Council tax freeze and free iPads for pupils agreed as city council rubber-stamps budget
A freeze on next year’s council tax and free iPads for school pupils have been approved by Edinburgh City Council as part of its 2021/22 budget.
The council has already bought around 6,000 iPads but will spend £2m a year over the next four years buying devices for 39,000 school pupils. The iPads will come with internet access built-in.
The SNP/Labour ruling administration’s budget proposal was approved at a meeting of the full council where it went up against rival proposals from Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party groups.
The coronavirus pandemic, and a reduction in income, is set to cost the council £85m – but despite this, the council is set to post a balanced budget, with the help of additional Scottish Government funding and use of the council’s reserves.
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Parts of the budget were changed last minute, particularly around council tax, due to additional money being made available to the council late on in the budget setting process.
The council was previously considering raising council tax to 4.79 per cent – but has now accepted a £9m grant from the Scottish Government in order to keep the tax at current levels.
However, the grant has left the council £5.2m worse off, as the 4.79 per cent rise would have netted the local authority £14.2m.
Speaking at the debate, depute council leader Cammy Day, who represents Forth for the Labour Party, said: “Unlike the Tories yet again, we won’t be privatising council services, cutting housing and investment, cutting millions from staffing.
“And as the Tory transport spokesperson says - this is about people - yes, the same people they want to cut out of the council staffing, losing their jobs and an income.
“I’m pleased to see Edinburgh Labour pushing for more money into poverty, putting money into people’s pockets and supporting people into work.
“This budget will help the 80,000 people in poverty in this city, to rebuild the city and leave no one behind, regardless of their class, and that’s what Edinburgh Labour will champion.”Council leader Adam McVey, who represents Leith for the SNP, said: “We don’t know what kind of budget we will end up with when everything is complete.
“We don’t know that because the right wing Tories in Westminster unilaterally changed the budget timetable and undermined the whole process - I’ve heard criticism, even from this debate, about the timing of the additional money that was announced by the Cabinet secretary at the Scottish government.
“The reason the secretary so quickly after money was announced from the UK government is because the UK government is showing absolute contempt for the devolved administrations and their budget processes.
“We don’t know everything at the moment because of choices made by people who unfortunately still have a say over our lives.”
Leader of the council’s Conservative group, and councillor for Inverleith, Iain Whyte, said: “The UK Conservative government has handed over almost £1bn to the Scottish government since the pandemic started to spend on covid-related things and recovery, yet very little of that passes on to local government, and of course, as we know, it hasn’t all been allocated - perhaps it’s in a war chest for some reason.
“The Labour members need to have a think about this. By supporting this coalition they are enabling the SNP, they are enabling their project, and their project, as we just heard from councillor McVey, isn’t dealing with things for the city it’s about creating grievance with the Westminster Government and trying to break up Great Britain - it’s time they were stopped.
“The SNP has been in power in this city, and in Scotland, since 2007 - if I just take a key issue, homelessness and rough sleeping.
“It’s a complex issue, but if they’ve been in power for this long, at these levels of government, why haven’t they solved the problem?”
Highlights from the 2021/22 budget include:
Allocating £150,000 to freeze fees and charges on school meals, care at home provision and library charges, targeted at helping low income families;
Spending £400,000 on homelessness support and advice;
Spending £500,000 on hitting the city’s environmental targets;
£250,000 to target short term lets through a licensing scheme and enforcement action.£300,000 to support the council’s sustainability plan;
£750,000 for green spaces, including additional investment in parks, playparks, and urban forests;
£110,000 to expand the council’s looked after children support team;
£500,000 investment in the council’s ‘Smart City’ initiatives;
And £52,000 to extend the role of the Gaelic Development Officer for one year beyond the end of Scottish Government funding.
The SNP/Labour budget was put to a vote against rival Conservative, Green Party and Liberal Democrat proposals.
After the first round of voting, where the Lib Dem proposals were eliminated, the SNP/Labour budget was accepted with 27 votes, against 17 votes for the Conservative budget and nine votes for the Green Party budget.