I hesitate to suggest that Edinburgh Council is being run by a Wonga-style loan calculator. But this is the device citizens are being urged to use to decide where to make the cuts necessary to save £126 million over the next few years.
Posters proclaiming Edinburgh’s Budget Challenge have been slapped on to lamp-posts across the city and there are just 17 days left to play with your viral cash slider to protect children and the elderly at the expense of jobs and eye-watering council tax hikes.
This fun game, dreamed up for sure by some PR people who have already sent their invoice, is perhaps the most crass attempt yet to convince everyone that this is a transparent, consultative, listening and engaged council ready to act on the wishes of the people when exactly the opposite is the reality.
ScotBuzz, in a never-ending search for truth and justice, was urged to look at the latest council accounts where our attention was drawn to the £95 million a year debt interest payments made by our friends in the City Chambers - but which they don’t normally mention much.
Here’s another interesting thought about the accounts; the council doesn’t seem to be too concerned about paying back its debt to the government via the Public Works Loan Board from whom it borrows most of its cash and describes as a “lender of last resort.”
In a masterly piece of very comforting gobbledegook, the accounts tells us: “There is therefore no significant risk that it (the council) will be unable to raise finance to meet its commitments under financial instruments.”
What this is really saying is that the council doesn’t have to worry about what it borrows because it knows it can get the money. Indeed, does this not suggest that the onus is in fact on the PWLB to loan the council what it needs rather than on the council to act within its means?
The Edinburgh Budget Challenge is being billed as the peoples’ chance to determine how the city should spend its money and to help decide what should be prioritised and what should be slashed ahead of the big council meeting to map out next year’s spending.
There are the usual “difficult choices” which include raising middle-range council tax by £100; increasing or decreasing council services; sacking up to 2000 employees with just statutory redundancy; merging services and buildings; increasing parking charges by up to 10% and investing more or less in renewable energy.
For some reason, the various options for saving money fail to make any mention of the proposals to extend the city’s tram line for an estimated £165 million despite the fiasco which has already cost the city £100 million for each mile of the current line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place.
Edinburgh bus drivers have not been slow in using social media to warn about job losses and fare increases should the council decide to raid £20 million from Lothian Buses to help pay for any tram extension.
But, thankfully, the money has started to roll in from the tackiest Christmas event ever staged in the capital and which has taken over Princes Street Gardens and St. Andrews Square with pop up bars and disgustingly smelly food stalls for the parents while their little ones take to the adjacent skating rinks.
At the centre of the attractions stands The Councillor Gavin Barrie Ferris Wheel where party-goers, including young children, were stuck 44 metres up in high winds for 45 minutes on Saturday night.
With temperatures hovering just above freezing, there was no way for those stranded to communicate with the operators below and they could only get information by using their mobile phones to call the Edinburgh Christmas Box Office.
This was presumably what wheel operators M&D were referring to when they said that it would provide an “added dimension of fun” to the city at festive time at a cost of £8 for an adult and £6 for children.
One mother, Agnes Moffat and her 12 year-old son Harvey from Midlothian, suffered panic attacks.
“It was horrible”, she said. “Absolutely horrible.”
Fortunately M&D stepped in with an immediate offer of compensation.
Everyone who suffered the ordeal, and who was scared out of their wits, was offered their money back and a free cup of hot chocolate.
Maybe the council should forget about their ridiculous budget challenge and just take financial advice from those nice people at M&D.