‘Do we want professional councillors?’

Seven months before the local elections, doubt was cast last week on the ability of councillors to cope with the demands of the job.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 17th October 2011, 1:06 pm

No surprise there, you might think, but the claim came from an unexpected source – one of Edinburgh’s top councillors.

The city’s transport spokesman, Lib Dem Gordon Mackenzie, must have viewed an hour-long interview on the trams as a chance to stand up for the council, especially its representatives on TIE’s board.

“We were not people who had previously had experience of major projects like this,” explained Cllr Mackenzie. “We probably didn’t have the right skill mix. We were put together for political purposes.”

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His words will be echoing today as we reveal the latest concerns over the way £8000-a-day experts were brought in to bail out the project.

For his part, Cllr Mackenzie was ridiculed for his comments. The irony is that while he was politically naive, he had a point. In theory at least, our entire democracy is founded on the election of what should be ordinary people.

Our MPs and MSPs are increasingly “professional” politicians but, despite recent reforms and pay rises, our councillors are still in essence “amateurs”.

As such, they are supposed to bring experience of normal life to the City Chambers. Yes, the quality of that experience – to say nothing of their competence – is patchy, at best.

But surely we don’t instead want yet more party place-men and ambitious politicians with sharp elbows?

A second irony of Cllr’s Mackenzie’s battering is that the city council created TIE precisely because it wanted transport professionals rather than amateurs on the job.

That’s one reason why senior council officials as well as political leaders took such an arms-length approach – and look at the mess that has landed the city in.

When the inevitable public inquiry comes, we suspect it will be the professionals who are in the firing line, more than the amateurs.

Post sell-by date

IT’S hard to believe that some party political posters are still up, nearly six months after the election.

In the weeks after the May poll, the News told organisers to “Get Them Down” to tidy up the city’s lampposts. We thought we’d got them all, but hadn’t reckoned on the lethargy of some local Lib Dems.

Or is it a cunning ploy to get round the council’s recent ban on putting up political posters by leaving these ones where they are until next May’s local authority elections?