Edinburgh council's new administration: Council leader Cammy Day talks about his priorities

New council leader Cammy Day has said getting basic council services right and securing fair funding for Edinburgh are among his top priorities, alongside addressing the problems of poverty and climate change.

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He admitted Labour’s task of running the Capital as a minority administration with just 13 out of the 63 seats on the council would be “a challenge” but said there were many areas of agreement between the different political parties. And he said he would soon be writing to the other group leaders, inviting them to work together in the interests of the city.

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Within days of taking office Councillor Day has already written to both the Scottish and UK governments pressing Edinburgh’s case for better funding. And he has ordered work to start on how outsourced council services can be brought back in-house.

Labour was elected as the new council administration on June 26, three weeks after the council elections, defeating a rival bid for power by erstwhile partners the SNP who had teamed up with the Greens. Some Lib Dem and Tory councillors were handed “non-political” posts, including licensing board chair, in return for voting Labour into office.

Cllr Day said Labour’s election manifesto would be the starting point for the administration’s plans, but he also wanted to work with all the other parties. “I accept we need to listen to their ideas and suggestions about how things in the city could improve. I genuinely have that open approach to work with the other leaders and groups,” he said.

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“There are core things people all agree on. We need to take forward the recommendations of the independent Poverty Commission to look at how we can get 80,000 people out of poverty and do everything we can, particularly now during the cost of living crisis. I don't think there will be any opposition to that across the chamber.

“And there’s the huge issue of climate change. No one party has the answer to all that; we’ve all got different ideas about how we might take that forward so I'm genuinely open to listening to how we can achieve that common goal.”

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Council leader Cammy Day says he wants to work with other parties.

The new administration would try to ensure everyday council services were delivered better, he continued. “We’re reviewing how we get the basic things right: fixing roads, potholes, the bins – the things that matter to people on a daily basis. I accept there have been highs and lows through the years when we've done it well and not so well and we need to re-look at how we get some of these basic services right and right first time. We’re going to look at whether we can make them more reactive to the public and if there are ways we can use artificial intelligence and new technology to help us make smarter use of our resources to get a better service for the council taxpayer.”

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But he said this all had to be seen in the context of a serious lack of resources from the Scottish Government. The Capital was growing and there was an increasing need for public services at a time when “our budget seems just to be eroded and eroded”.

Cllr Day said: “Edinburgh, as the capital city with population of over 500,000, is the lowest-funded council in Scotland. That needs to change. This week I have written to the Finance Secretary, asking to meet her to address Edinburgh's budget deficits and see what more the Scottish Government can do. And I have also written to the Scottish Secretary in the UK government, asking to meet him to see how we can work together make sure Edinburgh gets its fair share of UK resources.

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“It's my job to stand up for Edinburgh and that's exactly what I’m going to keep doing. And I hope I'll be standing up for Edinburgh with the support of all the other parties.”

He said the projection was that more than £50m of savings would be required in 2023/24 and new finance convener Mandy Watt was already speaking to officials about budget planning. “Part of that will be what we can do internally to save costs, but if that means cuts, which undoubtedly we'll be forced to deliver because of the continued underfunding from the SNP-Green government, then we need to to look at how these can best be achieved.

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“Whoever was in control of the city would have to deliver these cuts because of the erosion of local government funding. What we want to do is make sure they don't apply to the most vulnerable in society and we continue to stand up to the government and say enough’s enough and it's time to fairly fund the capital city.”

Labour’s manifesto included a pledge to build at least 25,000 council-owned homes within a decade. Cllr Day said: “Obviously that commitment comes with the need for continued subsidy from the Scottish Government. Our ambition to build 25,000 homes needs to happen with increased support from the government. It will be my job to lobby to make sure that happens. We've got the brownfield sites as a priority for us, in places like the north of the city, where we're looking to build 3,000-4,000 houses and they will be built as quickly as we can get the resources to build them.”

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Meanwhile he is eager to implement the new tourist tax and controls on Airbnb-style short-term lets. He said the council was all ready for the tourist tax, which could raise £15m a year. “We’re just waiting on the delay at the Scottish Government.” But he is disappointed the short-term let legislation, which Edinburgh campaigned for, does not go further. “We got a planning and licensing process, but there's no cap applied to that, so there's no stop on the number of Airbnb-type properties in the city, which is what we were looking for. Edinburgh's problem is the continued growth of these properties in areas like the city centre where we will get to a point where nobody actually lives in certain parts because it has been swamped with short-term lets.”

Cllr Day said he wanted to see some of the £100m-plus of outsourced services being brought back in-house. “It won’t happen overnight but we can have a business model that promotes an in-house council service that pays well, has good terms and conditions, that's supported by the trade unions and works with the third sector to deliver services. I have asked the directors to start making plans. I absolutely accept the importance of the support we can give to small local businesses and we need to keep doing that, but the relationship we have with some big businesses will change over the next few years.”

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Cllr Day said he was excited about the prospects for the new administration. “It's going to be a challenge, but I'll be putting an invite out to group leaders soon to see if there’s a willingness to work together across all parties to deliver the best for our city. It will be up to other parties to decide if they want to be part of that or sit on the edge and throw rocks at each other or us.”

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