Changes at City Chambers
At its first meeting after the elections in May, Edinburgh Councillors voted for a Labour administration to run the Council and as Labour leader in the City I am also now Council leader. It is a huge honour and also a huge challenge as we work to rebuild the city’s services and economy after covid.
Labour Councillors will chair all the policy committees such as Education and Transport but, as local government in Scotland is elected by proportional representation, it is rare for a single party to gain an absolute majority of Councillors. Edinburgh is no exception and we will be a minority administration and shall have to work with other parties to make progress.
That is in many ways a good thing. I believe that residents think that there is too much bickering in politics, too much argument and too little co-operation. They tell us that parties should work together constructively when they have common objectives. It also happens to be what I believe.
That is why I have invited all the other parties to discuss the policies on which we can agree and produce a programme of tasks and objectives for the Council.
It is likely that two issues will be at the forefront of our concerns. Firstly, getting better at providing our day to day services. Things like emptying bins, cleaning the streets and repairing potholes.
I can produce arguments to show how well the Council is already doing at these tasks but that is not the point. Voters are telling us that we need to do better and we shall.
Secondly, we shall intensify our fight to get a better financial deal for Edinburgh from the Scottish Government.
Local government as a whole has suffered badly in recent years with major cuts to its budgets while other programmes have been given extra money. Edinburgh has suffered more than most.
We are now the worst funded local authority in Scotland and only Scottish Government can solve this. I have already asked for a meeting with Nicola Sturgeon.
However we should be clear about the talks on co-operation between parties and the plan for an agreed work programme.
This not a coalition - there are no backdoor deals, no secret understandings. This is a Labour administration and we shall act us such.
At the local elections Edinburgh Labour had two main policy objectives apart from the good services and finance that I have already mentioned. These priorities are fighting poverty and combatting the climate crisis. Our Poverty Commission, set up 5 years ago, was much praised and I have led council work to implement its radical recommendations.
On the climate we are fully committed to more measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the city. It is quite possible that the parties that supported Labour to the City administration will be unable to support our more radical initiatives on climate change.
If so, we shall challenge those parties, such as the Greens who did not support us, to show their commitment to the environment by backing our plans. I also hope that our differences on the need for an early referendum on Scottish independence will not prevent co-operation in other areas.
It’s going to be an interesting 5 years!
Cruise Ship in Leith
By the time you read this article, there is likely to be a large cruise ship berthed long term in Leith docks.
It is to be leased by Scottish Government to provide accommodation for 500 Ukrainian families fleeing the terrible conflict in their country.
I fully understand why Scottish Government have done this as the costs of hotels, where some families have been accommodated, are spiralling, but clearly a cruise ship is not an ideal place to settle in a new country.
We are of course keen to help, and Edinburgh is already home to a large number of Ukrainian families. Furthermore, most of them come from cities and are keen to remain in larger towns such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The task presents some real challenges for Edinburgh Council. Although the cruise ship costs will be met by Scottish Government, Edinburgh will have to provide further support such as finding school places for children, housing and welfare advice, translators and help in finding jobs.
Scottish Government will ‘reimburse reasonable costs’, but past experience shows this never matches our real costs, leaving Edinburgh to pick up the difference.
In addition, it is difficult to recruit qualified staff such as housing experts especially at short notice and it is likely that existing staff may be diverted from existing duties. We have determined to overcome such problems
We look forward to meeting these challenges whilst supporting Ukraine and its people in their time of need. ■
MS Victoria (Tallin) berthed at Imperial Dock, Leith