Thursday was budget day in Edinburgh, where the council decides its spending priorities for the year ahead.
This budget was a first for the Greens in Edinburgh Council as we produced and presented it jointly with the SNP. This was not a foregone conclusion, despite our proposal to enter coalition with them at the start of term, but negotiations went well and we came to a proposal both parties were very happy with – not an easy task considering the pressures on all areas of government at the moment.
Budget motions are a difficult read and the most important section – the budget lines themselves – are just a few words of explanation next to a number. That can leave people scratching their heads over what exactly a budget means.
This article is to draw out and explain some of the key points in our joint budget and some of those that might be particularly confusing when just a line on a huge paper. This is not a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will be a helpful guide to some of the less obvious budget lines we included.
Climate team / climate training
This was the most important line for us in many ways, but what does it actually mean? Essentially any project needs officers to run and administer it and countering climate chaos as well as aiming for net zero is the biggest project the city has ever had. Therefore a dedicated climate team is needed, and Edinburgh’s staff capacity had dropped from 11 to 3 over the last year.
The exclusion of this commitment from the administration budget (despite assurances to the contrary) is why we voted in such a way to make sure their budget fell. By some of our group voting for the Tory and Lib Dem budgets in the first round of voting, the Labour budget was knocked out. We then voted for our own budget in the next two rounds of voting, hoping labour would support our proposals but knowing that even if they supported the Liberal Democrats, that this vital climate funding would be secured.
It’s a small but absolutely necessary step forward towards climate justice.
Street tree projects and rain-gardens within Road Assets
£500k for one year
One of the more complicated lines in the budget, this refers to a year-long drive to initiate nature-based solutions to extreme weather. This is important because it recognises the nature emergency our city faces, helps residents to cope with flooding, and provides a way to future-proof our infrastructure at the same time.
Voter registration and ID requirement drive
£50k for one year
A relatively small amount for the Council but could easily be misread as support for voter ID (!). What it in fact refers to is a project to ensure those who need photo ID to vote are both aware they need it and able to get it. Essentially, it’s a mitigation against Tory voter disenfranchisement.
Supporting staff out of redeployment pool
£500k saving (in year two)
Another budget line that might be misconstrued, or simply mean nothing to those outside the council. In order to protect jobs, Edinburgh has a system where if a council employee’s job becomes obsolete they are put into the ‘redeployment pool’ which continues to pay them until another suitable job can be found. However, many people remain trapped there for a long time. This is not a good situation for them, their wellbeing and job security, or for the council’s finances. Therefore by investing resources to help them find a new position that is right for them, the council once again benefits from their expertise and they have a more secure future.
The Liberal Democrat budget, however, pledged to “Save £600k from the redeployment pool by withdrawing the commitment to no compulsory redundancies”. For the avoidance of doubt, Green commitment to no compulsory redundancies remains in place and we’ll be fighting to make sure Council policy doesn’t change.
The other confusing thing about this line is that it is spending for year two. We only pass budgets one year at a time, but indicating that you expect to get money from certain places (including, for example, the upcoming tourist levy), helps with forecasting and borrowing.
Increased funding for local grants (participatory budgeting)
Subsidiarity is one of the key Green principles; it means that we believe power should be devolved to its broadest possible level and participatory budgeting is a part of that. Instead of the council deciding where money is spent, this is money given to communities and the community itself decides how to spend it. This represents a doubling of last year’s budget, and were we in administration we would certainly be pushing to make this a larger budget line every year.
This is far from a comprehensive list, and I haven’t mentioned the increased funding for violence against women organisations, the investment in public toilets and park lights, or any of the other spending we proposed in our joint budget, but hopefully I’ve explained some of the key ideas within it that might not be immediately obvious.
While we’re disappointed our budget didn’t pass, Green councillors in Edinburgh are committed to pursuing the ideas contained within it throughout the coming year, seeking creative solutions to the issues facing the city, and working always for climate and social justice.