Opinion: Delivering a bright new future for Edinburgh

“I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left”, wrote the outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury in May this year.

Reel back three years to the May 2007 Scottish local elections.  The Liberal Democrats had become the largest party in the City of Edinburgh Council after 23 years of Labour control.  A new Lib Dem led coalition with the SNP was beginning to look eagerly at how to change the city. We didn’t get a note.  Instead, we got a stark warning from the Director of Finance that reserves were perilously low and the Council was heading for a major overspend.

Yes, we faced the same disastrous financial  mess left by the outgoing Labour administration as our colleagues in Westminster did this May.

In Edinburgh  we found only £373,000 in unallocated reserves, Labour having blown £7 million in election year,  and a projected deficit of nearly £20 million.

Not a great start to our high hopes which were soon to be compounded by global recession.

Nevertheless, we have managed to implement substantial amounts of our 2007 “Winning a Bright New Future for Edinburgh” manifesto.  We have taken really tough decisions shied away from by our predecessors, turned round the Council’s finances, improved services, developed good partnership working with all sectors, enabled Edinburgh to win accolades galore and made the City a better, safer, greener and cleaner place in which to live, study, invest and work.  We became Audit Scotland’s most improved urban authority.

Of course we haven’t got everything right – but we have not been afraid to admit that, which has given us respect from officers and the public, despite the best attempts of very sore Labour losers and a hostile press to demoralise us.

So what have we done?  Here’s a taster.

We quickly changed the governance system from a one-party cabinet to a much fairer, more open, accountable, cross-party core committee system which takes more decisions, more quickly and more transparently.

We tackled the dire budget situation with a “budget grip” exercise to ensure all Directors were properly controlling and monitoring departmental spend, made record efficiency savings and have restored reserves each year.

We have reinvigorated the economic development of the city; made the case to the Scottish Government for a Capital City Supplement grant; have set up an Economic Action Resilience Network to help alleviate the impact of the recession; and are about to start a pilot Tax Increment Finance scheme to kick-start our Waterfront development.

We have transformed care for the elderly and vulnerable with three new care homes and fourth underway but, most importantly, with our Re-ablement Scheme, which maximises the capability, dignity and independence of those who need care at home.

We have improved opportunities for our children, upping levels of attainment in schools, and taken tough decisions to close primary schools to give better schooling to more children.

We have started the first council house building for decades; and the inspection by the Scottish Housing Regulator in March 2010 awarded us “AAB” grading, the best in Scotland to date.

Despite hysterical critics (including our coalition partners), and an extraordinarily difficult relationship with a contractor, we have held our nerve on progressing a tram system for Edinburgh to give us the sustainable, modern public transport we need in future years.

We have encouraged recycling to its highest ever rate, extended garden waste collection, and improved street cleanliness.

We have made Edinburgh safer through excellent partnership working with police and fire services.

Capital investment has delivered a fantastic Skate Park; 3 new parks; refurbished Victorian swimming baths with major work underway on the Royal Commonwealth Pool; completion of Usher Hall (major concert venue) works; and the start to two replacement secondary schools, an extension to the International Conference Centre and a new library and community hub.

Finally, we are delighted that our efforts have helped Edinburgh win a huge range of accolades over the last couple of years, including FDi magazine’s European “Best Small City of the Future” and “Best Small City for economic Potential”; Conde Nast’s Favourite UK city; Top Global Festival & Event City in its size category; UK’s Happiest City; Most Competitive Large City in the UK; UK’s Best Port of Call; and Top Must-See UK city.

Jenny Dawe is Leader, City of Edinburgh Council

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This entry was posted in Local government, Op-eds and Scotland.
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8 Comments

  • Dont get me started on Edinburgh ,You cant drive 10 feet in the city without road works or tram works.Roads are full of big holes .The bucket men are working to rule for the last year at least ,so my buckets never get emptied on time ,you sacked a bin man for writing to his local paper.He was only explaining their side of the storyand got sacked.He has a wife and kids i waited 3 weeks over Christmas to get my bin removed.Get charged if you want an uplift ,repairs are crap now ,you wait 2-3 weeks to get a joiner ,no jobs now ,all the youngsters are unemployed ,show me where the apprenticeships are say for a 16 year old with 2 gcse,s that,s just for starters, wait till may we will see what happens to the Lib Dems in Scotland
    ANDY Edinburgh

  • tonygreaves 14th Oct '10 - 2:33pm

    What is a bucket man?

    A Sassenach of Winewall

  • The trams are a joke can you please tell LDV ,when the tram project was meant to start and finish ,and at what cost,now tell us when they will be finished ,what lines will be built and how much over cost to a German firm who keep downing tools demanding more money .No one wanted these trams no one was asked ,youv,e closed multiple businesses,as trying to get to the shops youv,e got to climb over mounds of rubble, get past big metal fences,

    There is now traffic lights everywhere that are not needed ,its really hard just trying to get home .now i now people will think im moaning,but unless youv,e lived through this tram mess ,having to drive through a building site day after day for the last couple of years ,you are hitting really big holes now, and they are not getting fixed ,its not nice this should have been all finished .There is not one tram on the roads yet

    The Lib Dems will have done good but i think the trams could haunt you,that and Nick helping Dave and Georges cuts program sail through

    @ Iain Coleman
    So its ok for management to slagg of the workers ,so now anyone who thinks his boss are in the wrong cant say nothing ,what would you have said he do just sign the new contract giving away all his rights and benefits that they had worked for

    Andy Edinburgh

  • Attainment in schools has increased despite rather than because of council activities. That is not only my view but a view I have had put to me by parents and teachers from across the city. Schools closures have been hugely disruptive in the short term and will be disastrous in the long term as the capacity that has been removed will be needed within a decade or so, especially if the national Lib Dem policy of smaller class sizes is to be honoured in Edinburgh. The school closure programme consultation was characterised by a lack of engagement by JD herself (cancelled surgeries, ignored emails, refusal to speak at public meetings) and a council machine that often refused to share information with interested parties unless compelled to do so by Freedom of Information, which of course slowed down the process. JD’s own councillors acted dishonourably, including her education convenor who ultimately resorted to telling lies to parents and to full council.

    As far as JD’s claims of transparency are concerned, that really is just a joke. Not only has Paul the bin man been bullied and victimised but the current sham of public “consultations” on budget options has attracted much hostility and contempt for the stifling of debate and the use of loaded, closed questions which have been designed to shoe horn support for council policies and which are then used for mendacious briefings to the press. JD only refers to a hostile press because they at times dare to challenge her.

    Regardless of how shocking Labour’s administration may have been, how bad the sitiation the LDs inherited, how unfortunate the global environment became, there is no justifiable scope for JD and her team to claim any moral high ground.

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