Over the last couple of weeks we heard from each of the political parties about their plans for the next administration, should they be elected, and how they envision the relationship between the council and charities, volunteers, and community groups, and the citizens of Edinburgh who use our services. We would like to thank all those who attended and to councillors and candidates, Maureen Child, Frank Ross, Cameron Rose, Chas Booth, Evelyn Weston, Susan Rae and Phill Meyers, for their time.
With one day to go until voting day, we’ve done a round up of the key points that came out of the discussion. Unfortunately, Liberal Democrats were unable to send a representative, so we have four out of the five, and we hope that the issues discussed here are ones that will be considered by the Liberal Democrat candidates.
Before we discuss themes, here are the answers to the two overarching questions we asked each party:
What is the one thing that you believe is the most important achievement for the next administration?
Labour: “That the next administration work on the 90% of things that we all agree about and get them right, it isn’t about the 10% that is disputed – yes these controversial things are important, but not as important as the common good.”
SNP: “I truly believe that the delivery of social housing is the most wide-ranging thing that we can do because not only does it deliver homes, but it impacts congestion in the city, pollution and air quality, it assists in building communities and regenerating parts of the city that have been lying derelict for too long.”
Conservative: “Service to the public. It is the end user that it is the priority. Ultimately it is the service that we are giving to the public that has to be the driver for anything we do.”
Greens: “For successful co-production to become the norm, reversing or resisting privatisation of services, and making a serious move on homelessness and housing.”
New councillors will make up 60% of the council this time round, what two pieces of advice would you give them?
- “You are only important because the people you represent are important. You are there to work with and help develop your community.”
- “You will have to work in partnership with people, take the time to listen and treat people with respect.”
- “Now that you’re a politician, don’t forget the skills that you bring to the party and all the work and experience you had before.”
- “Take the time to learn the system. You will be a lot more effective if you take the time to learn how things get done, how the processes work and who does what.”
- “Do your homework, read the papers, get command of the facts. There’s no substitute to hard work.”
- “Each person that comes in will have particular experience and skills and strengths, play to those strengths. Being a councillor is a people job and you have to take the time to understand people.”
- “Be persistent. You will have to take up a number of issues on behalf of constituents and the answer is not always given or given right first time.”
- “Try to understand how services are delivered. Go out and get experience with the people who work on the front line.”
A lot was discussed at these hustings and too much to go into great detail, but here are a few of the stand out points:
Throughout all of the discussions, it was clear that there was agreement from all parties that councillors should take the lead on setting the tone for how future projects and services are delivered in good quality partnership and dialogue with the Third Sector. We need to go beyond tokenism and tick-box exercises if we want to have an equal and constructive partnership, and the Third Sector is ready and willing to engage.
In general, Labour spoke to improving partnership working with the sector and with communities, focusing more outcomes and needs, and empowering citizens and communities to decide where they want to see their money spent, through methods such as Participatory Budgeting.
The SNP also wanted to see a responsibility taken a local level for decision making around services, but the main focus of the hustings centred on affordable and social housing, and the creation of a champion on the council to keep this issue at the top of the agenda and to create strong links with communities and Third Sector organisations who can best advise on this area.
Conservatives talked about improving refuse collection services and the quality of Edinburgh’s streets, as well as reviewing the standard of current services, and identifying gaps or inefficiencies and working to improve them.
Greens (with four council candidates representing) covered a number of issues, however, they too discussed the importance of co-production, identifying what the ‘need’ is and working with the right people to address it sustainably, rather than being driven by the process or the current pot of funding.
Housing, Homelessness and Fuel Poverty
With pledges to build affordable housing abounding at both a local and national level, this is a key area of concern for councillors, those working in the Third Sector and the citizens affected by housing policy and lack of affordable housing. Understanding what is meant by ‘affordable’ is something that Sector believes should be defined, along with agreed standards for construction, insulation and heating supply. Residents in affordable or social housing should be able to feel safe and warm, and secure. This can go a long way to reducing stress, improving both physical and mental well-being and helping vulnerable individuals to get back on their feet.
SNP’s Frank Ross commented that the provision of social housing was at the heart of the party’s agenda with work starting on a secured site in Meadowbank. The Green’s want to push forward an Edinburgh Standard of housing which connects or can be retrofitted to connect to a district heating system, while the Conservative’s Cameron Rose suggested that creating efficiencies through better insulation can help, but also that we need to look to the macro issue around the price of fuel. Candidates were advised by those in attendance, that the construction of social housing needs to be considerate of the needs and wants of the people they are building for. Transplanting people from one part of the city to another can remove people from a community they know and feel safe in, cause disruption in a child’s education, or cost more to travel to work.
Thinking carefully about the type of heating and insulation for these properties is also key. An example was raised about the trend toward fitting storage heaters in new build properties because they are cheaper to install. However, these heaters often expensive to run, and trap residents on the highest tariff with no option to change.
Yes, we need more homes and more affordable homes, but the outcome we want is for people to be able to live in an area they feel at home in and to live affordably for the long-term. We believe that councillors should take the time to consult with the experts in the Sector as well as the communities they represent to better understand the needs of vulnerable people in terms of housing, before investing in construction of properties that are inappropriate or poorly designed for the people they are intended for.
Procurement and the tendering process came up time and time again at the hustings, and with quite an amount of fervour which was not limited to Third Sector representatives. While there is a general agreement from all parties that a certain amount of competition is healthy and necessary, it was also agreed that the state of the procurement and tendering process in Edinburgh is inconsistent at best and at worse it puts at risk the service users and can systematically disadvantage certain types of provider.
Cameron Rose suggested that big isn’t always bad, but there needs to be a way to prize local knowledge and expertise. Chas Booth from the Greens stated that the process needs to be designed to best fit and meet the needs of service users, a perspective that was echoed by Maureen Child from Labour. SNP’s Frank Ross stated that it has become a process in itself as a means to achieve an end and it needs to be seriously reviewed.
Councillors recognised the pressing need for greater support for the improvement of mental health services, and spoke of raising awareness and tackling stigma. Reducing stigma is a positive step forward, however we need to ensure that people know how to and have access to mental health services, and that organisations have the capacity and funding to supply them.
Many more issues were raised throughout these hustings, including recognising care work as a legitimate vocation that provides training, qualifications and career development, while also recognising the tireless work done by unpaid carers who are typically family members. Lunch clubs for children and the elderly were also raised, although work is needed to make sure these opportunities are truly universal to all. We want to continue these dialogues with all parties and recognise that the issues we have covered are a snapshot of the many complex issues that affect our citizens. We look forward to welcoming and working with the newly appointed councillors and the next administration.
Again we would like to thank all those who attended and to all of the parties for speaking.
Decisions are made by those who turn up. Make sure you know where to vote and encourage as many people as you can to have their say by voting on May 4th.
If you have any queries about our manifesto please contact Holly Thacker – firstname.lastname@example.org