Edinburgh’s budget: Transformation – or tragedy?
Councillors vote through £84.5 cuts package
Frontline services for Edinburgh’s vulnerable, older and younger residents will be prioritised in the city council’s budget budget set yesterday. Finance convener Alisdair Rankin says the council aims to become a ‘leaner, more agile organisation’ but up to two thousand jobs will go, impacting on services across the city.
The council says spending on schools, health and social care provision – seen as the services that matter most to Edinburgh residents – as well as improvements to roads, pavements and cycle routes, will be their spending priorities, and the administration plans to deliver them more efficiently and effectively.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, Convener of the Finance and Resources Committee, said: “Like other local authorities around the country, we face the challenge of a rising demand for services while funding is reducing.
“That’s why we will focus on the services that matter the most to the public. I am confident that we have taken the needs of Edinburgh’s residents into account when setting this year’s budget and am delighted that more than 4000 people took the time to have their say on our draft budget proposals.”
Councillor Bill Cook, Vice-Convener of the Finance and Resources Committee, said: “Thanks to the feedback gained during the budget engagement process we have been able to make decisions such as maintaining the full in-house home care service and retaining lunch time crossing patrols at primary schools.”
Based on responses received during an 11-week consultation period, changes were made to the final budget reflecting the public’s needs. These include:
• Maintaining the night noise team
• Deciding against proposals to redesign day care services for adults with learning disabilities
• Removing the proposal to reduce community centre staff
• Maintaining lunch time school crossing patrols
• Amending the proposal to review support staff in special schools
This year the Council has a budget of £950m and will continue to deliver frontline services while making savings of £85.4m. These savings will be achieved through ‘workforce transformation’, cuts in fleet and selling off property.
While councillors listened to the public’s views during the budget consultation there was no move towards introducing a ‘Tourist Tax’ and they rejected appeals to defy the Scottish government by raising council tax. As a result, council tax band levels for Edinburgh in 2016/17 will once again remain unchanged:
A deputation from North Edinburgh was well to the fore during proceedings throughout the day, bringing some levity to what was otherwise a sombre occasion.
Dressed in black, Royston Wardieburn’s Power to the People adult education group staged a funeral procession to the City Chambers, led by the Grim Reaper, an undertaker, pall bearers and mourners lamenting the death of council services.
Drylaw Neighbourhood Centre is one of many voluntary sector organisations facing an uncertain future. A contingent from Drylaw joined the lobby and supporter Lesley Yardley (below, left) spoke to reporters before the meeting about how cuts are affecting hard-hit communities.
She said: “Our Neighbourhood Centre caters for people of all ages – from babies and toddlers right up to people in their nineties. The Centre’s full every day. Pensioners get picked up by our community bus and brought in to the centre. Without that Centre many of these people would be on their own; they would just sit at home and fade away. Communities need community centres.”
The deputation also brought music into the council chamber, with speakers Willie Black and Anna Hutchison – was there ever a more unlikely Renee and Renato? – leading the North Edinburgh chorus in a rousing – if melancholic – version of Bella Ciao.
Ultimately, however, the serenade failed to melt the heart of Edinburgh’s councillors and by late afternoon the die was cast: councillors voted through the Capital Coalition’s budget. Yes, these were some small victories but communities across the city will feel the impact of cuts of this scale. You can’t lose that many jobs without affecting services.
Yesterday’s visit by the Grim Reaper was premature and council services are not dead yet: but with three more years of cuts to come they are surely in a critical condition. Edinburgh’s heady days of ‘Improving Services, Creating Jobs’ are well and truly over.
You can find out more about where the Council plans to spend and save in 2016/17, and where changes have been made following Budget engagement, on the Council website.
More pictures below and on our Facebook page – our thanks to Lynn McCabe