Heated debate over Edinburgh council's proposal to save money in next year's budget

Council officials have proposed outsourcing a waste contract to private companies in a bid to save money in next year’s budget – despite a political pledge by the SNP-Labour coalition to rule it out.

Saturday, 25th January 2020, 7:45 am

Edinburgh City Council is set to publish proposals next month to bridge an expected £40m funding gap in next year’s budget.

The plans, drawn up by council officers will need to be agreed by both the SNP and Labour groups at City Chambers before being formally tabled in the budget on February 20.

The initial proposals have now been shared with opposition councillors but will not be made public until after the Scottish Government budget on February 6.

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Conservative finance spokesperson, Cllr Graham Hutchison, quizzed finance convener, Cllr Alasdair Rankin, over any intention to outsource council services to private companies picture: JPI Media

Earlier this week, the Edinburgh Evening News revealed a proposal to slash Edinburgh Leisure’s funding by £500,000 a year.

Now another source has revealed that officials have put forward plans to “externalise” the authority’s trade waste contracts in a bid to save £100,000 from next year’s budget.

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A Labour source has claimed that the SNP group at City Chambers “backed externalising trade waste but we blocked it”.

The plans, drawn up by council officers will need to be agreed by both the SNP and Labour groups at City Chambers before being formally tabled in the budget on February 20 picture: JPI Media

They added that their SNP coalition partners are “still resisting our trade waste decision”.

The SNP group has denied the accusation, saying the party initially asked for more information before ruling it out – with a leading member of the administration reportedly telling colleagues it would happen “over my dead body”.

A SNP insider added: “That’s an absolute lie. Clearly upset by Labour’s dire electoral performances of late, this secret source thinks the best way to try and stop their vote collapsing further is to make stuff up about the SNP group.

“I’d suggest they spend more time doing their job as a councillor, representing the people of Edinburgh instead.”

He said: “There are a couple of proposals that look at outsourcing of certain activities. Has there been a change in approach?”

Cllr Rankin refused to be drawn on specific plans but said he would table “realistic proposals to get to a balanced budget”.

He added: “The administration’s position remains, as it has been for some years now, is that there is a presumption in favour of in-house provision.

“Occasionally as circumstances change, we may consider other options. Setting a budget for an organisation as large and complex as this one is always going to be a difficult task, particularly when you have the pressures of rising demand.”

“That doesn’t mean the council has adopted a wholesale change.”

The council is expected to balance this year’s budget, but only by draining reserves and using one-off savings to make up for departments failing to make the necessary savings. But the authority’s head of finance, Hugh Dunn has warned councillors that “the opportunities are reducing” to make one-off savings but he stressed that officials are “always looking for opportunities”.