THOUSANDS of householders across the Capital are set to be billed £25 a year for garden waste collections as part of a plan by the city council to find savings of £21 million in next year’s budget.
Other proposals include a five per cent rise in the cost of parking permits, a cut of £420,000 in the budget of Edinburgh Leisure and more fines for motorists driving in bus lanes, to bring in a further £200,000.
Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said the council tax would also need to go up by three per cent and there could be more than 100 job losses.
The council will not know how much funding it is to get from the Scottish Government until mid-December, but officials are working on the assumption of a three per cent cut.
And a report to councillors warns bigger cuts will be needed in future years, with the savings for 2018-19 best viewed as “a first step on a longer journey” which is likely to add up to a budget reduction of £151m over the next five years.
The proposed £25 annual charge for garden waste collections would bring in an extra £1.3m in revenue. Cllr Rankin said: “Collecting waste is a statutory collection for the council, but garden waste isn’t.”
But he said the service would be increased to every two weeks instead of the current three weeks.
“Some people may choose to do other things, like take their garden waste to a recycling point or compost more, so we if we start to charge we may not get the same number of people using the service.”
And he acknowledged plans to charge for a service currently offered free would cause “a great deal of interest”.
He said: “We will see what people’s reaction to that is.
“Sometimes we’ve put forward proposals and people have reacted very strongly to them and we’ve said we will change that.”
The increase in the price of parking permits, estimated to raise an extra £100,000, would mean a rise of around £24 on the most expensive 12-month permit in the city-centre zones 1-4, which currently costs £475.
Pay and display charges are also expected to rise.
Cllr Rankin said: “It’s no bad thing to discourage people from bringing their vehicles into the city centre – use public transport, get fit, walk.”
The council also plans to net £200,000 from increased enforcement of bus lane restrictions and other transport policies.
Edinburgh Leisure would not only see its budget cut by £420,000, but the council’s arms-length company would also be charged £375,000 for ground maintenance carried out by the council.
Two years ago, Edinburgh Leisure chiefs warned that swimming pools and sports venues were at risk because of budget cuts, but the council insisted there would be no closures.
On the impact the latest proposed reductions might have, the council said its “aspiration” was that the cut would have no impact on Edinburgh Leisure’s ability to keep swimming pools and sports centres open.
A reduction in library opening hours is also back on the agenda after being dropped last year thanks to a late £10m windfall from a Holyrood budget deal between the SNP and the Greens.
Unless that funding is continued, the planned library cutbacks are expected to go ahead.
The proposals, which the council said it had never confirmed, were understood to mean all Edinburgh’s public libraries being closed on Monday and Wednesday mornings and on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and only open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.
Cllr Rankin said the budget proposals could involve “upwards of 100” job losses, but stressed the council was sticking to its no compulsory redundancies policy and many of the reductions would be through not filling vacancies.
Unison’s John Stevenson said the overall cuts package was a “disaster for local government” and called on the Scottish Government to halt the “decimation” of local services.
He said: “This really cannot go on. If we’re now going to see another £150m of cuts over the next five years on top of all that has gone before it’s getting pretty hard to see where that’s going to come from.”
Tory finance spokesman
“If you say, on the back of a council tax last year and another one now, that you’re going to charge people separately for garden waste, you’re going to have a lot of unhappy residents.”
And he warned the proposed cut to Edinburgh Leisure could be dangerous. “Any cut to its budget jeopardises the service it currently provides.”
Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said the council was being forced to consider some unwelcome cuts, but said he expected some proposals to change. “For example, if garden waste charging just ends up with more garden waste in landfill bins and so puts up the landfill tax burden, it is not really a saving at all.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang said that when his party had been in administration it had always resisted moves to make people pay for garden waste.
“We recognised it was a well-used and highly valued service.”
Cllr Rankin said: “We have done our best to avoid any major reductions in frontline service, particularly education and health and social care.”
A seven-week consultation on the budget plans begins on Monday.
KEY BUDGET PROPOSALS
n Raise council tax by three per cent, the most allowed by the Scottish Government.
n Introduce charge of £25 a year for fortnightly garden waste collection – producing £1.3 million.
n Increase parking permit prices by five per cent – bringing in £100,000.
n Cut Edinburgh Leisure’s budget by £420,000 and charge it £375,000 for grounds maintenance.
n Step up transport policy enforcement, such as bus lane cameras – bringing in £200,000.
n Reduce library opening hours, as originally planned last year – saving £1.7m.
n Automation of payments by the public for council tax, parking permits and other transactions – saving £300,000.
n Improve collection of council tax – bringing in an extra £1.335m.
n Review chief executive’s department staffing structures – saving £1m.
n Efficiencies in early years services – savings of £885,000.
n Review disability day services – saving £650,000.