Edinburgh council will decide on budget cuts without knowing final funding deal

Spending decisions to go ahead before figures are clear

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 1:11 pm
Finance convener Alasdair Rankin says agreeing a full budget is the sensible thing to do.

CITY council chiefs have done a U-turn and now plan to go ahead with setting a full budget for 2020/21 next month after officials told them they would not be able to fund basic services unless they did.

Councillors are now expected to agree spending plans - including savings of up to £40 million - on February 20 despite not having final figures on funding from central government.

Chancellor Sajid Javid last week announced he was delaying his own budget until March 11 and it seemed the move would have a knock-on effect on the Scottish Government and council budgets.

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Edinburgh’s finance convener Alasdair Rankin said at the time the council would agree only essential budget items on February 20 and decide the rest of the budget once all the figures were known.

But then Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said he would deliver the Scottish budget on February 6, without final figures from Westminster.

And now Cllr Rankin says the city will also set its budget before the Chancellor unveils his plans.

Cllr Rankin said: “We are going ahead with our intention to do a budget on February 20 and we are probably going to go ahead with a full budget."

He said council leader Adam McVey and deputy Cammy Day had recently spoken to Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes. "They gave her an idea of the figures we’re working to and she said they’re within the sort of parameters the government is working with, so on that basis we’re going to go ahead.

“It may be when it comes to the final figures we have to do final revisions to the budget, but I think it’s in everyone’s interests we go ahead and set a budget.”

And he said legally the council had to agree a budget before the new financial year.

“If we don’t, by the time we get to April 1, the advice we’re getting from council officers is we wouldn’t be able to actually spend any money.

“The regulations around local government spending say you need to have set a budget in order to be able to spend money on all the usual council services.

“If it means we have to make some revisions in the light of the firmer figures we get from the Scottish Government that’s what we’ll do. But the idea will be to go ahead and set a budget on the basis of the best information we have.

“It gives a bit more certainty to people about what’s happening about the council’s provision of services. It seems to be the sensible thing to do.”

The Evening News has revealed how spending cuts being considered by the SNP-Labour administration include withdrawing concessionary fares on the trams, ending the council’s £2.1 million contribution to policing in the city and demanding £4.8m of “efficiencies” from social care.

The tight timescale for setting the budget means there will be no further consultation with the public.

Cllr Rankin said: “We have consulted quite a lot over the years and we have had some focus groups about our budget strategy. We know what people want, we know the sort of priorities they have. We’re looking to set a budget based around priorities like poverty and wellbeing.”

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack backed Cosla’s recent call for a “fair deal” for councils from the Scottish Government.

She said: “Across Scotland councils are feeling the strain of budget cuts. The cuts to local government and the falling standards that harm those most in need must end.”

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