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December 19, 2012

Edinburgh seeks new direction

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As a city, Edinburgh is often accused of being a bit full of itself.  Perhaps drawing on its status as Scotland’s Capital, while Glasgow was loudly proclaiming itself to be ‘miles better’, Edinburgh’s sniffed retort would have been that it was ‘slightly superior.’  But times have changed and prolonged austerity measures coupled with the embarrassing and expensive trams fiasco, have provided the City’s new chief executive with an opportunity to drive through some big changes.



Rory Reynolds, Edinburgh Evening News

PARENTS running childcare facilities and tenants managing housing estates are among the new measures expected to be introduced as part of wide-ranging changes to the way services in Edinburgh are run.
From this year, Edinburgh will be among a network of “John Lewis councils” – named after the employee-owned retailer – which works to hand greater control of services to city residents. Widely publicised south of the Border in recent years, the city is the first in Scotland to adopt the “co-operative council” ethos which aims to puts power in the hands of the public instead of bureaucrats and politicians.
A conference at the City Chambers heard the experiences of other local authorities, such as Lambeth in London, which handed control of 12 housing estates to elected management boards comprised of tenants.
Away from frontline services, residents along a bus route there established mini-allotments at each stop selling vegetables, while Brixton saw the creation of a “beer co-
operative” where those involved grew hops in their garden to produce Brixton Beer.
Later this year, Edinburgh City Council will publish its annual budget for the “first time in decades” according to city leader Andrew Burns, with a view to involving the public in the way in which cash is spent.
The next 12 months will also see the creation of initiatives that city leaders believe will lead to greater power sharing and support for community projects.
It aims to open up four different key service areas to the public, the most radical of which is expected to be putting tenants in charge of the way social housing blocks are run.
The John Lewis model – which has been adopted by Plymouth City Council and Telford Council in Shropshire – has been spreading in popularity among Labour local authorities.
Councillor Burns insisted that the current “we know best” approach from both politicians and officials cannot 
continue as it is.
He said: “We want council services to be transformed by shifting power; so the council is working much more ‘in partnership’ with the local people it is ultimately here to serve. That won’t happen overnight, and it won’t apply to all of the council’s services . . . but as evidence from elsewhere has proven, small beginnings can lead to a major transformation in service design and delivery.”
‘System puts power into the hands of locals’, By Steve Reed Leader of Lambeth Council
“This is a system of local government which puts power in the hands of local people, rather than having professionals and bureaucrats run their lives.
Whenever I speak to people in social housing they don’t like the way repairs are being done. Those in social care say their routine isn’t as good as it could be. If we listen to people and give them the power they need they can control the professionals which run these services and improve them for all.
This isn’t people getting on board what the council is doing, it’s about the council getting on board what people are doing.
There is a housing estate in my ward, Blenheim Gardens, where the residents have an annual meeting where a management board is elected. All the running of the housing estate is down to the residents, who decide what needs to be done. Empty homes have been filled, cleanliness has been increased and rates of rent collection have improved. There was one area full of drug addicts and prostitutes and the residents there made sure they were cleared out.
Residents are much happier than they were before because they are in the driving seat – if they have a problem they make the housing managers sort it out.
Edinburgh will do their own thing, it’s a very different place from Lambeth, but there are similarities and we can both adopt the same approach. We’d already like to learn from the idea that your leader Andrews Burns is taking towards co-operative childcare across the city.
Establishment of parent-run nurseries and after-school clubs will be encouraged to cut down on the cost of sending children to private facilities.
A number of such groups, including those linked to Craiglockhart and Towerbank Primary schools, already exist. A management board is usually established and staff hired directly to work at the group. Fees can be as little as £7.75 per day.
Marion Clark, general manager at Towerbank, said: “Knowing that other parents run the club reassures people, and it also means parents can run it the way they would like. We have 64 kids registered with us and we’ve had to move recently because we’ve become so big.”
SOCIAL housing tenants would be handed control over the running of their own blocks and estates under one model being considered by city leaders.
Management boards made up of residents would be elected and handed responsibility over their local area. Housing officials would still work for the local authority but would be directed by those on the board, with the aim being to use their local knowledge.
Tenants would be able to ensure graffiti, vandalism and empty properties would not go unnoticed for long periods of time, while being in daily contact with the officers running their area.
Estates in Lambeth went further and ensured drug dealers and prostitutes were flushed out of the area and residents transformed squats into community facilities.
Social Care
Those who use care and home help services would be among those who would serve on boards of the organisations which deliver the service under one potential model. Social care provision would also be tailored to individuals as much as possible, instead of having city-wide guidelines.
In Lambeth the system of tailoring such services to specific communities was a huge success. The Living Well Collaborative holds monthly breakfast meetings to bring together health professionals and council workers and those who use the service, and alters its approach accordingly, assuming citizens are the experts on their own lives.
Groups aiming to establish community energy projects – such as solar panel arrays or small windfarms – will be given support from a central energy unit at the local authority.
It is intended that the service will offer advice on the government’s feed-in tariffs scheme, which pays groups for supplying renewable energy to the National Grid.
Projects already under way include the proposed small hydro-electric power station at Harlaw Reservoir, which a group of residents and engineers in Balerno are exploring. Residents in a block of flats seeking to explore such a scheme would also be supported when applying for grants.
Lord Provost Donald Wilson said: “I had solar panels installed on my home and have been using the feed-in tariff for some time.
“The legislation is all there to allow a community to explore a communal project. But it’s a question of getting the message out. It may be the case that people are put off because the returns on the feed-in tariffs have come down, but so have the costs of installation, quite significantly.”