Brian Monteith: Bread and butter issues that spread the pain

The citys libraries have been unable to order new books. Picture: Neil Hanna
The citys libraries have been unable to order new books. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Is it any wonder that so many people are worried about change? No, I’m not writing about big events like Brexit, or Scotland leaving the UK – I’m thinking of more humdrum issues like borrowing a new book from a library or driving your car on Leith Walk.

Finding that your local library has not been able to order, catalogue or reserve books – since February – sounds so daft it has to be true.

If that is what happens under the new system why was the old one replaced, when obviously it worked better? And why was there no contingency plan if the IT system had problems – such as not allowing new books to be entered into the system or borrowed?

Installing new IT systems in the NHS, Prison Service and all sorts of government departments has a long history of expensive failure – some have been abandoned altogether! That being the case, does nobody do a risk assessment these days so they can be ready for the problems an IT switch-over invariably brings? At least no one can blame it on Brexit.

Some might not think it is a matter of life or death, and indeed it’s not, but to many people in Edinburgh a trip to the library for the latest crime novel, romantic comedy or historical biography is the highlight of the week. Edinburgh council doesn’t have too many responsibilities, but running the city libraries is one of them, so people expect them to get it right.

Then there was the news of the impact the tram extension would have on Leith Walk. In this instance Edinburgh Council already has form, the digging up of Leith Walk and the widespread disruption it caused hit a number of small businesses there – some having to close altogether due to the loss of trade. Having gone through all of the mismanagement of the trams then came the abandonment of the Newhaven route via Leith Walk – so the pain was all in vain!

I was never a supporter of the trams, believing that improving our already excellent bus service made more sense. The huge cost did not justify replacing the No 22 bus route with a tram, but now we have them and they are here to stay and I can see that to make the trams worthwhile there should be a better network – especially to new housing developments that the city desperately needs. If providing the route to Newhaven facilitates more housing of all types, sizes and prices then the pain of Leith Walk traders might not be in vain. That’s the hope but I fear the reality for them will be different. With another three years of work to get the route up and running their trade will be disrupted again – this time they need better protection and better compensation. The omens, however, are not good, closing Leith Walk down to only single-file traffic for at least 18 months of the works is a serious disruption that means people will seek to avoid Leith Walk altogether.

Passing trade (like stopping off at my favourite pipe shop) will be diverted and other streets like Easter Road will become chokka – will it be one-way traffic there too? Single lane traffic has to be looked at again and reassessed.

With the tram line extension taking at least three years (what’s the odds on a delay due to the discovery of a historical artefact or subterranean cables etc?) the work will still likely be going on when the next council elections take place. That gives Edinburgh Council every incentive to get its act together this time and try to do it smoothly.

Let’s just hope they don’t try to change the tram IT system at the same time, you might end up getting a book rather than a tram ticket.