Edinburgh Council 'On Sounder Financial Footing'

One of Scotland's largest councils is on a "far sounder financial footing'' than a year ago, according to a local authority watchdog.

The Accounts Commission raised concerns in December 2014 about Edinburgh City Council's financial position when it faced a £67 million budget gap.

The commission's report - published on Thursday - found while the council still faces major challenges, it now has a clear strategy for cutting spending through changing the way it delivers services and reducing its workforce.

The commission found the council met its £39 million savings target last year and is on track to achieve most of its planned savings for the current financial year.

The report also found councillors and senior managers now understand how to solve their financial problems, including making difficult decisions such as a new workforce strategy cutting of 5% of staff by the end of March, saving £25 million a year.

Accounts Commission chairman Douglas Sinclair said: "The council is now on a far sounder financial footing than it was a year ago.

"It has had to make tough choices on reconfiguring services and this hasn't been an easy time, not least for its employees.

"Edinburgh is not out of the woods yet and it is still early days with many of its planned actions. But it is in a much stronger position to meet the challenges that lie ahead.''

Andy Wightman, Scottish Greens communities spokesman, said: "The Accounts Commission may well be praising Edinburgh for balancing its books but that has come with real pain for staff and service users.

"Among the 2,000 staff who are going are experienced and talented public officials who are hard to replace.

"There is no way that cuts of £85 million this coming year alone can be made without frontline services being hit.

"Already, community organisations are losing grant funding, libraries, parks and street cleaning are facing cuts and school support staff are looking at an uncertain future.''

Council leader Andrew Burns said: "We are extremely encouraged by the commission's findings, which recognise the substantial progress made by the council over the last two years to address its financial challenges, but also to deliver organisational change through the Transformation Programme and workforce strategy.

"Like other councils, we face an increasing demand for services amidst a tough financial climate, but I am pleased that in this year's budget we have been able to prioritise services to protect those that matter the most to people, and to plan ahead for the next four years.''

Council chief executive Andrew Kerr said: "It is with credit to staff and elected members that we have made the progress we have to date, but we recognise there is still some way to go.

"We are now keen to continue the strong leadership of the council to sustain the pace of change across the organisation, delivering best value to the people of Edinburgh.''

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