After the trams debacle, Edinburgh now needs to concentrate on the basics, says city council Conservative leader Jeremy Balfour
Edinburgh Conservatives have a clear focus on what the city needs to do in the next five years. Below. I outline five principles needed to shape our decision and direction.
But first, where are we starting from? There is an unease and lack of confidence about the direction and leadership in Edinburgh.
Three key issues illustrate this: The failure to manage the tram project has dented our pride in Edinburgh; the meltdown of the council statutory notices service has shaken to the core the confidence of many; and, third, confusion and uncertainty of leadership has brought about a lack of coherence in the SNP/Lib Dem coalition.
Originally principled in their opposition to trams, the SNP eventually performed a U-turn. The lack of a consistent and united vision from the SNP/Lib Dem administration has led directly to the confused handling of modernising and contracting out key services. The quality and cost of providing a range of key of functions depends on a common understanding of direction and leadership.
As a result, Edinburgh has failed to meet many challenges and exploit the opportunities there have undoubtedly been in the last four-and-a-half years.
Recognising that any party can be expected to work in partnership, projects and progress need to be driven forward with dynamic vision and leadership. That means being prepared to take difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. It also involves persistence in seeing things through and it needs prompt intervention to prevent a drama developing into a debacle. For example, the lack of prompt intervention was a key factor in the trams mess.
So here are five principles the Conservatives will offer Edinburgh next May.
1. Sound finances
It is imperative for Edinburgh’s future that financial discipline is at the heart of our stewardship. Confidence in the city’s ability to manage its finances is essential for attracting business and growth to the city, and in inspiring those who live and work here.
We live in difficult financial times and the next few years will see budgets reduced and difficult decisions will need to be made. But challenges also bring opportunities to do things better and more efficiently. We believe there are many opportunities for delivering better quality and more efficient services.
2. Core services
Because the council carries out a wide range of functions, it is essential to focus on core services to prevent drift and confusion. Edinburgh needs excellent services, but the good is sometimes the enemy of the best. We need to get the basics right: clean and safe streets, improved roads and pavements, make sure our buildings are maintained and improved, and protect and look after the most vulnerable in our city.
We will pursue excellence in education, with parental aspirations getting priority. We will make sure local services are delivered efficiently and to a standard that everyone can be proud off. We believe this can be done if confident, decisive leadership is given.
The Conservative group wants to work with all sectors of society to see services delivered. We recognise the excellent role that charities and the social enterprises play in the city and want to grow and encourage them in providing excellent services.
We want to work with businesses – small and large – and to develop relationships and models to provide services for everyone in the city. We want to root out inefficiencies which strangle initiative, enterprise, excellence and co-operation. We will have faith in people recognising that policy, programmes and processes sometimes stifle innovation and initiative. We believe in giving people responsibility and holding them accountable.
4. Ethos and efficiency
We want Edinburgh to be attractive for new businesses, small and large. We will market Edinburgh as a great place to do business for small enterprises, for large investors and for growing businesses. We will encourage local entrepreneurs and large international organisations to take advantage of our skilled workforce and the welcoming environment we will foster.
We will foster a “can do” and service ethos. Edinburgh has many good cultural facilities, including theatres and museums. Some, however, are struggling and need help. A Conservative administration would bring them under a single cultural trust with professional management.
5. Your say
We also recognise the need to work with the grain of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Edinburgh.
We are currently preparing our manifesto for next May and, as part of that process, we would like to hear from you. What are your priorities and what would you like to be different? Please contact me with your suggestions or comments and I will discuss them with you.
Conservatives believe in Edinburgh as a great place to live and work, but we can make it even better if we have these values directing our decisions.