Edinburgh is spending £100k on Christmas lights, so why is north-west of the city getting just one tree? – Robert Aldridge

It’s a long time since we stood outside our doors applauding the superb work done by NHS staff, care workers and all the other people who have kept the country going during this horrible year.

By Robert Aldridge
Monday, 30th November 2020, 7:00 am
Edinburgh's display of Christmas lights as seen in 2018 (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)
Edinburgh's display of Christmas lights as seen in 2018 (Picture: Andrew O'Brien)

Police, firefighters, refuse collectors, shop workers, delivery drivers and all the rest continue to do an amazing job in really difficult circumstances and we should continue to show our thanks to them.

Many of them, like me, will be shocked and angry that the UK government is to ‘reward’ those who work in the public sector by imposing a pay freeze on most of them. What an insult to the teachers, care workers, police and others who really have gone the extra mile during the pandemic.

During the summer, there seemed to be a new appreciation of the vital work done by people in various frontline jobs. Sadly all that seems to have been forgotten as the Tory government reverts to type, rewarding its cronies with inflated contracts for PPE etc, with public service workers paying for it with the pay freeze.

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It seems that the excuse of taking quick decisions and avoiding a proper transparent process because of the virus is all too common. Sometimes it is necessary, but at others, it is simply used to avoid proper scrutiny.

But this doesn’t just apply to Tory government contracts. In the council, we have just seen £100,000 committed for spending on Xmas lights in a few areas of the city without any involvement of local councillors, other than the Labour and SNP convenor and vice-convenor.

Unsurprisingly areas represented by senior members of the council’s ruling groups are well covered, while in the whole of the north-west of the city (over 25 per cent of the population) there is just one project to put lights on a solitary tree in Granton!

The SNP and Labour may have a very good reason for denying even a glimmer of festive cheer to the north-west – apart from one tree – but they haven’t shared it. At a time when council finances are looking grim, £100,000 is a significant sum and should be spent equitably. There should be transparency about how the sites for the lights were chosen.

As we begin to see hope of an end to the pandemic, we need to start to reintroduce all the processes of transparency and accountability, even if they are more inconvenient.

The point about open government is that it may be slower but it produces better decisions in the end and decisions in which the public can have confidence. It’s not just about Xmas lights but covers all kinds of services including, of course, the Spaces for People road and pavement changes.

So my best wishes for a healthy and safe festive season and for a New Year where a near-normal service is resumed as soon as possible! Most importantly my thanks to, and admiration for the magnificent frontline workers who keep our city going.

Robert Aldridge is a Scottish Liberal Democrat councillor for Drum Brae and Gyle and leader of his party’s group on Edinburgh Council

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