Tuesday December 20th 2016
Councillor Ian Baxter, Green party
The Green Party’s budget proposals seek to put Midlothian Council at the forefront of developing publicly owned renewable energy, thereby bringing in much needed income, reducing fuel poverty and helping to meet out climate change obligations. The anticipated income will also allow us to keep music tuition free in our schools, keep open the Penicuik Recycling centre and improve community safety with income rising over the years as energy prices inevitably escalate
Following several years of real terms cuts to the Scottish Government grant on top of a damaging Council Tax freeze, it is without doubt that Midlothian Council faces the most challenging period financially in its history.
The Council Tax freeze itself has removed hundreds of millions of pounds from the public purse, and had Council Tax been allowed to rise in line with inflation, the budget shortfall for 2017/18 would have been several million pounds less than that faced today.
This budget, however, should be not simply be seen as an exercise in reacting to financial pressures. It is not sustainable to continually cut staff and services, given the significant grant reductions expected over the next few years. We need to look for new income streams as well as deciding the kind of council we wish to be.
The Green Party’s vision is a Midlothian which is at the forefront of council and community owned renewable energy; where transport choices are directed towards active and sustainable travel, including enhanced public transport. We want to improve educational attainment, particularly in areas of multiple deprivation, creating sustainable and well paid jobs located within Midlothian, without the need to travel into Edinburgh for work.
Commensurate with that, the Green Party therefore proposes the following amendments to the budget proposals placed before Council:
Charging for Music Tuition
The reintroduction of charging acts as a disincetive to those whose income is low but who do not qualify for assistance. It is particularly important that the opportunity to learn to play an instrument is available from a young age, and the wider benefits are well documented. One report published in Canada suggested that six year olds learning an instrument had, on average, a seven point IQ increase over the course of a year compared to those not learning.
We therefore see charging for music tuition to run contrary to the council’s aim of improving attainment and in particular addressing the attainment gap.
However, following the announcement in last weeks Scottish budget that a fund will be provided by the Scottish Government to provide assistance to schools in bridging the attainment gap, we believe that use of some of those funds to cover the cost of music tuition would be commensurate with
Cost – Nil
Community Safety Service Review>
While we opposed the removal of Community Policing teams, it is recognised that their reintroduction would be costly and may not be the best way to spend limited resources. It is also seen by some as treating Police Scotland as a third party service provider for a service which Police Scotland should be providing without charge.
We believe that a more effective investment would be to bolster our own in house Community Safety Team, building on the very effective Problem Solving Partnerships (PSPs), which draw together experts from the Community Safety, youth workers and the police.
We therefore seek to remove the £30,000 cut to Community Safety in 2017/18 and also to invest a further £30,000 in developing the PSPs and partnership working with the police force.
Cost – £60,000
Review of Public Toilet provision
Whilst we fully support a review of provision, we feel a target of £100,000 is ambitious, given alternative provision is not available in all locations. Where no suitable alternative is available, we would oppose the closure of any public toilets.
We believe that the review should seek to improve or replace council provision with partnership arrangements with Scotrail (for toilet provision at Midlothian’s stations) and Lothian Buses (for driver facilities).
We therefore propose a reduced target of £40,000 saving from the review.
Cost – £60,000
Close Penicuik Recycling Facility
The impact of closing this facility extends beyond the obvious one of reducing the incentive to recycle. Fly-tipping is already an increasing problem in the wake of increased bulky uplift charges, and the need to travel across county from Penicuik to Stobhill will only add to congestion and pollution on our roads.
Cost – £100,000
Walking distance to schools
The impact of making the proposed change would be to encourage more dropping off of children attending local schools, exacerbating an already growing problem. We therefore seek to remove this change.
Cost – £38,000
This service is a lifeline to those living in rural areas with little or no public transport. Given the importance of the facility to those who may have no alternative, we seek to remove the cut.
Cost – £10,000
Council owned Renewable Energy
With the reduction in subsidies for the generation of renewable energy, the economics in this area have changed markedly over recent years. However, the cost of installation both of generation and storage are dropping steadily and council owned renewables are once again becoming a viable investment.
The medium to long term economic viability is driven by the reducing installation costs, recognition that the technologies involved are now mature, and the increasing wealth of expertise in the development of local council renewable energy projects across the UK. Coupling this with what now seems to be the end of cheap oil, energy prices in general are now expected to rise well above the rate of inflation over the next few years.
Added to this is the drive to reduce fuel poverty, in the case of domestic Solar PV installations, and the need to reduce carbon emissions by the council.
Based on documentation produced by APSE Energy, even assuming no subsidies are available, investment now in Solar PV is once again becoming a worthwhile medium to long term investment.
We therefore propose a major programme of work by Midlothian Council, funded from the £4 million set aside for Business Transformation, to investigate and develop council owned renewable energy.
This would require a new theme within the Business Transformation programme, dedicated to Green Energy generation (including the possible setting up of an ESCO). It would investigate the feasibility of, but not restricted to, the following –
– Large and small scale Solar PV farms (up to those of the order of 50,000 panels, equating to around 10 MW)
– Use of council land, council buildings, council houses, joint ventures (with neighbouring councils, land owners, private house owners, etc) – including use of capped landfill sites, ‘canopies’ on large car parks (e.g. at Park & Ride facilities, railway stations and supermarkets)
– Private wiring to council buildings, larger scale consumers and new housing estates
– Storage (electrical, hydro, or using old mine workings for thermal or gravitational)
– Wind turbines, possibly as a joint venture with neighbouring councils
– Hydro energy – potentially in collaboration with community groups
Developing expertise in this area will also provide a useful resource for community groups wishing to invest in renewables.
Estimates from APSE Energy suggest that within two years, annual income of around £250,000 could be anticipated from a single large scale Solar PV farm.
Our intention would be to target a minimum of £300,000 net income in 2018/19 with substantial increases thereafter, particularly as energy prices continue to rise.
Income (from 2018/19) – £300,000+
The full council meeting takes place tomorrow (Tuesday 19th December). You can watch the meeting live HERE.
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