At a time of intense pressure on public funds, the council needs to carefully consider any spending decisions. Indeed, this is true at any time: as councillors we have a duty to ensure prudent use of taxpayers’ cash.
We need to ask what impact our spending decisions are having, and what the opportunity cost is – in other words, what else we could have spend the money on.
At this morning’s meeting of the Culture and Sport Committee we were asked to sign off some last-minute changes to the council’s funding for events. Most of them had significant cultural impact and would not have proceeded without a contribution from the council. I wholeheartedly supported investment in Writing in the City, for example, which supported a new public art project.
One of the proposals before us was more problematic, however. It sought agreement to write off road closure costs for Gumball 3000 which is an elite car rally, and will be coming to Edinburgh in two weeks’ time. That’s right, the event will be coming to Edinburgh whether we give them public funds or not.
The event probably isn’t my cup of tea, although I was interested to hear that some of the cars will be electric, but that’s not the point. If the event is coming to Edinburgh anyway, why are we putting public money towards it?
Would that £10,000 not be better spent encouraging grassroots sport? Or supporting hard-pressed community or cultural events which would not otherwise go ahead? At a time when Edinburgh’s hard-pressed major football teams are both being asked to stump up for the public safety costs borne by the council around their matches, and even community groups are asked to pay the costs of road closures at community events, why is it right that an elite car rally, with celebrity participants and major corporate sponsors, should be the beneficiary of council largesse?
I proposed an amendment to support the other cultural and sporting events suggested today, but not to grant £10,000 to an event that will happen anyway. My amendment was defeated by 9 votes to 2. It seems to me the council administration has misplaced priorities.