Edinburgh’s communities have never faced as many challenges as they do today. Child poverty is rising. Our social care system is failing. Our schools are crumbling. Our roads, footpaths and cycle-paths are a mess.
Of course, the setting of our Capital’s budget is a chance to solve these problems and take advantage of new opportunities. Budgets are not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations as a City.
The problem we face, of course, is that values and aspirations alone won’t solve the problems we face.
After a decade of cuts, our Capital has been handed a 3.6% real terms cut by the SNP and Greens. The SNP Group Leader is happy to call this “positive” and the Greens say they are “delighted”, but it is clear that Edinburgh’s citizens will literally pay the price for this cut.
Yes, we rightly found extra funding for homelessness and social care but that has been done by cutting other services. Indeed, there has been progress in many areas but too often there has simply not been enough money to complete the job.
For example, Labour fought hard to protect library opening hours, but could not stop a cut to the book budget. With the SNP and Greens forcing cuts like this on Edinburgh, it is little wonder Scotland is falling behind in international education league tables.
Likewise, we argued that the poorest households should be given the resources they need to equip their children for school. Instead of offering the £129.50 the Child Poverty Action Group, Poverty Truth Commission and One Parent Family Scotland all recommend, the School Clothing Grant in Edinburgh will be limited to just £72. This should shame us all, but the SNP and Greens in particular.
Thanks to the arguments I and others have made, low income families in Edinburgh will be exempt from paying £25 for garden waste collection and Tiphereth will continue to deliver the service in Colinton. Nonetheless, serious concerns remain about how this service will operate and take-up is uncertain.
Although some money has been found to improve cycle-paths, footpaths and roads, not a penny could be spared to implement the outcome of the gritting review. Keep in mind that the review was triggered after 500 people were admitted to A&E in December alone after slipping on icy footpaths.
As a Labour Councillor, I am proud of how my group has won argument after argument in the budget negotiations, but the black hole resulting from the SNP / Greens cut has simply been too difficult to bridge in many cases. Indeed, it has been tough in these negotiations deciding which bridges to build and which to burn.
If the Scottish Government had adopted Labour’s budget proposals the story would be different. We would have protected local government funding, reformed Council Tax and given Edinburgh the power to introduce a “tourist tax” of 1% on hotel stays. These measures would have provided the resources needed to better ensure our Capital and everyone in it can succeed.