At the Broughton Spurtle Hustings on Thursday 19th April, after introductory comments from each of the candidates/representatives, there were questions from the audience. This is a review of my responses to these questions.
Question 1: Will you represent Leith as well as Edinburgh? What is your position on the trams?
I will absolutely represent Leith Walk. It is shocking that Leith Walk has had to endure so much disruption and hassle as a result of the tram project, and we must ensure that we don’t repeat the mismanagement of the tram project. I do support trams as part of a modern, multi-modal public transport system, that Edinburgh, as a European city, deserves. Trams encourage people out of their cars, they reduce congestion, and they reduce pollution that negatively affects all our lives. But, clearly, what has happened in Leith Walk is not just. All 58 councillors share responsibility for the problem, and we must make sure that we do not let arms-length companies get away with hiding things from the Council or the public again. That’s why Greens are demanding that the Council does not set up any more arms-length companies like tie ltd, the company that mismanaged the tram project and was dissolved because of this.
Question 2: The ‘Da Vinci Rapist’ has been housed nearby and has had the 24-hour supervision reduced, possibly in response to budget cuts. What action would you take?
It is clear that there needs to be greater community involvement in decisions such as these, to ensure the consequences are properly thought through. I will work with Lothian and Borders Police to find alternative ways of addressing this particular issue, and will certainly try to address the concerns that you and others have raised.
Question 3: Where do you stand on the privatisation of public services?
I am opposed to the privatisation of public services. The Alternative Business Model (ABM) process was an absolute outrage. Greens opposed this right from the very beginning. The process cost the Council well over £3 million, and this was a complete waste of money. The administration never took the in-house provision option seriously – the Public Sector Comparator did not get the funding or support necessary at the time to ensure a proper analysis of what could be achieved in-house. The Council should focus on delivering core services, not on innovative ways of privatising things. I was responsible for initiating the process that ended up in halting the tendering process for social care provision for vulnerable adults. Public services must remain in public hands.
Question 4: What is your position on the future of Leith Waterworld, and what would you do to support the Splashback campaign?
Leith Waterworld is not just a swimming pool – it is a very important community resource and we must do whatever we can to keep it open. It gives parents and children the opportunity to get to know others, and get support from the wider community. It provides important social interaction opportunities for people who might have few other such avenues. There is no legal reason why the Council could not sell the facility to a community enterprise at less than the market rate, or why we would not subsidise a community group to run the facility paying a peppercorn rent. There are other examples of community-run swimming pools elsewhere in the UK, and I will do what I can to support the Splashback campaign. Greens opposed the closure of Leith Waterworld and we initiated the delay in the sale of the facility to enable the community to organise an alternative approach to keeping it open.
Question 5: The elderly, vulnerable and disabled need support. Will you stand up against the neo-liberal cuts?
Absolutely. There is a reason that for-profit companies win contracts to provide services at lower prices, and that’s because they treat their staff appallingly, often not paying decent wages or pension contributions. It is no wonder then, that care quality is poor. We must not let such companies get a strangle-hold on providing council services – this will destroy the third sector in the city, and this is not good for anyone. For sustainable local economies, we must ensure that we protect jobs that contribute directly to local communities. We need to see the ageing population as a strength for communities rather than an economic burden, and support their care appropriately. At the heart of the Green manifesto for Edinburgh is ‘no more privatisation’.
Question 6: How would you restore trust in the statutory notice system?
I am very sorry that so many people have had such a bad experience with this service, seeing price hikes for work, as well as unacceptable delays in getting problems sorted out. Transparency of how this system functions is important, but as here is an ongoing police investigation, we need to ensure that we don’t do anything to jeopardise potential criminal prosecutions. However, the Council can do several things to ensure that work that needs to be done is not delayed, and that problems between neighbours are properly resolved. For example, the Council should set up a bond system to step in and pay for repairs to ensure properties are maintained properly and in good time, rather than incurring expensive delays. The money could be recouped at a later date (when properties are sold, for example). The Services for Communities department also should support tenant/owner/neighbour negotiations to try and get any disputes about payments sorted out very quickly.
Question 7: What is your position on the recently approved Ferris Wheel for West Princes Street Gardens?
I understand that this proposal is controversial, and would certainly not support it if it were permanent. However, for six months, it is probably alright. I would argue that any rental from the Ferris Wheel must go into the Common Good Fund as the Gardens are Common Good Land, and we should ensure this fund is genuinely used for the common good. [Added later: I would certainly support the Ferris wheel coming to Leith - in the right place the views of Leith/the Forth would be stunning!]
Question 8: Leith Walk is one of the top 10 most dangerous streets to cycle in the UK. What would you do to improve it?
I am a cyclist myself, and it is clear that Leith Walk has been neglected. We must ensure that the cycle facilities are appropriately maintained, that potholes are repaired. I am a bolshie cyclist, so it is often not traffic that concerns me (although the Greens 20mph policy would be good), but, I recognise that not all cyclists are like me, so we must ensure that the police take their enforcement of aggressive and dangerous driving seriously. The condition of the roads and cycle paths are my main bugbear, and they must be better maintained. We must also do more to improve the public realm around Leith Walk. Many trees have disappeared from Leith Walk, and we should ensure that trees are replanted and flower boxes installed. The Council must also do more to ensure sites and buildings do not remain empty and boarded up, as this doesn’t do anyone any good. The Town Centre team must work with local businesses to support the improvement of shop frontages and public spaces immediately outside them.
Question 9: What will you do to stop supermarket chains ruining local shops?
Greens recently started the campaign to change the legislation to enable Councils to distinguish between local shops and national or international supermarket chains. This will not be without its problems, but it would mean we could better support local businesses against multinational corporations. Additionally, we need to ensure that out-of-town shopping centres no longer continue to benefit from what is essentially a parking subsidy – they do not pay retail tax on the massive car-parks they have, and this encourages people to go away from local town centres to shop.
I hope these answers bear some resemblance to what I said on the night, and I apologise for my ‘creepy’ habit of referring to members of the audience by name. (See the Spurtle’s summary of the night for an explanation of this :-) )