Helen Martin: Edinburgh Council must work for us, not tourists

The council's relentless drive to attract more tourists to Edinburgh is proving controversial. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The council's relentless drive to attract more tourists to Edinburgh is proving controversial. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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MANY newspaper columnists have a thread running through their work, sometimes based on their political affiliation, a passionate cause such as the environment, a professional interest in the economy, or a talent for comedy and entertainment.

Almost 30 years ago I began this column, with everything from occasional humour, politics, passion, personal experiences, nutrition, local and national issues, and often rebelling against political correctness or other societal changes.

Recently (I’m disappointed to admit) most of my columns involve criticism of the city council. By staying on the same track like that, I realise that readers won’t regard anything I put forward as “objective”. It’s as if I have a constant gripe and would complain about anything and everything the council do.

Being a councillor is not an easy challenge. Between councillor surgeries, e-mails, council meetings and committees, attending local events, campaigning and keeping in touch with the areas they represent, it means long hours and hard work. And even failing to wear a tie has been known to cause an uproar.

But our city councillors certainly qualify as being controversial – something that provides much fodder for newspapers!

Trams, approving plans for massive student accommodation, reducing facilities at Meadowbank, threatening to close down Portobello Golf Club, charging for a failing system to collect garden refuse, lopping down the trees in Princes Street Gardens, proposing to “redesign” the city, sticking to an anti-car policy, aiming for extensive pedestrianisation and cycling which ignores the elderly, and pushing onwards keeping their feet jammed on the accelerator for tourism, are merely current topics.

They all cause division in the city – but that’s fair enough too. No specific council action or plan gets 100 per cent public approval.

However, there are some general issues growing rapidly among city inhabitants. I assume councillors read the Evening News every day, especially pieces which are not written by journalists. In recent months the Letters page and Online Commentary, sent in by the public, give the clearest picture of how council tax payers feel about council decisions.

The biggest swelling of opinion is that councillors put tourists’ needs above those of the residents. Another is basic services not being delivered. And a third is that with such a budget deficit, spending vast sums of money on unnecessary projects rather than essentials is unjustifiable.

While the public think councils are there to protect rate-payers and provide vital services, councillors (without any necessary qualifications) seem to think they are visionaries, in charge of the Capital’s worldwide fame and renown, investing millions and empowered to decide the city’s future. So, who is calling the shots?

In recent weeks I have read many reader comments saying one way or another that Edinburgh Council “hates” residents.

That’s not true. The council’s working culture has evolved in such a way, driven often by its officials, its members have forgotten their genuine role and what they are elected and paid to do.

Political party labels are irrelevant at local level. At the next council election we should tell candidates our votes will go to those who pledge to put residents and local services first in policy and budget, stop trying to reign despotically over our city, and do their best to minimise council tax. They work for us, not themselves, and not tourists.

Poppy colour doesn’t have to be red

NOW that Remembrance Day and poppy adornment is over, I can salute a local church hosting their scout group’s annual fundraising coffee morning on November 10.

The fence around the church was decorated with hundreds of knitted poppies. The majority were red, of course, in memory of the soldiers who died. But scattered through them were several white poppies, first created by a Women’s Guild in 1933 to represent not just soldiers but everyone killed in WW1 and to symbolise “No More War”. One gate was draped exclusively in purple poppies to remember animals who were used, and died, in war. In the First World War eight million horses and donkeys were killed, 7000 in one day during the battle of Verdun in 1916. That doesn’t account for the dogs and pigeons who also died then, or all the animals (including dolphins) who were used in World War II and battles ever since.

White and purple ones aren’t so accessible, but with a bit of DIY we can choose the colour – or have a posy of three.

Harvard healthy eating research ‘trumps’ UK

HARVARD research has shown the best long-term diet to keep weight down is low-carb (and higher fat).

They say the processed carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and sugar which grew in the “low-fat era” raised insulin levels, made fat cells store excessive calories and increased hunger. Going for fat rather than carbs increases metabolism and burns off more energy.

British health officials continue to advise we eat starchy carbs (except sugar) and very little fat. This health debate continues. Unpatriotic perhaps, but across the world, Harvard (especially working on US obesity) “trumps” other university findings.

Global style of school dinners

LESS than 20 per cent of school dinners are made from Scottish food with vast amounts of meat, poultry, fruit and veg coming from South America, Asia, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Serbia.

Local food with provenance is more expensive and served in fine-dining restaurants. With tight council budgets and globalised trade offering cheaper options, what else can we expect from school dinners?