The Corruption and Incompetence of Edinburgh Council
The Never ending issues with Edinburgh Council
Local Councils are not under the same intense scrutiny that centralised governments are. The UK turnout for the last election was 65.1% (House of Commons Research Papers). In Scotland the turnout figures for the last local elections, in 2012, was mid to low 30’s. It appears that most people don’t care enough about who provides their local services to go out and cast a vote. With that in mind, can local authorities be trusted to deliver honest, efficient “value for money” services?
THE PROPERTY CONSERVATION SCANDAL
The City of Edinburgh Council is quintessential of a corrupt and incompetent local authority. They appear to stumble regularly into allegations of dishonestly and uselessness to put it mildly.
The Property Conservation Scandal is still fresh in the minds of local constituents. In an attempt to preserve the historical value of its buildings the council has the power to order Statutory Repair Notices. This forces residents in private buildings to pay for “essential repairs” which the council deem necessary. The council will serve notice of repair and organise pre approved contractors to perform the work. The council then collect the money from residents and take a 15% fee. These Statutory Repair Notices had sharply risen in value from £9.2 million, in 2005, to £30 million, in 2010. Allegations were made about inflamed prices, poor materials and substandard work. Indeed the BBC learnt of claims that bribes were being offered by contractors and that some Notices of Repair were issued when the work may not have been necessary at all. The council ended up axing the department in question with 15 people being charged by police.
A Total Mess!
THE TRAMS DEBACLE
Amongst residents of Edinburgh and those who commute, the Trams Project is both a joke and a source of furious anger. Its original completion date was meant to be 2011 which has now been revised to 2014. It is forecasted to be three years over due, twice the original price and the train line will only reach half its intended length.
In spite of possessing one of the best bus services in the United Kingdom, The City of Edinburgh Council decided it needed a modern Tram system to cope with a growing population. Armed with a £500 million grant for the Scottish Government, they established an organisation called TIE (Transport Initiative Edinburgh) to oversee the project. Later, MSP John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth said of TIE “misled” him “over the handling of the contractual disputes” with contractors.
As the Tram project progressed it became apparent that moving of utilities like gas pipes and telephone lines would be a more complex process than initially thought. Contractors even found skeletons during the works which would represent delays as the appropriate authorities would then have to investigate. TIE and main contractor Belfinger Berger then became embittered in a row over who would pay for these additional costs. Indeed the conflict became so unconstructive it resulted in stalemate. Dr Jochen Keysberg a senior executive of Belfinger Berger states in Construction Enquirer 10-11-2011, TIE’s “different reading of the risk assessment in the contract” as a source of the problem and “maybe there were badly advised”. In order to get the project moving again, with pressure mounting to scrap the thing completely, the Scottish Government came in to mediate negations. TIE was subsequently replaced.
Accusations of incompetence where supported by statements from TIE senior management. The council transport convener is on record as saying he did not have the skills to oversee the project. Perhaps unbelievably, Gordon McKenzie, one of four councillors on the TIE board, admitted his background was in social work. I would expect when dealing with vast sums of tax payers money that the council would have recruited the services of subject matter experts.
The most shameful aspect of the Tram Project has been the businesses that have gone bankrupt as a result of the works which reduced footfall. City of Edinburgh Council is now seeking to pay some £10 million of taxpayer’s money to compensate local businesses. It is still unclear how the council plan on paying for the additional Tram costs although they have denied that services will have to be reduced.
To individuals this project has been a significant inconvenience to everyday living. Bus routes have been diverted and traffic moves slower around Edinburgh. On many occasions people do not know how close they will be able to get to work when boarding the buses in the morning.
REDUCTION OF SERVICES & SERVICE QUALITY
Citizens in Edinburgh now get their refuse collected fortnightly as opposed to weekly. This change occurred in September 2012 and the council were quick to admit it faced some “real challenges”. The purpose of which is to encourage recycling however it is unclear if this is a rouse to save money on services. Some local residents waited up to five weeks to get their refuse collected as the Council cited “teething problems” with new shift patterns. Addressing the issue at a meeting, Lesley Hinds, the Transport and Environment Convener, states “90% of waste has been collected”. She offered no explanation as to how she arrives at 90%.
The standard of service, in particular the speed of service is appalling. Many complain that they have to take a day off work to resolve errors with council tax bills. One such error occurred in 2010 when Edinburgh City Council took more than 5000 Council Tax payments out of people’s bank accounts prematurely. The payments where due to debit accounts on the 1’st of the month, one day after pay day for the majority of people. This error caused many locals to go overdrawn and many were left without money for a few days. Some people only found out when they attempted to pay for items and found there debit cards would not be authorised. The council did offer to pay any bank charges individuals faced as a result of the error but they had no intentions of compensating individuals for the inconvenience or embarrassment.
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WATER OF LEITH FLOOD PREVENTION OVERSPEND
It is not difficult to see why this project was dubbed “another Tram” by local residents. The Water of Leith Flood Prevention upgrade has some remarkable similarities. It is over budget, behind schedule and in dispute with contractor Lagan Construction. It was estimated to cost £11 million and that could now rise to £21 million. The project was due to be completed in three phases, the second and third phase the council has subsequently admitted it cannot afford.
Green Party Councillor Nigel Bagshaw is of the opinion that there is something "fundamentally wrong" with the way The City of Edinburgh Council draw up contracts. It appears as if the council are entering into “open ended-commitments” at the expense of the tax payer.
Local residents have stated their belief that the project was not needed in the first place. “All that was needed was the weak bits in the wall fixed”. Senga Reid was clearly of the belief that some less expensive repairs would have sufficed. Nigel Bagshaw calls it, “a sledgehammer to crack nut” project. Senga Reid states that she has lived at her current address all her life and that only once has her street been flooded. And it was only flooded because the contractors had taken down the previous wall during phase 1 of the Flood Prevention Works.
It truly is remarkable the decisions and mistakes Edinburgh Council repeatedly get away with. Actions are undertaken that have bankrupt local businesses, conned residents out of money with regards Repair Notices and just walked away from a Trams Fiasco straight into another one with the Leith Flood Prevention Project, and billing Mr and Mrs Tax-payer for the pleasure.
Even as I conclude this article there is a fresh debate forming regarding cyclist safety. There have been 74 incidents of cyclist spills on Princess Street alone with people getting their wheels stuck in the rim of the tracks. It is a “fatality waiting to happen” and Edinburgh City Council has been accused of wanting to bury this issue in the sand.
It is vitally important that local councils are held to account by the electorate. It may be that we know little about those who sit on our councils however residents should make more of an effort to find out and vote. Refuse to accept dishonesty and incompetence.