Sajid Javid's budget date forces Edinburgh council to postpone decision on cuts

Chancellor plans tax and spending announcements for March 11

Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 6:00 am
Finance convener Alasdair Rankin says the council will set the council tax and delay decisions on cuts until figures are known.

CONTROVERSIAL cuts to city services look set to be postponed by a couple of months after Chancellor Sajid Javid put off the UK budget until March.

Edinburgh City Council was due to agree its spending plans for next year on February 20 - but it will not know how much central government funding it is to receive until first the UK Government and then the Scottish Government publish their budgets.

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said the council was likely to go ahead and set the council tax as required by law, but otherwise only agree only essential allocations and have a “supplementary” budget once the funding figures were known.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The UK budget will be on March 11 - the same day councils are legally obliged to set their budgets. Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay launched a furious attack, accusing the UK Government of having “total disregard for devolution”. And he did not give a date for his own budget, which depends on the block grant allocated to Scotland by the Chancellor.

Mr Mackay said he was considering a temporary change in the law to allow councils to set their budgets at a later date.

Edinburgh expects it will have to find savings of around £36 million. Cllr Rankin said there had already been a lot of budget planning based on assumptions which had proved “not too wide of the mark” in previous years.

He said: “We would probably proceed in setting at least some budgetary parameters based on those assumptions.

“But I don’t think it would be sensible to try to set firm amounts in the budget in February when we haven’t had any announcement from the Scottish Government which would presumably be in the second half of March.”

The Evening News revealed earlier this week that cuts being considered include scrapping the annual £2.1m contribution to city policing. In addition it is expected the council tax would rise by between 3 and 4.79 per cent.

Tory finance spokesman Graham Hutchison said delaying key decisions until the hard figures were available was the right approach. “But we are going to have a shorter time to make savings, so it is critical the administration bring forward a budget which is realistic.”

Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said the council setting a skeleton budget in February seemed the only option, but he said the Chancellor’s decision to delay his budget until three weeks before the new financial year was “just being cavalier”. And he said: “A medium-sized business would not run its finances in this way so it is really no way to decide on billions of pounds of public services.”.