Edinburgh’s public services are “moving closer to the edge of the precipice”

Thursday February 22nd 2024

Edinburgh-City-Chambers


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

Edinburgh’s public services are “moving closer to the edge of the precipice”, councillors have been warned as they prepare to set the authority’s budget.

The City Chambers’ annual budget meeting kicked off with trade unions and community groups urging the capital’s elected representatives to do their best to protect services and keep the poorest and most vulnerable at the forefront of their minds when making a final decision on how to spend and save taxpayer’s cash in the year ahead.

Finance chiefs have presented a balanced budget after closing a £21m gap by reducing pension contributions, dipping into reserves and through other mitigations, allowing the biggest cuts proposed – including £8.2 to education – to be avoided for now.

However the decision to slash school budgets will be back before councillors again next year, and councillors were warned that much sooner sweeping social care cuts will be needed to bridge a £67m shortfall.

“We’re moving closer to the edge of the precipice,” Unison’s David Harold said. “If you do not protect our essential services, people will fall between the cracks.”

Mr Harold said “horse-trading” with public services means “someone, or something invaluable is lost elsewhere forever”.

He said: “To wring your hands and say ‘what can we do’ is no longer an option.

“These budget cuts will be devastating, and everyone here knows they are the first salvo in what will be a campaign of constant attacks upon council-run services over the next three years.”

Meanwhile the council looks set to freeze council tax for a year as all groups aside from the Greens and independent Ross McKenzie proposing to accept the Scottish Government’s settlement.

Mr Harold said while it was an “unpopular ask” increasing council tax was “more than reasonable when we consider the very needs of our city and its citizens”.

Councillors were also urged to consider the impact of rent rises – suggested at between 5 per cent and 8.4 per cent by parties – on those not in receipt of housing benefits.

Betty Stevenson from Edinburgh Tenants Federation said: “We are dissatisfied that a zero per cent increase is not being considered by the council.

“Although we understand the funding challenges the council housing service is facing, we consider as the council rents are the highest local authority rents in Scotland, and with the ongoing cost of the cost of living crisis tenants are experiencing, that the council should consider a rent freeze or as low an increase as possible.”

And addressing the funding crisis in social care Ben Owen from Unite said: “If these cuts go ahead one of two things will transpire.

“The first of these is that they will provide to be utterly fictitious and impossible to deliver.

“The reality is that these cuts will be taking support directly away from people who desperately need it. Refusing support to those who have substantial care needs – which is what these cuts mean – result in more people with critical care needs. Critical care needs are far more expensive to meet.”

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