As we approach the Council’s annual budget meeting next month, on February 22, there’s no getting away from the challenges we continue to face in terms of the balancing the books in the face of ever-increasing demand for our services but, thanks to effective financial and workforce planning, I believe we are well placed to meet them head on.
Of course, we already have a strong record here, having saved around £240 million in the last five years alone by working more efficiently and prioritising frontline services.
One such example of financial acumen is the recent leasing of Lothian Chambers to the French Consulate which, aside from enabling us to bring a range of services together, with Registration Services relocating to the newly refurbished Customer Hub, realised a capital payment of almost £3m.
As the population grows and income is stretched, this premium will go some way towards helping us deliver crucial services to the people of Edinburgh, enabling us to prioritise the things that really matter to people. And, with their move across the Royal Mile, our Registration Services have found a welcome home in the new Hub. As part of our efforts to work more smartly, the revamped office makes it easier than ever for the public to make payments, applications and register significant life events.
Earlier this week, I paid a visit to see the new facilities, which I’m pleased to say have created a much more user-friendly space. While we, as a Council, strive to keep abreast of technological advances, moving services online, we still very much value face-to-face interaction and upgrades to the Hub recognise this. As well as the introduction of self-serve kiosks, our new automated “q-matic” reception service helps to improve the customer experience.
It’s essential that visitors are met with a friendly and sympathetic environment at what can be a difficult, or equally, joyous, time while registering a birth, death or marriage. We are now able to offer space for confidential meetings, tailored desk points and new, fresh surroundings for appointments, and customer feedback has been extremely positive so far.
What’s more, a wedding suite is under development in the building, so we will soon be offering couples the chance to say “I do” against the picturesque backdrop of Princes Street Gardens and within the historic setting of the City Chambers.
Specially designed rooms have also been created to offer the perfect setting for Throughcare and Aftercare and Youth Protective Services, which have relocated to the Hub as part of the refurbishment. These modern areas not only provide a space for young people in need of support, but feature special touches like cooking facilities to help young clients learn the life skills they need.
As pressure on our services continue to grow, we need to find a new way of working, making the most of our assets while recognising the needs of our citizens. The Customer Hub demonstrates that this can be done, and I look forward to seeing this approach replicated across the city in the years to come.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance convener at Edinburgh City Council