What happened, what it means for workers and how we will fight
On Thursday 23 February, Council met to agree the budget for 2023/24. With toxic tribalism the order of the day, councillors voted along party lines and it came down to three rounds of voting to agree a budget, with the Lib Dem budget being agreed. For the Housing Revenue Account, the administration budget motion was carried.
Read on for details of the day, what the budget means to you and how we are fighting back against it.
Read the key documents:
- Revenue budget framework (PDF)
- Lib Dem budget motion (PDF)
- Administration Housing Revenue Account budget (PDF)
Through every season the crowd of ragged-trousered philanthropists continued to toil and sweat at their noble and unselfish task of making Edinburgh run…
The day started with a strong demonstration outside the City Chambers, with far greater numbers than in recent years, where Unite, Unison, EIS, NASUWT, the Edinburgh TUC and community, political and activist groups stood together against further cuts.
Unite convener and secretary attended dressed in rags and knelt in supplication with our begging bowls out, to show that this is what the workers and citizens of Edinburgh are to be reduced to, as the Scottish Government continues to underfund local government.
Having been told that in order for the Council to survive with further cuts it would rely on the ‘goodwill’ of the workers, we were put in mind of the classic book The Ragged Trousered Philathropists. Council workers are continually asked to be philanthropists, selflessly serving the city while expecting nothing in return, as year after year their wages go down and their workload and pressures go up.
Council decided to halve the time for deputations from ten minutes to five. This cut is a worrying indication of how much the Council value the contributions of its citizens and employees. There were six deputations:
- Royal College of Speech Language Therapists
- EIS Edinburgh
- Edinburgh TUC
- Unison Edinburgh
- Trinity Primary School Parent Council
- Unite CEC Branch.
Common themes were
- the poor process
- underfunding of local government
- pressures on teachers and school staff
- the impact of cuts on the most vulnerable in the city
- opposition to the proposals to axe speech language therapists and education welfare officers.
In our deputation and discussion we called for
- councillors to stand with us in demanding fair funding for local government
- a no cuts budget
- in-housing of services
- a working group to look at the job evaluation scheme
- in-housing of digital services to end the CGI contract
- stopping spend on contractors and employment agencies
- a job evaluation scheme that looks at social value of jobs.
We also highlighted that the 3% pay rise budgeted for is far short of what council workers will accept.
Watch our deputation below.
In the November 2022 budget update, the Council needed to save around £76m. By the time budget day came around, following additional funding from the Scottish Government and measures, such as devolution of non domestic rate empty property relief to councils from April 2023, the gap was reduced to around £18m.
The draft revenue budget presented to Council had a gap of £3.7m should the proposals therein be accepted.
This meant it was over to the political groups to get to a balanced budget.
We are deeply concerned with the budget setting process. At the meeting activists and councillors, such as Cllr Ross MacKenzie (Labour) and Cllr Jule Bandel (Greens), criticised the undemocratic nature of the process.
The draft budget proposals, made by Council Officers, go to the Finance and Resource (F&R) committee a fortnight before they come to Full Council. At F&R, councillors scrutinise the proposals by officers, then they refer the budget to Full Council for approval.
Each political group puts forward a budget motion. These are not available until the night before the budget meeting. Any group that wants to give a deputation to the budget meeting, must submit notice at least 48 hours in advanced. This process means that the political groups’ motions have little scrutiny from citizens before they are voted on.
We would like to see the release of budget motions brought forward by at least a fortnight before the meeting that agrees them, with the draft revenue budget released even earlier. This would allow greater engagement with trade unions and community groups to scrutinise proposals and the impact they will have. It would also allow for a collaborative approach, as groups could compare and composite motions.
Tactical voting in the first round of voting saw the Labour motion fall. The second round saw the Tory motion fall. The third round had the SNP-Green motion up against the Lib Dem motion, with the Lib Dem motion succeeding by 32 votes to 29.
Headlines from the Lib Dem budget are:
- 5% Council Tax increase
- £3m more to spend on gully cleaning, fly tipping, graffiti removal and street sweeping
- save £600k from the redeployment pool by withdrawing the commitment to no
- ‘best value’ reviews, specifically looking at privatising Waste and Cleansing Services.
Members need to be clear: this budget threatens the jobs of hundred of council workers—the workers who got the city through the pandemic, as they risked their lives and health and that of their families; the workers who have faced over a decade of real-terms pay cuts; the workers who see staffing and resources reduce while workloads increase.
The budget threats a shake up in schools, as the proposals related to reviewing Education Welfare Officer could mean posts in this area are cut.
We attended the Council’s Celebrating You event at the Assembly Rooms on Friday to raise the alarm on this and to ask the question of ‘how many council workers will be celebrated by being made redundant’?
What happens next
We want to reassure members that nothing will happen immediately. There are still committees any proposals will have to go through first, and the proposals can be stopped there.
The budget has been agreed, but the elements are not yet Council policy. There may be opportunities for Council committees to overturn the removal of the pledge and to keep Waste and Cleansing in house.
The privatisation of services is dependent on ‘best value’ reviews, so this can be stopped if the case is made for best value being provided in-house. For example, at the Transport and Environment Committee on 2 March, there is a motion making the case is being made that our in-house Waste and Cleansing Service delivers best value as it is. This should help put ideas of outsourcing the service to bed.
Nothing is a done deal, but we have to be aware that the threat is real. It can be stopped politically and we will work with elected members and lobby them to protect the workforce.
The Labour Group released this statement on privatisation and no compulsory redundancy:
The Edinburgh Labour Group re-affirms its position and will not support privatisation of Council Services, nor support Compulsory Redundancies
Council Leader Cammy Day said ‘As Leader of this Council and the Edinburgh Labour group, it will always be my commitment to invest in Public Service, Protect our Council workforce and Stand up for Our City.
We will bring forward proposals to in-house council services from private providers, and remain 100% committed to no compulsory redundancies’
A ‘no compulsory redundancy’ pledge is part of the pay claim for this year, so if this is agreed it would supersede any local decisions.
However, we’re not leaving this up to councillors or COSLA.
We need to organise to show that council workers will not standby and watch jobs get cut and services get outsourced.
We will be contacting members soon to explore how we use our industrial strength to stand against these cuts.
“Every man who is not helping to bring about a better state of affairs for the future is helping to perpetuate the present misery, and is therefore the enemy of his own children. There is no such thing as being neutral: we must either help or hinder.”Robert Tressel ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’
2 thoughts on “Council budget 2023”
That old chestnut. They will blackmail us with the choice between redundancies or pay rises