Edinburgh council leader Cammy Day names tackling poverty as number one priority
Tackling poverty in the Capital will be the top priority for Edinburgh’s new minority Labour administration, council leader Cammy Day has declared.
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He says despite the city’s well-off image, many people are struggling to pay their bills or even afford a hot meal. And he has called a summit to discuss what can be done to help.
Six weeks into the job, he is also eager to press the case for fairer funding for the city, arguing for the revival of the Capital City Supplement which the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald first secured more than a decade ago.
He lists responding to the climate emergency, achieving ambitious housebuilding targets, sorting out the Capital’s care crisis and bringing council services in-house as other priorities.
But he says: “Responding to the poverty issues has to be number one. If it’s not happening already, I'm sure over the next few weeks and months we'll see people losing their houses. As we get towards winter, people will be afraid to turn their heating on because they just can’t afford it. That could mean families sitting in houses, their kids with piles of jackets on and huddling under duvets because they can't afford to put the gas and electricity on.”
Cllr Day was vice-chair of Edinburgh’s Poverty Commission which reported in 2020, setting an ambitious target of ending poverty in the city by 2030.
“It was a very honest, independent commission, which showed that despite the city being one of the wealthiest in the country we still have around 80,000 people, around one in five kids, in poverty – and that is unacceptable.
“We'll change our priorities to make sure we are addressing poverty, but it can’t be sticking plasters, just saying ‘Here's £50 to tide you over till the next time you've got no money’. It needs to be something more fundamental than that.”
He has called a summer summit of the Edinburgh Partnership – a forum that brings together senior officials from the council, NHS Lothian, business, universities and colleges, voluntary organisations and the emergency services – to discuss possible initiatives.
“There’s something like £80 million of unclaimed DWP benefits which people are entitled to,” he says. “If we could have additional welfare rights advisers to make sure we could jointly get that money out of the DWP into people's pockets, that alone would make a huge difference.”
And he says with the cost of living crisis many people are finding it hard to get access to affordable food. “It is becoming a real issue for the city. I do my mother's shopping every week and I've seen it hugely increase over the last few months. While my mother can afford it there are many people in the city who can't.
"The Scottish and UK governments need to get their finger out and do something a bit more dynamic than one-off pots of money that change nothing systemically.
“There needs to be proper resourcing of the whole foodbank network – initially I said we shouldn't support foodbanks because it normalises the need or them, but I also now accept that's where a lot of people are going.”
‘We need to change’
Cllr Day says the city needs to be serious about the commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2030. “I accept it will be difficult, but we need to try to change the way people move about the city, promote public transport more and of course we will keep on with the growth of cycling, walking and wheeling initiatives.”
He hopes there could also be a replacement for the Just Eat cycle hire scheme which ended in September 2021. “We're looking at five or six quite different models across the UK and whether any of them are affordable – and would Sustrans or external agencies support us with a bid to get a cycle hire scheme that might not be a huge burden on the council.”
The council also faces the challenge of bringing its own housing stock up to energy-efficient standards. “It will cost something like £700m over next decade to get council homes to a standard where we shouldn’t have to use much energy because they'll well insulated and so on.”
Care in the Capital is in crisis, says Cllr Day. “Older people are living longer, which is great news, but with more complex conditions, which need more care and support, and we’re struggling to get care workers. So we're working with the government to encourage people to get into care as profession, both care at home and in care homes.
"But the nervousness for people is they don’t know what the proposed new National Care Service means. If it goes ahead as proposed, it will take about one-third of council services into a quango controlled by the Scottish Government. Social care has never been properly resourced but creating a new organisation without properly funding it is going to result in the same failures.”
And he warns the proposals would mean be no local democratic control over care and no influence for local people about what happens to these services.
‘Our needs are not recognised’
Cllr Day argues care is one of several fields where Edinburgh’s special needs are not recognised with appropriate funding.
"I think there needs to be consideration of a Capital City Supplement, where the government accepts Edinburgh is the economic driver for Scotland and has additional pressures on it."
Margo MacDonald won extra government funding for Edinburgh in a Capital City Supplement first added in 2009. But Cllr Day says: “I think it has just disappeared. There is no additional supplement now.
“The government's own figures confirm Edinburgh is the lowest-funded council in Scotland. If the capital city, which is the economic driver, is not recognised with some kind of additional funding that's not a great starting point.”
Labour has an ambitious target to build 25,000 homes in 10 years. Cllr Day says although there has been some extra government funding for new housing, there has to be more. “The government needs to accept Edinburgh is the economic driver for Scotland and there needs to be more investment in affordable housing to allow us to boom and grow.”
Labour is also committed to cutting the amount the council spends on contracts with the private sector and bringing work in-house. One of the first places that could happen, says Cllr Day, is property services, the department which upgrades council homes with new kitchens and bathrooms, doors and windows.
“We spend over £100m on external contractors to do capital investment and repairs on top of our in-house team. I think we have the opportunity now to start to bring some of that in-house.”
‘There will be cuts’
Despite his determination to campaign for fairer funding for Edinburgh, Cllr Day acknowledges the forecast £63 million gap in the council’s funding for next year means there will have to be spending cuts. Whoever was in administration would have to make difficult decisions, he says.
“We're not going to be shy of saying the council is making cuts – it's making cuts because the SNP-Green government does not respect local government. Year-on-year we have had consistent cuts from the Scottish Government. Maybe they don't understand the importance of the services we deliver, the care for their older relatives or looking after their kids in school.
“I accept we'll be making cuts and it will be difficult but we'll be clear in trying to protect services for the most vulnerable.”
Cllr Day leads a group of 13 councillors in a council of 63 members but says he believes they can remain in office for the full five-year term. “In the last [SNP-Labour] administration we didn’t have a majority and we had to work with other parties. The same will apply now, albeit with a slightly different take on it.
“If we're honest, when you look at most of the manifestos there's probably 70-80 per cent of policies which are fairly similar. We all want to deal with poverty and housing and climate, maybe differently and I accept we will maybe need to compromise to get the best for the city. I would call on all group leaders to pay their part in that.”