Edinburgh residents face 3% council tax rise as budget agreed

Edinburgh City Chambers on the Royal Mile
Edinburgh City Chambers on the Royal Mile
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CAPITAL residents face a 3% rise in council tax, an annual £25 charge for garden waste collections, increased parking charges and a series of spending cuts after councillors approved the SNP-Labour coalition’s budget for next year, which also boosts investment in school buildings, social care and tackling homelessness.

Conservatives argued for a 2p council tax rise, accused the administration of targeting motorists and called for cash to be diverted from the tram extension into other services.

The Greens said there needed to be a root and branch reform of council funding.

And the Lib Dems warned fundamental questions had to be asked about the scope of council activities in the face of ongoing funding cuts.

SNP finance convener Alasdair Rankin told councillors it was largely a budget of necessity rather than choice.
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But he said the administration had responded to the views expressed in the public consultation, with a smaller cut in funding for Edinburgh Leisure, help for those who might find it difficult to pay the new garden waste charge and continued funding for the night noise team.

He said: “The overall intention has been to maintain and improve service provision as far as we can.”

He said Scottish Government funding was 0.4 per cent less in cash terms than last year.

And despite originally expecting a bigger reduction, he said most of the £21m worth of savings initially proposed still needed to go ahead to allow the council to address growing problems with council property, health and social care and homelessness.

Labour’s Marion Donaldson, finance vice-convener, attacked “nay-sayers” in her own party who wanted to sit on their hands. “We reject this,” she said. “We did not stand for election to abdicate responsibility. To protect the most essential services we are going to have to make cuts in other areas which we also regard as vital to our communities and these have been hard choices.”

She said the coalition was putting £2m into tackling homelessness and £4m for social care to increase the number of care staff and help people stay in their own homes. There would be no cuts in library opening hours and an increase in school uniform grants.

Tory finance spokesman Graeme Hutchison attacked the coalition’s plans to “waste” a £7.2m special dividend from Lothian Buses on the proposed extension of the tramline to Newhaven. He said the Tories would reallocate the money to dealing with potholes, problem junctions and extending the park and ride at Hermiston.

He said: “The people of Edinburgh do not want the completion of the tram network at this stage and many may wonder why £5m has already been diverted to the tram before this council has had a final vote on the subject.

“We also reject the 10 per cent ring-fencing of the roads budget for cycling, instead focusing on improving our roads and pavements for all our citizens.”

He said the Conservatives would scrap the £25 garden waste charge, freeze parking permit prices and restore funding to the Great Edinburgh Cross-Country Run.

He said they would limit the council tax rise to 2p and invest every penny from 2019/20 in the school replacement and refurbishment programme.

And Cllr Hutchison said the Tories proposed higher spending on homelessness, health and social care and school uniform grants than the coalition.

Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said there was a need for root and branch reform of local government funding, but the council had to make choices about the current budget.

And he highlighted distinctive Green proposals - free bus travel for 16-21 year-old care leavers, energy efficieny programmes, investment in parks and green spaces, a new playscheme for disabled children and a fund to accelerate progress towards a more people-friendly city centre.

And fellow Green councillor Claire Miller said they were not convinced by the garden waste charge. “We believe this will simply result in an increase in dumping or diversion to landfill bins.”

Lib Dem finance spokesman Neil Ross said there was a need for a reconsideration of what the council did. And he called for an investigation by external advisers into the experience of other public sector organisations in transforming services.

He said: “Given that the Scottish Government is going to continue to cut back on local government funding over the next few years, we must be prepared to ask fundamental questions such as what matters most to individual citizens and communities, how do we support people with multiple needs, how can we support people to help them to support themselves.

“The vast majority of citizens are responsible people, in control of their lives, aware of what they need and able to make informed choices.

“Other than the provision of basic services, if we place our focus on the responsible citizen, then the purpose of the council can change from supplying the services to helping people to look after themselves.

“In an ideal situation they would then only seek help in extremis. Our first role would then become to strengthen the community, to create resilience and to support people’s sense of responsibility for themselves.”

The Lib Dems said the council should concentrate on basic services and proposed spending more on roads, pavements and cycle paths as well as street cleaning.