Edinburgh council invites Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to come and answer questions on cuts

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is to be invited to address the city council and answer their questions on the Scottish Government's real-terms funding cuts to the authority.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes will be invited to explain the government's funding decisions.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes will be invited to explain the government's funding decisions.

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The council faces having to make £63 million of savings next year with financial support from the government flat-lining for the next three years.

The proposal to ask Ms Forbes to come and engage with them came from Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang, who said the looming cuts threatened core services.

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"It hangs as this grim, grey cloud above the council as we started this five-year term," he said.

“Over the past five years I have seen the pressure our officers have been under to try and deliver more with less, to improve or even just maintain basic council services for a growing population while the Scottish Government cuts, year after year, the grants given to our core funding settlement.”

He said the council had cut community policing, cycling services, school budgets, nursery teachers and much more.

And he pointed out the Fraser of Allander Institute had said the local government budget would fall by seven per cent in real terms over the next four years.

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“The Scottish Government simply isn’t listening and something has to change.”

He said the council should continue to press through the umbrella body Cosla for better local government funding, but also take its arguments directly to the minister. The Finance Secretary should be invited to come and hear first-hand “the destructive, harmful impact” her decisions would have.

“It’s fast becoming a desperate situation and those at the top of government need to hear of it.”

SNP finance spokesman Marco Biagi said more funding was “always welcome” but he said the public sector as a whole was facing straitened financial times, apart from health and social security.

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He argued the figures published were the starting point not the end point of how much cash would eventually come from the Scottish Government.

And he said: “It is reasonable, if we are asking the Scottish Government to justify their financial decisions, to also ask the UK Government to do exactly the same.”

Green group co-convener Steve Burgess told the council all the blame should not be directed at the Scottish Government. It had suffered a 5.2 per cent real-terms reduction in its budget and was likely to receive further cuts from the UK Government. “We suggest the council also makes the strongest possible representations to the UK Chancellor on the need for a fair settlement that meets Scotland’s needs.”

Labour’s Scott Arthur said all councillors had a duty to stand up for Edinburgh and oppose the cuts and not act as “apologists” for the Scottish Government.

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He said: "When I speak to people in my ward I can see directly the impact it is having on their lives, both people who are struggling with homelessness and also when I speak to school teachers. I see how these cuts are holding our city back.”

And he said the cuts the council had faced had been disproportionate. “Even in years when Scottish Government funding has increased council budgets have been cut because that’s how the Scottish Government value local government.”

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