Tories launch budget proposals as council faces £150m deficit

The proposals were unveiled a week before the local authority budget-setting process begins.

Tories launch budget proposals as Edinburgh Council faces £150m deficit Google Maps

A “huge” review of how effectively Edinburgh Council spends money on homelessness services, roads and school IT equipment have been mooted by Conservative councillors in their annual budget. 

The proposals, unveiled ahead of the budget-setting process next week, focus on “structural changes the organisation needs” to close a £150m financial black hole faced by the organisation over the next five years.

While there are only nine Conservative councillors they can still have a say in whatever budget is eventually passed – with their votes important to potentially helping the minority Labour administration push their plans through.

The Tories said they would accept the Scottish Government’s settlement for a council tax freeze, saying it’s a “better option” than raising rates for residents and allowing ministers to “waste” the £16m being offered.

A temporary pause on any new construction projects or the council entering into new leases has also been proposed in a bid to reduce costs.

Phil Doggart, the group’s finance spokesperson, said their budget was drawn up against the backdrop of the authority needing to “completely reorganise as a function”.

He said he hoped to “get some stuff in” during negotiations with the Labour administration before the meeting.

He said: “One of the things I would really like to see is lots of service reviews. We’re almost struggling to breathe as an organisation. I’m not just talking about the stuff that faces the public but also the back office stuff as well.”

This would involve a “huge” review of the city’s homelessness services which is estimated could save up to £3m over the next two years.

The Conservatives are calling for a review into Edinburgh's homeless services.STV News

“The inefficiencies in the homelessness service are huge and we spend money in a pretty ineffective way,” Doggart said. “We think it would save a lot of money and we could provide a better service.

“If we keep on going the way we’re going we have huge problems – that’s why we are looking at change and changing the way we do things.”

On the council tax freeze, he added: “I would rather the money came to us rather than it stays in the Scottish Government and we raise council tax.

“I’m not going to tax the residents of Edinburgh more just to send a message to Holyrood. I don’t think that does any good.”

The Conservative budget commits to “considering revisions to all methods of service delivery to improve quality with an associated reduction in cost” and empowering managers to “develop a programme of best value reviews to deliver significant savings”. 

It contains a recurring annual £2.35m for street cleansing, £3m to address the “appaling condition of city’s roads and footpaths”, £240k to restore bus services for Willowbrae and Dumbiedykes and suggests the council withdraws from Scottish local authority umbrella organisation COSLA to save £249k from next year. 

In addition, the group wants to invest £1.5m a year to improve ailing IT systems in schools, which teaching unions have said are not fit for purpose, and set aside an initial £2.6m and then £0.5m a year thereafter for an IT investment reserve fund to “support the development of a planned IT investment programme rather than the current ad hoc approach”. 

Spending £250k on data management is also proposed in the plans, with the aim of developing a new council app that would allow people to easily change their address, apply for permits and licences and report potholes among other functions.

“Other councils have done it – that’s also the sort of thing that will produce savings,” Doggart said.

And £100k would fund a feasibility study into setting up a “dementia village” – a care model first used in the Netherlands which Doggart said was “the most inspirational thing I have ever heard about social care provision”.

He explained: “It’s aimed at people who have physical capacity but do not have mental capacity.

“They can cook for themselves, look after each other, there’s a small shop, small cafe – so there is a social life. It’s a secure facility which effectively means the old folks can’t get out and the people who they think are the gardeners actually function as security people. ”

The council will meet to agree on the 2024/25 budget on Thursday, February 22.

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