Warning Edinburgh could end up with only basic fire services

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CONTROVERSIAL cuts proposed by Edinburgh’s SNP-Labour coalition could lead to two-tier public services in the Capital, it was claimed today.

The warning came from one of the administration’s own backbenchers, Labour councillor Scott Arthur, who said if the cuts continued it would end with the council providing only a basic service and people being expected to pay for anything more.

MacDonald Road fire station, Edinburgh

MacDonald Road fire station, Edinburgh

The budget proposals, which aim to save £21 million next year, include introducing a £25 annual charge for garden waste collections, a £420,000 cut in funding for Edinburgh Leisure, reduced library opening hours and a five per cent increase in the price of parking permits.

In a blog, Cllr Scott claimed the cuts would have been worse without Labour’s influence.

He wrote: “Whilst as much as possible we argued to protect services used by the vulnerable and those who need a helping hand, these cuts have sacrificed non-statutory services to protect what we are legally obliged to deliver. Notwithstanding this, everything from waste collection to education is being cut.

READ MORE: Edinburgh council to charge for garden waste collection

“The good news is that if you can afford it, you can pay to have your garden waste collected. If you are on a low income, the story is a little different however.”

And he warned: “Be in no doubt, this is just the start. If continued, the council will only provide basic statutory services and those who want something better will have to pay.”

Kevin Lang criticised both coalition partners. “The real question is whether the Labour group who were elected on a commitment of opposing cuts like this will now facilitate them or stay true to their manifesto and oppose them.

“If this is the stage the council has got to, the SNP council leader should be going to the SNP First Minister and saying ‘Enough is enough, we cannot deliver these kind of cuts because they are so damaging’.”

Labour group leader Cammy Day said the administration wanted to hear what the public thought of the budget proposals. He said: “The continued erosion of local government funding is having an impact on our ability to deliver services.

“And if that continues we will need to have a serious discussion about what services we can continue to provide.

“If we’re going to lose another £140m over the next few years we will get to the point there is no fat to scrape from the services we provide. We have a statutory duty to do certain things, like pay teachers and provide social work services, but other things come under considerable pressure.”

He said it was wrong for any party to claim cuts could be avoided when there was less money available.

But he added: “We will continue to campaign to protect frontline services and proper funding for local government.”

SNP council leader Adam McVey said the council did not yet know how much it would get from the Scottish Government and added he was engaging with the government to get a fair deal.

He said: “I’m working to ensure the deal is as good for local government as possible. We are trying to plan for what we expect, but within that we still hope for the best.

“I don’t think anyone would say local government should be 100 per cent protected if it comes at a cost to the police, the NHS or education.

“People want us to make a robust representation and that’s what we’re doing, but it’s in the context of a Scottish budget still far too dependent on UK government 
decisions.”

What happens next?

THE council says it wants to hear what people think of the budget proposals.

A consultation period starts on Monday and lasts until December 15.

The public is invited to have a say via the council’s website, social media or attending public meetings which are being organised.

Deputy finance convener Marion Donaldson said: “We are hoping to hear back from the citizens of Edinburgh about what matters most to them in terms of the services we should be prioritising and how we can deliver these services in a different way.”

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She said many people would not have much time to spend on the council’s plans. But she suggested: “Just sitting with your computer on your couch, you could be watching a TV programme and feeding back on what are the priorities to you in terms of the budget.”

Cllr Donaldson said the council was approaching 900 local organisations to ask for members’ views.

And there will also be a Question Time event at the City Chambers next month.

Fire stations at risk from cuts review

A UNION leader has pledged to fight cuts which threaten to reduce fire brigade cover in the Capital.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is planning a major review of fire stations, firefighter numbers and fire stations amid growing financial pressures. A leaked SFRS report said the current model could not last beyond the end of the financial year.

No details have been released of where the axe could fall, but the report said the fire stations most likely to close were “predominantly in large urban locations”.

Fire Brigades Union FBU regional officer Denise Christie, an Edinburgh firefighter, said the second engines at McDonald Road and Sighthill were already often unavailable due to staff shortages.

And she said Bathgate and Marionville stations did not always have enough personnel on duty who were trained for water rescues.

Around £53 million of spending and 700 firefighter jobs have been cut since the SFRS was formed in 2013 by the merger of Scotland’s eight former fire brigades. Ms Christie said: “The Scottish Government promised us the merger would not impact on the frontline, but it absolutely is.”

One source said smaller stations like Liberton and Marionville could be prime targets for closure.

But Ms Christie made clear any cuts would meet resistance. She said: “If there are already not enough crews for two engines at Sighthill or McDonald Road or even Tollcross, one option they might go for is to say, ‘Do we need a second fire engine there?’

“That’s unacceptable. We need to make sure we have enough firefighters with enough resources to respond to incidents in the area.

“It’s all about community safety and the safety of firefighters. The FBU has campaigned for years for communities to be properly covered.”

She said it might be seen as less of a political hot potato if the SFRS kept a fire station open, but with just one engine.

But she said: “Any resource taken away from the citizens of Edinburgh is a retrograde step.

“And we are up for fighting against these cuts.”

An SFRS spokeswoman insisted: “This is not about cuts, it is about the transformation of a delivery model that has served us well but was designed for the risks of over 70 years ago.”