Since being elected to the Council almost 4 years ago, I have fought to improve the living conditions for our Council housing tenants. By any other standard the City of Edinburgh Council would be considered a slum landlord. We would not accept these standards from housing associations or private landlords we should not accept them for Council house tenants.
While much of the Council’s budget debate was entirely predictable, the day got off to a surprising and very positive start. Following a commendable use of standing orders from our own group whip, Councillor Jim Campbell, a decision was taken to consider the housing revenue account separately.
Following constructive discussions with the Greens and Liberal Democrats, who like us were also proposing a rent freeze, opposition parties united to put forward a composite motion. In doing so those parties also united behind our housing programme which re-focuses the attentions of the housing account on our duty of care as a landlord.
By a vote of 34 to 27 the plans of the SNP and Labour to increase council housing rents by 2% were defeated and our housing proposals were adopted in their entirety. Despite being in opposition in the Council chamber the Edinburgh Conservatives are delivering for the citizens of Edinburgh.
When I rose in the Council Chamber to deliver the last Conservative budget motion one year ago the threat of the Coronavirus was only just entering the public consciousness. Few could have imagined the impending disruption to every aspect of our daily lives or the tragic loss of life on a scale not seen in living memory.
This year’s budget meeting took place virtually, with Councillor’s participating from their own homes rather than gathering in the Council Chamber, a change which detracted from the spectacle of what is traditionally one of the livelier meetings in the Council calendar. A change however which is replicated in workplaces across the city and beyond and is just one of the many adaptions which have rendered our city a very different place from what it was 12 months ago.
Edinburgh residents and businesses have shown incredible resilience during the pandemic and lockdowns, and so too have the hundreds of Council workers on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
So city councillors owed it to our city to deliver a budget which would build back better and ensure a sustainable recovery which supported individuals, communities and our businesses.
But we were not starting from a good place because before the pandemic the city’s dogmatic SNP-led administration repeatedly failed to deliver basic services as efficiently and effectively as they should have done.
Our roads and pavements were already crumbling, but the cold snap had left them in an even worse condition which, together with the inadequate response to the freeze, leaving residents wondering if they will ever get value for money for their council tax.
The neglect of our road network by successive administrations extends to the city’s council housing stock, with too many tenants facing interminable delays for basic repairs while enduring squalid conditions which pre-date the current emergency.
That is why the Conservative budget I presented froze council tax across all bands for 2021/22, but with prudent decisions was still able to increase and re-prioritise spending on council housing to improving the quality of life for our council tenants.
In total the Edinburgh Conservatives budget delivered a reduction of £17 million in taxes, rent and charges, against the planned increases put before the Council, putting money back where it should be, in the pockets of our citizens, as they look to recover from the pandemic.
Despite having little room for manoeuvre, our creative and innovative budget brought forward the following proposals:
- Schools: Education is central to Edinburgh’s recovery and the Conservative budget boosted digital learning by £11m while also continuing to resist damaging cuts to nursery school teachers and music education.
- Housing: Invested an additional £1.86m to accelerate improvements across 180 council housing blocks and established a dedicated team to bring forward £4m worth of repairs. Froze council housing rents in recognition of the current unacceptable standard of much of the housing stock.
- Health & social care: Established an innovation fund to support lasting improvements in services and finally address the failure of the administration and the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board to deliver significant change.
- Poverty: Dedicated £2.5m for a new programme to reduce poverty, support access to work and training, and maximise take-up of benefits.
- Homelessness: Invested £1m to tackle homelessness, including looking at high-quality, energy-efficient and quick-build housing.
- Commerce: Launched a £1m business recovery fund and dedicated £850,000 to boost Edinburgh’s outdoor economy. COVID-19 restrictions have made many small businesses vulnerable, yet the SNP-Labour administration added to their burden with their aggressive, ideological abuse of the Spaces for People programme which has cut off traders from their customers, particularly for elderly and disabled customers.
The city’s SNP-led administration has delivered almost four years of broken promises, missed targets and vanity projects, dressed up with expensive but meaningless vision papers.
The COVID-19 pandemic offered the SNP an opportunity to adopt a fresh approach, once again the Conservative group showed there is a better way to run this city and to deliver the value for money you deserve, once again the SNP passed on that opportunity.