Edinburgh’s social care is in crisis, stumbling along under an interim chief officer doing her level best in difficult circumstances having been thrust into the role following the sudden resignation of her predecessor.
The Integration Joint Board has been tasked with amalgamating NHS non-acute services and the social care provided by the council, but linking the two systems to improve the service and spend money more effectively to provide better is proving far more difficult than its architects imagined.
As a result, some 800 Edinburgh residents have critical or substantial needs which are not being met, with a shortfall of 7000 hours of care every week.
The Conservative group is convinced this is the most serious challenge facing the council and we do not use the term crisis lightly. Yet in his monthly report, council leader Adam McVey, left, blithely described it merely as a challenge and expected the city to be reassured by his statement that he was “working tirelessly” to meet care needs.
Well we weren’t prepared to leave it at that and so decided Leader’s Questions at last week’s full council meeting was a legitimate platform to probe further about how self-directed support has been used (or not) by the council to try and alleviate the crisis in health and social care.
But as we set out a series of detailed questions prepared in advance, unfortunately neither the Lord Provost nor the leader agreed, because apparently putting the leader on the spot about something he raises in his own report is inappropriate.
Instead Cllr McVey tried to pillory us for having based our questions on an Audit Scotland report – questions that Audit Scotland had assembled as a “checklist for councillors and board members . . . to seek assurance about progress in implementing self-directed support in their council or integration authority”.
Whether the questions were too detailed or because he deemed them irrelevant, the council leader was predictably dismissive. It has come to a sorry pass when the response to difficult questions is to ridicule the questions when the points they raise have been made by the independent government financial watchdog.
Scrutiny is a core function of councillors and not to be able to hold the leader to account whilst administration councillors lob soft questions is a waste of precious council time.
Monthly Leader’s Questions are the one opportunity councillors have to probe the leader’s thinking which does not rely on carefully scripted lines. But again and again we hear administration councillors pledging inclusive and consensual decision making, only for the leader to respond to reasoned questioning with petty outbursts.
It’s not us he’s treating with contempt but you, the Edinburgh public.
Joanna Mowat is a Conservative councillor for Edinburgh City Centre.