Homelessness won’t be solved by council hot air – John McLellan

Life on the streets: Homelessness is a growing crisis amid a housing shortage (Picture: John Devlin)
Life on the streets: Homelessness is a growing crisis amid a housing shortage (Picture: John Devlin)
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It was supposed to be a bold statement of intent, a dynamic response to the growing homelessness crisis in a city where the housing shortage grows more acute by the day.

“Our aim is to end the use of B&Bs in the city as temporary accommodation,” Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey told the Evening News last week. “The first step is to end families in B&Bs ... I’m quite confident we will deliver that in this year.”

It’s an undeniably worthy ambition, but the problem is it was announced by the city council a year ago.

“Families no longer being accommodated in bed and breakfast accommodation by June 2018 was one of the outcomes agreed at the first meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council’s homelessness task force at the end of last year,” said the official release on January 25.

It couldn’t have been clearer and went on to quote then housing and economy convener Gavin Barrie, who said: “I’m delighted that the task force has now met and that we have now agreed the outcomes set by the group for approval.

“Ending the use of bed and breakfast for families and young people will be a huge step forward for the city. These are bold outcomes and I look forward to working with officers in the coming months and years to ensure that as a council we deliver on all of task force’s commitments.”

It further quoted the Homelessness Champion, Cllr Kate Campbell, who said: “We have the opportunity to put forward some really radical proposals to find the model that will work best for our city.”

READ MORE: Homeless families forced to live in hostels dirtier than crack dens – Kezia Dugdale

Unfortunately it wasn’t true. There was no promise to end B&B use by June 2018, but a promise to produce a report as to how the use of B&B accommodation for families and 16-17 year olds would be eradicated.

No timescale was given and in any case, three months later responsibility was all Cllr Campbell’s after she ousted Cllr Barrie from his convenership.

Cllr Barrie’s apparent commitment was mentioned in last week’s interview with Cllr McVey and again in this column, but Cllr Barrie was quick to deny all knowledge. So how did it appear in an official announcement directly quoting office-holding councillors? These releases aren’t just fired off by officers without checking, so who signed it off? And why has it taken until the leader repeated a pledge made 12 months ago, however inadvertently, for it to be spotted?

Cock-up rather than conspiracy may be to blame, and as the release didn’t get much publicity at the time no-one noticed until Cllr Barrie found himself held responsible for a promise he hadn’t made and couldn’t possibly keep in an announcement he either hadn’t seen or couldn’t remember. Cock-up indeed.

There was an opportunity to set the record straight in June when the Task Force report was presented, but having trumpeted the end of B&B use, it would have been a bit embarrassing to announce there were in fact still 650 households in Edinburgh B&Bs.

READ MORE: £2,142-a-month homeless accommodation that traps people in poverty – Dr Beth Watts

Worse, the only development was a further commitment to “explore alternatives that better meet the needs of individuals and families, with an aim to end the use of bed and breakfast facilities.” In effect, the report recommended another report.

So where are we now? The Homelessness Task Force has agreed to wind itself up and the responsibility for the action plan will rest with the housing and economy committee which next meets on January 24.

Complicating matters is a Scottish Government paper on ending homelessness which makes 29 recommendations and by last month the council should have submitted its plans to follow the advice.

Once the Government responds, it will then have to be approved at a future housing and economy committee so it could be summer before a final action plan is in place.

Cllr McVey and his homelessness champion have their work cut out.

Get set for your surprise bin collection

“There are currently delays with collections in the Edinburgh area,” said the council’s website on Monday.

You don’t say. The bins on our street were dutifully out on the pavement last Friday, where they have stayed ever since. Before the break, Edinburgh residents received a carefully worded letter to tell those whose bin uplift was on a bank holiday when they might be emptied. “If we don’t pick up your bins or boxes on the dates above, please leave them out till we collect them,” it said, avoiding a specific commitment.

But then the tone changed: “Once they’ve been emptied you must remove them from the street.” In effect, we’re not telling you when we’ll empty your bins, but do what you’re told once we have. The bins on our street were trundled out last Friday for emptying on Saturday, and by Monday the council website could only state the obvious; “There are currently delays with collections in the Edinburgh area.”

Finally at 4pm yesterday the last of three trucks arrived to empty them… and yes they were moved. Happy New Year, Council Tax payers

Welcome to Hotel Misery

Ignoring neighbours whose homes will be overlooked, the Scottish Government has overturned a decision by planning councillors (including me) to reject a plan by hospitality giant Whitbread to build a first-floor extension to the Lady Nairne Hotel on Willowbrae Road.

The design was altered so bedroom windows would not look directly onto the rear of houses on Meadowfield Avenue, but still gave a diagonal view of the house to the side so residents were unimpressed.

Refrigerated delivery trucks leaving their engines running have been causing one retired couple misery for months, so how much more upset can the hotel cause its neighbours? How about a 2am party licence?

Bloody Dundee

Edinburgh Labour leader Cammy Day had to beat a hasty retreat after getting up the noses of Taysiders with his observation in an Evening News interview that if “Bloody Dundee” could have the V&A gallery then surely Edinburgh could do better. “I throw my hands up and take the hit. I like Dundee,” he told The Courier newspaper. “We will be speaking to locals and I’m sure some people will give me stick, but I’ll take it on the chin.” Better wear a gum-shield, Cammy.