£85 million blow but council tax freeze and a free iPad for every secondary pupil proposed in budget for Edinburgh

Council tax is set to freeze and every secondary school pupil in Edinburgh is set to receive an iPad for home learning as part of an ambitious budget put forward by city council chiefs.

Mother using a digital tablet while helping son with his homework at home
Mother using a digital tablet while helping son with his homework at home

The coronavirus pandemic, and a reduction in income, is set to cost the council £85m - but despite this, the council is set to post a balanced budget, with the help of additional Scottish government funding and use of the council’s reserves.

Politicians were previously considering raising council tax to 4.79 per cent - but have now accepted a £9m Holyrood grant in order to keep the tax at current levels.

However, the grant has left the council £5.2m worse off, as the 4.79 per cent rise would have netted the local authority £14.2m.

Part of the council’s budget for 2021/22 will include:

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Allocating £150,000 to freeze fees and charges on school meals, care at home provision and library charges, targeted at helping low income families;

Spending £400,000 on homelessness support and advice;

Spending £500,000 on hitting the city’s environmental targets;

And £250,000 to target short term lets through a licensing scheme and enforcement action.

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Edinburgh City Council has also announced plans to provide every secondary school pupil in the capital with an internet-enabled iPad, as part of a £8m boost for the council’s digital learning scheme.

The council has already bought around 6,000 iPads for pupils, but will spend £2m a year over the next four years buying devices for 39,000 school pupils. The iPads will come with internet access built-in, so families without internet access will benefit.

SNP convener of the finance committee, Rob Munn said: “The backdrop of this budget is covid - no one had any concept of what the scale and impact of this would be, and we’ve been dealing with that ever since.

“The coalition has tried to look to our principles that brought us together in coalition, which is how to address poverty, sustainability and the wellbeing of the city.

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“We’re putting in £150,000 to freeze fees and charges, that’s targeted at poverty, at encapsulating people who may be in poverty.

“Other fees will go up, but those we wanted to make sure we were helping household incomes where we could.

“There’s money going into homelessness, to help with people at risk of homelessness, and those who are homeless, to get them into tenancies as quickly as possible.

“There’s huge pressure on the service in Edinburgh, and we’ve learned a lot about the service and how we can improve it.

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“There’s also more than £1m to manage crisis needs, like food security in the city and crisis services. These are preventative measures to stop people ending up in poverty.”

Labour vice convener of the finance committee, Joan Griffiths said: “We have had decades of underfunding and this year with the pandemic we got some of our costs back - but we still had a £40m gap.

“Despite that, we have managed to have a balanced budget this year. We welcome any money that comes in for the council - so when we got some additional money we were able to start looking at our priorities, which are poverty, sustainability and well-being, and what we could do to assist our citizens.

“People are really struggling - there’s people who have been furloughed, there’s people who have lost their jobs - so we really want to assist our citizens.

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“One of things we’re doing is the £2m for digital learning - our youngsters really struggled over the last month, trying to do home learning, not everyone had iPads, not everyone had an individual device, so as a council we see that as quite a priority.”

Further measures announced in the budget include:

£300,000 to support the council’s sustainability plan;

£750,000 for green spaces, including additional investment in parks, playparks, and urban forests;

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£110,000 to expand the council’s looked after children support team;

£500,000 investment in the council’s ‘Smart City’ initiatives;

And £52,000 to extend the role of the Gaelic Development Officer for one year beyond the end of Scottish government funding.

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