Edinburgh's budget: Labour proposes £10m for roads and pavements, but end to free tram fares for under-22s
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A council tax rise of 5.75 per cent, an end to free tram fares for under-22s, and council house rents going up by 3 per cent are part of the budget for next year proposed by Edinburgh's minority Labour administration.
But they would also invest up to £10 million to repair the city's potholed roads and pavements, spend £2.5m to improve street cleansing and waste collection and allocate £3m to help save the King's Theatre. But as councillors prepare to set the city's 2023/24 budget today (Thursday 23 February), Labour will need the support of the Lib Dems and Tories to ensure their package is approved rather than a joint alternative proposal by the SNP and the Greens.
Labour's council leader Cammy Day said the £72 million shortfall in funding from the Scottish Government was unprecedented. But he said: "Ours is a progressive, fair budget despite the horrendous cuts from the SNP-Green government and I would call on all parties to work with us to deliver the best budget for the capital city." The council tax increase would mean an extra £6.61 per month for a band D property. Cllr Day said: "The council tax system is flawed and it needs to be reviewed. We call on the Scottish Government to properly reform council tax and make it a fairer taxation system."
Labour says it would not go ahead with controversial cuts proposed by officials in speech and language therapy or the Taxicard scheme for disabled people who can't travel on buses. And it would not reduce the number of transition teachers, who help pupils make the switch from primary to secondary school, a time when some children can fall badly behind. But the party proposes reallocating educational welfare officers to a wider family support role.
And as well as no longer funding free tram travel for under-22s, arguing the Scottish Government should pay for it as it does for under-22 bus fares, Labour would not allocate money for a new cycle hire scheme. Cllr Day said: "It's an expensive scheme which we're just not able to do in the current climate but we are actively looking to bring it back. I personally would love to have a bike hire scheme for the city and I know many councillors would, but the costs of it are currently just too high for the council to fund alone. We are talking with partners to see what alternative schemes we could bring in."
Labour's £2.5m investment in waste and recycling would include free special uplifts for people on low incomes and £200,000 to tackle fly-tipping and dumping next to communal bins. It also plans to expand in-house teams for cleansing and pothole repairs, creating up to 90 new jobs.
Meanwhile, the SNP and the Greens set out their joint proposal which would involve a 5.99 per cent council tax increase, despite previously claiming they could change the system to freeze the bills for lower-band properties and levy bigger increases on those in the higher bands. And the SNP and Greens propose a 4.7 per cent rise in council house rents and a hike of up to 20 per cent in parking charges.
They would continue to fund free tram fares for under-22s and allocate money to help develop a business case for a new cycle hire scheme. They would also invest over £1 million on climate measures, £4.5m to save the King’s Theatre and £500,000 on more, and more accessible, public toilets. The SNP-Green proposal rejects the education cuts proposed by officials but includes reducing the Lord Provost’s budget by £100,000
SNP finance spokesperson Lesley Macinnes said: “The budget setting process is about priorities. There’s no denying that these are very difficult times. Working closely with our Green partners, we formulated innovative and radical measures that go a long way to making council tax much fairer. We are disappointed that we have been advised that our proposals, while valid, cannot be brought forward at this stage but we will continue to work with officers to see how we can make council tax fairer for residents."