Nobody doubts that councils are currently under pressure – and here in Edinburgh we’ve not only got a reducing budget, but have to manage that against a backdrop of increasing demand for local services.
I’m certainly not complaining about that increasing demand for services – it’s most definitely a positive that more and more people are living longer and many thus require access to elderly care services; and also a positive that more and more children are living in the city and in need of access to education and early-years services.
These are but two of the most obvious – and high priority – areas where the demand for council services is growing fast.
And for eight years now the city council has undertaken a wide-ranging Edinburgh People Survey (EPS) to gauge the feelings of residents by asking questions about local government services, quality of life issues, and perceptions of the council.
The survey measures satisfaction with the council and its services, identifying areas for improvement and gathering information about residents which is not available through other sources or at neighbourhood level. The survey is undertaken through face-to-face interviews with around 5000 residents each year, conducted in the street and door-to-door. The EPS is the largest face-to-face survey undertaken by any UK local authority.
The latest set of annual results – for 2014 – has just been published and, I think it’s fair to say, they provide some positive encouragement but also flag-up several areas where improvement is required. In 2014, a total of 5125 adults were interviewed face-to-face, as part of the EPS, and the overall accuracy of city-level results has a margin of error at 1.4 per cent. It is an accurate statistical sample.
And the detailed results for 2014 indicate that over three-quarters (76 per cent) of Edinburgh residents are satisfied with the way the council is managing neighbourhoods.
A total of 89 per cent of residents are satisfied with Edinburgh as place to live, with two-thirds (67 per cent) expressing satisfaction with the council’s management of the city overall – up from a low of 35 per cent in 2009.
In a positive reflection on the city’s diversity, 81 per cent agree that their neighbourhood is a place where people of different backgrounds get along, while 83 per cent feel safe in their neighbourhood after dark.
And, in a sign of growing confidence in the economy, 20 per cent of respondents feel they have better or much better circumstances than a year ago, with 80 per cent confident of their future career prospects in Edinburgh.
The top line figures do therefore continue to offer encouragement and reassurance that, broadly speaking, residents believe the city is being managed well.
But, that said, given the earlier mentioned backdrop of falling budgets and greater demand for our services, it’s hardly surprising that some areas are performing less well – particularly those areas, such as refuse collection and recycling, currently undergoing significant changes to delivery.
Refuse collection satisfaction has fallen for the third consecutive year; recycling for a second year; and street cleaning satisfaction has also decreased between 2013 and 2014.
The public’s top priorities for improvement, meanwhile, do include roads maintenance, street cleaning and refuse collection, and tackling dog fouling – satisfaction levels with the latter having fallen for a fifth consecutive year.
We will use these results – both positive and negative – alongside our extensive budget consultation feedback, to inform our decisions for the coming year.
Indeed, just last month we did revise our budget for this coming financial year – based on the feedback we received to our earlier draft proposals – and committed major additional investment to roads and pavements, and also to school infrastructure.
There is clearly much work yet to be done, and we need to continue delivering the pledges we made to Edinburgh residents back in 2012, and look for that to be reflected in future surveys.
As council leader I’ve been extremely keen we continue with this large public survey, on an annual basis, publishing the results in full. It’s the right thing to do – and it does help us determine our local priorities throughout the year. And, alongside our separate budget consultation, it informs our decisions in a very definite manner.
Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council