Council Leader Jenny Dawe wants your views on the budget

The following article appeared in the Summer edition of the Council’s newspaper, Outlook.

  "I like a challenge" is the answer I invariably give when asked how I cope with the very demanding role of Council Leader.

I have been in this job now for three years and I knew there would be challenges ahead when I took the role. What none of us foresaw in May 2007 was the recession. I was positive then and am positive now - we have a truly great city that has shown its strength in bucking the trend economically despite the world situation and its effects on Edinburgh.

The scale of our challenge as we set the budget for next year, however, is truly unprecedented as we face a big drop in income for a variety of reasons. We are not alone - every Council and the rest of the public sector is in the same place.

Edinburgh we're ready for the challenges ahead, but the solution requires enormous changes to what we do and how we do it. It requires innovative thinking and difficult decisions.

It is in that context that we face setting a budget for Edinburgh that will balance the requirement for improvements and modernisation against efficiency savings. The Council will do all it can to protect front line services while continuing the investment that protects the city's future and brings it countless accolades year on year.

I was delighted with the response of Outlook readers to my appeal for your views and priorities as we set the last budget. All of your views were considered by me personally and taken on board where possible.

In the last budget we did our very best to support the city and protect front line services in tough economic times. But there were many difficult choices at a time when unemployment and lower incomes meant more demand for services, especially for vulnerable people. There is a growing and ageing population with more disabled adults living longer and more children at risk who need the Council's help.

Over the next nine months we will launch the biggest budget consultation exercise ever carried out in Edinburgh. In fact I'd prefer to a call it a "conversation" with you as we want constant dialogue to make sure we take the whole city with us and make the right choices that will affect us for years to come.

I've no doubt the tough choices will get tougher as we face at least four to five years of difficult spending decisions. We won't know until much later this year what our final budget figure will be, but we do know it will be significantly less and we need to act now to adjust our commitments to match this reduction.

Action is already well under way in the Council to work smarter and modernise for the future. We've already delivered millions of pounds of efficiency savings - with more planned over the next two years. Every possible way to save money, including sharing services with other councils and looking at other ways of delivering services, is being explored.

But we will be doing all this with less money coming in. Efficiencies alone will not be enough. Around a 12% reduction in our Scottish Government grant is predicted for 2011-14. Other predictions are worse - up to 20% reduction over six years. This means we must think urgently and radically about services - what they are delivering, how they are meeting your needs and identify the most efficient and effective ways to deliver them to you.

You've read on the front page about major marketing campaigns over the next three years to promote Edinburgh as a year round destination. This kind of investment - supported by the Council - is crucial to keep Edinburgh punching above its weight, to ensure the city's long term prosperity and increase the £350m worth of investment that the city attracted last year.

I want to hear from you now and over the months ahead - your views, suggestions, concerns and priorities. Our aim is to have conversations with as many citizens as possible - on e-mail, online, at local meetings, through Outlook - in every way we can at every stage of the budget planning to get your views on service choices city wide and in your neighbourhood.  

You can email me at leader@edinburgh.gov.uk or write to me at Freepost RSJC-SLXC-YTJY, Budget,Council Leader, City Chambers, Edinburgh EH1 1YJ.

The Council budget for 2010/11 is £1,038.2 million. Council Tax makes up 22 per cent (£226.9m) of this, with 60 per cent coming from Government grants and 18 per cent from non-domestic rates.

Financial challenges

  • Five consecutive years of reductions in local government funding are forecast - around 12% reduction in Scottish Government grant predicted for 2011-14
  • Continuing recession
  • Likely freeze on Council Tax means less income
  • Demand for Council services is increasing

 Actions

  • Savings - £94 million set for 2010-13, £27 million of that in the current year
  • People costs - reduction of almost 400 staff achieved in the last financial year with 12% employee costs savings target (not teachers) which could represent 1200 less staff by 2013.
  • Procurement savings - at least £3.8 million this year in improvements to the way we place contracts for goods and services
  • Property - target of £1 million savings this year
  • Priority based budgeting and spending
  • Explore alternative service provision
  • Improve collaboration, joint working and shared services
  • Strengthen involvement of front line staff, service providers and users in redesigning public services
  • Fairer pay structure for staff proposed and improved working practices already resulting in considerable savings

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