Plan to break up scandal-hit council department

Mark Turley. Picture: Jayne Emsley
Mark Turley. Picture: Jayne Emsley
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THE scandal-hit council department once led by top city official Mark Turley could be dismantled as the local authority attempts to recover from recent controversies.

The discredited Department of Services for Communities – which was hit by the statutory notices, Mortonhall crematorium and school maintenance scandals – is expected to be broken up in a bid to make senior officials more accountable for the services delivered.

But all the five major council departments could be re-organised to make the city “leaner and more efficient”.

One senior council source said the measure would remove the current situation where “directors and heads of services do not take ownership for the actions of their department”.

He referred to Dame Elish Angiolini’s Mortonhall inquiry which reported that Mr Turley had no idea of the practices and policies carried out at the crematorium despite it falling within his remit.

“That was outrageous,” said the source. “What would it have taken to have a meeting with managers there to find out what was happening, the issues the crematorium faced, to just know what was going on? But it’s a problem across many departments which are more or less allowed to run their own fiefdoms with little scrutiny.

“Departments have become too large and the structures are not properly effective. Take something like the state of the roads which has recently come to light. If we had a strong corporate function we would have known about that before now.

“Departments like services for communities are too big and self-serving to the extent that heads of service don’t feel they have to know what’s going on. There needs to be much more focus on accountability.”

Mr Turley was suspended from his role over the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal in May. He later resigned.

According to another council source, the authority needs to “get the right people in the right places. To ensure there are objectives that they need to chase and that they are held to that”.

They added: “There has been some work ongoing already which is moving things in the right direction in terms of the council becoming more focused on strategic objectives and moving towards focusing on delivery of those.

“But we need to bring the council closer to the public while at the same time retaining a strong governance spine which ensures we are all pulling in the same direction.”

A motion is expected to be put to the council later this month outlining in broad terms the scope of the change needed and the “strategic objectives” of the council, while more detail will emerge in November about the extent of the shake-up.

Chief executive Sue Bruce is believed to have been working on changes for some months, extending the remit of the BOLD – Better Outcomes through Leaner Delivery – programme first established to take a council-wide view of the budget cuts required.

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said: “As the fastest growing local authority in Scotland, we are facing an increasing demand for our services in the context of ever tightening budget constraints.

“Through BOLD, and other programmes, we are continually exploring ways of delivering council services as efficiently as possible.”