Gina Davidson: I’ll sign up for more city staff

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IT had to happen. What with the encroaching presence of social media in our lives and its apparent power to launch campaigns and Get Things Done, combined with the catalogue of scandals engulfing this city’s local authority, someone has launched an online petition calling for a public inquiry into the management of Edinburgh City Council.

It is hard to judge what people really think about the council. Going solely by comments on Twitter, Facebook or this paper’s website, then you would imagine that the people of Edinburgh want to see at least all senior council officials hanged and elected members shot. However, the annual survey of residents always shows record levels of happiness and contentment about council services (warning: this is a poll conducted on behalf of the council).

The truth will be somewhere in the middle. But there’s no doubting that in recent years there has been a string of major problems which have left the council floundering and its critics lining up to pile on the pressure.

From the trams to Liberton High school’s wall collapse, the Mortonhall baby ashes revelations to the statutory notices rip-off, the chief executive’s dual role with an energy provider (the council housing energy provider at that), to planning problems and the overspend of the city’s flood defences, it is easy to feel as though there are times when a large but headless chicken is in charge of the city.

Chief executive Sue Bruce got the tram project on track but where are all those who came before her and let it run into the buffers so many times? Thankfully a public inquiry into that issue has been announced.

But why is there so little movement on the statutory repairs scandal – which could cost the council much more than the £12m it has already written off? Admittedly the council held its hands up over Mortonhall –although no-one except those working directly at the crematorium seemed to have any clue what was going on there. And for that Mark Turley, director of services for communities, has taken the bullet. He could probably also see the Liberton tragedy of the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett looming in his in-tray and decided not to even have to contemplate dealing with the fall-out.

So who will? And why have these things happened in the first place?

Well, with trams the council let an arms-length body go about its business with no scrutiny; on statutory notices, blind eyes were turned, quid pro quo deals done and the resulting suspensions of staff had such a knock-on effect that property repairs weren’t getting done leading, potentially, to tragedies such as that at Liberton.

On Mortonhall, nobody gave two hoots what was happening as long as it was a profitable enterprise causing no-one further up the tree any bother. And planning? It is a quagmire of sloth, red tape and lack of imagination.

The main problem, though, is a lack of staff. Of good staff who are prepared to challenge old authorities and established patterns of practice in the council. But there’s a lack of staff in general leading to mistakes being made, problems not being spotted, all stemming from reducing budgets and increasing demands on services.

What Edinburgh needs for these scandals not to happen again is more, properly trained, expert staff in the right jobs, who are under scrutiny.

Furthermore whistleblowers should be listened to, their fears investigated thoroughly. And there should be a greater number of councillors. More are needed to bear the load of the scrutiny of the workings of the council, to be asking the questions of the officials, to be holding the staff to account in the name of the public interest.

When I last looked the petition had 3645 signatures. That’s not too far off the 5000 the council itself surveys in its annual poll as being a fair, sample of the city. While it may likely come to nought, it should serve as a warning.

THE BORN IDENTITY

SO the panda is pregnant. Has anyone mentioned that a third one will make Tory MPs an even rarer species in Scotland? Oh, they have?

Fumes, noise . . and that’s just for starters

I CAN think of nowhere worse to eat dinner al fresco than on the corner of Lothian Road and Shandwick Place, one of the busiest and most polluted places in Edinburgh. Well, perhaps the Haymarket junction.

The owners of the Rutland Hotel want around 60 people to be able to dine outside the landmark pub. Nice idea, but the reality would be less than edifying, and the meal likely inedible. “Can I recommend a little exhaust fumes with the Pouilly Fume, madam? How about a tram ding ding on the side with your T-bone, sir?”

The Rutland’s neighbour, the Caledonian Hotel, believes that tables and chairs on the pavement will block its pedestrian entrances and ruin the view for some of its guests. Perhaps so, but the whole idea is a gastronomic nightmare.

Pedal towards cure for cancer

TWENTY years ago this year my mum passed away after a five-year battle with breast cancer. She had a particularly aggressive form of the disease which spread to her brain, and that is what eventually killed her.

But almost to the end she was happily signing up for experimental treatments and medicines. She knew that even if there was little hope for her, that the women coming behind her would benefit from what she was putting herself through.

It’s women like her and thousands of others who are at the forefront of breast cancer research. And it’s the research that’s vital in the march to finding a cure – and at the least better, more individual treatments tailored to each person.

The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds most of the research at its unit at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, headed by surgeon Professor Mike Dixon.

He is getting on his bike next month to take part in Pedal for Scotland aiming to raise thousands for the charity and research. You could join him or sponsor him at www.justgiving.com/Mike-Dixon1.

If my mum was alive today she’d be taking herceptin, a drug developed over years of research, now saving women’s lives. Your mum could benefit from that, or your daughter, or your friend. Please give.