I think you’d need to be inhabiting a wholly different world from the one I live in not to be aware that trust between the electorate and those of us either elected, or employed, to serve that electorate, has broken down in recent years.
This malaise doesn’t simply affect councils, nor is it unique to Edinburgh, but it has to be openly acknowledged before we can successfully reinvigorate our local democracy.
It was clear when we formed the Capital coalition with our SNP colleagues in May 2013 that business as usual wasn’t an option; we had to change the way we do things. That’s why we committed to becoming a “cooperative capital”. In essence, we want to do things with people, not to them.
If this is to work, it can’t be a one-way street: dialogue is a must.
We want to encourage communities, partners and those using our services to become more involved in how these are planned, managed and delivered. We quickly established the first petitions committee in Edinburgh to enable residents to have an additional channel to raise issues of concern, with their elected representatives, and directly with the council.
We also completely revised the budgetary process to allow months of debate and discussion before any final decisions are made, this year publishing a draft budget in October – five months before the budget is set.
Hundreds of businesses and residents have responded to our consultation, and I’m grateful to them for taking the time to let us know their thoughts.
In September 2012, we took on board voters’ priorities and focused our co-operative efforts on four key areas: housing, childcare, energy and social care.
And I’m pleased to report that, following 12 months of hard work by our cooperative development unit and others, we’re beginning to make some tangible progress.
In November, councillors approved funding of £25,000 to help the Craigmillar Eco Housing Co-operative take forward plans to build ten sustainable homes in Greendykes, providing much-needed affordable housing in this part of the city.
Soon after, we signed an agreement with the Edinburgh Community Solar Cooperative and are developing a project that will make use of council buildings to generate electricity for the benefit of the community, while also helping us to cut carbon emissions.
And then, in partnership with NHS Lothian, we awarded a grant to the Edinburgh Development Group to help develop a social care co-op of relatives of young adults with learning and other complex disabilities.
There is undoubtedly still much work to be done but, looking ahead to 2014, I’m confident that we have at least relaid the solid foundations for a healthier, and more vibrant, democracy here in Scotland’s capital city.
Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council