Cameron Rose: ‘Incompetence’ is not limited to trams scheme

Refuse collection is just the latest crisis afflicting the city. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Refuse collection is just the latest crisis afflicting the city. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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The slow-moving tram investigation eventually reached councillors earlier this month with an email from the inquiry asking for their views, and setting up some in key roles for interviews. You would be forgiven for thinking it is taking as long as the ill-fated construction project.

Donald Anderson, leader of the council when the plan was conceived and worked up, has come to his own conclusion, describing what he saw in the project in the News last week as “breathtaking incompetence”.  It is not difficult to agree.  

But as the fire of incompetence was engulfing the tram project the flames of scandal were breaking out elsewhere. The statutory notices corruption rumbles on with the extraordinarily ham-fisted and expensive attempts to resolve the injustices done to thousands of residents.  From recent court cases and settlements there may well be a long way to go and millions of taxpayers’ money to be stumped up.

Then there is the long-running scandal associated with Cameron House Community Centre which has been reported in this newspaper.

But there is another type of scandal afflicting our capital city.  It has been particularly in view over the summer months – though its flames break out sooner or later in almost every street of Edinburgh. It is the scandal of poor waste collections and the cleanliness of our streets. Time after time rounds or pick-ups are missed and street bins overflow. Uncollected bins block pavements for days or weeks on end and bemused householders try to report what might be thought to be a momentary lapse.  

The shocking scale of refuse collection complaints was hinted at when my colleague Nick Cook obtained figures which showed almost 53,000 complaints about the service last year – up over 50 per cent on the previous year.  But that will doubtless be the tip of the iceberg: every complainer who gets into the statistics represents a multitude who have learned to shrug their shoulders, knowing the complaint line is overloaded or their email makes no difference. The recent revelation that the “task and finish” custom in the department is alive and well may be a part of the reason. “Task and finish” is where a collection round is completed quickly enabling staff to go home early, sometimes hours before the end of their paid shift.  

But there is more to this perfect firestorm.  Edinburgh residents pay more for this poor service than any other major city.  I can see only five of the 32 councils in Scotland who pay as much per waste collection per property as Edinburgh.  As you might expect rural authorities like Angus and Highland make up those five.

There must be a better way Oh but wait? Almost five years ago proposals to run services a different way were worked up by the council (at a cost of £4m) and then ditched in the run-up to the election by the Labour and SNP groups. Contractually guaranteed savings of tens of millions per year were abandoned. Contractually higher standards of collections and street cleaning were rejected. Of course there might have been problems with that alternative way. But what we now know is that the current administration has failed to provide a competent alternative to those aborted proposals.

Then there is the scandal of the city’s roads and pavements. Or the lack of maintenance of council buildings. While the “breathtaking incompetence” of the tram project may have drawn attention away from other failures of competence, other fires still burn.

Cameron Rose is Conservative group leader at Edinburgh City Council