Edinburgh council plans to give power to the people

Pic Greg Macvean TSPL
Pic Greg Macvean TSPL
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FOUR new “locality” committees are to be set up by council chiefs and handed power to make local decisions for their own area.

The move is part of a proposed shake-up of how the city council works, which will also see a reduction in the number of committees, fewer meetings and some extra powers handed to officials.

A consultation is planned over the summer on exactly how the locality committees, covering the north-east, north-west, south-east and south-west of the Capital, will work and what powers they will have.

But it is expected they could help decide which roads and pavements should be given priority for repair and how street cleaning should be organised, as well as meeting local police chiefs to discuss community safety priorities.

There is already a debate about whether the committees should be made up simply of councillors representing each area or whether they need to reflect the overall political make-up of the council.

Lib Dem group leader Robert Aldridge argues it should be the councillors for the area. “The whole point of devolving power to communities is to allow them to make different decisions in different areas.”

And he believes the locality committees’ powers will gradually increase over time.

But he says there are some concerns that the new locality committees will actually end up centralising powers currently held by the city’s 12 neighbourhood partnerships.

He said: “The neighbourhood partnerships work very well, identifying local priorities and making sure things are done well. We don’t want their influence and resources sucked away.”

Green councillor Melanie Main said localities were the key to unlocking local democracy.

“It’s an opportunity to deliver a better quality of services at a local level, making sure the views of local communities are heard on their doorstep.

“We could devolve decision making on housing planning applications, on issues with landlords and on late licences for take-aways. Local knowledge and staff based in the immediate areas will make it easier to deliver the joined up care for our elderly residents need in their own homes.”

Tory group leader Iain Whyte said he was “wary of wholesale change” at this stage because the management side of the four localities was just getting going. “They have not yet formulated plans on how the localities are meant to work,” he said.

“Proper consultation needs to take place with the public and those who have been involved in neighbourhood partnerships and community councils.

“We welcome greater devolution of power to local communities but it has to be managed carefully and we want to see it done on a gradual basis.”

The wider proposed shake-up of council committees would see the number of key committees reduced from eight to six with a rearrangement of portfolios and a reduction in the number of meetings from 50 per year to 30.

The corporate, policy and strategy committee would take responsibility for equalities and the City Deal as well as overall strategy and reform.

Finance and resources would be responsible for HR and property as well as finance and procurement.

The education, children and families committee would cover libraries as well as education, lifelong learning and children’s social care.

Transport and environment’s remit would include public realm.

Communities culture and wellbeing would include scrutiny of health and social care; culture, arts and museums; the festivals; community justice; sport; and localities.

And the housing and economy committee would combine housing, homelessness, economic development and strategic development.

Routine decisions over leases, contracts and property sales, currently referred to the finance and resources committee, would be delegated to officials.