LETTERS: Council has questions to answer on data collection

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I was interested to read Councillor Rankin’s letter explaining how Edinburgh council contact centre staff are supposed to be responding to callers’ inquiries (‘Council ID questions have no hidden agenda’, Letters, August 8), for it bears little relationship to my own experience on several occasions.

With regard to staff being required to explain that the giving of a date of birth is voluntary, I have never been told this. On the contrary, I have had to argue as to why I would have any objection to supplying them with a whole range of identifying information, including my date of birth, but also my phone number, mobile number and e-mail address.

While my call may have been a simple matter relating to a waste bin, the council clearly has its own agenda to hoover up as much personal information about me as possible, no doubt to store in its citizens’ database. Though, of course, the council doesn’t bother to tell us this.

I really object to the council proceeding in this way and it certainly shouldn’t be doing any of it without first obtaining my fully informed consent, especially since it seems hopeless at keeping people’s data secure, having in recent weeks allowed 13,000 e-mail addresses to be stolen.

Phoning the council is extremely disconcerting, for whether supplying the information is voluntary or not is not the issue. We should not routinely be asked to divulge identifying information. To do so is exceedingly poor practice.

My calls have been about refuse collection. Not even my name, only an address was actually required to fulfil the requests.

I note that the Scottish Government’s own excellent guidance on privacy makes clear that our services should be “asking for as little information as possible”.

So why is Edinburgh council intent on ignoring this sage advice and doing the precise opposite and risking our privacy into the bargain? I think that we need a clear 
explanation.

Name and address supplied

Students are a bonus, not a ‘problem’

I first came to live in Edinburgh as a student many years ago and, after three years studying, made it my home.

Perhaps that’s why I am continually baffled at the attitude of some Edinburgh residents who talk of “student ghettoes” and meaningless percentages of certain areas being populated by those studying at our universities.

Edinburgh is a university city – it provides thousands of well paid jobs in academia, and overseas students bring valuable funding as well as making the city more internationalist in culture and outlook.

They also put millions into the local economy and most of us are happy they are here. I don’t believe that those who shout the loudest are always right. Those who claim that students are some sort of “problem” show only their own parochial, 
narrow-mindedness.

Gavin Fleming, Websters Land, Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Scottish Government bars route to hotel fee

Helen Martin is quite right about the merits of a tourist tax or ‘transient visitor levy’ to give it its Sunday name (News, August 10).

In my Green budget amendment earlier this year I showed how a levy of £1 per night could net an additional £5 million a year, with £2 netting £10m – freeing up budgets to focus on core services like care for older people, street cleaning and libraries.

That budget also showed that the levy could be part of a bigger package of income which could bring in almost £26m, using powers which local councils across Europe would regard as normal.

What is the barrier? Mainly the Scottish Government’s reluctance to grant powers to councils and its clinging to a council tax freeze which ministers know is well past its sell-by date.

The current commission on local taxation is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to reverse a tide of centralisation and ensure councils have the means to invest properly in services, whether from visitor levies or other sources.

The alternative is a race to the bottom in which the only sure loser is the basic services which Edinburgh residents need.

Cllr Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesperson, City Chambers

Tourist tax is a regular charge in Europe

I read Helen Martin’s excellent comment piece on the proposal for a tourist tax and completely agree.

A local tax on hotels and restaurants is fair, they are used by people with choice and disposable income. Local services are used by all and all should contribute.

Local taxation is not new or unfamiliar throughout Europe.

A Keith, Braids, Edinburgh

Oil price is crucial to Scotland’s future

Fraser Grant accuses me of being obsessed with the falling oil price (Letters, August 7). If worrying about the thousands of job losses and pay cuts happening right now in Aberdeen makes me obsessed, then so be it.

At $48 a barrel, oil wells are being abandoned in the North Sea as it is simply uneconomical to get the last of the oil out. The tax rises that we would face if Scotland went for full fiscal autonomy would be massive and damage jobs and public services.

If nationalists were honest enough to argue for independence despite the cost, they might get more respect from those of us who worry about little things like oil prices.

M Smythe, Dalry Road, Edinburgh