Jenny Dawe: Firm financial foundations laid down for the future

The council’s budget plans show the city is in rude economic health, says leader Jenny Dawe, with much to look forward to

‘I know how it feels to be the talk of the town,” sang Madonna. Perhaps inimitable Evening News cartoonist Frank Boyle should have used that line in his “MaDAWEna and the Coalition” lampoon in yesterday’s edition. The coalition administration in Edinburgh has been able to deliver excellent news in its budget, published today, at a time when it is rare to get good headlines on public sector finances.

How have we managed to do that? Firstly, we have exercised strict control of our £1.3 billion budget, so that every department has come in on or under budget for the last two years and is on track to do so for a third year. At the same time, by prudent management, we have increased our unallocated reserves from a measly £373,000 when we came into power in 2007 to a substantial £13 million this year – a remarkable achievement in a global recession with rising demand for services.

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Secondly, the Scottish Government’s 2012-13 grant allocation for Edinburgh has been significantly increased, now better reflecting our population level.

This has left us in a position where we can invest an additional £26m in the priority services that the public have told us matter most to them. By targeting extra funding on areas such as early intervention and building repairs we are spending now to save money in the future.

Most schoolchildren in the city will benefit from significant improvements to the fabric of their school. Fresh decoration and new floor coverings will provide a much better environment for learning. £32.3m of other works over the next four years will deal with large-scale repairs and maintenance such as the replacement of boilers and windows. Further investment in the “Edinburgh Guarantee” will offer positive destinations, including apprenticeships, for school-leavers in the city. Already our concentration on this issue has seen the highest rise in positive school-leaver destinations in Edinburgh since 1997.

Giving dignity and independence to vulnerable adults in care homes and their own homes continues to be a priority, with additional investment in care packages and specialist equipment.

Increased funding for Edinburgh Leisure and sports facilities will tackle key health inequalities, improving physical and mental health. Vulnerable children and adults, looked-after children and their carers, and older adults will benefit from extended and new projects, such as the “Jump In” nursery and disability swim programme and the “Active Lives” activity programme targeting those over 65 in areas of deprivation. Additional monies to supported bus services, taxicards, traffic management, permanent road repairs, respite care, libraries and public conveniences all address services that residents have told us are of importance to them.

In setting the final budget of this administration, I have reflected on how far we have come in improving the financial position of the council while delivering on our priorities. Against a backdrop of some of the most challenging financial times, a vast number of projects have been delivered or are being progressed – four new care homes, with a fifth on the way, new and refurbished libraries, two as part of multi-purpose community hubs (Drumbrae and Craigmillar), Saughton Skate Park, the refurbished Usher Hall and Assembly Rooms, the Royal Commonwealth Pool reopening soon, and three new or refurbished high schools at Portobello, James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir in the pipeline.

Children are doing better at school. We have delivered the best results in Scotland for our housing services and built the first council houses for a generation.

Recycling rates and street cleaning standards are improving. Our parks are recognised as among the best in the UK. We have moved from being nearly the worst authority for road conditions to 11th out of 32. We have improved the quality of life for many through our life-changing reablement care scheme, which allows people to live independently in their own homes following hospitalisation, illness or incapacity.

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The heart of a local authority should be in providing the vital front line services that improve the lives of our residents. We have done this whilst also achieving substantial savings and improving Edinburgh’s economic competitiveness in the world.

Being in administration in the city for the last five years has been a huge honour and a tremendous responsibility for the Lib Dem/SNP coalition. Despite unprecedented challenges outwith our control, I have no doubt that we leave a much-improved city and a stable and sustainable budget for the next administration in May.

• Councillor Jenny Dawe is the leader of Edinburgh City Council