New Lord Provost unveils eco-friendly ambitions

Labour's Donald Wilson
Labour's Donald Wilson
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HE drives a hybrid Toyota Prius and last year installed a bank of solar panels on his home.

The Capital’s new Lord Provost Donald Wilson has pledged to live up to his green credentials – and hopes to start by swapping the official three-litre BMW saloon for an eco-vehicle.

The 52-year-old computing teacher and stepdad of two is set to become Edinburgh’s civic leader next week and is determined to be an ambassador for the environment.

Councillor Wilson was nominated by Labour last night and will formally be appointed to the five-year post next week.He replaces George Grubb, who is retiring after 13 years as a councillor, and will preside over the Labour-SNP coalition.

Cllr Wilson, lives with his long-term partner in Stenhouse and has a stepdaughter and stepson. He’ll be taking a break from teaching at Newbattle Community High School in Dalkeith so he can don the chains of office.

He told the Evening News he will lead by example when taking office later this month and hopes to see the official large 7 Series saloon replaced with a more eco-friendly vehicle.

“I’m a very committed environmentalist,” he said. “I drive a Prius hybrid car and I’m very interested in environmental issues – I believe in leading by example. When you talk about solar panels people say ‘would you have those on your house’, and I say ‘well I already do’.

“And I would like nothing better than to have the first hybrid lord provost’s car.”

A key policy promoted by Cllr Wilson is the setting up of community energy partnerships.

This allows residents of an apartment block to install solar panels and sell the excess green energy to the National Grid for a profit.

In the Labour manifesto the party pledged to set up a central development unit which would help community groups and residents apply for grants and to get such projects off the ground. Originally from Selkirk, Cllr Wilson studied at Stirling University and has lived in Edinburgh since his early 20s.

As Lord Provost, Cllr Wilson will preside over debates in the City Chambers before policies and initiatives are voted upon. The former Edinburgh International Science Festival chair said he was committed to opening up the political debate to all parties.

“I very much believe in cross-party support and the solutions to many problems lies in consensus politics,” he said.

Along with his civic duties Cllr Wilson said he wanted to be an approachable lord provost and to open up politics to as many people as possible.“I would also like to lighten the spirits of the city and bring some humour to this role. I’ve always said there’s nowhere else I’d rather live and I feel very privileged to be nominated for this role.”

The first meeting of the new council is on Thursday, May 17, at which it will appoint Mr Wilson, the only nominee, as Lord Provost.

Meanwhile, today senior figures from Labour and the SNP were quick to highlight their commitment to working together to get key policies through. Both agree on the introduction of a £7.20 living wage, and Labour is confident that it can convince the SNP to support its key policy of becoming a “co-operative council” which would open up far more decisions to the public, including the current closed budget process.

Labour has used the example of Lambeth in London, where the users of public services such as home care and nurseries, among others, sit on the boards which make decisions. One senior Labour figure said: “We’ve promised voters we will introduce childcare co-ops, energy co-ops and we believe these are all things the SNP can support us on.

“There is a high degree of commonality and a great deal we can agree on to get important policies through.”

Labour and the SNP also highlighted their aims to continue to improve community safety.

With 38 of 58 councillors the coalition has a large working majority as long as both parties vote together. One Labour source played down the potential for a clash on transport policy. Labour had said during the election campaign that it would introduce a moratorium on major new projects, while the SNP promised an upgrade to the road network in key areas like the BioQuarter.

The source said: “Everyone agrees we shouldn’t be embarking on any huge new projects. During the election, the SNP and the Greens tried to make out it meant we would not do any roadworks – but that was rubbish.”

Balfour warns administration against big spending

NEW opposition leader Jeremy Balfour, left, has warned the Labour-SNP coalition against embarking on major projects and excessive spending as plans are laid for the next five years.

The Conservative leader argued that left-of-centre political groups had a poor record when it came to handling public finances and highlighted the £1.4 billion debt with which the local authority is saddled. Councillor Balfour said: “Our concern is this is now a left-of-centre coalition who in the past have been prone to spending money and financial weakness in regard to decisions.

“We are concerned how they will go about using public money and if it will be spent on pet projects for the SNP and Labour. As the largest opposition group, we will have to work very hard to ensure the administration is held accountable.”

Cllr Balfour, who leads the 11-strong group of Conservatives, warned investors would want to see a stable and business-minded administration when planning developments in Edinburgh.

He added: “Clearly they have a very good working majority so the opposition must be robust and scrutinise its decisions very carefully.”

Trams to blame

EDINBURGH’S Liberal Democrats are licking their wounds while their erstwhile coalition colleagues, the SNP, forge a new partnership with Labour.

Paul Edie, one of just three Lib Dem councillors to hold onto their seats, used his blog to analyse why the party had done so badly – and put the blame squarely on the trams.

He wrote: “When you have Princes Street and Shandwick Place dug up for months on end, when you have to take a detour of 200 yards just to cross a 20-yard road, when you have to do that four times to get to the end of Princes St and when your home backs on to never-ending tram works, then people are going to punish you.

“Much of this may not be our fault and to lay the blame at our door may be unfair when you look at all of the facts but the perception was that it was and in elections perception is everything.”

Sharing out the key roles

LABOUR and the SNP will divide up key leadership roles as they form the next administration.

As the Evening News reported yesterday, Labour leader Andrew Burns will become city council leader and SNP leader Steve Cardownie the deputy.

Today it was confirmed that Donald Wilson is the sole nominee for Lord Provost, while the SNP will nominate a deputy lord provost in the next week. However, a raft of senior roles is still to be handed out and will be split between the parties.

Labour have 20 seats and the SNP 18 so the allocation of roles is expected to be broadly even. Discussions are at an early stage, but sources suggested:

• Labour intends to take on the transport portfolio, including overseeing the trams, which is regarded as one of the most high-profile positions. Former lord provost Lesley Hinds, right, is among the likely candidates for the role.

• Labour also wants one of its councillors taking on education, with Paul Godzik, a public affairs consultant and current education spokesman, a likely candidate.

• Housing and social care is also expected to be taken on by Labour, which has been vocal in calls for further investment in social housing. Cammy Day and Maureen Child were key spokespeople in the last administration.

• Meanwhile, the SNP has asked for one of its senior councillors to be made finance leader, with deputy SNP leader Alasdair Rankin, below left, a former MoD analyst, expected to be among the candidates.

• The SNP has also suggested it continues to hold the economic development portfolio, which Tom Buchanan is regarded as having made a success of in the last administration.

• Culture and leisure, held previously by Deidre Brock, is also a key post for the party, which has placed great emphasis on the city’s festivals.

• The SNP also suggested it takes over the regulatory and licensing leadership whose role has become increasingly prominent in recent years.

• The Nationalists said they would consider new councillors for key roles.

• Other posts such as leader of the audit committee – often given to a member of the opposition for scrutiny – are still to be discussed.

Final decisions are expected to be made over the next week.