It’s budget time again at Edinburgh Council.
Last year, Greens were able to secure vital spending on staffing to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. And the past year has shown just how important that commitment was with progress made towards local heat networks, retrofitting council housing, and supporting community action to live more sustainably.
In order to secure this funding, though, Greens were forced to turn Edinburgh’s budget process on its head – voting tactically to knock out the administration budget in the first round of voting due to it containing precisely £0 spending on climate and nature. We ensured that the only budgets remaining on the table were those with the bare minimum commitments to resourcing a climate team in the Council.
We’re hoping we won’t need to resort to such shenanigans again this year. After all, the majority of parties in the council claim to recognise the importance of taking action to prevent and adapt to the changing climate. So surely we will see this represented in their budget plans? And, to be fair, so far conversations with (some) other parties have given us cause for optimism.
Yet at the same time proposals are coming forward this week to cut the funding for schools’ sustainability work in Edinburgh, claiming that teachers can simply replace half a day of specialist staff support by taking on this work themselves. Of course, Greens will be rejecting this proposal.
And there are, of course, wider issues at play when it comes to Edinburgh’s budget this year. The ill-considered council tax freeze prevents us from accessing one of the only funding streams available to local councils, and – while it is being funded at a rate of 5% by the Scottish Government – pre-empts any decisions we might want to take about what rate is right for Edinburgh. But combined with a well-timed pension holiday means that the budget for the council as a whole this year doesn’t look as bleak as it might otherwise be. We’re not facing huge decisions over swingeing cuts, but we also all know this is a temporary reprieve unless funding from the Scottish Government (and, by extension, Westminster) for local government is significantly increased.
There are huge demands on our budgets – from deficits facing health and social care, to Edinburgh Leisure’s requests for increased funding, to the day-to-day work of the council to keep the city functioning. The city has recently declared a housing emergency, so we should expect to see massive increases in spending on house-building, maintenance and retrofitting. And, of course, supporting people in Edinburgh who continue to struggle with the cost-of-living crisis as unregulated energy companies squeeze profit out of freezing temperatures, global corporations agree the price of a loaf of bread, and employers fail to acknowledge the value of their workers.
These are challenges that all parties will be grappling with as we write our budgets. This year, as last year, Greens will be making our budget decisions on the basis of our core principles – to prioritise preventative spend, to protect workers and residents from cuts, to be transparent in our decision-making, and to prioritise policy wins over political point-scoring. We want to be held to these values, and we hope they’ll be evident throughout the proposals we bring forward.
Alys Mumford is a Co-Convener of the Edinburgh Green Councillor Group and their Economy spokesperson