On a recent visit to Belfast I spied from the window of the room where we were meeting the cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
It was at the fourth mention, by my hosts, of the fact that the Titanic was built there that I, cheekily, suggested that if the Titanic had been built on the Clyde it wouldn’t have sank? The response was ‘It was fine when it left here!’
That’s how many feel about the perilous state of Edinburgh council finances. In 2007 we inherited a mess from Labour but we managed to get the books under control rebuilding our reserves and ensuring for the first time ever every department in the council kept within its budget; all this during the worst of the recession.
Next week the council will set its budget but before then will have to debate a damning report from Audit Scotland which questions whether the council leadership are up to balancing the books over the forthcoming years. This means making tough choices but the ruling Labour/SNP administration has shown an aversion towards taking difficult decisions. We have seen it over Leith Waterworld, Castlebrae High School and both parties eventually railed against the proposed outsourcing of bin collections and cleaning.
Opportunities have been squandered to save money from one area which could be spent on areas of more critical need, such as social care. This is an administration which never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, particularly when it comes to spending other people’s money prudently. We see again with the BOLD programme which will decentralise services.
Officials tell us we are massively over managed yet the administration has promised to cut back on managers by a few hundred – half of the estimated over staffing.
Previous outsourcing proposals would have saved tens of millions while improving the quality of our cleansing services. It was rejected in favour of an in-house system which repeatedly fails to deliver the most essential service to our residents. All this in spite of Labour assurances that, as the unions were in their pockets, they would be best placed to ensure it worked. Well not only have we blown millions of other people’s money but we get a level of service which is the worst I have seen since the epic strikes of the 1970s.
Audit Scotland is the public watchdog charged with taking councils to task if they are not acting in the best interests of their tax payers. It is a hugely important check to the arrogance of the powerful. If this administration swats aside their observations like an annoying insect then they will be culpable of maladministration.
We will see if the council leaders finally step up to the plate and start to govern in the interests of the residents of Edinburgh rather than running the most expensive recruitment agency in the city.
• Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat group leader on Edinburgh City Council