In politics, openness, directness and sometimes even truthfulness can be rare commodities. Politicians will deflect to a different aspect of a topic or avoid a subject completely to avoid something awkward for them or their party. Others will just outright lie. So, it is important to challenge the council’s SNP/Labour minority coalition when it claims it is “delivering a douncil that works for all – more empowered, transparent, and improved public services”.
A key test is how the council delivers for those most in need. A year ago, the crisis facing us was in health and social care, with hundreds waiting for care, or even an assessment of their needs. Over a hundred others were stuck unnecessarily in hospital, where we know their independence deteriorates and the situation causes significant stress and anxiety for them and their families.
As the opposition, we Conservatives hold that coalition to account using the published data to judge our public services and help the public by holding a mirror up to power.
At the start of May I challenged the council leader to tell us of a success he had achieved in improving a service for the public. He reeled off some figures he said he had been given by council officers which showed improvements in health and social care. Specifically, he said that the number of people waiting for an assessment had fallen by about 600.
Mid-way through May the council and NHS Lothian published the latest figures on delays in the social care system. This gave figures for February of 1582, which is 400 fewer than the peak in September last year but not the miracle figure from “private briefings” that the council leader talked of. It is also higher than the number for May last year when thecouncil was elected.
At the end of May I challenged the council leader again to tell us what he would see as an acceptable target for social care delays and when we might see some improvement. Again, he talked of unpublished “briefings” and said that delayed discharge from hospital had dropped by 40 from the figures I quoted to him. Figures I got from an official report published just 13 days before. To his credit he did accept that “zero delays” was what we should aim for, but he gave no timescale as to when this would happen.
The SNP have run the council for six years with Labour and were in power with others for five more years before that. The result in health and social care was a damning external inspection report that described a service in crisis that was failing our most vulnerable and that was under resourced. In the year since there have been some management changes but the service is worse.
A hundred more people are delayed in hospital beds and the figure is the worst ever. Around a hundred additional residents are waiting for an assessment of their care needs. And the number assessed as needing care but still waiting to receive it has shockingly almost doubled to nearly 1200.
The truth is in the figures. Even if you accept the council leader’s hearsay improvements they are still worse than when he took up post. Hardly a “council that works for all”. Just like at Holyrood it is surely time for the SNP to stop banging on about independence and get on with the day job. And a little openness and honesty on the side wouldn’t go amiss.
Councillor Iain Whyte is the leader of the Conservative Group at Edinburgh City Council