Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Spending watchdog 'concern' over Edinburgh budget cuts

Edinburgh Council
Image caption The council is consulting on possible ways of achieving £67m of savings by 2017

The public spending watchdog has a "growing concern" over budget cuts at the City of Edinburgh Council.

The council is looking at how to make cuts of £67m by 2017.

The Accounts Commission said the council needed to develop a comprehensive strategy for managing its staff.

The council insisted it would make the savings and is currently carrying out a consultation exercise to discover ways of doing so.

The Accounts Commission report highlights the growing problems facing the council in balancing its books.

Edinburgh council currently spends about £950m a year.

Its forecast for the amount of extra savings it expects to have found by 2017 grew from £17m last year to £67m this year.

Overall, the council anticipates having to save about £138m by 2017.

One issue at stake is the balance between how much can be saved by internal reforms and efficiency savings - which the public may not notice - and how much will need to come from straightforward cuts in services.

The argument is that internal reforms and efficiencies can help avoid cuts to frontline services.

The Accounts Commission said the council had made some progress in finding savings since it last looked at the local authority last year, and it has noticed improvements in services.

However, the commission said the council had still to develop a comprehensive workforce strategy - something it recommended last year. The commission believes this has a fundamental role to play ensuring the council can meet the challenges it faces.

Like all councils, Edinburgh faces a twin dilemma. Some costs and the demand for certain services is still rising, while budgets are tight. Councils are under a legal obligation to balance their books.

Leisure and Libraries

One option from the council's consultation on budget cuts and savings includes a big cut in the amount of money being given to the organisation that runs the capital's sport and leisure centres.

Critics fear this will mean closures, and job losses. Library opening hours are also facing a reduction.

Privately, some at Edinburgh council are believed to feel the timing of the Accounts Commission report is unfortunate as it draws attention to savings they already knew they had to make and comes ahead of the publication of far-reaching proposals for internal change.

The council is expected to unveil proposals later this week to change the way some local services are delivered.

The City of Edinburgh Council's chief executive Sue Bruce said: "The commission's findings acknowledge the progress that the council has made in key areas such as stronger governance throughout the organisation.

"The report rightly highlights the financial challenges the council faces, and acknowledges that the council has already put in place the transformation plan to tackle these issues, to ensure we deliver the best services and maximum value for money for the people of Edinburgh.

"As we move forward into 2015, developing an effective workforce strategy will be a priority for the leadership team and current recommendations on a new delivery model for the council represent an important step forward in this respect.

"This is a challenging time for all local authorities. The City of Edinburgh Council faces tougher financial challenges than many others, due to the city's growing population and its demographics. Our plans recognise the challenges we face, some of which are legacy issues, and we expect to deliver significant progress over the next 12 months."

The public consultation on Edinburgh's budget proposals runs until next month. Councillors will reach a decision in February.

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