Battle lines drawn over Edinburgh budget cut plans

BATTLE lines are being drawn ahead of decisions which must be made on cuts to the Capital's budget for next year.

Monday, 30th October 2017, 8:19 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 9:13 am
Debate has raged about where cuts will be brought in. Picture; Jane Barlow

And differences of opinion are already appearing within the city’s SNP-Labour administration.

The council does not yet know how much funding it will receive from the Scottish Government for 2017/18, but it is working on the basis of a three per cent reduction and aiming to save £21 million.

It says council tax will have to rise by three per cent and there could be more than 100 job losses, as well as a controversial package of spending cuts and increased charges.

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Debate has raged about where cuts will be brought in. Picture; Jane Barlow

A public consultation on the proposals was due to start today, but in a surprise move the council’s finance committee on Friday refused to allow the package to go out to consultation until they were given more details.

Labour councillor Gordon Munro and the SNP’s Gavin Barrie have both voiced their opposition to the plans for dispersing the City of Edinburgh Music School.

And Labour’s Scott Arthur has warned this year’s savings – particularly the new charge for garden waste collections – are “just the start”. He claims continued cuts could lead to two-tier public services, where the council provides the basic minimum and people can pay for anything more.

The budget proposals have been drawn up by council officials, who are always asked at this time of year to bring forward measures to save money across all the council’s departments.

Resident Permit Holder Parking on the streets of Edinburgh.

The SNP and Labour groups each vetoed a number of the potential measures and these have not progressed any further. But opposition councillors on the finance committee, as well as complaining they were not being given details of the proposals which have been brought forward, have asked for alternative savings measures to be added to the list, which will now be considered on November 7, so there are options to choose from.

But the minority SNP-Labour coalition, having already suffered a defeat on the budget consultation, will be anxious to avoid defeat on a more substantive issue, such as the cuts themselves.

One senior council source described the coalition as “dysfunctional at the moment”.

The source continued: “The budget is what will make or break the coalition.

“The opposition have the taste of blood. We’ve seen them coalesce together on the budget consultation.

“There need to be some serious negotiations at the City Chambers.”

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PLANS to disperse the world-renowned City of Edinburgh Music School throughout the Capital have already sparked an outcry.

Debate has raged about where cuts will be brought in. Picture; Jane Barlow

The council insists it is not proposing to close the school, currently based at Broughton High and Flora Stevenson Primary, but rather widen opportunities for talented children in all corners of the city.

Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson is among the school’s former pupils.

The plan appears to include staff reductions and children being taught instruments in larger groups.

The changes are listed as saving £363,000 next year and £550,000 over five years.

But politicians from the administration are among those unhappy about the plan.

Leith Labour councillor Gordon Munro: “I think it’s the wrong thing to do. The amount saved is less than the money given by the Scottish Government. It’s a proposal that makes no sense.”

Resident Permit Holder Parking on the streets of Edinburgh.

And he claimed the narrative around the proposed saving was “disingenuous”.

“I think there are opportunities to widen the music service in Edinburgh, but you don’t do it by taking money away from a centre of excellence.”

And the SNP’s economy convener Gavin Barrie, who represents Inverleith, which includes both school sites, has revealed on social media that he does not support the proposal.

“My preference would be they stay the same, but it’s a consultation, the public will be heard and their views seriously considered.”

The council says there are currently 60 pupils at the music school and the cost works out at £7,500 per head on top of the £6,500 per head it costs to educate children across the city.

Broughton High’s parent council is campaigning to stop the proposals.

And Lesley Johnston, former rector of the school from 2005-11, has condemned the plans as “a scandal”

The council has insisted that although the Scottish Government gave ring-fenced funding for the music school until 2007/08 the money has since been rolled up into the overall education budget.

DRIVERS will be asked to fork out an extra 5 per cent for parking permits across the city.

City chiefs estimate that the hike will plough an extra £100,000 into the coffers at City Chambers.

It would mean a rise of about £24 on the most expensive 12-month permit in the city-centre zones 1-4, which currently costs £475.

A permit for a second car at any household in the city centre will now cost about £630, up from £600.

First permits in Zones 5 to 8, N1 to N5 and S1 to S4 will go up from £240
 to £252. Second permits in the same areas will
rise by £15 from £300 to £315.

The cheapest permits in zones B1 to B12 will now cost £79.80 – up from 
£76 – and £99.75 – up from £95 – for a second permit.

Pay and display charges are also expected to rise.

The city’s finance convener, Alasdair Rankin, said: “It’s no bad thing to discourage people from bringing their vehicles into the city centre – use public transport, get fit, walk.”

THE council’s Night Team which helps tackle anti-social behaviour across the city is in line for cuts of £255,000.

It is understood the saving would come from reducing the hours when council staff are available to help police in dealing with the problem.

Head of finance Hugh Dunn told councillors the Night Team operated from 5.30pm to 2.30am on Thursdays to Sundays.

But he said future levels of provision could become part of an official agreement with the police.

HOUSEHOLDERS across the city face paying £25 a year for their garden waste to be collected if the budget plans are approved.

The council says it is only doing what some 42 local authorities in England and Wales are already doing.

But the proposal has nevertheless sparked warnings that it will lead to an increase in fly-tipping or people dumping their garden rubbish in the general waste bins, which could mean the council paying more in landfill tax.

Garden waste collections changed as recently as March from being every four weeks in winter and every two weeks in the summer to being every three weeks all year round.

The move was said to mean more consistency and easier organisation.

But if the £25 charge is approved, the council says it would make the collections fortnightly throughout the year.

The proposed charge for garden waste collections would bring in an extra £1.3m in revenue for the council.

Finance convener Cllr Alasdair Rankin said: “Collecting waste is a statutory collection for the council, but garden waste isn’t.”

Opposition councillors argue garden waste collection is a highly valued service which people have come to expect from the council and introducing a charge will have unintended consequences, such as more dumping.

Cllr Rankin said some people might choose to compost more and acknowledged the number of people using the service could drop.

A BIG cut to the budget of the council’s arms-length company Edinburgh Leisure will inevitably spark fears of swimming pools and sports centres at risk of closure.

The administration is proposing a reduction of £420,000 in funding for Edinburgh Leisure and also to charge it £375,000 for ground maintenance which the council carries out.

Head of finance Hugh Dunn told councillors there was an ongoing dialogue between council officials and Edinburgh Leisure about what the reduced funding would mean for its centres. “The aim would be not to close facilities,” he added.

In the run-up to the 2015/16 budget, Edinburgh Leisure chiefs warned that swimming pools and sports venues could close because of budget cuts, but the council insisted there would be no closures.

It was said at the time that apart from flagship venues such as the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Meadowbank and the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, almost no pool or sports centre was safe.

And among the venues thought to be under threat were the leisure centres at Ainslie Park and Gracemount, Carrick Knowe Golf Course, several bowling greens and Dalry Swimming Pool.

CONTROVERSIAL plans to reduce library opening hours were dropped last year after the Capital got a late £10 million windfall from a Holyrood budget deal between the SNP and the Greens.

But unless the funding boost is repeated, the cuts to library hours will come into effect in the new financial year.

The council said it had never confirmed what the changed hours would be under its original plan.

But the reductions were understood to mean all Edinburgh’s public libraries being closed on Monday and Wednesday mornings and on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and only open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.

The council says it has to work on the assumption that the windfall funding – which allowed £1,798,000 to be used to keep libraries open – would not be forthcoming this year.