Edinburgh council sets 2022/23 budget with 3 per cent council tax rise and cash support for low-income families
Council tax in Edinburgh will rise by three per cent from April, taking the bill for an average Band D property to £1,378.75.
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But council rents have been frozen and Scottish Government funding will be used to give £150 grants to 33,000 low-income households along with £100 payments for every child entitled to free school meals.
And an extra £9 million of one-off cash from additional funding announced by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes will be spread over a wide range of priorities, including £1.1m to ease the cost of living crisis for the Capital's most vulnerable citizens, £1m for roads and pavements, another £1m for a "deep clean" of the city including graffiti removal and street cleaning, £200,000 for temporary toilets in the city's premier parks, £450,000 to improve park facilities across the Capital, £500,000 to help fund net-zero ambitions, £500,000 for social care adaptations to help people live more independently in their own home and £112,000 to ensure every school has a defibrillator.
Opposition councillors warned that while the budget for 2022/23 did not feature swingeing cuts, the council is due to face a funding gap of around £60 million next year and asked how that would be met.
Finance convener Rob Munn was forced to miss the online meeting because he is ill with Covid.
Proposing the budget instead, council leader Adam McVey – who said he also had Covid – told fellow-councillors the budget represented five years of progress with the building of new schools, new sports facilities like Meadowbank, tens of thousands of new trees planted and 40,000 i-pads rolled out to young people.
He said: "This budget invests in core services and continues the essential investments we have made throughout this term. It tackles climate change, fights poverty and invests in the wellbeing of our residents."
He highlighted £150,000 earmarked to improve park lighting to help people feel safe.
He said the deep-clean money would include £200,000 for the city centre and £50,000 for every ward in the city as well as equipment to improve the cleanliness of the Old Town closes, a key ask from businesses in the city centre.
And he also pointed to money earmarked for food growing, getting local festivals back up and running and ensuring defibrillators were rolled out to all schools.
"We are freezing council rents and we are limiting council tax to three per cent, meaning the council tax increase throughout the entire term will be lower than three per cent on average.
"As well as the £150 council tax credit that will be given to all households in Bands A-D, we are also paying £150 for support to the 33,000 lowest income households and we will pay £100 per child for every child registered for the school meal entitlement. This means a family with three kids who are in Bands A-D and are low income households will receive £600 support, roughly equivalent to the increase in energy prices."
But Cllr McVey was called on to apologise for a comment that the context for the budget was “a Tory cost of living crisis” in which “thousands of our children are being pushed into poverty quite deliberately by callous policies". Tory councillor Nick Cook said the remarks were “wholly unbecoming”.
But later Cllr McVey repeated his comment and urged critics to read the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s analysis of what the Universal Credit cut meant for families.
Finance spokesman Andrew Johnston said: "What we have seen in the last five years is year-on-year cuts from the Scottish Government and utter failure by SNP councillors to convince their colleagues at Holyrood the Edinburgh deserves fair funding."
He said the £9m extra finding was welcome. But he added: "It's nothing more than a cynical election bribe. Maybe we should have an election every year if tatls what it takes for the Scottish Government to give us some extra money."
And he warned that next year the council faced a £60m gap in funding. “How is that going to be met? Who knows how much the council will have to fork out to prop up the tram extension? The business case is in shreds."
Greens proposed a “gender budget” which considered the needs of women, an extra £27m for active travel, public transport and safety over the next four years, four new public toilets and £4.5m to replace the current fleet of bin lorries with electric vehicles.
Lib Dems said they would spend an extra £9m to “fix our paths, pavements and roads”, £1m to reverse cuts in teachers’ budget, £5m to upgrade parks, greenspaces and playparks and £2.5m on flood protection and to clear blocked gullies.
Councillors also heard a series of deputations from unions highlighting concerns from employees.
Unite’s Graeme Smith called for investment in frontline staff and bringing essential services in-house. He said there were staffing crises across many areas of the council, including cleaners and social care. “In almost every area the problems of understaffing are redoubled by high absence rates due to workplace stress caused by excessive workloads. Increasing our council workforce capacity would pay dividends – fair and realistic workloads would reduce workplace stress, cut down on absence and ensure we have the staff in place to assure the quality of our services.”
Where the council’s £9 million extra cash will go
- £1 million for further road and pavement maintenance
- £1.072m for deep cleaning the city, including graffiti removal and street cleaning and hot-washing equipment for city centre closes
- £250,000 to set up a Neighbourhood Action Team to tackle hotspot areas of unkempt land, dealing with dumping, vegetation and other issues
- £200,000 to re-provide temporary toilets in premier parks, repeating the arrangements from summer 2021
- £2 million invested in improving HR systems working culture to implement the Tanner review recommendations
- £1.1m in easing the cost of living crisis for the most vulnerable citizens
- £500,000 to support Net Zero ambitions
- £130,000 to expand provisions for food growing across the city
- £150,000 for regulating and monitoring short-term lets, combating anti-social behaviour and reviewing landlord arrangements
- £450,000 to improve park facilities across the city, creating better green spaces in every ward
- £100,000 for participatory budgeting to support local communities to be involved in the running of the city
- £200,000 to support local community festivals including Diwali celebrations and the Leith Festival
- £180,000 to cover potential costs of retaining temporary security barriers while a long-term solution is agreed to protect the High Street following withdrawal of support from the Home Office
- £60,000 to support the re-opening of Libraries
- £60,000 to provide seasonal improvements and rangers to Pentland parks
- £160m for taxi regulation and enforcement
- £50,000 to upgrade and support the Forever Edinburgh website to promote and advertise the city
- £200,000 investment in Energy for Edinburgh
- £112m to supply and install defibrillators in schools, making sure every school in Edinburgh is covered
- £325,000 to invest in playparks, approximately £19,000 per ward.
- £500,000 to provide social care adaptations to people’s houses to allow them to live more independently in their own home
- £1 million investment and support for Children’s Services to offset Covid-related pressures
- £61,000 to complete the restoration of the Portobello Kilns