As we come through this unprecedented Easter with social distancing rules in place, I hope that you have had a peaceful weekend with those you live with. I also hope you remain healthy and have managed some online or phone contact with your wider family and friends.
Our thanks to frontline workers who keep vital services going during holiday periods is amplified in the present emergency. While our NHS and emergency services are uppermost in mind as a councillor I also think of the carers, many and varied council staff and the private citizens whose voluntary effort means so much to people right now.
Councillors are still active too – not in meetings or at a desk in the City Chambers but working for you from home. We remain very keen to hear your concerns – whether on an issue personal to you or where the council’s reaction to the emergency circumstances could be improved.
The cut and thrust of politics has reduced but that does not mean we are entirely uncritical. We must still ask difficult questions and call for action where more can be done to maintain critical services and help the public. Some key areas that have failed to meet expectations are in the crossover between council and Scottish Government responsibilities. For instance, a great deal of effort has gone in by staff and volunteers to help the vulnerable and those “shielding” from the virus. But the delay in giving supermarkets lists of those shielding, as has been done in England, meant they couldn’t help themselves by gaining priority access to food deliveries.
At an Edinburgh level the council was slow to publicise the work of volunteeredinburgh.org.uk who can help vet and organise the many who have time, good health and want to assist their community.
Last week we finally started redeploying council staff to key service areas. The process has been slow with our bureaucratic systems between management and trade unions failing to keep pace with staff willingness to help. Yes, we must ensure health and safety for all, but decisions must be quicker if we are to harness the goodwill of council staff and citizens to do their bit.
Some service changes are fine short-term but don’t fully adapt to circumstances or consider what will happen if the restrictions continue.
The bin service is a key example as glass and garden waste can only be stored at home for so long. Why can’t we use all the resources in our community to solve these problems? For example, I’m sure the trade waste companies could partner with the council on some temporary glass recycling solutions while they are not collecting from cafes, restaurants and pubs.
With the council in recess our system of scrutiny has been severely tested by the pandemic with limited public information and many decisions being made behind closed doors.
As the leader of the political opposition in the council I must gain public assurance that decisions are sound and that my opponents and senior council officers have taken the best steps possible. If they are open with information to give us assurance and take on our improvement suggestions where possible they will have our support. It will also leave Edinburgh in a much better place to rebuild normal community life and our economy when the pandemic eases.
Cllr Iain Whyte is the Conservative group leader at Edinburgh City Council