Council tax to rise by 4.79% to pay for new high schools amid £88m of funding cuts for Edinburgh

Council bosses have published proposals to cut funding for community policing, library opening hours and nursery teachers as the authority wrestles with £88m of savings over the next three years.

Tuesday, 11th February 2020, 6:00 am
Edinburgh City Chambers

Council tax will rise by 4.79 per cent from next year to tally up funding to build new high schools – amid £88m of cuts being earmarked over the next three years.

Leaders at Edinburgh City Council have published a host of proposals to slice £35m from its finances in the next financial year, as well as £24m in the following year and £28m in 2022/23.

The proposed savings will be considered by the council’s finance and resources committee on Friday before a crunch meeting on February 20 – when a three-year budget will be set. The plans include potential cuts to community policing, Edinburgh Leisure’s budget, school music tuition, nursery teachers and library opening hours – while under-pressure health and social care services are set fo be told to make savings of up to £9.3m over the next three years.

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Around 100 current jobs could be set for the axe – but the authority expects its current headcount of staff to remain largely unchanged, with extra commitments required in nurseries and social care.

Additional revenue generated from pushing the annual council tax increase from three per cent to 4.79 per cent will be ring-fenced to provide funding to help build new high schools including Balerno, Trinity, Currie and Wester Hailes Education Centre. The extra increase relating to council tax will tally up £16.2m over the three-year period.

Council leader, Cllr Adam McVey said: “The expectations is that council tax will be risen by 4.79 per cent. The reason we are looking at 4.79 per cent is to use the additional money to meet the commitments in our manifesto to fund our school building programme.

“Without looking at some really difficult decision, and there are difficult decisions in here, that seemed the absolute best way to achieve that.”

But the SNP-Labour coalition had also committed not to increase council tax above three per cent.

A new proposal to cut library opening hours on Saturday afternoons could save £300,000 next year. But Labour leader and the council’s depute leader, Cllr Cammy Day has suggested that £300,000 of money still unallocated could be used to stop that cut from happening.

He said that the Labour group will be looking at “alternatives” and that he is “hopeful the library cuts do not happen”.

A Labour insider claimed that other than SNP vice culture convener, Cllr Amy McNeese-Mechan, “the Nats want to cut libraries”. However, a senior SNP source said that their party proposed axing the library cuts but claimed that Cllr Day and Labour’s vice finance convener, Cllr Joan Griffiths “wanted to keep it unallocated”.

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Community policing will lose its entire £1.6m budget next year, as well as be subject to a £500,000 cut in 2022/23, under the proposals – shifting more responsibility onto Police Scotland.

The authority is also set to strip Edinburgh Leisure of £500,000 for each of the next three years, which the council expect “will be managed through internal efficiencies and a slight increase in pricing”. Cllr McVey confirmed that he did not expect any swimming pools to close as a result of the funding cuts.

The council’s music tuition service is also set for the axe to fall on it, despite being given a reprieve next year. The instrumental music service will see a “full consultation” on the future shape of it held next year ahead of proposed cuts to the reformed service of £150,000 in 2021/22 and £350,000 the following year.

Cllr McVey added that “an element of charging” could be introduced, while the service could be means tested for pupils.

Cllr Day suggested that the new model for music tuition could see those that study music or get free school meals, being exempt from paying for it. He also said proposals, taken forward by other local authorities, to only offer the free service for certain instruments, could be considered.

Dedicated nursery teachers and headteachers are set to be cut in a bid to save £600,000 next year and £300,000 in 2021/22. Instead, the council aims to create “wider pools of locality-based head teachers and teachers who are not attached to specific schools”.

Last year, teaching unions raised concerns that the quality of teaching would be impacted but the council’s chief executive Andrew Kerr said that “there’s no evidence that it does”.

Call for fair funding

The draft Scottish Government budget could be altered, depending on the SNP in Holyrood’s negotiations with the Greens and the funding is still dependent on the UK Government’s budget, due to be delivered on March 11.

Cllr Day has admitted the council “should be honest” about the position local authorities across Scotland find themselves in.

He added: “Local government across Scotland has taken a £95m hit and that just cannot continue. “In Edinburgh, we are looking at over £85m of cuts over the next three years so something has to give. All we are campaigning for is for fair funding for our capital city.

“The Scottish Parliament should not stand back and accept these cuts. Maps should stand up for the local services that we deliver. They should be supporting a better settlement for local government.”