What Challenges and Opportunities Should the City of Edinburgh Council be Aware of?

The Lothians Branch of the Scottish Socialist Party is submitting to the consultation because we believe that the economic strategy of the City of Edinburgh Council is resulting in a deterioration of the conditions of working people in our capital. The current and previous Labour/SNP/Lib Dem administrations have implemented ruthless and widespread cuts that leave our public services in crisis and a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Instead of perpetuating the low wage, high bills attacks on working people, the council should consider the changes we propose to raise funds and better the conditions of workers in Edinburgh.

Replacing the Council Tax

We call for the immediate replacement of the Council Tax with a means based alternative, the Scottish Service Tax. The Council Tax is an outdated and unjust tax that disproportionately targets low income families. Government freezes and Council plans to tweak the payments will not address the fundamental flaw – it does not assess the person’s ability to pay.

Instead, the Council Tax crudely demands payment based on your address using bands set in 1991. The difference in payment from the highest to lowest band is 3:1, yet the wealthiest residents in Edinburgh are far more than three times richer than the workers we petition on behalf of.

The Scottish Service Tax is a thought out and costed bill that the SSP developed a decade ago. Based on the principle of progressive taxation, the Scottish Service Tax proposes a rising scale of tax bands based on income. Therefore, people pay what they can afford. Academics at the Paisley Business School estimate that these changes would raise upwards of £4billion annually if implemented nationally. With Edinburgh being the wealthiest city in Scotland, the Council will begin to raise the significant funds needed for public sector investment.

An example of the annual earnings bands:
£0-£10,000 – zero%
£10k – £30,000: 4.5%
£30k – £40,000: 15%
£40k – £50,000: 18%
£50k – £90,000: 21%
£90k and above: 23%

Tackling Poverty Pay

The City of Edinburgh Council should implement a £10/hour Living Wage for all Council workers and put pressure on businesses in the city to do the same. According to the Government, a person needs to earn £10/hour to pay their own way- as that’s the wage you need to earn before you stop qualifying for top-up benefits like housing benefit, tax credits and free school meals. The current national minimum wage of £7.50 (for those over 25) and the Council’s minimum pay rate of just over £8, combined with insecure employment, leaves people in poverty. This branch includes Edinburgh Council workers who earn less than £10/h with no opportunities for full time hours and can testify that it results in fuel poverty and workers having to take up multiple jobs to get by. Poverty pay is having a serious effect on the health of council employees and the quality of service that the council is able to provide. It is affecting crucial services like education and support for homelessness and means that workers are often unable to stay in the job for long – further increasing costs for the council.

The SSP also calls for the council to support legislation for a £10/h Living Wage for private employers in our city. Edinburgh is dominated by multinational corporations who pay slave wages and abuse Zero-Hours Contracts. Retail, hospitality, call centre, admin and care workers are some of the worst affected. Edinburgh’s Summer and Winter festivals and pop-up events are opportunities for private individuals to make millions on the back of low pay and insecure employment- especially using young workers who don’t even qualify for the pitiful £7.50 min wage. We can see this is a wealthy city, we are working hard and accept the sacrifices of sharing a city with millions of tourists. Yet we don’t feel that wealth with the high cost of living and the poverty pay. The Council’s support for exploitative employers has led to profits from Edinburgh’s assets being siphoned away. A £10/h living wage will boost spending by keeping more of the profits in the pockets of the people who work hard to keep our city going. If profiteering multinationals don’t want to step up and pay a fair wage, then we should support local businesses who will.

Building Council Houses

The SSP demands the immediate increase of the Council’s housing stock to provide state owned, affordable housing to meet the current need. Most homes that are built in Edinburgh are private apartment complexes that inevitably end up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords, many of whom have little affiliation to our city or Scotland. Tenants are forced into a low-quality market with inflated rents because of the number of landlords looking to buy. Edinburgh is at breaking point in the demand for low-cost housing and for most young people, owning a home in this city is fantasy. Private tenants are the most likely Scots to be in fuel poverty – caused by sky-high rents and bills and low pay. Housing is a need that the council should provide for. We welcome the council’s recent investigations into rent controls but current proposals under the Housing Act (2015) will not prevent rent increases, nor do they prevent landlords hiking up rents in-between tenancies and do not sufficiently protect tenants from eviction. Tenants should be empowered to stay in their homes until they decide to leave. Radical rent controls should be implemented to reduce rents and depreciate house prices to aid in the council’s acquisition of stock.

There are thousands of people waiting on council houses; yet the Council built 32 council houses in 2016. 10,000 council houses need to be in Edinburgh in a 6-year period to meet our assessment of the National housing crisis and targets to meet demand. Council houses need to be built to the highest environmental standard and have a front and back door. An ambitious building project will create thousands of skilled jobs, regenerate our communities and reinvigorate economies outside the city centre.

For a No Cuts Budget

The City of Edinburgh Council must stand up for Edinburgh’s working class majority by defying the austerity attacks from Conservatives in Westminster, being implemented through Holyrood. The Council’s marketing boast of ‘efficiency’ savings which in reality represent thousands of job losses and critically poor public services. The Scottish Socialist Party believes that Instead of offering false ‘choices’ between cutting local schools or community facilities, teachers’ jobs or street cleaning, elected councillors should be initiating genuine forums where People’s Budgets could be debated, based on local needs and priorities. Underpinned by an expansion of funding from central government, rather than annual cuts. We can use democratic tools to force a reverse in the national economic policy that is harming our city.

If you would like to support the SSP’s submission, then you can take part in the City of Edinburgh Council’s consultation.