Finance and Resources Convener, Councillor Alasdair Rankin, outlines our budget plans over the coming weeks.
For many years now, the Council has put the needs of the young, the old and those with disabilities at the centre of its budget planning. We have, nevertheless, had to do this at a time of both financial constraint and rising demand for Council services. There is no doubt that this involves difficult decisions, which is why, in listening to residents, tackling poverty, and increasing sustainability and well-being have been at the centre of our thinking.
We want to see everyone benefit from the city’s economic success. Now, some 80,000 residents, including one in four children, are living in poverty and we know that the life expectancy in our wealthiest areas is far ahead of that in the poorest parts of the city. This cannot be right. So, we are aiming to protect those services which support the most vulnerable in our city, and the well-being of all residents, to the best of our ability.
Like all Councils, we face financial pressures and the reality is that we need to make significant savings, whilst managing longer-term pressures such as an increasing population, which is ageing, and growing demand for Council services including education. When my Committee meets on Friday, we will consider the steps - and the savings - we need to make to finance our ambitions for a more sustainable city, giving priority to bearing down on poverty and promoting wellbeing as far as possible. These are the areas residents have told us matter most to them.
To meet these goals, we need to ensure that the Council is on a solid financial footing. This is no mean feat when you consider that, from our current budget of £965million for providing services, we estimate that we need to save roughly 10% by 2023. By then, the city’s population will have increased by 23,000 people since the start of our Change Strategy last year. In that regard, I pay tribute to the Council officers who have worked long and hard to identify steps to achieve the city’s aims whilst also proposing, as legally we must, a balanced budget.
Edinburgh’s budget goes much further than many local authorities, looking to set a new three-year budget for the Council. That will provide greater certainty for residents, our work force and those we fund to provide Council services. But it won’t be without its challenges.
As we plan for Edinburgh’s future, we will continue to push for the powers we need to better manage growth, such as stronger regulation for short-term lets and new financial mechanisms for raising additional income, such as a tourist tax and workplace parking levy. We will continue to promote all these measures with the Scottish Government.
We know from residents’ feedback that the majority would support a rise in Council tax, if it’s reinvested directly in our core services. That is why the rise in Council tax of 4.79%, which we are proposing, will be used to fund further investment in much needed new schools for our children. It will be an investment in the future of the city and our young people.
All the budget proposals are available to view online on the Council’s website and I encourage everyone to consider them in the context I’ve outlined here. You can be sure that we will continue to make the case to the Scottish Government to provide a fair settlement for Edinburgh, following what Ministers themselves described as a cautious Scottish budget. It will necessarily remain in draft until the UK Government budget is set on 11th March.