Edinburgh budget: Dramatic twist sees Lib Dem spending for Edinburgh approved

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Edinburgh’s minority Labour administration faces implementing Lib Dem plans

The council meeting to set Edinburgh’s budget for next year took a dramatic turn when tactical voting by the Greens saw the proposals from the minority Labour administration defeated in favour of the plans put forward by the Lib Dems.

And that now opens up the possibility of privatisation of the council’s waste and cleansing services and an end to the long-standing policy of no compulsory redundancies, both of which will be highly controversial. The Lib Dems said they wanted to carry out “best value service reviews”, specifically looking at external provision of waste and cleansing, which they claimed could result in savings of up to £2.5m a year. And they said £600,000 could be saved from the salaries of highly-paid officials who had been redeployed after their posts were scrapped, by withdrawing the commitment to no compulsory redundancies.

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The successful Lib Dem proposals also include a council tax rise of five per cent, less than the 5.75 per cent proposed by Labour; rejecting £5m of education cuts proposed by council officials; an extra £11m for road and pavement maintenance; £3m for improvements to parks and greenspaces; an extra £2m for flood prevention; and £3m towards the refurbishment of the King’s Theatre. But there is no money to fund the continuation of free tram fares for under-22s or bring back a cycle hire scheme.

Protesters outside Edinburgh council's budget meeting on Thursday (Photo: Stuart Sommerville LDR)Protesters outside Edinburgh council's budget meeting on Thursday (Photo: Stuart Sommerville LDR)
Protesters outside Edinburgh council's budget meeting on Thursday (Photo: Stuart Sommerville LDR)

Labour had gone into today’s full council meeting hoping they could win the support of the Lib Dems and Tories for their proposals and so defeat a joint budget package drawn up by the SNP and Greens. But when it came to the first round of voting, Green councillors spread their support among all the other proposed alternatives to ensure Labour’s budget was eliminated. And in the final vote the Lib Dem package was approved by 32 votes to 29.

A delighted Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang said: “This is good news for the city because we’ve got a budget passed that responds to the issues that the people of the city care about. The Lib Dem budget stops £5m of school cuts, it puts £11m extra into road and pavement maintenance, more money for parks and greenspaces and more money for street cleansing. And it’s also a lower council tax increase, so we have saved people money at the time of a cost of living crisis.”

How much you will pay in council tax

The 5 per cent council tax rise means bills from April will be:

Band A: £965.13

Band B: £1,125.98

Band C: £1,286.84

Band D: £1,447.69

Band E: £1,902.10

Band F: £2,352.50

Band G: £2,835.06

Band H: £3,546.84

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A separate vote on council house rents saw Labour’s proposed increase of 3 per cent approved by 32 votes to 27 rather than the SNP-Green proposal for a 4.7 per cent rise. Earlier in the meeting, suspended Labour councillor Ross McKenzie used his speech in the budget debate to announce he was resigning his party membership.

‘Disaster for Labour’ says SNP

SNP group leader Adam McVey called on Labour council leader Cammy Day to resign in the wake of the budget defeat. He said: “Labour have had a disaster today. They’ve lost their budget, lost a councillor and effectively ended the council house building programme. The city will lose a lot in this budget and housing problems will get worse. Labour voted to go down the road of privatising waste and cleansing services, and to end the council’s long-established no compulsory redundancy policy. Labour could have instead supported the budget proposed by progressive parties. Fundamentally, if Labour can’t pass a budget they can’t run the city. I really hope the Council Leader can show the integrity that’s now required and resign.”

Edinburgh Greens co-convener and finance spokesperson Alys Mumford said their tactical voting had all been about getting as much money as possible for climate measures to help meet the 2030 net zero target. "Our priority throughout this process has been to secure the funding needed to tackle the climate and nature emergency. Our method for this was to engage, openly and honestly, with colleagues across the chamber, and to join with the SNP to present an ambitious, progressive budget. It became apparent that Labour's administration had done another dirty deal with their coalition partners in the Tories and Lib Dems, creating a slush fund and allowing them to carve it up between them. Therefore we took the route available to us, and voted in the way which would ensure that there was a budget left on the table which contained vital climate spending.”

‘Hugely disappointing’ says Labour

Council leader Cammy Day accepted that Labour was now faced with having to implement the Lib Dem budget. "That' the position we have been put in," he said.

"It's obviously hugely disappointing."

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He said: "We've not fully examined the Lib Dem budget yet because no-one expected this to happen. Were going to digest it over the next few days. I met the Lib Dem leader tonight and we'll have more discussions in the coming days."

But he said Labour remained opposed to outsourcing council services and said a report would have to come to council on best value, when Labour would argue for in-house provision.

And on the no compulsory redundancies, he said: "The motion didn't refer to the council changing its whole policy, it was in relation to a small pool who have been on the redeployment list for some time, but again we will work with the other parties to try and ensure nobody is made compulsorily redundant. That remains our policy."