Here today then cone tomorrow...

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STOLEN traffic cones are costing taxpayers in the Capital thousands of pounds each year, new figures revealed today.

Council bosses today admitted around 12,000 was used to replace cones lifted from Edinburgh’s streets in the past two years.

At a cost of 3 each, it is estimated more than 2000 are stolen every year - roughly six each day.

Surprisingly, officials today refused to accept the scale of the missing cones was a problem - although they did ask for stolen cones to be returned.

Students have been blamed for stealing the cones on drunken nights out and using them as ornaments or placing them on top of statues.

But Edinburgh University student representatives reacted angrily to suggestions they are the main culprits.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: "What we spend in each financial year on replacement is minimal when you consider we’re spending 40 million on roads over the next two years.

"I don’t think the amounts are anything out of the ordinary, especially when you consider the numbers of cones and barriers put out due to roadworks across the city.

"Given the amount of cones we have, it’s not in the taxpayers’ best interest for us to spend time counting traffic cones. We have a rough idea at any one time how many we have and how many we need over and above the existing stock.

"If it was a huge issue it would’ve been flagged up a long time before this. We estimate that 2000 must be replaced each year. That’s not bad considering we have a population of 500,000. I would say that if anyone knows where these cones are, we would appreciate their return."

When prompted to reveal who he believed was behind the thefts, the spokesman said: "You and I know who we think is responsible, but I’m not going to say."

Stunned councillors are now demanding more be done to prevent traffic cone thefts draining city budgets further.

Liberal Democrat councillor Fred Mackintosh today said: "Traffic cones are being put out by the council and they aren’t there when they return.

"They need to change the system and lift cones when work is finished - not leave them piled up for weeks.

"I understand they will wear out over time but too many are getting lost and they’ve begun to clutter the streets.

"I have taken calls from concerned constituents who are asking what’s being done to remove them."

He added: "This is a good example of the council not focusing on the little things or getting the basics right. Too much time is spent on grand projects.

"We have a vast budget of 750m and if we can’t be seen to efficiently manage the small things, it will appear the larger projects are beyond us.

"This money is a huge amount to most people and to say it’s minimal is simply ridiculous."

Since April 2002, almost 95,000 has been spent in the Capital replacing cones, roadwork signs and barriers.

A staggering 54,564 was spent in 2002-03 alone with almost 19,000 going on replacing traffic cones.

And last year, 38,768 was spent on replacing "street furniture" with 14,000 going to cones. Not all replaced cones are because of theft.

Will Garton, 23, president of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association, said it was "too simplistic" to blame the student population.

He said: "I think it’s unfortunate that council resources have to be used for this.

"But I also think it’s too simplistic and very easy to say that students are responsible."

He added: "I believe different types of people will be involved in this and to blame one particular group is misleading.

"And in comparison to the huge financial investment 40,000 students bring to the city, it’s a relatively small amount."