Challenges abound for councils when balancing the budget, says Alasdair Rankin
HOW do you deliver more with less? That’s the challenge facing councils across Scotland as they finalise budgets for the next financial year.
Austerity, falling central government funding and welfare reform are squeezing resources, while changing demographics are increasing demand for council services.
This is particularly true of Scotland, where our population is ageing faster than that of the UK as a whole. It’s good that people are living longer – but it places additional pressure on health and social care budgets.
The rising birth rate is also positive, although this means we might need more schools or extensions to schools, placing further demands on council finances. With only limited resources to manage these pressures, cuts have to be made – and for City of Edinburgh Council this means finding a huge £36m of savings over the next financial year.
This has made setting this year’s budget incredibly tough. But – following unprecedented public consultation – I’m proud that the budget we presented last week delivers these savings while protecting investment in frontline services in the capital for our young, old and vulnerable residents.
A very large proportion of our total budget – upwards of 75 per cent – is allocated to Health and Social Care and Children and Families.
Another 16 per cent is spent on services such as road maintenance (and with nearly 900 miles of roads, this is no small task), pavements, street lighting and refuse collection. The council also makes a significant contribution to the economic development of the city, including the Edinburgh Guarantee.
Working with a wide range of city employers, this pioneering initiative has supported almost 1,000 young people on their way into work since it was launched in late 2011. We also deliver a wide range of sports and leisure facilities across the city through our support to Edinburgh Leisure. In line with these priorities, our key budget provisions in 2014-15 include:
• Continuing to invest in new James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir High Schools
• Doubling the capital funding available to deal with rising school rolls to £14.9m
• Opening a new £8m, 60-bed care home in the city
• Investing £8.7 million in new preventative services for older people and £1.2m to reduce isolation in communities
• Investing £5.1 million in new services for increasing numbers of older people, adults with learning or physical disabilities and increased need for assessment and mental health services
• £16 million on improving roads and pavements
• Investing £32 million in affordable housing
• £1m to continue supporting the Edinburgh Guarantee
• Continuing to deliver the council’s Strategy for Jobs, which is working to create 20,000 new jobs, support £1.3billion of infrastructure investment and help 10,000 people into work or learning by 2017
Crucial to this decision-making has been a huge consultation process, that involved delivering 40,000 letters and e-mails to residents and organisations across the city, conducting a range of public meetings and actively campaigning on social media.
The feedback we received from you in turn led to important changes in budget areas, including funding for additional support needs, kinship carers and community policing.
In terms of savings, we have focused on achieving these through greater efficiency in our operations rather than reducing frontline services.
Two major areas where we are making savings are in the council’s buying of goods and services and the rationalisation of our property and land holdings. But we’re also looking at our energy policy and aiming to reduce the amount of energy we consume as a council and consider how we might produce some of our own energy.
Other significant areas are maximising the council’s income and more efficient workforce planning.
Although we will maintain our policy of no compulsory redundancies, with an annual turnover of staff around 8 per cent, we need to consider whether one-for-one replacements of retiring staff or those who leave to other employment are necessary.
Overall, there will be no aspect of spending that we will not consider in our efforts to achieve a more efficient and effective council.
This is vital if we want to continue investing in the areas that are essential to Edinburgh.
Our aim is to make sure that we’re flexible and fit for purpose, and will be in a position to serve the public well into the future.
• Cllr Alasdair Rankin is convener of the Finance and Resources Committee at City of Edinburgh Council, www.edinburgh.gov.uk