Council tax freeze 'risks £50m cuts crisis in the Capital'
Plus Green tax for cruise ships; NatWest shares plunge; and the 'Taylor Swift lift' heading our way
City leader warns over First Minister’s promise to freeze council tax
First Minister Humza Yousaf is facing a growing backlash against his pledge to freeze council tax bills next year in the face of the cost of living crisis, with Edinburgh’s Labour council leader warning it risks hitting public services.
The city council has been working on the basis it will need to find savings in the region of £30-40 million in order to balance the books in the face of rising costs, including public sector pay rises. Their calculations factored in a rise in council tax of between 3 and 5%. Without that rise, the city is facing an extra £11-17m funding gap.
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The First Minister has promised that the freeze will be “fully funded”, but with several local authorities budgeting on rises of 8% and even 10% there are significant doubts about the Scottish Government’s ability to cover the full claims from all 32 councils.
CITY’S ‘MISSING £400M’: Council leader Cammy Day said that Edinburgh had missed out on almost £400m in funding over the last 10 years due to repeated cuts to the Capital’s funding from the Scottish Government. “After all these years, we are still the worst funded local authority in Scotland (per capita). They have now taken away the only tax raising power that we have. It’s not just a threat to public services, it is undemocratic,” he told the Inquirer.
LIBRARIES, CHARITIES, FESTIVALS: Day warned of “difficult decisions” ahead of next year’s city budget, which would be harder without a “fair” settlement from the Scottish Government. He named care services; libraries and other community facilities; and grants to the Third Sector and Edinburgh’s Festivals among the areas where council spending would inevitably have to be reviewed. “It’s hard to fund Festivals when you are trying to work out how to pay for basic services,” he said.
COSLA REVOLT: Day’s comments will add to pressure on the leadership of Cosla, the coalition group representing local authorities in negotiations with the Scottish Government. Cosla’s president Shona Morrison and resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann are both SNP councillors, and there is growing anger among trade unionists about their response to the council tax freeze, which blindsided most councils. One senior trade unionist has privately described Cosla’s reaction as “shambolic”.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
CRUISE SHIPS TAX: Cruise ships visiting Leith, South Queensferry and Rosyth will have to pay a carbon emissions tax under plans announced by Lorna Slater, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. She told the Green Party conference in Dunfermline that the levy would incentivise operators to use less polluting vessels and ensure investment in communities impacted by the influx of visitors. There were 114 cruise ship visits to Edinburgh in 2019 bringing more than 150,000 passengers to the city. The tax would be administered by local councils like the levy on overnight visitors.
ALBA ‘HOTBED’: Few in and around Holyrood have been surprised by the defection of Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Regan from the SNP to Alex Salmond’s Alba party. Her campaign for the SNP leadership - in which she came third behind Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes - was built largely on an appeal to independence hardliners and opposition to the Scottish Government’s gender reforms. Her decision gives Alba its first MSP and means that, with MP Kenny MacAskill representing the party in East Lothian, the area has become an unlikely hotbed for Alba in terms of parliamentary representation at least. No vote has ever suggested widespread support for the party locally. The question is likely to be whether their personal support will be enough to retain their seats at the next elections.
‘WORLD CLASS’ ART BASE: The National Galleries of Scotland has been given planning permission to build a “world class” Passivhaus facility at Granton. The Art Works will be a store for 120,000 works of art when they are not on display in a gallery and will form a central part of the wider regeneration of the area. Built on land to the west of Madelvic House at Granton Park Avenue, will offer the public the opportunity to explore the collection as well as community studio, support space and education rooms. Work also starts today on a major new active travel route through the area, along Marine Drive and West Shore Road between the Pennywell Road roundabout and Gypsy Brae, including a segregated cycle lane.
CAMMO HOMES: A plan to build more than 500 homes on green belt land at Cammo have been resurrected after being rejected in the face of widespread local opposition. West Craigs Limited and Wheatley Homes want to build the houses, with half being designated as affordable homes, along with shops and active travel routes, on land north of Craigs Road. Opposition has centred on concerns about how local roads, schools and GPs would cope with the influx of new residents.
PLANS AFOOT: A new development which will create around 220 new homes in the north-east of Edinburgh has been granted approval, subject to conditions, by Edinburgh councillors. Flats, colony flats, and townhouses are included in the plans, with 163 being for affordable housing. The homes will be delivered by Cullross on behalf of Hillcrest Homes. The site is located east of Glennie Road, Newcraighall, within 10-minites of a school, open place, play parks and a railway station, as well as a number of active travel connections. The site is within a 20-minute walk of Fort Kinnaird Retail Park and Queen Margaret University.
WILDLIFE DISMAY: UK Government moves to deprioritise the reintroduction of species to the wild has met resistance within Edinburgh Zoo. David Field, CEO of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which owns and runs the Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, said he was dismayed that the Government said it had “no plan to manage the reintroduction of species in the UK as it is not a priority.” This followed a consultation by the UK Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee which recommended Ministers should compile and publish a list of priority species for reintroduction.
GOING, GONE: The last vestiges of the old RBS offices on Dundas Street have been demolished as work continues on the New Town Quarter development. The former bank building, once one of the busiest offices in the city centre, is being replaced with 350 new homes, including 140 build to rent flats, as well as a hotel and new office space.
WATER PLACE TO STAY: The Dalmeny Water Tower at South Queensferry is being turned into a quirky holiday let. Owners Rosebery Estates converted the C-listed building into a one bedroom, three storey home more than 20 years ago, but said they had struggled to rent it out as a residential property. The Scottish Government has overruled an earlier refusal by the city council to grant permission for the change of use.
THE T-SWIFT LIFT: Taylor Swift is Edinburgh bound for the next leg of her mega “Eras” tour – and now world leaders are queuing up to invite the global superstar to bring her show to their countries. It is estimated the first leg boosted the US economy by more than £4.5 billion, and politicians from five countries have now taken to social media to ask her to bring the tour to their nations.
The Telegraph reports that finance analysts are describing this as the “T-Swift Lift” and are forecasting a similar effect on the UK economy next summer, starting on 7 June, 2024, at Murrayfield. Swift has more than 200 million followers on social media, and over 61 billion listens on the streaming platform, Spotify.
ROOM TO MOVE: The sale of the Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh has helped the family-owned Macdonald Hotels Group, based in Broxburn, to return to profitability. The 156-bedroom Holyrood Hotel was part of the group’s major national expansion in the early 2000s. In the latest accounts, the company booked a gain of £45.8m for the sale of the Edinburgh hotel, and the Macdonald Manchester Hotel, to Zetland Capital Partners, a private equity group. Macdonald Hotels, set up by entrepreneur Donald Macdonald with the help of Bank of Scotland, announced a pre-tax profit of £44.5m, after the previous year’s loss of £15.2m. The group has 27 hotels, nine resorts and other residential properties in over 20 sites.
BANK BASHED: NatWest’s woes over the Nigel Farage affair are continuing to be probed by the Financial Conduct Authority. The bank, which was once known as Royal Bank of Scotland Group, “probably” broke data protection laws and may have breached regulatory rules. Former chief executive Alison Rose was forced to resign in July after giving confidential information about Mr Farage’s account with Coutts Bank, owned by NatWest, to a BBC journalist. A report by legal firm Travers Smith said Coutts “failed to pay due regards for the interests of Mr Farage and failed to treat him fairly in the round.” NatWest shares plunged almost 18 per cent at the end of last week, after its pre-tax profits of £1.3bn failed to meet analysts’ expectations.
MORE RENTAL PAIN: Students in private rented properties in Edinburgh have faced rent increases of up to 14.6 per cent in the past two academic years. Pending legislation, which is set to grant concession for buy-to-let investors to take legal possession of properties at the end of each academic year, means that rents are likely to increase even further. The student housing charity Unipol and the think-tank Higher Education Policy Institute, in the Financial Times, says the cost of accommodation uses up nearly all of the average student loan, leaving just £24 a year for other essentials. Rents in Edinburgh are among the highest in the UK, along with Bristol and Exeter, but rents in Glasgow have climbed 20.4 per cent in the last two years.
US Pre-Clearance moves a step closer for Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Airport may have moved a step closer to its aim of achieving “transformational” US pre-clearance status after another airline has opted for the Capital as one of its key UK-USA hubs.
Budget airline JetBlue will begin its summer service linking Edinburgh and New York JFK in May 2024, the first time it has operated in Scotland. The aim of achieving pre-clearance was first reported by the Inquirer in August.
The addition of the new route further enhances connectivity to North America out of Edinburgh after a strong 2023 where transatlantic capacity is up 51 per cent on 2019 levels.
Scotland’s Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade Richard Lochhead said the announcement strengthened the case for Edinburgh to host a US pre-clearance border facility “to help make travel more seamless and provide added benefits for Scottish businesses and visitors.”
The proposed pre-clearance would mean housing US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel in the airport, and will be the first in the UK, alongside a similar plan at Gatwick. For Scottish passengers, it will mean greatly reduced times in immigration zones in American airports, making it easier to catch connection flights.
Gordon Dewar, the Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport, has said that “achieving US Preclearance in Edinburgh will be transformational for us. Not only will we get more frequency from the existing airlines, but we can start new routes that we’ve never had before.”
GREAT GIGS: Good news for music fans as Paul Weller has announced plans to play Edinburgh Castle on 13 July next year. The 65-year-old Modfather will be touring a new album. Meanwhile, the Summer Sessions has confirmed it will be returning to the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston next year, after staging a series of successful concerts including Paulo Nutini, Young Fathers, Franz Ferdinand and Primal Scream there in August.
DON’T MISS IT! If you’ve been planning to go along to the blockbuster Sir Grayson Perry exhibition on the Mound but haven’t got round to it yet, don’t wait too long. There’s only two weeks left to see what all the fuss has been about. The opening hours of Grayson Perry | Smash Hits is being extended for the final weekend, to 9am-9pm, Friday-Sunday, 10-12 November.
STAR ALBUMS: The Edinburgh band Young Fathers were named the winners of the Scottish Album of the Year £20,000 prize during an award ceremony in Stirling for their fourth album Heavy Heavy. Now in its 12th year, The Scottish Album of the Year is produced by the Scottish Music Industry Association (SMIA) and has distributed over £350,000 in prize money to Scottish artists since its inception in 2012. The night also saw capital based duo No Windows named The Sound of Young Scotland, winning £10,000 towards creating their debut album.
RAISING THE STEAKS: One of Glasgow’s most highly-rated steak houses is to open a venue in the Capital on North Castle Street. The Spanish Butcher in the Merchant City is known as a magnet for A-listers, having served Hollywood stars including Will Ferrell, Toby McGuire and Chris Pine. The restaurant group will bring its Galician and New York-influenced menus to Edinburgh next Spring.
LOCH FYNE CLOSES: The Loch Fyne restaurant and bar at Newhaven in Edinburgh has closed its doors. A notice on the website tells customers: “We are sad to inform you that we’ll be closing our doors on 26th October 2023. We would like to say a big thank you for your support and for being part of the Loch Fyne Journey.” Meantime the premises of the former New Chapter restaurant in Eyre Place, which shut up shop in the summer after eight years, are now on the market with a leasehold of £42,000 per year.
AN EXTRA DIARY DATE FOR YOU
NORDIC MOODS: The RSNO’s autumn season continues on Friday 3rd November at the Usher Hall with Ray Chen, the young superstar of the violin, back in Scotland, playing the wonderful Sibelius Violin Concerto, under the baton of Thomas Søndergård. Prior to this, there’s pure enchantment from Finnish composer Lotta Wennäkoski and the songs, dances and Czech sunshine of Dvořák’s joyous Sixth Symphony.
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