Wednesday 11 February 2015

Time for the Council to Deliver for Edinburgh

By Councillor Iain Whyte

Edinburgh Conservatives have published a budget that shows how the Council can provide better services at a lower cost. 

 Some of the things we have highlighted are:
  • A reinstatement of the more than £60m savings wasted by Labour and the SNP when they rejected private sector partnerships in 2011; partnerships provide guaranteed better services;
  • An end to the Labour/SNP War on Motorists and boost for City Centre businesses with a freeze on pay and display and permit parking charges;
  • More money and better methods to repair our roads and pavements;
  • Additional resources for care of the elderly to address this year’s uncontrolled budget overspend and to kick start a proper partnership with the NHS.
  • A trial of powered compacting bins with a view to reducing street litter;
  • An increase in reserves to address the huge financial risks the Council faces.
Many of these things are measures for the coming year but the key to our plans also set out a major change in the way the Council works to be delivered over the next few years. This is essential to allow us to meet increasing demands for services like care for the elderly, while addressing the need to cut the amount we spend.  

The harsh reality is that the Council budget is set to reduce by over £100m in the next five years.  So the failure of this Labour/SNP Council to act is becoming criminal and risking the very services they claim they wish to protect.  Their change plan, called “BOLD”, is actually rather timid as at best it will only save £49m - about half of what is required.  The Administration has no plan to save the rest and their only alternative is savage cuts to services.

We Conservatives would make far greater change and free up resource to maintain frontline services and make service improvements.  We want to see even more service interactions go online, new and efficient ways of doing things imported from outside and new working practices with a more customer based approach. And if the private or voluntary sectors can provide services better and cheaper then we should give them the chance because that will work best for the people of Edinburgh.

The Council workforce is also too big and has too many middle managers. But successive Administrations have failed since 2007 to implement a workforce plan as Audit Scotland recommended. We should tackle this issue with all the methods at our disposal even if that ultimately means we have to reverse the current “no compulsory redundancies” policy.  We are here to service the public not just our staff.

 The SNP and Labour Parties have already wasted millions and want to stick to a blinkered, dogmatic and old fashioned approach to service delivery. They support services designed for the convenience of the provider and its workforce rather than the customer.  This is failing to deliver the savings they predict and that are so desperately needed. Their policies, designed to appease the Trade Unions, actively work against a slimmer, better equipped workforce and improved service standards.

 The time for dogma and inaction are now over.  Change takes a long time in Councils and needs real leadership to deliver. That needs a set of actions to solve the whole problem – not just half – and the determination to see it through. Only the Conservatives will propose that this year.


Note: You can view our Budget Motion in full and all other papers for tomorrows meeting here: CEC Budget 2015 

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Leaked Report - Roads and Transport

It has been brought to the Conservative’s Group attention that a long awaited report into the Council’s Roads and Transport function has been leaked and is in the possession of the Evening News. 
Cllr Mowat and Rose have asked for this report to be shared with councillors so it is a shock to see the findings reported in the paper before councillors have had the opportunity to scrutinise the findings.

 The findings (as reported) are truly shocking - £260 million is required to bring roads up to standard, the department has been mismanaged, there is a lack of proper accounting and a failure to control costs.  In today’s paper (Tuesday)  there is additional information about using unsuitable materials to carry out repairs – which could have been done better for less.  This needs proper scrutiny now.
The text of an open letter from Councillor Joanna Mowat, Conservative Group Transport Spokesman, is as follows:
"Dear Councillor Hinds
 I was shocked to be contacted by the Evening News to say that they had a copy of a leaked report which was commissioned to look at the management of the Roads and Transport Departments of the Council.  Like many Councillors on the Transport and Environment Committee I was aware that such a report had been commissioned and had attended a briefing on the interim findings.  Despite myself, and Cllr Rose asking for further reports or updates on this report nothing further has been forthcoming.  Indeed the response from a senior officer was that this was an internal departmental report and not for Committee.  The Evening News has now seen this report and Councillors should now have sight of the Report and its findings.
 The article in the Evening News states that the report details mismanagement, lack of proper accounting and failure to control costs – these are proper concerns for Councillors and this report should be laid before the Transport and Environment Committee at the earliest opportunity.   I would like your assurance that this report will be presented to Councillors at the next Transport and Environment Committee on 28th October.
 Yours sincerely
(City Centre Ward)"


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Full Council Meeting 21st August 2014:Flying the Flag

Edinburgh Conservatives are tabling a motion at the August Full Council meeting (21 August) in light of the proposal by a Green councillor to fly the Palestinian flag above the City Chambers and the proposal of the Council leader to weigh in to the complex political situation in the Middle East in a partisan way.   More positively, the leader of the Council is proposing that a flag should fly from the City Chambers advertising a telephone number for the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.

 Conservatives on Edinburgh Council believe that, in the light of intense suffering in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Ukraine, as well as Gaza that humanitarian leadership should be more even handed.  Edinburgh already has an established relationship with Mercy Corps, a relief agency working in most of these hotspots of suffering and Edinburgh Conservatives believe the Council should encourage support for humanitarian relief in all these areas.

The motion notes:

1.       the appalling suffering in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Ukraine as well as Gaza

2.       recognises the desire of many in Edinburgh to contribute to the relief of such suffering

3.       notes that Edinburgh already has strong links with Mercy Corps (which has its European Headquarters in Sciennes, Edinburgh)

4.       resolves to fly an appeal flag and encourage donations to a range of crisis relief hotspots and not just Gaza


Conservative group leader Cameron Rose has noted the following:

·         The suffering of refugees and bereaved families in a range of current crisis hotspots is enormous and cannot help but move people to human compassion.

·         I believe Edinburgh people expect their councillors to reflect and engage local concerns rather than spend their time and energy on international partisan political posturing.

·         I deplore the intimidation and bullying demonstrations on the streets of Edinburg which led to the silencing of one particular theatre group at the Festival Fringe last month.  Freedom of speech is precious in this country but there is a difference between freedom to express views and intimidation and bullying. 

·         The reported proposal from a SNP councillor to rename the street where the US Consulate in Edinburgh is situated as the ‘State of Palestine Terrace’ is a sad reflection of partisan and blinkered nature of some Edinburgh councillors.  It comes after a Green councillor proposed flying a Palestinian flag from the City Chambers.  I share genuine concerns for suffering in Gaza.  But the focus on what has long been an international political campaign of the far left – when there is such acute suffering in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Ukraine is one sided.  The focus of our civilised society and councillors is better directed towards humanitarian help for hard pressed refugees and those suffering from conflict.
NOTE: A copy of the full meeting papers for the August Full Council meeting can be accessed here:

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Incident at Liberton High School

Following a tragic incident involving the collapse of an internal wall at Liberton High School this morning, a pupil has died.
Commenting on the tragedy, Conservative Councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton Ward, Nick Cook said:
“This is tragic and troubling news out of Liberton High School this morning.
My thoughts are first and foremost with the pupil’s family and the school community.
However, questions must be asked and the cause of this incident fully investigated.”

Wednesday 12 February 2014


Edinburgh Conservatives have today published a budget that shows how the City can have better services at a lower cost. The proposals to be put forward at the Council budget meeting on Thursday by Conservative Finance Spokesman Cllr Iain Whyte include:
A 1% Council Tax cut;
Details of the £61m wasted by Labour and the SNP when they rejected partnership with the private sector to provide better services and details of how this can be re-instated;
Plans to reduce management layers and unnecessary management posts in contrast to the Council’s increase in posts of over 300 in the last year despite austerity budgets;
An end to the war on motorists and boost for City Centre businesses with a freeze on parking charges;
A trial of powered compacting bins with a view to reducing street litter;
Withdrawal from CoSLA the ineffective councils umbrella group making a considerable saving in future years and mirroring the approach of Aberdeen and Dumfries and Galloway;
Plans for further efficiency savings to reduce the risk of overspends or major cuts to public services in the coming few years.
Cllr Iain Whyte said: “All Councils claim efficiencies when making budget reductions but unless you make real structural change in the way the Council is run progress will be limited. Our plans make that structural change and will free up resource to maintain frontline services and make service improvements. We also have to work with all partners to bring innovation, adopt modern technology and working practices and a more customer based approach. We have to truly embrace partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors as these can give us the holy grail of better quality services at lower cost.
“In contrast the current Administration has wasted millions by sticking to a blinkered and old fashioned approach to service delivery. This is failing to deliver the savings they predict and service standards on areas like bin collections and recycling are missing their limited targets.”
“Our budget makes a number of service improvements and shows how to fill the Council’s financial black hole over the next few years while maintaining service levels. But even more importantly we show that this is possible while returning money to hard-working families through a Council Tax cut. Just like Stirling Council has proved this is perfectly possible. It will help family budgets as the recovery takes hold and boost our local economy. But most importantly it sets the Council’s a clear aim to achieve a more efficient and effective Council in future.”

Monday 3 February 2014

Conservatives challenge Property Repairs secrecy

Conservative Finance Spokesman Cllr Iain Whyte today challenged the need to hold a discussion of a report on the Council's resolution of the Property Repairs scandal in private.  The Committee went ahead behind closed doors after the Convener accepted that there may be confidential legal advice given to Committee. 
Iain Whyte said:  "I wanted as much discussion of this issue as possible in public as people are angry that the Council hasn't yet resolved the affected property owners complaints or finalised bills for those left in limbo as they haven't been given a cost for work that was carried out.  The report at the meeting today was largely about setting the procedure and not about individual cases and I believe the procedure should be a matter of public record.
"Following the discussion I successfully pressed for a greater proportion of cases where there is a proposal to write off debt, to come to a Council Committee rather than simply be decided behind closed doors by officers.  This can give councillors and the affected owners more confidence that their case is being dealt with in an open way.  It can also strike a balance by ensuring Council officers don't just throw further large amounts of public money at the issue to 'make the problem go away'. 
"Finally, I have successfully persuaded the Committee that we need monthly reports on the resolution process as many owners are concerned at the slow progress made to date so far.  Now we can hold the officers to account over the performance of the system.  Conservative councillors want to see a more open approach in future and a swift resolution to the many cases that have caused owners so much distress."
For further information contact Iain Whyte on 07879 486133.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Welfare Reform

The issue of Welfare Reform was covered at the Council's Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee today.

Item 7.1 on the agenda provided information which shows that in just 6 months the Council is dealing with additional rent arrears of £2.6m - that is a 132% increase - which appears to be a direct result of a signal sent out by the Council with their ill advised no evictions policy.  
By contrast, Housing Associations knew what would happen and resisted the 'no evictions' policy.  The figures presented today illustrate how right they were. The same figures illustrated that out of Housing Associations who have currently responded, the rate of increase in arrears is significantly lower at 9% - 22%.

The Labour/SNP Administration failed to accept an amendment from the Conservative Group calling for a review of the 'no evictions' policy and an immediate report on its effect.

Making a contribution in support of the amendment, Councillor Cameron Rose also noted:
1. How the unfair consequence of this policy is that it has led more people to get into debt.

2. That It is unfair to tenants and taxpayers who may now have to pick up the cost of the increases in unpaid rent.

3. That It is unfair that some tenants have extra rooms paid for from the public purse.

In addition, Councillor Rose highlighted that around 4000 people are bidding for houses in Edinburgh because they consider themselves overcrowded.  

Commenting, Councillor Rose said: "Labour and the SNP are fighting hard to maintain these injustices.  Today they sent a signal that they don't care about fairness."
Note: Full Committee Papers can be found here:
The full text of the Conservative Motion to the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee reads as follows:

Item 7.1   Welfare Reform – further update.
Notes with concern the 132% increase  in rent arrears in the six month period between 31st March 2013 and 30th September 2013 resulting in an additional  £2.6m of Council house rent debt.
Notes that the Council’s adopted ‘no eviction’ policy appears to have had a dramatic effect on the level of rent arrears in contrast to the policy of Registered Social Landlords, where increases in rent arrears have been more modest.
Resolves to review the ‘no evictions’ policy and calls for an immediate report on its effect within one cycle.