Andrew Burns: Shifting power to public can boost trust

AS I write, the dust is still settling following the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum.

By Andrew Burns
Monday, 22nd September 2014, 12:23 pm
Changes to political structures could impact on the Capital. Picture: Paul Parke
Changes to political structures could impact on the Capital. Picture: Paul Parke

The media attention on Scotland, and on Edinburgh in particular, has been unparalleled and I am delighted that, as ever, Edinburgh shone as a city. Credit is due to the many hundreds of council, and other, staff who have played their part in making this possible – both at Ingliston and elsewhere across the city.

Of course, whatever the result, Edinburgh was still going to remain Scotland’s capital and a wonderful place to live and work – and, crucially, do business. We are in the unique position in Scotland of having a Labour-SNP coalition running the city – something that will continue at least until the next local council elections in 2017.

I can assure the citizens of Edinburgh that the coalition’s focus will remain on running the city in the fairest and most efficient way possible and on delivering the pledges set out in our contract with the Capital two-and-a-half years ago.

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The one conclusion we can draw from the referendum campaign, and the passionate debate and comment it has engendered within and outwith Scotland, is that right across the UK communities, households and individuals feel excluded from power over the decisions that affect them day to day.

The high turnout and the final result of the vote itself show the game is up for top-down decision-making based on centralised government. Whichever side of the referendum debate they supported, people have made it clear they want big change.

For too long now, government, at all levels, has done things to people, when we should be doing things with people. If we want to restore trust in politics, we need to shift power as close as possible to the people it affects and, crucially, not simply replace one top-down system with another.

Parents need more control over schools, patients need a bigger say in their treatment, tenants need more control over how their homes and estates are managed, victims need more power to help stop crime.

If we achieve this, we will harness the insights and capacity of individuals and communities to make public services more effective at doing the things people really want to see and force organisations to work together on priorities identified locally, preventing problems before they develop rather than simply trying to manage failure.

Whatever changes there may now be to political structures, this shift of power will demand a culture change in government at all levels – central, devolved and local.

We will also have to accept that different places will do things differently and welcome that as a way of letting innovation flourish. It is by involving people in the decisions that affect them that we will rebuild broken relationships, strengthen communities and empower people to build to a better society.

• Councillor Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council