Council leader looks ahead to local implications of UK emergency budget

The following opinion piece appeared in yesterday’s Edinburgh Evening News:

Tomorrow will see the most important UK government budget in a generation. While it won't provide all of the answers, we expect it will tell us a lot about the challenge that the council, and the city, will face in the coming months and years.

There will be cuts in public spending and taxes will go up, but what will the split be and where exactly is the pain to be felt? What is helpful to the council may be less so for local businesses, and vice versa. How is the voluntary sector going to be affected? What will happen to local authority borrowing, as we need to keep sensible investment going for the sake of our economy and to ensure that the city has the best possible facilities and infrastructure? How will the Scottish Government choose to respond and act on the budget?

Only one thing is clear at the moment: there will be less money and we will have to live with the consequences of that.

The genuine involvement of residents and businesses in decision-making is fundamental to my Liberal Democrat politics. That involvement will never be more important than now as we try to face, together, the impact that the global recession and the UK budget deficit will have on our capital.

That is why the council is launching an unprecedented campaign to get the views of people in Edinburgh. I want to hear opinions on what we should do more, do less or do differently. I want to know what people think about the tough decisions we have to make.

The council sets its budget in February. So, over the next nine months, we will be in your community, in the media, in print and online to talk to you about what the implications are for Edinburgh. More importantly, we will be listening to you.

I fully expect that council services will change significantly over the next few years. I said at the start of 2010 that I anticipated leading a very different organisation by the same time in 2011. We must look at every possible way to save money and improve efficiency. That could mean a whole range of things, including sharing services with other councils and finding different ways to provide the essential functions that you expect from your local authority.

We have turned around the financial management of this council from the low of 2007 with gross overspending in places and nearly empty reserves. For the first time since the council was formed all departments came in under budget last year. We also have emergency funds set aside and we have delivered record efficiencies. (In the spirit of which, it is important to stress that our budget consultation will be done at minimal cost using internal resources or in-kind support from other organisations.)

We will not plunder our reserves nor promote short-term gain over long-term prosperity in dealing with the current challenge. The solutions will come from thinking smarter, working better and very careful prioritisation. We do not have all of those solutions. They will only come from working with you and our partner organisations in Edinburgh.

The consultation itself may run into next year, but the decisions we take will be felt for many more years afterwards. That makes it even more essential that we talk honestly to everyone about the scale of the problem, the decisions that have to be taken, and what we can realistically do to deal with the effects.

The situation is stark; there is no getting away from that. But, as Edinburgh has repeatedly shown, much good can come from adversity. The city has shown itself to be resilient in the current recession and we have an excellent foundation for the future. No matter how difficult the times ahead are, I am confident that the council and the city will emerge stronger. We will need your help and I look forward to hearing your views.

Cllr Jenny Dawe

Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council


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