LibLink: Cllr Robert Aldridge: Whatever happened to joined up thinking?

This Budget has meant that local government is going to be taking even more of a hit in England. In Scotland, too, councils bear the brunt of SNP cuts.

A Lib Dem Councillor in Edinburgh, Robert Aldridge, who, for five years from 2007-12 was the city’s finance convener, has written an article for the Edinburgh Evening News about what a total mess the Labour/SNP coalition is making of running Scotland’s capital.

Their cuts have not been done in a  strategic way and, in fact, generate more costs in the future:

He set out the problems:

As the scale of council cuts grows we are seeing fewer and fewer staff struggling to try to provide the same level of service with smaller and smaller budgets. More and more we see staff having to focus on their part of a task rather than the best way of achieving the best service for the citizen.

And the impact they have on people’s lives:

For the want of a janitor in a community centre we are likely to see more people having to move to residential care, at enormous expense. We are focusing limited resources on those with highest needs, but at the expense of low-level support which prevents problems becoming acute. We are facing an obesity crisis amongst our young people. But we are increasing the costs for voluntary groups to use council facilities in the evening, making it likely that they will either have to increase charges (excluding young people from poorer families) or meet less frequently, or for a shorter period.

And what’s the solution?

I hope it will begin to think beyond what per centage to cut from each department separately and start thinking in a joined-up way about how to do things differently and more effectively by thinking across departments and working closely with other partners in the voluntary sector, rather than trying to do the same things with fewer resources. There is a huge job to move towards preventing problems rather than simply dealing with problems after they have arisen. That needs imagination. It needs a move away from “I haven’t got a budget for that. It’s another department’s responsibility” to how can we best make this happen.

During the Lib Dems’ time running the Council, the roads and pavements were among the best in Scotland, we started to build Council houses again and made real improvements to social care. And that was after inheriting a council which was, shall we say, in very poor financial health. If only the current administration had that sort of imagination and can-do attitude.

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  • nigel hunter 3rd Nov '18 - 10:33am

    I hate the word janitor and the slow creeping American words heist etc. What is wrong with caretaker and robbery just for2. The Met starting to sell clothing. Their version of NYPD tea shirts etc, The point being that the Tory cuts are wanting us to be like the US a privatised paradise where only those ,’with’,get the goodies and others get the scraps.They wish to reduce the state for money purposes, their money purposes.

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '18 - 12:41pm

    @Nigel Hunter
    I seem to recall from my Dandy and Beano days that the caretaker (usually called ‘site manager’ these days) was often referred to as the ‘janitor’. That’s not surprising as both comics were published north of the border, where that word is common parlance.

    A recent LDV contributor referred to Labour having “gotten” a message. Now that’s what I would call an Americanism, which we should avoid, the past participle of the verb ‘to get’ being ‘got’ on these islands. If you really want to stir things up, how about campaigning against the US over commersionalised version of ‘Halloween’ that appears to have taken over from ‘Penny for the Guy’, which my generation practised at this time of the year?

  • nigel hunter 3rd Nov '18 - 1:43pm

    I can agree Halloween started over here then was taken over by the US . then resold to us. The US is good at exploiting British ideas etc and selling them back to us.. I feel that we should improve our ability to develop our own ideas for us to develop and then sell abroad.
    I hope the police will get the funds from the goods they sell and not let it go to the govnt. Equally I hope it does not lead to further reduction in police budgets and help council tax payers.

  • Yeovil Yokel 3rd Nov '18 - 1:48pm

    John Marriott – you mean “If you really wanna stir things up…..”

  • John Marriott 3rd Nov '18 - 2:01pm

    @Yeovil Yokel
    You betcha, good buddy! I kinda hope those guys, who hassle us about the words we use would goddam hold their horses. Have a nice day.

  • Nigel Hunter
    You mean like Rock and Roll? Halloween, expanded because it is very connected to pop culture through horror films and fiction. America didn’t sell it back to us, John Carpenter did and it is that China filled the shops. Bonfire Night still thrives, is pretty blummin’ expensive, and was hardly free from commercialism when you think about. Plus you could argue that the Guy Fawkes stuff hijacked Halloween rather the other way round.

    Language changes and develops. If it didn’t there would be no English in the first place.
    Also why do we bemoan Americanism but not French or Italian isms. English is a bit of a magpie language really.

  • Yeovil Yokel 3rd Nov '18 - 4:16pm

    John Marriott – check it out, Dude.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Nov '18 - 6:47pm

    I got out of the bed on the wrong side this morning and wanted a rant I have been shot down in flames !!

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Nov '18 - 8:59am

    Let’s get back to the point of the article.

    It’s all very well individuals getting elected in ones and twos – or even more – but there is a huge difference between taking up ‘local issues’ and seeking to ensure that there is a better financial strategy to hopefully enable those issues to be ameliorated.

    I have real concerns that too many of our council groups do not have within their ranks people who are able to challenge the type of scenario that Robert Aldridge highlights. There is too much reaction to the existing agendas rather than putting forward alternative financial strategies. There is no point bleating about things unless one can follow through with some coherent alternatives.

    I have no doubt that trying to persuade a council to change the way in which it looks at things demands a lot of grit and tenacity. But that is what is needed!

    That said, communicating that message to the electorate also requires a lot of skill. Sadly most people don’t engage with strategies and seem to be conned by the very promises they claim to despise.

  • John Marriott 4th Nov '18 - 9:03am

    No worries, Nige. Strewth, it happens to me all the time, old Cobber. If ever we meet, I’ll have to shout you one!

    PS Oops, just realised it was ‘americanisms’ you were ‘ranting’ about, not ‘aussie’!
    PPS Sorry for my misspelling of ‘commerCialised’.

  • It’s only through reading this that I discover that janitor is considered to be an American term! As a Scot, it was always the school janitor (janny), and thought that caretaker was the new-fangled, possibly American, term. And we’ve always gone big on Halloween up here too. The only difference is that we called it guising and you were expected to do a turn. I do, however, very much approve of the move from a turnip lantern to pumpkin, because I like fingers.

    Back to the article – there is a lot of truth in this. Scottish councils are making cuts, but they are trying to pretend they aren’t actually significant, and make great capital from claiming no compulsory redundancies, so what happens is that staff leave or retire and aren’t replaced with no proper attempt to rebalance the organisation. In practice, each team within each department is forced to become more selfish and focus on doing their own job as best they can, and don’t have the time to help out those in other departments. The sort of collaborative working that is good for the community and actually improves overall efficiency not happening as often as it should be.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Nov '18 - 9:48am

    Fragmentation is rife in all our public services and Cllr Aldridge makes an excellent point about councils needing joined-up working between departments and between the council and voluntary agencies. Likewise our schools; too often when Education policy is discussed, the effects of poor local services especially on the disadvantaged, gets forgotten. We should not expect teachers alone to make up for the ills of society. The main current issue is the continued centralisation of our services and the lack of resources for local government, which is now not only affecting the operation of services but their quality as it becomes increasingly difficult for councils to employ adequate staff.
    By the way, LDV discussions should focus on the main point of the article not side-issues such as Americanisms.

  • John Marriott 4th Nov '18 - 12:31pm

    @Nigel Jones
    Sorry if my contributions to this thread may be considered inappropriate by some. Here’s a contribution more suited to serious debate:

    I served continuously on local councils from 1987 to 2017. What I witnessed, especially in tier one and tier two councils (County and District), was a gradual erosion of power, or at least, the ability to get things done to the general satisfaction of most of the electorate, which accelerated in the last decade, especially when an austerity minded coalition central government decided to turn local government into a kind of human shield to deflect public opprobrium away from a massively reduced level of financial support that I had never seen in my previous twenty years as a councillor.

    Many councils long ago were cutting into the bone and, because of the prevailing philosophy of private good and public bad, have in many cases reduced themselves to the role of commissioning services (it went by the name of ‘enabling’ when I first became a councillor – you see, it’s nothing new). To give just one example, in education LEAs are in many areas now largely interested bystanders as Academy Chains become their privatised mirror image. So much for democratic accountability.

    If we could ever disentangle our brains from Brexit, we might look at reversing this anti democratic trend before local government, like the planet as a whole is damaged beyond repair. We could start by repatriating to local government some of the powers taken away over the past 100 years.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Nov '18 - 2:11pm

    Thank you John and my experience as a councillor 2002-2015 is the same. The Localism Act meant well but by continually reducing resources for local government it has not meant anything in practice. When talking with residents they often reacted by saying they did not want to pay more tax to support localism and/or they remember experiences of bad local government in the past. The answer must lie in a combination of developing a new model of local operations and democratic systems together with proper movement of resources from the centre to the local areas.

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