THE budget for fixing Edinburgh’s roads is set to be doubled to a record £24.5 million in a new bid to tackle the city’s potholed streets, it was revealed today.
The cash injection for repairs to both roads and pavements follows a three-month consultation in which the public was asked how the Capital’s £1.15 billion annual budget should be spent this year. The existing £12.5m roads budget will be increased dramatically from April, subject to final approval from councillors next Thursday.
It will mean work being carried out on roads not due to be resurfaced for several years, with the focus expected to be on the city centre and rural west Edinburgh. Damaged sections of road or deep potholes which would usually be patched up will instead be completely reset to last longer.
City leaders said the work will be funded from a new cash pot of £28.5m – the majority of which has been borrowed at low interest rates available to local authorities – with the rest of the money going on education, sports facilities, and a new care home.
Around £10.5m will go towards a new round of works to bring crumbling schools up to scratch. Primaries and secondaries which are not due to be replaced in the near future will undergo work – which could include roof repairs to Bruntsfield Primary and new gyms for Cramond and East Craigs primaries – with extensions for the most overcrowded in some cases.
Other key budget proposals set to be discussed next week include:
• A new £4m residential care home for the elderly with 60 beds in north Edinburgh to ease huge demands.
• An additional £2m for pitches, pavilions, parks and sports infrastructure.
• An increased number of environmental wardens – 12 to add to the existing 50 – to issue fines for dog fouling.
• A £20,000 pilot to open city museums in the evenings.
• A £60,000 study on future uses for the under-used Meadowbank Stadium.
Council chiefs had faced a funding shortfall of £10.8m but say they have met this by saving £9m in procurement costs – such as buying in goods and services from the private sector more cheaply – and cuts to back office functions. This is instead of cutting back services and increasing charges as in previous years, they added. In 2011 huge cuts were announced with 1200 jobs axed.
Edinburgh has a £1bn revenue budget, which funds the day-to-day running of public sector services including bin collections and schools.
It also has a separate £152m capital budget for new projects such as buildings and sports facilities. The £28.5m is in addition to these existing funds.
Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader, said it was clear from the consultation that improvements to roads, pavements and potholes came top of the agenda for many residents.
Funding had steadily declined in recent years from a high of £20m in 2008, despite being among the most pressing issues for taxpayers.
He said: “We’ve had a large number of responses and taken into account what business, the voluntary sector and parents, for example, have had to say.
“Clearly, one of the most common complaints is the state of the roads and that’s why we’re proposing this £12m spend in addition to the £12.5m in the base budget.
“This will allow us to carry out what we call ‘right first time repairs’ which is instead of filling in a pothole, the area would be relaid and the work will last far longer as a result.”
As well as being a key gripe for the public, defectives roads also lead to heavy losses from court action over accidents and damaged vehicles.
Edinburgh has been hit with 1272 claims, amounting to a £3,200,000 loss to taxpayers, over the past five years, including vehicle accidents, trips on pavements and potholes and problems with council housing. Potholes alone accounted for £40,000.
Last year the Evening News revealed how the number of motorists claiming compensation after hitting a pothole on Capital roads has soared, with a new legal claim being made against the city council every day.
The figure of 379 claims in the year to the end of September 2011 was 71 per cent higher than the year before. This amounted to 221 in 2009-10, 178 in 2008-09 and 266 in 2007-08.
Although the £10.8m cut in funding is relatively small, the local authority must reduce its annual spend by an estimated £95m by the 2017-18 financial year, which has been described as “daunting” by key figures.
However, Councillor Rankin said that although the public would have to learn to live with constraints from public sector cuts, investment in key areas such as schools, sports and jobs could make a clear difference to the city. He said: “The background to this is economic austerity and a budget that is going to decline over time, and in order to accommodate that we will have to live within these constraints.
“We believe we have spent money in a way that supports the city’s infrastructure, for our schools, social care, and investing in the latest pitches for sports and parks.”
Bill Cook, the city’s deputy finance leader, said: “Although we’ve a difficult challenge financially, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we play an important role in the city economically and we still need to try to stimulate investment and growth.”
AFTER road repairs, the biggest package of new investment goes to school buildings.
The budget allocates £10.5m for repairs, maintenance and improvements, which could include extensions. A survey is under way to see where the money can be spent most effectively.
Roof repairs are required at Bruntsfield Primary, while new boilers are needed at Abbeyhill, Sciennes and Fox Covert primaries; and replacement gyms are on the agenda for East Craigs, Blackhall and Cramond primaries.
The delay in building a new Portobello High School also means more money will need to be spent maintaining the current school building.
CYCLISTS are set to benefit from a double boost in funding from this April. City leaders currently ensure that five per cent of transport funding is earmarked specifically for cycling. This will rise to six per cent in the new financial year as part of efforts to encourage more city residents to get on their bikes.
However, the £12m increase in funding for road and potholes will mean there is a much larger pot to draw from overall.
Last year £428,000 was set aside for cycling initiatives and while officials are still to quantify the new budget it is expected to be a boost of tens of thousands of pounds.
Recent investment includes the new path from the Shore to Leith Links and Portobello and the Quality Bike Corridor, which runs between George IV Bridge and Edinburgh University’s King’s Buildings.
The Scottish Government has committed itself to ensuring that ten per cent of all journeys will be completed on bike by 2020.
A SUM of £4m has been set aside to build a new care home to meet increasing demand.
The lack of affordable care places for older people is a major cause of “bed-blocking” in hospitals. And although there have been some new private care homes, the high overall level of demand means many are unable to secure a place.
Last year, a survey found that places in Edinburgh’s care homes were among the most expensive and under-pressure in Scotland.
Some 93 per cent of places for the elderly were occupied in the city – the second highest rate of the country’s 32 local authority areas.
COUNCIL chiefs plan to save £19m next year from improving the council’s procurement arrangements and cutting the budgets of departments previously earmarked for privatisation.
Bulk buying and better purchasing of goods and services is due to save £9m, with the other £10m coming from spending reductions in environmental services and other departments, including lawyers and payroll.
In future, the council also plans to save £7.5m from a review of IT provision and £5m from rationalising council property. It has already given up Westwood House in Gorgie Road, channelling the money saved into services. The lease on Chesser House expires in June 2014, which will mean a saving of £3.5m in a full year.
PLANS for a £1.2 million cut in funding for voluntary groups in the Capital have been dropped following the public consultation on the budget.
Council chiefs said the decision to reinstate the proposed reductions was a direct result of comments received.
Edinburgh has 15,000 people employed in the third sector and a further 120,000 unpaid volunteers involved in voluntary organisations.
Among those who were expected to be hit by the cuts included the Canongate Youth Project, which gets 45 per cent of its funding from the local authority, and the Simpson House Drugs Counselling Service, which is 15 per cent funded. The Greens had described the proposed cut as “a false economy that the council should reject”.
PARKS, pavilions and sports pitches will see new investment of £2m in the coming financial year.
Earlier this month, clubs which normally play at Inverleith Park were told the ground would be out of action until the summer because of flooding. Rugby and cricket teams are being moved to alternative venues. One estimate suggested repairs at Inverleith could cost around £50,000.
The council will also commit up to £60,000 to look into the options for the future of Meadowbank. The stadium has been in limbo since a 2004 plan to sell off the site for housing to help pay for a new stadium in Sighthill fell through. Four years later, a bid to replace the stadium with a scaled-back arena – funded by selling a third of the site – fell victim to a crashing property market.