Robert Aldridge: Edinburgh council may need to stop trying to do so much

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle talk to staff at Social Bite, where all the profits are invested in tackling homelessness. Picture: Getty
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle talk to staff at Social Bite, where all the profits are invested in tackling homelessness. Picture: Getty
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Like most councillors, my mailbox is filled with messages from disgruntled residents concerned that things are not happening or are taking too long to happen. Many simply want an acknowledgement that the council will act on their complaint. And it is getting worse.

Like most councillors, my mailbox is filled with messages from disgruntled residents concerned that things are not happening or are taking too long to happen. Many simply want an acknowledgement that the council will act on their complaint. And it is getting worse.

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

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

As the council approaches budget day on Thursday, it is important that we take action to deal with this. But it is not easy. Year after year, the council has cut staff numbers to cope with cuts from the combined austerity of the Tory UK Government and SNP Scottish Government. But it has continued to try to keep doing the same things in the same way, but with fewer staff to do the work. At some point something has to give.

Little wonder that staff sickness rates are rising and residents are getting increasingly frustrated and even basic services like repairing street lights and fixing potholes seem to take an inordinate time.

Every year, the council muddles through with its budget, putting off unpopular decisions until a crisis is reached. We all know that the finances are not going to get easier in the foreseeable future.

So we need to make major changes to what we do and how we do things. It may be that the council should stop doing some services or develop new services which we don’t offer at the moment but which are better suited to what our citizens need.

READ MORE: Edinburgh council prioritises spending amid financial pressure

Getting to a point where council services fit what individual people need, rather than trying to fit people’s needs into what we currently offer needs a radical rethink and more long-term thinking than the council is used to!

If it is done properly, Edinburgh citizens will get services which better suit their needs and staff will have more fulfilling jobs. Lib Dems recognise that a big change usually needs investment up front and we will be proposing a specific fund (from the sale of some council-owned property) to finance the one-off costs. It also needs an adult conversation across political parties to agree what local government should and should not be doing, and how to do things differently.

One thing is for sure, we can’t carry on trying to do the same things in the same way with ever-decreasing resources.

I was pleased to see the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into homelessness recommending the roll-out of a programme called Housing First. Aimed at homeless people with the most complicated problems, it has been shown to have a remarkable success rate across Europe, the USA and Canada – and to be cost-effective. It’s exactly the kind of service which fits the new way of working Lib Dems want to see. Focused around what the individual needs and bringing different agencies together (physical health, mental health, criminal justice, housing, social care and other support groups) to make it work.

READ MORE: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle urge Social Bite to launch across UK

It was great to see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle focus part of their Edinburgh visit on homelessness. We should build on the goodwill and develop Housing First in Edinburgh.

A happy Chinese New Year to everyone. Edinburgh is very lucky to have such a vibrant Chinese community whose skills and talents add so much to our capital city. Thanks to them for the fantastic contribution they make and very best wishes for a happy and successful Year of the Dog. Incidentally I noticed a headline that Prince Harry was nipped by the “Tartan Terror” during his visit and wasn’t sure if that referred to the regimental Shetland pony or the First Minister!