had secured £8 million of funding leeway for the council and, more significantly, set in motion reforms which should see councils having more financial control in the future. But the immediate backdrop is still gloomy, hugely amplified, of course, by a chaotic Tory Brexit, which three-quarters of Edinburgh voted against.
That is why Green councillors looked very carefully at what the city needs. We identified three big themes: tackling the climate emergency; helping young people to thrive; and supporting the most vulnerable citizens.
The climate emergency is the great challenge of our age. The UN has warned we have until 2030 to get our house in order. Parties which duck hard choices in favour of cheap slogans are taking a wrecking ball to the future. So we argued for almost £3m for a new Climate Emergency Fund over the next four years, to take forward projects on transport, energy use, local food and slashing waste.
One of the most immediate opportunities for step-change is in the new schools programme. Across the city in Craigmillar, Balerno, Liberton, Trinity, Wester Hailes and Currie, school communities have waited too long for new secondary schools. So we allocated funds year on year to borrow the £78m the council needs to build those schools for the 21st century. But securing Edinburgh’s future must go hand in hand with meeting the urgent needs of Edinburgh’s present. We made the case for record amounts of money for social care, with a grant offer to the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board of over £215m next year (up 8.3 per cent from £199m in the current year), more than any other political party in the council. Within that offer was £3.7m for a “change fund” to deliver new styles of care for the future and help community organisations facing devastating grant cuts just now.
Equally pressing is tackling homelessness. With the city currently spending almost £12m a year for bed and breakfast places for homeless people, change is urgently needed. We allocated new funding to invest in early action and prevention work, and to ensure people can move on from temporary accommodation as quickly as possible. Such is the scale of the homelessness crisis in the Capital that we are calling on the Scottish Government to support our work with additional funding.
These are just the headlines of a detailed budget proposal. We also gave priority to sports clubs and leisure centres, help for families in stressful situations and supporting cycling, walking and public transport, among many others. We also opted to keep nursery teachers where they belong: in nurseries.
How do we fund all of this? By prioritising frontline services over marketing activity. By reforming council funding to Police Scotland so that it is on a par with other councils. And by using our new council tax flexibility to raise council tax above the three per cent currently assumed in the budget.
That is 0.5 per cent more to fund borrowing for new schools. And one per cent extra to raise £2.75m more for care for vulnerable people. That amounts to 36p a week extra for a band D house, rising to £1.60 by 2022-23. It’s a small price to pay for new schools and better social care.
In a difficult year, we made positive choices for Edinburgh’s future.
Claire Miller and Gavin Corbett are Green councillors on Edinburgh City Council’s finance and resources committee