COUNCIL chiefs have pledged to review how they handle proposed budget cuts in future after they were forced to climb down on a plan to close Edinburgh’s world-renowned music school less than two weeks after it was revealed.
The controversial move to shut the school and disperse its work throughout the city was withdrawn by the SNP-Labour administration after an outcry among parents, teachers, pupils and politicians as well as leading music figures including Nicola Benedetti, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Shirley Manson, a former pupil.
Lindsay Law, vice-chair of the parent council at Broughton High and Flora Stevenson’s Primary – the two schools where the music school is based – welcomed the decision to abandon the proposal when she addressed the council’s finance committee yesterday.
And she told councillors: “We would appreciate your assurance that the school’s funding will remain as it is now for at the very least the remainder of this council term.”
Former pupil Isla Ratcliffe said it was vital the current provision was maintained as it is and not diluted by being spread across the city.
She said it was a myth that the music school was elitist. “It is not for posh kids. It is accessible to all young people who demonstrate musical potential.”
And she cited the example of Tommy Smith from Wester Hailes, now an international jazz saxophonist with several world tours under his belt.
Tory finance spokesman Graham Hutchison challenged finance convener Alasdair Rankin to make the commitment asked for, not to bring the closure plan back during the lifetime of the administration, and apologise for the distress caused by the music school proposal.
And he urged the administration to include alternative proposals in the consultation so there was a choice of how to reach the £21m savings target.
The committee agreed to put the rest of the proposed savings package out to consultation. It includes higher parking charges, a cut to Edinburgh Leisure’s budget, job losses among bin men, cuts to health and social care and a £25-a-year charge for garden waste collection.
Cllr Rankin said: “We don’t put forward any of these proposals because we are particularly keen to do that. If you look at the council’s position in the round we have a requirement to make £21m savings in the next financial year. We have to find a way of doing that. All the low hanging fruit went long ago. We are faced with options which are all difficult.
“I don’t think there was any member of the administration who is pleased with these measures, but we have a statutory obligation to balance the budget.
“Insofar as anybody was caused distress by this or by any of the other measures in the consultation, that is obviously a matter of regret, but we bring them forward as a matter of necessity.
“As to the future of the music school, given where we have been – this is the second time we’ve consulted on the music school, we withdrew the proposal last time and we are withdrawing the proposal this time – I think it is highly unlikely we will bring it forward again in the life of this administration.”
The finance committee had been due to put the budget proposals out to consultation on October 27 – the same day the Evening News revealed the music school closure plan – but opposition politicians vetoed the move, complaining they had not been allowed to see details of the cost-saving measures.
At yesterday’s meeting, Tory councillor Andrew Johnston challenged Cllr Rankin over whether SNP and Labour councillors had been given the full suite of options at the last meeting which the opposition councillors had not. Cllr Rankin agreed they had.
He said: “This is an administration consultation and these are the proposals on which we wish to consult. We don’t wish to bring forward any other proposals because a majority of members in the coalition were not minded to include them.”
But Cllr Johnston said: “If we put these out to consultation and there is an overwhelming of a number of the points, the administration will have to bring forward new cuts, which we know they have already done but we’re not allowed to see them, and the public will not get to consult on the other options.”
Cllr Rankin insisted it would muddy the waters if other proposals which the coalition had already rejected were included in the consultation.
He said: “There will be an opportunity for all political groups with the help of a nominated officer from the finance department to look at the council’s budget and bring forward their own proposals and I look forward to seeing those in due course.”
The committee agreed a motion saying the chief executive would review “the process for the lead-in to future budget engagement exercises”. Cllr Rankin said: “The administration does intend to look again at the whole consultation process. The process this year has been somewhat telescoped and it hasn’t been exactly as we would like and we do intend to bring forward proposals for a revised consultation process and that will have a longer time horizon.”
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