City of Edinburgh Council prioritises spending amid financial pressure

The Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
The Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
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CITY leaders avoided becoming pantomime villains by the skin of their teeth last night after unveiling what they hope will prove a crowd pleasing financial Houdini escape act.

They managed to stave off a feared raft of major cuts to services across the city after the Scottish Government gave them more funding than had been expected.

But money will instead be spent on much-needed investment in arts and culture like an upgrade of the King’s Theatre as well as more cash for initiatives to tackle homelessness and child poverty.

Leisure centres, social care and road repairs will also be spared damaging cuts.

City leaders said this now meant a cut of less than one per cent in overall funding.

However Scott Arthur, Councillor for Colinton/Fairmilehead, said: “Our Capital has been handed a 3.6 per cent real terms cut by the SNP and Greens.”

Social Care

Council chiefs say £4m more than expected would be used towards the city’s crisis hit health and social care service which councillor’s are “confident” will be matched by another £4m fron NHS Lothian.

This is in addition to the £4.5m emergency fund announced at the end of last year which was allocated by the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (EIJB) from their existing budget at the time. The cash was to address the immediate pressures caused by the delayed discharge of people waiting in hospital to be assessed for a care package.

The money is planned to help tackle the backlog of people already assessed for care packages and also allows for the costs of care for people currently awaiting an assessment.

The service was judged the worst in Scotland over performance in a Care Inspectorate report last year.

Arts and Culture

Three signature projects are set to share in a £10 million spend for the city’s cultural infrastructure.

The city council has pledged to use £5 million securing the future on a long-awaited refurbishment of the King’s Theatre and a bid to reopen the old Leith Theatre three decades after it was closed down.

A further £5 million has been ringfenced for a £45 million project to create a new concert hall in the heart of the city’s New Town.

The Impact Centre, which will include a 1000-capacity auditorium, has already had pledges of £10 million each from the Scottish and UK governments.

The city council will put £4 million towards a £25 million overhaul of the Kings Theatre, which will secure its future for another 50 years. The 112-year-old venue is expected to close for up to 18 months to allow the work to be carried out. Radical improvements to its stage, auditorium, backstage areas, bars and cafes areas would be carried out under a blueprint aimed at preventing a sudden closure.

The £1 million earmarked for the Leith Theatre Trust is expected to kick-start efforts to secure the permanent reopening of the building, which was falling into disrepair before it was brought back to life for the festival Hidden Door last year.

Irvine Welsh, Danny Boyle, Rod Stewart, The Proclaimers, Trainspotting star Ewen Bremner and Garbage singer Shirley Manson have all thrown their weight behind a campaign to bring the building, which dates back to 1932, into use.

It was almost destroyed by a bomb blast during the Second World War, which kept it closed until 1961 and it was closed again in 1988 despite hosting events for the Edinburgh International Festival. Heir of the Leith theatre Trust Jack Hunter, said it was fantastic news.

Homelessness and night teams

Plans to ditch a special’Night Noise’ team that deals with gripes about noisy neighbours has been shelved after a council U-turn.

The Coalition had proposed to save £225,000 a year by culling the team but following residents backlash, have “saved” the service.

Cllr Alasdair Rankin said that with a myraid of problems arising from an increase in short term lets and Air BnB rentals there was a strong need for keeping the night noise service in place.

A Homelessness Task Force set up by the council has been investigating the growing issue of homelessness. Now £2m from the council budget will be allocated aimed at ending the use of bed and breakfast facilities.

The team is exploring alternatives that may better meet the needs of individuals and families and will use a resource of £197,200 to address the accommodation available for homeless people across the city.

Potholes and street lights

Community engagement ahead of the budget proposal highlighted key areas of importance for the city tax payers and front line services were top of the list. The ravaged city roads and pavements will be allocated £1 million more than expected. Part of the budget will go towards new energy efficient street lights which will save the city millions and lead to fewer lighting faults. A £15.219 million contract with Amey Highways has been agreed to replace approximately 54,000 street lights.

Children’s uniforms

In a bid to iron out the “stark” inequalities across the city, the SNP/Labour coalition says it will support low income families and those living in poverty.

Council grants for school uniforms will be brought inline with the Scottish average. The Evening News revealed earlier in the week that the grant had not been increased since 2001.

A budget of £400,000 has been pledged to help families and will also go towards piloting a “holiday hunger” project to help feed kids during the school holidays, who normally rely on free school meals. An allocation has also been found for specialist breakfast club providers.