Edinburgh Council: Loss of experienced councillors could shift power to officials – Steve Cardownie
For some time now, a school of thought has existed that some City of Edinburgh Council officials are running the show and administration councillors are either reluctant or incapable of ensuring that they are subjected to proper political control.
Officials are expected to carry out the wishes of the administration of the day and, as long as it does not impinge on their duty to always act professionally, should take and act upon instructions from the council leadership. That is the theory, however it does not always pan out that way in practice.
Experienced councillors have the ability to monitor and scrutinise council reports in a way that councillors new to the City Chambers haven’t. New, inexperienced councillors are more likely to keep their heads down until they gain experience and, as a result, are less likely to be in a position to determine policy and monitor its progress until they are brought up to speed.
The news then, that at least six senior Labour councillors are to stand down at next year’s city council elections, will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on the council’s decision -making processes as their input will be sorely missed.
Councillors Perry, Henderson, Child, Wilson and Munro all have a track record of influencing council policy and, whilst noting some recommendations from officials, do not always necessarily take their advice, which is as it should be.
It cannot be denied that the influx of new blood on the council could have an invigorating effect, but to lose so many experienced councillors in the one go will leave a gap that will take some time to fill.
I well remember the contributions that the above councillors made throughout the years and, although I may not have agreed with them, I nevertheless respected their diligence and hard work. There is no doubt that they have taken their responsibilities seriously and have acted in the manner which one should expect from elected members.
Councillor Gavin Barrie, formerly of the SNP and now a member of the Epic group, has also signalled his intention not to seek re-election next May and he will be a hard act to follow.
Gavin is renowned for his ability to drill down into the detail of council reports and often raises issues that other councillors may have missed. His ability to forensically scrutinise reports and recommendations is invaluable and will be difficult to replace but he, like his Labour counterparts, is leaving for pastures new.
All told, although the outlook is not exactly bleak, the absence of councillors with more than 100 years’ service under their collective belt will present a challenge to the incoming council administration members and they will have to measure up pretty quickly if they are to ensure that their political programme is acted upon.
Officials do not stand for election and unlike councillors are not bound by a political manifesto but the electorate will exercise its judgement next May and that will be based on a political party’s track record and their plans for the future of the city. Time will tell which party will succeed in convincing the electorate to place their trust in them.
In the meantime, for those that are retiring – I wish them well.