Martin Hannan: Kerr can’t run from this crisis

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The appointment of Andrew Kerr as chief executive of Edinburgh City Council had been well trailed but, as always with these things, I’ll bet he was relieved when the council gave its final approval on Thursday.

No more doubt, just certainty that he is coming home to Scotland after a great many years in local authorities down south, latterly being chief executive at Cornwall Council which might seem very different to Edinburgh but actually is a council with roughly the same £1 billion budget and which is also facing a nine-figure budget reduction.

As a former 400m runner – famously the killer event in athletics – Kerr, below, will know all about the difference between sprinting to the finish and hanging in there over a longer distance. You have to judge the difference just right to win the 400m, and that’s what Kerr must do – make a quick impact then settle in for what will be a long slog. Just as Dame Sue Bruce won approval for how she dealt with getting the trams project back on track, so Kerr will be judged on how he implements the massive changes that the council has embarked upon. Cuts, by any other name.

Personally I think he has been given a poisoned chalice and certainly a no-win situation. If the cuts are too deep then people in this city will suffer greatly as services contract. If he doesn’t cut enough, the council could be in a very deep trouble for many years as the sums just won’t add up.

He will have to persuade the trade unions that the new systems can work and that their members will not suffer too much from the changes. That is going to be a very hard task as Unison and Unite both have very deep misgivings about the council’s future.

The good thing for Kerr is that there is clear political leadership at the council, and while it may not be perfect, the Capital Coalition is working and, yes, achieving some of what it set out to do.

He can happily ignore the Tories who are increasingly irrelevant in this city. This used to be a Conservative stronghold with many councillors of that party who were fine public servants – Brian Meek, Jim Gilchrist and Beth Robertson spring to mind – but I doubt if any of the current crop would enjoy any sort of name recognition by the public. Their performance at last week’s council meeting in questioning the coalition’s record was everything that is wrong with the Conservatives in Scotland – even if they have a good point to make, they can’t help getting people’s backs up in making it.

By all means give the Tories, Lib Dems and the Greens their place, Mr Kerr, but remember that they are in opposition precisely because they deserve to be, and as long as Labour and the SNP can continue to work together, they will somehow plot a way forward for the city.

This I will say. Andrew Kerr has a very hard act to follow, and he should listen long and hard to everything Sue Bruce tells him. He should also listen to all sides of the various arguments and then work with the Capital Coalition to bring the city together in this hugely challenging period for local government.

Long way to go before Granton cuts it

So the trams did spectacularly well in their first year of operation. Thank goodness for that, as we can look forward to the debts run up in paying for them being repaid slightly quicker.

Having proven that they work, it does now make sense to look at the case for extending the line to Granton.We don’t need to wait for Lord Hardie’s report before learning lessons from the trams fiasco.

The business plan for such an extension must be absolutely watertight before the council even thinks about going ahead with what would be a very controversial project.

Is it Flaming June yet?

What is it with the weather? It’s June 2 and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of warm sunny days we have had this year. But as I’ve mentioned it, the weather will now change. Or perhaps not.

Tattoo always makes its mark

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is off Down Under early next year, where it will prove once again just what a showpiece for Edinburgh the Tattoo is.

I can exclusively reveal that the people of New Zealand are going crazy for their part of the Tattoo tour, with 60,000 of the 100,000 available tickets already sold after just one week of sales.

Scotland Office spies no joke

I ALWAYS enjoy reading my fellow columnist Brian Monteith’s contributions to the nation’s laughter bank, but sometimes he has to be challenged in case anybody makes the mistake of taking him seriously.

Like a few other Tory apologists he has chosen to interpret the Cabinet Office inquiry into Alistair Carmicheal’s Frenchgate leak as somehow proving that Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron back as PM. The fact is that the inquiry report stated that “he [the civil servant] recorded accurately what he thought he had heard”. Note the word “thought” – the two people who actually had the conversation remembered it quite differently.

Nor can Brian and his ilk answer my question – why was the Scotland Office spying on the First Minister?