A Labour backbench councillor has cautioned that a strategy to shrink the size of the authority’s estate could have devastating consequences on public services.
A report to the council’s finance and resources committee highlights that the authority hopes to save £7.532m in the next financial year in its property and facilities management strategy – and a failure to meet expected cuts this year has been covered by one-off payments.
The council has drawn up plans to save at least £33m from the 2019/20 budget – while the total amount of cuts over the next four years could hit the £150m mark. One proposal put out to public consultation plans to cut a further £2.2m in the council’s asset management strategy by 2022.
The city council currently has 760 buildings across the Capital – but the authority is set to shift focus to a “co-location of services into multiple use hubs”.
This model could see new schools, for example, also provide other services such as libraries.
Buildings including the City Art Centre and the Writer’s Museum could potentially close and be consolidated under one roof as part of the council’s culture services review.
The council is also examining whether its existing 19 depots could be condensed into six sites in a bid to save £500,000 – including Barnton, Inverleith and Powderhall.
Some “non core” buildings including pubs that the council owns, such as The Conan Doyle at York Place and The Newsroom on Leith Street, could also be sold off.
The council’s head of property and facilities management, Peter Watton, has warned councillors that difficult choices will have to be made in the years ahead.
Speaking at the council’s finance and resources committee, Mr Watton said: “This current estate is too large for the budgets that underpin it. If we don’t do anything about that, those red savings will get larger and larger.
“All the low-hanging and medium-hanging fruit have gone. When we have an estate the size that we have got, something has to give. There’s going to be no easy choices moving forward.”
Labour Cllr Mandy Watt spoke out in support of trying to keep council buildings open.
She said: “I feel somebody needs to speak up for the fact that it’s not a waste of money.
“Where are we going to provide these services – tents on The Meadows? We are talking about really essential places where services are delivered from. We should be trying to support it as far as we can.”
As part of the asset management strategy, Lothian Chambers was disposed of on long lease to the French Consulate and the former courthouse building at Parliament Square is being transformed into a hotel.
Cllr Alasdair Rankin, finance and resources convener, said: “It’s important that we make the best possible use of all of our buildings. Our current strategy aims to reduce the number of buildings we have to allow us to invest in the wider retained estate. No decisions have been taken on individual buildings at this stage and we would consult with local communities before any changes are made.
“We’re also talking to the Scottish Government about funding for new schools and they have indicated that they would welcome bids for schools which would have a wider community use.”