Council tax in Edinburgh will rise by 3% from April, as part of a budget which has agreed spending of more than £1bn over the next year.
The City of Edinburgh Council budget for 2022/23 which passed on Thursday, included investments of £1m in roads and pavements and £1.5m to “deep clean” the city and improve its parks.
Councillors also voted to freeze rent for council tenants for the second year and set aside £1.1m to help ease the cost of living crisis for those most in need.
Included in £236.7m of capital spending is £42m for the extension of the city’s tram line to Newhaven, due to open next year, whilst £2m originally budgeted for free tram travel for under-22s was scrapped at the last minute and put into reserves.
Education and Children’s Services will receive a total £35.34m from the budget in the year ahead, whilst parks, greenspace, cemeteries will get £2.14m.
Furthermore, a commitment was made to invest 10% of the council’s roads and transport budget (£1.783m) in cycling infrastructure and £6.3m to decarbonise the council’s vehicle fleet.
Meanwhile, city centre parking charges, allotment hire and garden waste collection fees will all rise by around 5% – whilst the cost of school milk is set to increase by nearly 30%.
And in South Queensferry, pay and display parking will increase by 12.5%.
A council tax rise of 3% was agreed – double the figure proposed by the Tories but matched by the Greens and Lib Dems – which will see band A residents paying £2.23 more each month.
Over the year, the most wealthy in band H will see their bills rise by nearly £100.
At a full council meeting the capital’s SNP/Labour administration presented a balanced budget with no cuts, after officers successfully closed a funding gap of £7.637m and had £208,000 left over.
Added to a one-off grant announced by the Scottish Government in January, £9.8m of unallocated funds were available for the council to spend, which the coalition said would go towards “community-based projects and improvements”.
Of this sum, £1m is being invested in road and pavement maintenance, another £1m in support for children’s services to “offset Covid-related pressures” and £1.1m in “easing the cost of living crisis for our most vulnerable citizens”.
Each of Edinburgh’s 17 wards will receive a share of £1.072m to fund a “deep clean” of the city that will involve graffiti removal, street cleaning and hot washing equipment for city centre closes.
However the biggest share of unallocated resources, £2m, is being used internally within the council to ‘improve HR systems’ in response to recommendations made following Susanne Tanner’s inquiry into workplace culture.
Other one-off investments will include:
- £250k to set up ‘neighbourhood action teams’ to tackle hot spot areas of unkempt land.
- £200k to bring back temporary toilets to the city’s parks.
- £500k to support the council’s climate targets.
- £150k for the regulation of short term lets in Edinburgh.
- £200k for local community festivals including Diwali celebrations and Leith Festival.
- £61k to complete the restoration of the Portobello Kilns.
An additional £6.435m of government funding is expected by the local authority in the coming months, with the coalition pledging to spend the majority “supporting the most vulnerable households through the cost of living crisis”.
Around £4.95m of this will be used to give grants of £150 to the city’s 33,000 low-income households.
Presenting the motion, Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey began by making a verbal amendment to remove £2m initially budgeted to fund free tram travel for under 22-year-olds and put it in reserves.
It’s yet to be confirmed if the Scottish Government will cover the cost of extending the new young persons’ free bus travel scheme to include light rail.
Cllr McVey said: “We have not concluded conversations and discussions with the Scottish Government on this matter, although we do consider this an ongoing matter.”
He added: “This budget represents five years of progress, five years of progress building and opening new schools and five years of progress delivering world-class sports facilities like Meadowbank.
“We have made sure that we are investing as much as we can in the future of people in our city. This budget also marks, as well as five years of this administration, the end, or at least what we hope will be the end, of two years of dealing with a global pandemic that none of us would have wanted to endure.
“We are not over it yet, the fact that I am delivering this budget myself with Covid right now and our finance convenor was struck severely with covid that he was unable to deliver this budget today shows just how far we are from going back to full normality.
“This budget invests in our core services and continues the essential investments that we’ve made right throughout this term. It tackles climate change, it fights poverty and it invests in the wellbeing of our residents.”
After three rounds of voting, the coalition budget was passed by 26 votes to 17.
However, opposition councillors were quick to point out that despite a balanced budget this year, a gap of more than £60m looms in 2023/24.
The Conservative’s Andrew Johnston said the additional £9.8m was “very welcome” but he added: “It’s nothing more than a cynical election bribe.
“Maybe we should have an election every year if that’s what it takes for the Scottish Government to give us some extra money,” he said.
“But the £9m can’t disguise the fact that next year this council faces a £60m gap in funding.
“It can’t disguise the fact that last year this SNP/Labour administration broke their own coalition pledge to restrict council tax increases to 3%. Instead they went along with 4.79% and that’s something they’re going to have to explain on the doorstep as we approach the May election.”
The Tories’ budget proposed a 1.5% rise in council tax, scrapping garden tax, £2.1m to develop an “integrated programme focussed on preventing poverty and homelessness”, £10.4m to support teachers and school support staff and £300,000 to increase the number of electric vehicle charging points throughout the capital.
Furthermore, they opposed planned increases to the cost of in parking charges, school milk and cremation charges.
Cllr Johnston said: “The Conservative group believe that the people of Edinburgh have been short changed for too long, that’s why we propose a 1.5% increase in council tax – half that of the administration. We would have gone further, however, and we would have looked at a council tax freeze.”
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