Edinburgh Council: After another bad report, it's time for change at the top – John McLellan

A year ago a vote of no confidence in Edinburgh Council’s chief executive Andrew Kerr was proposed by the Conservative group after a damning report found “illegality, maladministration and injustice” in secure accommodation for young people.
Andrew Kerr is chief executive of Edinburgh Council (Picture: Greg Macvean)Andrew Kerr is chief executive of Edinburgh Council (Picture: Greg Macvean)
Andrew Kerr is chief executive of Edinburgh Council (Picture: Greg Macvean)

Amongst other things, the investigation identified a toxic management environment, and it came only three months after the Tanner review of the authority’s approach to whistleblowing found it lacked a "safe and supportive" culture. The then council leader Adam McVey backed the chief executive, insisting: “We have a culture at the top of the organisation that is looking to engage seriously with these matters.”

But this week another critical report was published with different circumstances, but the same broad conclusion that services for which Edinburgh Council has responsibility were suffering from what can be safely described as management failure. This time it’s the turn of adult social work and social care services, administered by the City of Edinburgh health and social care partnership, the combination of council social services and NHS Lothian under the direction of the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (IJB).

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Responsible for community health and social care services for adults, homelessness, mental health and disability services, it goes without saying this is vital work. But an investigation by the Care Inspectorate, ordered by the Scottish Government, has uncovered “insufficient strategic leadership” and a host of other problems including “significant weaknesses” in case management and “uncoordinated and inconsistent” early intervention and prevention.

That staff are overwhelmed is hardly surprising given how the Scottish Government has starved local authorities of cash, with dire warnings of a looming crisis for years, but so too have concerns been raised repeatedly about the way the services are being run. Throughout my time as a councillor, colleagues on the IJB, particularly Councillor Phil Doggart and Sue Webber MSP, were regularly critical of service management and were often shouted down as doing nothing to support the staff. Now we know those criticisms were justified precisely because of the impact on staff, as well as on the vulnerable people in their care.

“Inspectors found significant areas for improvement in adult social work and social care services,” said the Care Inspectorate’s scrutiny and assurance director Kevin Mitchell. “Prioritised actions will be required to ensure the needs of people and carers are met, and their well-being improved, more consistently.” Councillor Doggart and then Cllr Webber could have told him that years ago.

Last March, there was no debate about the secure unit scandal because SNP, Green and Labour councillors made sure time ran out and then disgracefully voted against an extension, which suited the officers just fine. So here we are a year on, and the finger once again points at a management which is simply not up to the job. No wonder the SNP at a national level has no faith in local authorities if they think this is as good as it gets, but it’s not the structure that needs changing but the senior people responsible.

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A refreshed, energetic approach focussed on tackling the issues immediately in hand is badly needed, not a tired management clinging onto their positions for the sake of it. The political establishment backed the management last year, but kicking the can down the road till the next critical report won’t do. It’s time for change.