Tone-deaf is the kindest thing said about council’s defeated rent-rise bid - Christine Jardine

A general view of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. Picture: PAA general view of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. Picture: PA
A general view of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile. Picture: PA
Public finance can seem like the driest and most remote of subjects when you are faced with mounting bills, a pothole has just burst your car’s tyre or you have nowhere for your children to play safely.

Sometimes politicians too can be guilty of forgetting the direct impact their decisions have on people’s lives.

But this past week our councillors in Edinburgh, at least those who are in opposition, demonstrated quite clearly that they recognise that.

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In a move that all of us in and outside politics should applaud, the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green councillors on City of Edinburgh Council combined to prevent a rent rise.

At a time when we are all running out of adjectives to describe this crisis and the hardship it is causing, the SNP-Labour council felt adding costs to household bills was the way ahead.

As my Liberal Democrat colleague councillor Kevin Lang put it, “I didn’t think the administration would present this council with a motion that hikes up council rent, at a time when so many folk are least able to afford it”.

But they did.

Tone-deaf is perhaps the kindest thing that has been said about the council’s defeated rent-rise bid in a budget which should have gone as far as it possibly could to address the issues we all face every day.

But it didn’t.

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I appreciate that the administration’s options were slightly limited by the Scottish Government’s insistence that the level of funding this year was conditional on a council tax freeze.

But there was a way of doing that without putting up rents.

And the opposition found it.

There were other options too that the SNP-Labour group seem to have missed and would have improved the situation for all of us in the coming 12 months.

The Liberal Democrats had wanted to invest an extra £10 million in our paths, pavements and roads, the state of which is a constant source of complaint from people who have been injured falling or whose cars or bikes have been damaged by potholes.

The council is, I believe rightly, trying to encourage active travel either by foot or cycle. It’s difficult to see how encouraged people will be by rough or potted roads and pathways.

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Education too could have benefited from the £1million that Lib Dems had wanted to invest in a digital upgrade for the city’s schools which would have allowed them to spend the money the way they thought best for the pupils.

And there is the £5 million that would have been spent on the parks and green spaces which provide such a vital outlet for our children in these very enclosed times.

There were also Lib Dem proposals to reverse the cuts to community policing to combat the constant stream of concerns that are brought to myself and others by constituents, and oppose an increase in the SNP’s controversial garden tax.

But while the individual differences in what the council’s plans for the coming year could have looked like are important, it is the overall impact, and attitude towards the crisis, that for me speaks volumes.

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At a time when the country is facing a 10 per cent decline in the economy and record borrowing figures we are all only too aware that we are far from out of the woods.

Every analysis I have read says that those who are already finding it hardest to make ends meet are the people who are being worst affected by this crisis, and need the most help.

Previous rounds of cuts have decimated the funding that third sector projects get which always disproportionately impact the poorest communities.

Increasing rents across the council house stock could potentially just have added another problem.

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I appreciate that money needs to be found for maintenance and repairs but the opposition councillors were able to see how the two could be balanced.

And that balance is going to be crucial going forwards.

The vaccine is giving us all confidence that the cause of the crisis can be, if not completely defeated, at least held at bay by annual injections.

But the damage to lives that the Covid storm has left in its wake will be far more difficult to deal with.

We have grown used over the past year to our daily updates from the First Minister with their barely concealed political message and over indulgent self-congratulations on how well Scotland is allegedly doing in comparison to some irrelevant measure.

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In Westminster, I regularly have to hold my tongue, and bridle my offence, at the constant repetition of the independence message when we are there to deal with the crisis.

It would have been refreshing if the SNP councillors at least could have recognised the need to put the recovery of people, families and businesses before the political agenda.

They are, after all, of all our elected representatives, the ones who are closest to our daily needs and services.

In those circumstances it would have been nice to think that they would put the needs of their constituents before their political masters’ agenda.

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That is not to say Labour is without fault but they are after all the junior partner in that coalition.

I have no doubt that there are those who will see my comments as jumping on a political bandwagon.


I neither seek nor deserve any credit, reflected or otherwise for the work done by my colleagues on the council.

This was their initiative. Their desire to work with the others in the Conservative and Green parties to do what they believe is best for the people of this city.

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It is just a pity that the administration on the city council could not have found a way to agree, not only with this proposal, but to those other spending proposals which could have helped our personal recoveries over the coming year.

Christine Jardine MP, Edinburgh West (Scottish Liberal Democrats)

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