Edinburgh City Council’s budget engagement process closes on 19 December so there are still a few days left for those who want to submit their views on the proposals which the Capital’s coalition have put forward and which have been extensively reported on by this newspaper.
Some proposals were met with immediate and fierce opposition which forced a hasty U-turn by the administration. I am, of course, referring to the proposal to close The City of Edinburgh Music School at Broughton High School. Although it was proposed that the tuition was to be spread out to other schools, this did little to appease its opponents who went on to orchestrate (pun intended) a well-organised campaign that ultimately achieved its goal.
It is taken as read that while efficiency savings may be palatable, budget cuts are generally not. Proposals to generate additional income, like the introduction of more parking controlled areas, increases in charges for parking permits and the like, are not likely to find favour with car owners and the proposed £25 annual charge for garden waste uplift is not going to be welcomed with open arms by those expected to pay it.
However the books have to balance and it is the unenviable task of councillors to make sure that they do. Councillors do not seek election in order to determine which service should be cut or downsized or what current charges could be increased or what new charges should be introduced, but that is part and parcel of being a councillor in these trying times. All council candidates were well aware of this when they stood for election.
The council has already cut its budget by £240 million over the last five years and it will need to save another £150m by 2023, which will present a huge challenge. The council will be forced to consider proposals that under normal circumstances would be unthinkable if the financial climate continues as predicted and there is no loosening of the purse strings.
Issues like the relationship between the council and Edinburgh Leisure will not go away and are only likely to intensify.
Reducing the grant to Edinburgh Leisure by £420,000 and introducing maintenance charges totalling £375,000 for the council-owned football pitches which are hired out by Edinburgh Leisure might save the council a lot of money, but it will undoubtedly impose a greater financial burden for the organisation that is entrusted to manage our sports facilities including 10 swimming pools, 14 gyms, six golf courses and a climbing centre.
Around 5,200 people affected by health conditions, poverty, inequalities and disabilities receive support from its active communities team, who support people to live active lives. It can ill afford to suffer any financial losses. Edinburgh Leisure also faces the normal financial pressures of any business such as rising costs and it no doubt finds it frustrating that there is no “joined up thinking“ when it comes to sports provision. The financial pressures it faces must be considered in the context of the importance and value of getting all sectors of the community active and should be viewed as an investment in the health of the Edinburgh public. Investment in sports provision should be viewed as a preventative spend which will result in savings in health and social care services.
What we spend on the provision of sports activities will save money in the long term with fewer people becoming dependent on the NHS for care. We need to develop a strategic policy to address this issue with input from all concerned.
Council officials will have to garner all the views that have been expressed during this exercise and produce a series of reports for consideration by councillors with the administration paying particular attention to the response to its proposals.
We have yet to see what the other parties have to offer. Only then can we compare and contrast proposals which the parties are putting forward as the best solution. The Capital coalition has set out its stall and has had to take some tough decisions. Only time will tell if they are the right ones but that is the nature of the beast.
At least the Coalition has aired its views on the matter and should be commended (in the main) for attempting to promote and protect the City’s interest in what are extremely trying times.