Helen Martin: Tick box exercises can't hide Edinburgh's big problems

Edinburgh spends less per school pupil than most other areas of Scotland. Picture: PAEdinburgh spends less per school pupil than most other areas of Scotland. Picture: PA
Edinburgh spends less per school pupil than most other areas of Scotland. Picture: PA
SURVEYS have now become the source of many news stories, probably thanks to the internet, reaching thousands of folk allowing them to express their views or tick boxes.

Some surveys are trivial and nonsensical, carried out and published as part of product promotion, a bit of fun seeking to boost branding rather than anything more significant.

Sophisticated survey operators such as YouGov produce leagues, votes and results that can raise our spirits, and earn genuine TV and press coverage rather than a humorous sign-off or three-paragraph giggle.

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So, it was good news on Tuesday that their poll rated Edinburgh as Britain’s third favourite city out of 57 in the UK, beaten only by Bath and York.

Paul Merton was sufficiently funny to distract the audience from the cramped conditionsPaul Merton was sufficiently funny to distract the audience from the cramped conditions
Paul Merton was sufficiently funny to distract the audience from the cramped conditions

It wasn’t obvious whether the votes and positivity came purely from those who live here or from those who visit, what questions were involved, or whether just a city “team” thumbs up was required. Were the votes based on architecture, culture or outright happiness and contentment?

Another survey by estate agents Yopa was simultaneously released, placing Edinburgh in the top ten British locations in which to raise a family. To be fair, we were tenth. Ashbourne in Derbyshire was first, and the only other top ten Scottish location was Inverness, which rated fourth in the UK.

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Still, all going well until the third major survey popped up last week. Funding for Edinburgh schools was among the lowest in Scotland with the Capital spending less per pupil than most other areas. And Edinburgh had the lowest satisfaction level with schools of all Scotland’s 32 councils.

Considering Edinburgh has more privately-educated children in its catchment area than any other Scottish authority, wouldn’t we expect it to face a comparatively easy school bill?

How then, would all that chime with the city being among the best places to raise a family?

The difference is that the school funding results were by the Local Government Benchmarking Framework, not so much a “survey” and more an accurate accountancy review of actual spending statistics, all based on facts rather than glib opinion.

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All local authorities are struggling to maintain services. Many people may think we are climbing out of the recession, but we are nowhere near as well off as individuals, councils or countries, as we were before the collapse in 2008. And there’s the potential of another economic catastrophe from the Brexit outcome.

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Edinburgh school spending per pupil among lowest in Scotland

Basic citizen requirements which are no longer being fully met are growing, from strain on the NHS (a national problem) to strain on school education, road surfaces, housing, social care, residential care for elderly, refuse collection and many more. All of these are (in my opinion) more vital and urgent for council funding, than trams, tourist support, and even congestion and air quality which, with motoring technology advancing, may gradually improve anyway.

In better times the council would be right to focus on gearing up and investing for a bright future. But right now, cutting services even more, introducing new taxes, and pushing on with development projects is wrong. Protecting fundamental services and needs comes first, along with avoiding damaging local business and retail – it’s all about preparing for even tougher times ahead.

Otherwise even those optimistic, light-hearted, jolly surveys boosting city status may come to a bitter end.

Fringe venues pack audiences in like sardines

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A 6ft 7in man was unable to attend an Underbelly McEwan Hall show because there simply wasn’t any leg room.

Ah well, Hubby and I went to see Paul Merton in the Pleasance Courtyard Grand venue. Himself is not quite 6ft, but a solid, ex-rugby playing chap. I felt squashed in the tiny seats stacked close, row on row in the auditorium.

He was concertinaed in an upright foetal position. The tightly-crowded venue was sweaty-hot and seriously short of oxygen. The lady next to me said she felt like a battery hen.

Merton and his improvisation crew were so funny they distracted everyone from the discomfort. But shouldn’t Fringe venues at least warn folk in advance or keep a more spacious section for older, broader, taller, disabled folk who can’t cope with a sardine crush?

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It’s embarrassing to get it wrong – and I got it wrong about Stan Kroenke

NOBODY’S perfect. But after 47 years in journalism, it’s embarrassing to discover one’s facts are wrong.

Following last week’s column, I owe a sincere and total apology to Arsenal “owner” Stan Kroenke. I believed he was a trophy hunter of African endangered species. He’s not. The US billionaire’s outdoor TV channel showed such kills (there’s no suggestion, having such a huge business empire, he even realised these films existed), and following UK protests, he had them permanently barred a year ago.

What’s more, he’s an active conservationist and promotes tourism in struggling Rwanda as part of Arsenal’s £30 million sponsorship deal.

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He’s truly owed my apology and could now be a principled, international role model, with the ability to influence rich Americans to abandon their trophy-hunting hobby, and encourage Rwanda to remove gorilla tracking and game safaris from its tourist offerings.

Four weeks ago, I criticised the roll out of smart meters, in short claiming they were unreliable. We had a response from the industry on the Letters page, insisting I was mistaken. Mmmm.

If in doubt, visit The Ambient website, where technology experts give knowledgeable, honest, positive or negative information on today’s “smart” living – including smart meters – before you decide to have one installed.