Gina Davidson: We never talk our city down

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IT’S not often that I feel driven to respond to the comments that readers of this newspaper – at least those who are online consumers of its content – like to leave on the Evening News website.

There are many who believe that such instant interaction between reader and story is not a good thing, but I disagree. Allowing readers to respond quickly to news stories, editorials, features and columnist opinions gives an insight into what provokes reaction, what really matters to people, and the thoughts of those who do not have easy access to having their voices heard.

Even if what’s written is not always articulate, spelled correctly, and sometimes appears to relate to a different subject matter altogether, it’s all valid. It’s especially heartening to discover the wit and humour of readers, even if a lot of the comedy is very dark. And I do feel that if you’re going to write something, then you’re bound to face disagreement – that’s just part of the process (though I always feel it’s a bit of a cop-out that most online commentators don’t use their real names).

However, this week there have been some remarks left on the website which I can’t ignore.

When the Evening News ran a story on Tuesday about Edinburgh City Council apparently being in the running for the award of “UK Council of the Year”, many readers scoffed at the very idea. How, given the trams debacle, school closures and bin men dispute, to name just a handful of controversies, could the local authority be awarded anything except a raspberry?

But amidst the general incredulity there were some who accused this newspaper of continually talking Edinburgh down, of making the city a “laughing stock” and of it being an “utter disgrace” that the Evening News “knocks” elected representatives in a bid to sell papers.

Of course, it could well have been a councillor who left that last remark – but given the anonymity of such postings, who can tell? However, while I defend the right of those who’ve made such allegations to do so, they have to be refuted. There is no greater champion of Edinburgh than this newspaper.

It delights in the successes of its citizens in any walk of life; it feels the pain of the families who are suffering from illness or who are mourning loved ones lost in tragic circumstances; it campaigns for Edinburgh’s hospitals, for its national institutions, for its people; it shares the highs and lows of its football fans; and it feels a certain pride when it publishes the photographs of the city’s children when they start school for the first time.

Ever since the Evening News was first printed in 1873, it has done all that it can to sing the praises of the best place to live in Britain – but also to try to ensure that it remains that way for everyone. And that is why it holds elected representatives to account.

Perhaps if the opposition parties did a more effective job then there would be fewer controversies emerging from the City Chambers – and I don’t just mean the current opposition parties, but going back many years now.

Perhaps if those who were elected had a grander vision themselves for the future of Edinburgh, the Evening News wouldn’t feel that it has to keep pressing them to be more inspirational.

Perhaps if they sometimes had the backbone to stand up to council officials long in tooth and well aware of how to manipulate raw recruits, then perhaps the Evening News wouldn’t have to run stories which questioned the common sense of councillors.

It’s a big perhaps. And until the day things change then I celebrate the fact that Edinburgh has a newspaper which cares so deeply about the city that it holds those in power to account. So keep on commenting on our online stories. But just remember that without them, you wouldn’t know the half of what is going on in Edinburgh.

What price care?

FROM one high horse to another. Childcare in Scotland now costs so much that parents might as well stop working, according to a new study by Save the Children and the Daycare Trust. Just which parent didn’t know that? Which family hasn’t had the monthly conversation about whether or not they’d be better off if one of them stopped working so they could save on childcare costs – and possibly claim benefits?

Of course, the more children you have the worse it gets, but even when I had just one baby, coming back to work full-time meant the nursery fees were as much as a second mortgage.

The financial balance is all askew. I know of nurseries which are putting up fees because they’ve seen a drop in numbers as parents have opted to stop work or lost their job in the recession and have pulled their kids out of childcare. So the financial pain is passed on to those still walking the fine line.

Just how is Scotland supposed to compete economically if childcare costs are forcing people to stop working? And the kneejerk response that “people shouldn’t have children” is just foolish. It wasn’t too long ago that the Scottish Government was encouraging families to get bigger to aid population growth – and ensure there’s a future workforce for the country.

Quite why the costs are so high in Scotland isn’t explained. That’s a study I’d like to see published.