Council chiefs praised over making call to cut services

The state of the city's roads is an ongoing gripe among residents. Picture: Jane Barlow

The state of the city's roads is an ongoing gripe among residents. Picture: Jane Barlow

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CITY council chiefs have been praised in an Audit Scotland report for “a willingness to make difficult decisions and reduce services”.

The Best Value audit comes just weeks after controversial budget cuts were approved by the council and as complaints persist about potholes in the roads and overflowing rubbish bins.

We appreciate the difficulties the council has in trying to balance the books, but the council’s job is not just about managing finances, it’s about actually delivering services.

John Stevenson

The report said Audit Scotland had highlighted “significant concerns” in previous years about the need for the council to address its financial position.

SEE ALSO: Potholes responsible for £62k in council payouts

It continued: “While it still faces significant challenges, the council now has a clear strategy for changing the way it delivers services, reducing its workforce, and achieving substantial financial savings.”

The report also noted the big turnover in top posts at the council but said the new appointments had brought “a renewed energy to the council’s transformation programme, with the pace of change 
noticeably quickening in recent months, particularly over savings plans and workforce reductions”.

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Council leader Andrew Burns welcomed the report. He said: “With an increasing demand for services and limited funds, setting the council budget for 2016-17 has involved some of the toughest decisions of my 17 years in local government. But by prioritising the services that really matter to people I think we have achieved a budget that meets the needs of the public.”

However, John Stevenson, branch president of local government union Unison, said there was a big difference between cost and value.

He said: “Best value is best judged by the people who are getting the services and they are certainly not seeing best value at the moment and will be seeing less and less of it as time goes on.

“We appreciate the difficulties the council has in trying to balance the books, but the council’s job is not just about managing finances, it’s about actually delivering services.”

SEE ALSO: Council budget ‘leaves public services in crisis’

Mr Stevenson said the key tests were whether people were able to receive home care when they needed it and whether the roads were being fixed. “That’s what people will judge them by.”

He said it was true the pace of change had accelerated. “There has been a speeding up – some would say it’s being rushed. The difficulty we have is a detachment between the centre and frontline service providers. The council is embarking on around 28 organisational reviews, some of which are about reinventing old, old wheels.”

He said the council was at risk of “restructuring out the good stuff because no-one stopped to look at what was actually happening on the ground. The danger is you take your eye off the ball because all the time is taken up by reorganising, especially at such a pace as we’re seeing just now”.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com