Robert Aldridge: A consultation means listening to the people

Public opposition did not put a stop to  the brown bin charge
Public opposition did not put a stop to the brown bin charge
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The council has a bit of a patchy record on finding out the public’s views, writes Lib Dem leader Robert Aldridge.

A few years back a senior councillor – not a Lib Dem I hasten to add – told me that “consultation is when we tell folk what we’re going to do to allay their fears”. It’s not what I understand by consultation. To be fair, the council carries out a wide range of them. Some are genuine and well run, but others have more in common with the crusty old councillor’s definition.

Councillor Robert Aldridge is the leader of the Lib Dem group at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jane Barlow

Councillor Robert Aldridge is the leader of the Lib Dem group at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jane Barlow

We need to always be clear about the limits of what is open to change, and the council isn’t always very good at that. For example, the council’s budget consultation resulted in very little change. The major change happened before the official process began with an excellent campaign for the music school. An overwhelming majority were against a brown bin charge, but it is still going ahead.

Similarly a review of janitorial provision has felt to many as if they couldn’t change anything. By contrast, the consultation on the revised design of Picardy Place was very inclusive. So we need to get far better and more consistent. A consultation which can’t change anything is worse than no consultation at all.

READ MORE: Consultation extended over Wester Hailes-Currie school merger proposals

OMG, CEC NWLC LIP gets glossary of abbreviations! To help people understand the Locality Improvement Plan (LIP) in North West Edinburgh, the committee asked for a glossary of abbreviations used in the report. It runs to seven pages. If people are to get fully involved locally, we need to use plain language. Well done to the council staff who drew up the list (though inevitably they missed one!).

I see that the proposed new “village” with special small homes for homeless people is getting ever closer to a reality. I have no comment to make on any of the planning issues but I do have serious doubts about the concept. Most homeless people want to escape from homelessness for good. They need an ordinary house, sometimes with extra support, to let them get on with their lives. Well done to Josh Littlejohn for focusing attention on the issue and raising funds for the scheme. I will be delighted if I am proved wrong. It just seems to me that a homeless village continues to stigmatise and label homeless people as different from the rest of us. In my view it is far better for formerly homeless people to be fully integrated in their local community in ordinary houses around the city.

READ MORE: One homeless person ‘dying every 3 weeks’ in Edinburgh

Experience from around the world shows that providing people with an ordinary home and support is far more effective in most cases than moving people from one place to another. The so-called staircase model means they have to successfully complete each rung on a ladder of different kinds of house before they move to the next one. It means they are constantly unsettled and less able to focus on work and any other issues they need to address. So I’m far more interested in discussions the council is having about a programme called Housing First which is aimed at some of the people with the most acute needs. It means what it says. People get a house and build a more stable life around their permanent home.

It’s why I am more excited by the prospect of more affordable homes being built in the city. It’s also why it is important for us to persuade more of the good private landlords to abandon short-term holiday lets and instead provide permanent homes for people living and working in Edinburgh. And finally, as they used to say on News at 10, it struck me that the resignation of a second councillor from the SNP group had parallels with The Importance of Being Ernest: “To lose one councillor may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness ...”