Council cuts mean Edinburgh faces £80 million hit to economy '“ John McLellan

Amid chaos over city council cuts, it seems the economy doesn't matter to those in charge, writes John McLellan.

Edinburgh faces major cuts to council budgets (Picture: Ian Rutherford)

Chaos in Westminster over Brexit, chaos in Holyrood over the Salmond Affair and now chaos across the rest of Edinburgh over the City Council’s budget plans.

The amount the administration needs to save varies depending on what calculation is made and who you believe, starting with a rough figure of £50m based on £28m of predicted cuts, an extra £11m after the Scottish Government budget announcement plus £11m or so that is still to be saved from last year.

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But by yesterday afternoon after the draft proposals were finally revealed, it was either £41m or £42m depending on who you spoke to, but even administration councillors were still quoting £47m on social media.

Various suggestions have been steadily leaked over the past weeks to test the water and internal discussions to finalise the cuts programme took place throughout the week with a formal announcement planned for noon yesterday. Late on Thursday afternoon, opposition councillors were told they would get a briefing from the Chief Executive this Monday afternoon until someone realised it might not be in the spirit of open and transparent democracy for elected members to be kept waiting over a weekend.

A Press briefing was arranged for yesterday lunchtime, but that was then held back because officers still hadn’t spoken to the opposition and final details were issued to councillors ten minutes before public distribution. As Dr McCoy might have said in Star Trek, it’s communications, Jim, but not as we know it.

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Edinburgh Council '˜doomed' by budget cuts from Scottish Government

But £41m, £47m or £50m, it’s still a huge sum for Edinburgh to find and, even with the publication of 18 separate papers, it’s not clear how it will be achieved. Senior management is expected to take a £0.5m hit.

It’s clear the economy is not a priority, with economic development losing 16 per cent of its £9m budget and the £0.5m grant to the arms-length Marketing Edinburgh agency axed altogether. Responsible for attracting films, conferences and businesses as well as tourists, in 2017-18 it generated approximately £99 of economic activity for every £1 it spent, but that seems not to matter. The decision will destroy the company and as yet there’s no idea for what will take its place, so the impact of the Scottish Government’s parsimonious attitude towards local government, plus the myopic approach by its agents in the City Chambers could knock an £80m hole in the Edinburgh economy and a time when it’s needed most. Like so much else just now, it’s government, Jim, but not as we know it.

This is an attempt at state control of Press

On bad decisions, any doubt that the UK Government’s response to the Leveson Report was state regulation of the Press has been removed now we know the Press Recognition Panel – established by Royal Charter to test if a news media regulator met Lord Leveson’s demands – is now officially part of the Ministry of Justice.

The regulator used by the vast majority of publications, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, did not apply for recognition because it represented political interference. Impress, the alternative regulator bankrolled by ex-Formula One chief Max Mosley, is PRP-approved but no significant publisher has joined.

That means a Press regulation monitor which the industry was told was politically independent is in fact ultimately responsible to the Justice Minister. Just as well it’s irrelevant for most publishers.

Journalists under attack from left

The principle of political correctness, or certainly the principle of not doing or saying anything to harm or offend other people, does not extend to all, particularly those with whom the politically correct do not agree.

Take Guardian columnist Owen Jones who featured here last week after his late-night TV ding-dong with former Scotsman publisher Andrew Neil who now runs The Spectator magazine. This week the Jones campaign against publications he doesn’t like extended to blaming them for murders, like that of MP Jo Cox.

“When one of us on the left is hurt or killed, which will happen, the entire right-wing press and their so called ‘journalists’, who could have chosen to take a job which actually helps people, are all partly responsible,” he tweeted.

Why stop at the journalists? What about the advertising staff who generate income, or the printers?

However reprehensible, Jones is entitled to his views, but it’s strange that the National Union of Journalists has had little to say in defence of its members.

Greens defending Thatcher?

Impeccably politically correct Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie fittingly came to the defence of a much-maligned woman who can’t defend herself.

In attacking SNP council budget cuts, Mr Harvie invoked the memory of the late Lady Thatcher by saying that, “At least when Thatcher did rate capping she had the decency to do it on a statutory basis not by bullying”.

It’s 28 years since she was Prime Minister, so is Mr Harvie leading a reinterpretation of her mythology?

Did she close Ravenscraig? No, that was British Steel two years after she resigned and the John Major Government tried to keep it open. Did she force the Poll Tax on Scotland as an experiment? Not really; she wanted to introduce the Community Charge at the same time as England, but was persuaded otherwise by Sir George Younger because a Scottish rates revaluation was due.

So Lady Thatcher didn’t close Ravenscraig, didn’t want to use Scotland as a tax laboratory and treated councils with more decency than the SNP.

Probably not what Mr Harvie had in mind.

Manapes a politically incorrect mouthful
Such are the number of drinks receptions and parties in the Christmas run-up that clashes are inevitable and attendances unpredictable. So cocking a snook at Dry January, more firms are opting for New Year bashes. Proving the point, a reception hosted by Edinburgh law firm Davidson Chalmers on Thursday night welcomed over 200 people.

Marvelling at the generously proportioned canapes, one attendee also eschewed political correctness by commenting: “These must be the manapes.”