With the City Centre and Leith local budget consultation meeting taking place this week, it would seem that now is an appropriate time to publish the results of our Alternative Council Budget Poll.
To date, exactly 50 people have taken part, most of whom live in the Leith Neighbourhood Partnership. How do we know? The only piece of personal information we asked participants in the poll for was their postcode. This meant that we could map our respondents using the rather fantastic free service Map-a-list:
So, now that we know roughly who we’re dealing with, let’s look at the results. Our poll was simple. We asked people simply to indicate whether they were ‘for’, ‘not sure’ or ‘against’ the list of proposals that the council are considering to withdraw or reduce council sevices.
When these responses are put together, we can get a bit of a picture about where people feel stongly, where people perhaps feel that they need more information to make an informed decision, and perhaps where some changes to services are likely to be viewed as acceptable. This said, in will come as no surprise that for most of the options, a majority of respondents did not want to see cuts or service withdrawals.
There was most consensus over proposals to reduce support for school pupils with learning or behavioural difficulties. 80% of respondents said there were against this proposal:
And the third most unpopular proposal was one that would see the number of food hygeine inspections reduced:
The survey also provided some interesting feedback on what might be described as the ‘least worst’ proposals for cuts. There were only two proposals made by the council that were supported by more than 50% of respondents. The proposal with the greatest support related to waste minimisation. Provided that a good food waste recycling service was introduced first, a majority of people indicated that they’d support a fortnightly general refuse collection.
After this, interpreting the ‘least worst’ proposals becomes a little more difficult, as less than 50% of respondents supported them. There were also two cost cutting proposals where the ‘not sures’ were the largest number. They were the proposals to withdraw the Edinburgh Stair Partnership service completely, and the proposal to reduce the Pentland Ranger Service. This perhaps indicates that people just weren’t quite sure what these services do.
We also asked people whether they’d consider paying more council tax if this would help to protect front line services. Three quarters of you said that you would be prepared to pay more council tax.
We asked people two ‘qualitative’ questions – and we got a huge amount of feedback which it is impossible to reproduce in a blog post, so the main themes are given below. The first one asked people what they thought of the council proposals. A key theme that emerged from related to the perceived equity of the proposals, with more than one or two people voicing concern that poorer people would suffer most from the cuts. For example, one person said:
“I feel that a reduction in most of these services will result in costs in other areas. I worry that a reduction in anti social behaviour services could lead to isolation of vulnerable people who may become too scared to leave their homes meaning they may need mental health services at a later date. I also feel that it’s madness to propose a reduction in debt and welfare advice services at a time when increasing numbers of people need help negotiating the changes to the welfare system. I am concerned that loss of these services will lead to stress, anxiety, poverty and anti-social behaviour which will in turn impact on other services.“
Another theme emerged around the fact that people felt that they needed more explanation and discussion in order to have an informed discussion. One person put it this way:
“I have indicated ‘not sure’ where some discussion might produce alternative ideas – for example anti-social behaviour teams might collaborate with youth workers and parents groups rather than imposing an order.”
“A more genuine, open consultation with staff and users of council services could find real inefficiencies if started from a neutral position where they solicited ideas rather than proposing them.”
People were also concerned that proposals to outsource some services would end up costing more in the long run. For example, here’s two quotes:
“What is essential is that any cost savings are assessed in the long-term rather than the short-term. Outsourcing of services seems to be regarded as a guarantee of savings, but this should be challenged unless it results in a saving over the long-term, which includes looking at issues such as long-term staff morale, quality service etc. I do not want the Council to engage in emergency fixes which destroy quality of service and end up costing more when private companies who have failed to deliver on their promises then have to be bailed out.”
“If 10% saving can be got from outsourcing – then the Council needs to know exactly why and how and follow that. Then, because it doesn’t pay profit to shareholders, it should be able to save at least as much.”
There was also no shortage of ideas from people who had other ideas on how the council could cut costs, or raise more revenue. Ideas for raising more cash included:
“The council should investigate the scope for setting up an Energy Services Company in order to generate revenue from producing renewable energy and heat.”
“Better useage of facilities and property owned and neglected, let alone being operated efficiently. The property and housing department in most councils are not operated well at all. Uses could be the hiring out of facilities more for proper prices.”
“Charge for permits to drive a car in the city centre during peak times.”
More than one respondent felt that it was unfair that local public services should be cut at all:
“Personally I think the banker’s profits should be taxed, and taxed to pay for all these proposed cuts.”
And there were lots of ideas for savings or changes the council could make. We received lots of comments from people who felt that back office savings should be prioritised first, but there were also these ideas too:
“Overhall of council procurement to better use third sector by incorporating community benefit clauses and moving more orgs from grant to contract.”
“The Council could start with taking a hard line approach by dealing with issues and enforcing in the first instance rather than re-visiting time after time to ‘see what happens in another 6-months’.
“I think the council would save money if it was more intelligent with it’s spending and stopped duplication of services already provided by other organsiations.”
“Why isn’t there one HR department for the local Police, Fire Brigade, NHS and councils and so forth? There must be huge savings to be made by sharing back office services between public sector organisations in the same area.”
“There are a lot of other services that could be reduced. Why is money still being spent promoting Edinburgh to Edinburgh residents for example? This money would be better spent marketing the city to other countries to encourage businesses to locate here and people to visit.”
So, there we have it. As promised earlier, we’ll try to make sure that the full results are shared with our local councillors, and the relevent council officers. If you responded to this survey, but we didn’t feature your comments, please do accept our apologies in advance.
If you’d like to take our Alternative Council Budget Poll now – it’s not too late.