Analysis: Edinburgh Council Budget Plans for 2018/19

Music tuition and public toilets may face the axe.

Image: Ross Cowper-Fraser

Bruntsfield Primary may have its music tuition funding halved

The City of Edinburgh Council has been tasked with the difficult job of trying to save £28 million in the 2018/19 budget.

Over the past week a series of articles have been released by Edinburgh publications detailing potential plans for how the council will handle the budget.

Documents shown to Ian Swanson at the Edinburgh Evening News have revealed controversial proposals such as cutting funding in schools, music tuition and public libraries.

Edinburgh Council have dismissed the Evening News’ findings, saying that there is a good chance nothing will come from them.

Even still, as Ian Swanson discussed today, does the public not have the right to know ‘where the axe may fall?’

Finance Convener Alasdair Rankin believes that the public shouldn’t be concerned with cuts that may not happen, but perhaps transparency is the best policy when discussing the lives of Edinburgh’s citizens.

The council are currently running a scheme to canvas opinion on how to handle the budget, so if they are involving the public to some degree, perhaps the public should know more about what is being considered.

Schools

Last year, in another leak to the Evening News, it was revealed that there were proposals to close the world renowned Edinburgh School of Music. When this leak was revealed, a campaign was launched to save the music school, which was supported by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The threat was lifted, and the council have made clear that the school will not be affected by the proposal to halve the budget for music education in Edinburgh.

The options the council could consider for the proposed cut is to either halve the number of full-time music teachers, potentially reducing the amount of pupils learning instruments from around 5084 to 2542, or charging pupils for lessons, with the exemption of those studying for SQA exams and those who receive free school meals.

In an opinion piece in the Edinburgh Evening News, Ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has heavily criticised the proposal to cut music education, saying that “cuts to schools must be a red line.”

Scottish schools, and Edinburgh schools in particular, have been facing difficulties in acquiring staff, as well as attainment in national exams now being lower than it was with standard grades.

With the proposed closure of music school last year, and the proposed cuts this year, it appears that music tuition is on the bottom of the list of education services in Edinburgh.

Public Toilets

Public toilets are also under threat of closures, with the council hoping to save £250,000.

Councillor Rankin has stated that at this stage, the proposal has only been drawn up by council officials and has not been approved by the SNP-Labour administration.

The council will be hoping to balance the closures through their Community Toilet Scheme, in which the council pays business owners £500 a year to allow customers to use their toilets without having to make a purchase. The scheme was launched in 2014 but currently only nine businesses are signed up.

After speaking to a few businesses in Bruntsfield, it became apparent that not enough know about the Community Toilet Scheme, although they all thought it was a good idea.

Image: Ross Cowper-Fraser

Montpeliers in Bruntsfield is one of the establishments which may take advantage of the Community Toilet Scheme

 

This proposal has been met with criticism, due to public toilets being an essential part of any city, especially for those with conditions meaning they need to go to the toilet more frequently, as well as young children.

As of now, there is no way of knowing how effective a replacement the Toilet Scheme could be for public toilets, it all depends on how strong an incentive the £500 a year is for business owners.

Councillor Rankin has said to the Edinburgh Evening News that closing the toilets may not be the final solution, and they might end up with an amended version of what the officers are suggesting.

Adam, Bar Supervisor of Montpeliers in Bruntsfield: “I haven’t heard of [The Community Toilet Scheme] before, but it sounds a good idea, and I’d definitely go for it. We have a lot of people coming in and using the toilet anyway, we even have homeless people coming in and cleaning themselves in the sink. I don’t know if [getting rid of public toilets] would bring in more people, though.”

Marco, Owner of Tempo Perso in Bruntsfield: “We have over ten people a day coming in asking to use the toilet. I haven’t heard of it before but if I turn away people I don’t want, I would sign up.”

Tourist Tax

The tax, which has been voted through by Edinburgh council and is facing consultation today, hopes to generate £11 million a year.

It is unknown if the tourist tax will help towards the budget for 2018/19.

It has been described by Councillor Ian White, the leader of the Tory group as “a dog’s breakfast of a policy [that] should be ditched at this point.”

Council leader Adam McVey told the Scotsman that the charge would “help to fund the things we pay for to make Edinburgh such a vibrant city”.

He said: “It would be an understatement to say this has been a long time coming. This goes to the heart of the kind of city we want to be.”

If perhaps some of an approved tourist tax would go towards helping the council’s budget, it wouldn’t have to consider cutting services such as music tuition and public toilets.

The writer’s comment;

The City of Edinburgh Council are clearly in a difficult position. One on side, they need to save a great deal of money, and no matter what they cut, there will be a backlash. On the other, they should be careful in their consideration of making more cuts to schools, as this goes against Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘defining mission’ to raise attainment in Scottish classrooms. The Edinburgh Evening News have put even more pressure on the council by releasing these potential plans, which have already received backlash from the public. Nothing is official about the plans, but as Ian Swanson said, the public do have the right to know what may happen to their city.

By Liam Mackay

 

 

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