Donald Wilson: Local solutions to local problems
This month will see the inaugural meetings of the council's new Locality Committees. This is an attempt to devolve some of our decision-making to the communities they affect.
The new system splits Edinburgh into four districts (Localities) which will be given powers previously held by committees or the full council. It is important to note that these are new powers and not taking away anything previously discussed at a more local level, like those which sit currently with our Neighbourhood Partnerships.
The North-West Locality Committee met last week and next week – on February 19 –I will attend the first in my locality, South West. North East and South East will meet and appoint their convener and vice-convener on of February 19 and 21 respectively.
Main council committees currently have responsibility for services across the city and Locality Committees will complement this by addressing specific service and community issues within their areas.
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I am confident this local focus will drive improvements across Edinburgh.
This is about real community planning, devolving budgets and decision-making at a local level. This is a move forward and it is my commitment that the strong communication between the council and other groups and organisations will remain in place.
These new committees, made up of all elected members in the locality, will make decisions on matters which affect their areas.
This decentralisation of responsibilities is a new way of working for the council, building on the advisory powers held by the current Neighbourhood Partnerships.
To explain the background, the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 does not allow non-councillors to be members of a council committee which has the power to make financial decisions. There is, therefore, a limit on the powers of any committee that intends to include non-councillors as members.
In parallel with this process a body called the Edinburgh Partnership is also looking at locality working. The Edinburgh Partnership represents all the major public bodies in the city. I very much hope that this review will take this partnership working to a new level, including the valuable work of community councils and voluntary sector bodies.
From the outset Locality Committees will have powers over community safety, lifelong learning and libraries, traffic management, roads and parking, parks and green space, street cleaning and open space maintenance and public realm projects on a local basis.
These powers are extensive and there will be a period for review and analysis as the model beds in.
Locality Committees will not only have the capacity to make financial decisions that will have a real impact on services in the locality – they will also be able to scrutinise matters on a local level, giving community issues the focus they require and deserve.
Councillor Donald Wilson is Culture and Communities convener at Edinburgh City Council.