Gina Davidson: Rust finds voice in buses shambles

Councillor Jason Rust has shown he can ask the right questions in the Lothian Buses row. Picture: Jayne Wright
Councillor Jason Rust has shown he can ask the right questions in the Lothian Buses row. Picture: Jayne Wright
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COULD this have been the week when a proper opposition was finally discovered in the City Chambers?

It feels like it’s been some time since we heard much, if indeed anything, from the politicians who don’t make up the Labour/SNP ruling coalition. Admittedly the half- dozen Greens do their best, there are barely any Liberal Democrats to mention, but the 11 Tories seem generally silent on all subjects and certainly don’t bust a gut to set the agenda.

However Jason Rust has found his voice and at last someone seems to be asking some pertinent questions about the whole Lothian Buses mess which just keeps going round and round.

A quick recap: three long-term directors launched a grievance against chief executive Ian Craig claiming he undermined them. There was an investigation by chairwoman Ann Faulds which upheld five grievances and after a failed mediation process Faulds recommended that Craig should be removed.

However this was prevented by the council, Faulds instead resigned her post, and suddenly transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds was parachuted on to the board as an “observer”.

Since then there’s been a new chair appointed and the four directors at the centre of the problems will all be gone by 2017, leaving behind them a smell as bad as that from the exhaust of an old SMT bus.

According to leaked documents and the fact that some grievances were upheld, it seems true that the Annandale Three who lodged the complaints were right to do so in some respects: Craig ignored them when it came to hiring and firing senior staff and approved the spending of money on tram trinkets among other things. But if that wasn’t enough for the council – led by Andrew Burns and Hinds – to agree with Faulds’ recommendation, what lay behind their decision?

Why did they veto Faulds’ decision and allow Craig to stay in place? Did they have concerns about the investigation, about the actions of the Annandale Three? Or did they feel they just wanted some continuity as Craig was also running the trams?

Cllr Rust is right in his demands for the council’s actions to be made clear. A detailed report of events and council involvement in Lothian Buses since the beginning of last year could shed some much needed light on a very murky scandal.

Hinds and Burns may claim they’ve kept the transport spokespeople from other parties in the loop, but what about the general public? Lothian Buses is still a publicly owned firm and the people who frequent the buses shouldn’t be left in the dark.

And should a shareholder be interfering at all in the way a business operates? When does arms-length become hands-on? You certainly don’t see culture and sports ­convener ­Councillor Richard Lewis being ­parachuted in to help resolve Edinburgh Leisure’s problems.

Rust says the local authority has pretty much been kept out of what’s going on in Annandale Street. I’ve even heard that this is one ­controversy which Sue Bruce pretty much wants to steer well clear of, ­leaving it to the politicians to resolve.

For a long time Lothian Buses has been the apple of the council’s eye – winning awards and appearing to be be run in a manner which keeps fares low and the bus stock new. It ­cannot be allowed to become yet another problem dragging the institutional reputation of the city down.

Cllr Rust needs to keep banging this drum.

Gallery should give a little back

GREAT news that the Scottish National Gallery wants to expand further and show more of the wonderful art it has in its stores. Only drawback is the further encroachment into Princes Street Gardens.

The council is all for giving the land required to the Gallery and no doubt it will get a nod through at the Sheriff Court, where it has to be approved because it’s common good land, therefore owned by the people of Edinburgh.

Then there will be the legal stamp of approval by the Scottish Parliament, as building on Princes Street Gardens is absolutely prohibited, so a Bill has to be drawn up to allow it.

It all gets very pricey when lawyers are involved. But I just wonder if there should be some quid pro quo in these deals.

If we’re to lose some land (which at market value would be extremely pricey) – and admittedly that strip is probably no loss to most – should the Gallery do something for the city in return? Housing developers are often made to incorporate infrastructure and even schools with their permissions. Perhaps the Gallery could start by repairing the Ross Fountain?

Brave faces are an inspiration

IT’S always hard to read of people’s cancer struggles.

This past fortnight two stories have been particularly moving – 48-year-old storyteller Angie Townsend, who has two young daughters, and Jak Trueman, above, who is just 15, are both coming to terms with terminal diagnoses. Their bravery in getting on with things, in there being “no point moping about” as Jak put it, is inspirational, and I hope it gives strength to others who are facing their own battles.

TIME FOR ACTION

A total of 3525 people took the time to respond to the council’s budget consultation. Doesn’t sound many in a city of nearly half a million, but it’s five times more than last year so let’s not gripe too much. Let’s just see if their opinions actually affect any decision making.