Promises made in the excitement of an election campaign or its aftermath have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt those who made them when those pledges become a programme for government.
Take the 2016 SNP commitment to limit council tax increases to three per cent. No ifs or buts: “From next year, we will cap any increase made by councils to a maximum of three per cent a year,” it said. Ok, so it doesn’t spell out how long, but would any reasonable person expect that commitment to be abandoned when we are not even half way through the parliament, as it was last week?
But it happens, so now we await the Edinburgh Council administration’s confirmation it will honour Commitment 49 of the 52 it made in 2017 which did attach a timescale. “Limit Council Tax increases to three per cent a year to 2021,” it said without qualification, or maybe it will add a tricksy caveat of “in real terms”.
The pledge was contained in the final section of the coalition’s Programme for the Capital, sub-titled “Delivering a Council that works for all – more empowered, transparent and improved public services”. By the coalition’s own admission, the bins debacle fell some way short of the last ambition.
And after less than two years, Commitment 52 to “devolve local decisions to four locality committees” will be consigned to history because the unloved committees proved cumbersome, bureaucratic and therefore costly.
There has been undoubted progress with much of Commitment 48, to “make the case” for the Tourist Tax and “explore the possibility” of the workplace parking levy, but like the Garden Tax the administration won’t think twice when it comes to stinging people for more when the cash dries up. Exploring “more flexibility in the application of business rates” doesn’t seem to have got anywhere unless the Government plan to strip private schools of business rate reductions is included. For flexibility, read fleece.
Even the red line of no compulsory redundancies in Commitment 50 has its limitations; it might be true that within the 15,000 or so directly employed staff no-one will be forced to leave, but arms-length organisations directly reliant on council grants have no such security.
Marketing Edinburgh is set to lose over £500,000 of council support in the coming year and the impact has been spelt out by its chief John Donnelly in a letter circulated to councillors in which he claimed the council will be “instigating a wind-down operation which will result in all 20 staff members being made redundant”.
The presumption is that Marketing Edinburgh can be scaled down without impacting on revenue and its Convention Edinburgh wing, which markets conference venues, run by the EICC. That assumes other venue operators will be happy to keep paying membership fees, currently totalling £300k, for their marketing to be handled by a competitor.
Scott Mitchell of the Surgeon’s Quarter which combines Surgeon’s Hall with the Ten Hill Place Hotel for medical events, also wrote to councillors, claiming the decision to decimate Marketing Edinburgh is “likely to result in the city becoming inward-looking and insular”.
Credited with attracting £72m worth of convention business this year, Mr Mitchell called for common sense to prevail. “I simply cannot understand the willingness to ‘bite the hand that feeds you’,” he wrote.
Mr Donnelly is a realist and is instead calling for a gradual reduction of council support over the next two years to give his organisation time to reorganise while maintaining its services. Now the administration has more wriggle room than expected two weeks ago it would be even harder to understand if it didn’t.
If the decision is unchanged, maybe the council leader and his pals in the Greens, who wanted this to happen a year ago, can go down to Marketing Edinburgh, look the 20 people they are effectively sacking in the eye and tell them why that £72m doesn’t matter.