It’s council budget time – or it should be. Every year the council encourages the public to comment on its spending plans. The consultation was due to start this week but has been delayed until November. Why? Mainly because the document detailing the £21 million of proposed cuts is impossible to understand and the finance convenor was unable or unwilling to explain what it means.
Thanks to the Evening News for highlighting the real meaning of the budget line “garden waste collection maximising income”. That turned out to be code for introducing a new annual tax on garden waste – on top of the council tax – for anyone who wants it collected. But is “creation of citywide equity and excellence and music service” (involving a cut of £363,000) actually a threat to Edinburgh’s excellent instrumental music service? It’s a fantastic service offering pupils across the city access to instruments and teaching regardless of their parents’ income.
A cut of almost £500,000 to refuse collection through “improvements to working patterns” might be fine. But too many of us have experienced missed bin collections already to accept that simply in good faith.
Lib Dem, Conservative and Green councillors were right to demand that if people are to be consulted they must know what they are being asked about. When the consultation does go live in November let’s hope it is clear about the cuts the SNP and Labour councillors are planning to make and that any additional stealth taxes, like the ridiculous garden waste tax, are clearly set out.
I am sure many of you, like me, have tried to report a missed bin collection in the last few months. It’s a complicated and frustrating process. If you do it online you don’t simply report the missed bin with a contact email. You have to create an email account with a strong password and give full personal details, including your date of birth.
If you do it by phone there is a long recorded message which basically tells you that it’s probably your fault. You must have put the bin out at the wrong time, you must have put the wrong things in the bin or if it’s “only” a day late, why are you bothering us? I feel for the contact centre staff who do an excellent job, but have to deal with the pent-up frustrations caused by this bureaucratic process when people finally get to speak to a human being.
The focus should be on service, not making excuses for failing to provide it. The message should be “sorry, we’ll get it sorted as soon as possible” rather than “it probably wisnae me”.
Lib Dem councillors supported the next stage of developing the case to extend trams to Leith. We added a condition that the lessons from the current inquiry had to be learnt before any decision to proceed is agreed.
It was worrying then to read a report from the council’s internal auditor which raised serious questions about its ability to manage projects and contracts currently. It is absolutely clear that we have to get that part of our house completely in order before embarking on another major project.
But after all that, Edinburgh’s a great city. Having had my pocket expertly picked on a weekend break to a European capital city made me realise what a beautiful, relatively safe and friendly city we live in.
Councillor Robert Aldridge is Lib Dem group leader at Edinburgh City Council