Schools and care to benefit in £26m council spree

Crumbling schools across the city are to benefit from a £4 million programme of repairs to tackle a growing backlog as part of a massive one-off council spending spree unveiled today.

The Evening News can reveal a list of 24 different plans across all areas of the city that will benefit from a share of the surprise £26m cash windfall contained within this year’s budget, due to be finalised tomorrow.

Schools will be among the main beneficiaries, with every primary and secondary in the city, apart from public private partnership schools, set to benefit from urgent upgrades as £4.1m is ploughed into decaying buildings, while headteachers will also share an extra £250,000 in their devolved school budgets, to be spent on everything from sports equipment to stationery.

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Other new spending plans include extra funding to support vulnerable people who stay in their own home instead of going into care, upgrades to care homes, improvements to sports pitches and pavilions across the city and £3m of extra road repairs.

The populist package of measures is likely to be viewed by some as an election ploy by the Liberal Democrat/SNP administration ahead of the city going to the polls in May, with council officials having already warned that the next administration will have to impose tens of millions of pounds of cuts in the early years of coming into power. Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, said that the school repairs were a “spend to save” proposal that would help the next council administration.

He said: “If we do up schools now this should not be required in the future.”

The investment in schools comes after a series of controversial cuts to school budgets and management costs in recent years.

The extra cash will clear just over half of the £7m backlog of maintenance work in schools that has built up through years of underinvestment. Full details of how the money is to be spent are still to be finalised but funding already agreed ranges from £210,000 for Liberton High School, a large older secondary which has a considerable backlog, to £3500 for Niddrie Mill and St Francis Primary, as the building is only a few years old.

Healthcare improvements range from £500,000 of upgrades to care homes, £400,000 towards new carers and a £350,000 fund to buy in extra equipment, to giving every council care home £1500 each to use towards social events for their residents – after SNP councillor Mike Bridgman discovered some staff in care homes were contributing some of their wages towards such events.

Pitches, playgrounds, pavilions and allotments will share £725,000 to improve and expand facilities.

SNP leader Steve Cardownie, the deputy council leader, said: “In this day and age, some facilities are just not acceptable and we need a proper programme, good maintenance of pitches, good drainage and also proper dressing rooms.”

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Edinburgh Leisure, which has been the subject of annual cuts that have forced it to close some facilities, will also be handed an extra £890,000.

The extra spending is mainly funded by the £20m surplus the council had in its budget, which came about as a result of the Scottish Government honouring a manifesto pledge to ensure that no council’s funding should fall below 85 per cent of the Scottish average per head of population, effectively handing the city an extra £22m for 2012-13. An extra £5.9m has been raised by raiding a series of “assigned reserves” that were no longer needed.

Council leader Jenny Dawe, below, said: “We are in a slightly different position to previous years. This administration has shown prudent financial management of resources and is likely to come in, yet again, on or under budget.

“Because we have benefited from the Scottish Government decision that has made this budget considerably easier. Had we not got that money, we would have been in a very difficult position.

“We are still making efficiency savings in this budget and it is still important that we work as efficiently as we can so that we have still made savings in the way we structure ourselves, but we are in the very unusual position to build on the fact that we built up reserves to more than £13m, from only £373,000 when we took office.

“We are in the position where we can invest more money in many of the services that we as an administration give priority to and that, over our budget consultation process, residents have told us is a priority for them.”

Some cuts that were on the way – including a two per cent reduction in grants to festivals and cultural venues, the closure of up to half of public toilets and some reductions in library opening hours – have been reversed.

A series of other cuts totalling £5.2m will be imposed, including axing the A-to-Z of council services that is sent to every household and raising the price of a range of council services.

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£18.1m of cuts were already approved last February but will not come into effect until the next 12 months, including another £1.4m reduction in secondary school management costs and the introduction of fortnightly bin collections.

The £26m of new spending also includes £11m towards improving the “in-house” services that councillors agreed to protect last month, instead of outsourcing to private firms.

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