“Where now for Edinburgh?” in 4-5 minutes is a very tall order … I don’t doubt that 4-5 hours could easily be devoted to the many myriad views on how best to take our capital city forward.
So, in the context of the upcoming local government elections I just want to concentrate on 3 main points:
- where are we as a city?
- what is it we are offering?
- how would we deliver that offer?
So firstly, where are we?
There’s just no doubt in my mind that its not an easy time to be a politician – local or national – and I say that not because I’m looking for any sympathy, but because I think its an important backdrop to some of the problems facing our city.
Trust in the political process, generally, is at a very low point, and combined with the fact that the local elections on Thursday 3rd May will be the first stand-alone council elections for a generation, I do think it’s reasonable to be concerned about the likely levels of engagement and turnout.
And this does all matter, because whilst I do believe Edinburgh has fared comparatively well over recent years, we’d be collectively fooling ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that ‘where we are as a city’ does pose significant challenges – challenges that the incoming city council should play a pivotal role in helping to address. I’ll mention but 3 obvious ones.
- Firstly - Edinburgh, for too long now, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons associated with a badly over-budget and over-schedule infrastructure project. We can all play the blame-game for the tram, but it’s a game that won’t help a single business in the capital and certainly won’t help a single unemployed person find a job in the capital. We urgently need to finish what’s started and then ensure that the ‘story of Edinburgh’ isn’t one of incompetence and mismanagement.
- Secondly - whilst I’m hugely supportive of the recent interest in the ‘Edinburgh Guarantee’ and the good work that I think both the council, and local businesses, have done in this area in the last 12-months, it has all come fairly late in the day. The financial crisis started in 2008 and I think action could have been taken sooner locally. We now have 12,000 people unemployed in Edinburgh (more than 4%) – it’s the highest figure since 1996 and we simply must give even more urgent priority to employment, training and job creation.
- Thirdly – our competitor cities are many, and will (and do!) show absolutely zero mercy in taking jobs, business and regeneration AWAY from Edinburgh. And I really do believe that the cCapital has not adopted a strong enough 'Team Edinburgh' approach in recent years; an approach that means we’re all ‘shouting for Edinburgh’ not just shouting at each other.
Secondly, what is it I’m offering to address these challenges?
Well, I’ve been the Labour Group Leader for nearly 4 years now, since June 2008. And I have to be honest with you, and say I gave serious thought about whether I wanted to take the job on, and that’s because I’m not someone who tackles any job half-heartedly. Anything I commit to, I commit to 100% and give it my absolute all.
I thus knew that taking the job on in June 2008, would mean – the electorate willing on 3rd May, of course – that it could be a 9-year commitment, knowing that the next council term runs all the way to May 2017.
I could have decided on another, much more lucrative future, outside of local politics – but I did decide to tackle the job as I believe that the council has a fundamentally pivotal role to play in the life and well-being of the city.
And we’ve since spent our time thinking long and hard about how best to construct an offer for the upcoming local government elections that is fresh, forward-looking and relevant to the many challenges that face the city. But an offer that can also be developed in partnership with others.
To that end, I ensured we had all our candidates – and our draft manifesto - in place a full 6 months before the upcoming elections and we duly launched such on 3rd November 2011.
We had over 1000 detailed submissions in response to the draft, and we incorporated much of that dialogue into a final version which was launched in March 2012.
In essence, we’re putting forward a bold new offer that would see Edinburgh Council become the first ‘co-operative council’ in Scotland:
- a council that will work with local businesses and residents and not just for the
- potentially developing cooperatives around areas such as childcare, energy production and housing provision
- giving local businesses and residents a stake in projects from the start and a role in the development and delivery of such
- we’re offering to completely overhaul how the council sets its budget – the current process is frankly outdated and ill-suited to a 21st century capital
- and we’ll work with any other party to help deliver stability and certainty for Edinburgh over the next 5-years.
This leads me to my third and final point: “how would I deliver that offer?”
Well – as some of you in the audience will know, despite being a Labour politician I’ve been a long-standing supporter of proportionality in elections; not a universally popular position amongst all my colleagues.
But, I have to say, I just don’t feel coalition-politics over the last 5-years in the City Chambers has worked. And, for me, that’s been down to our collective failure to change the political culture in the City Chambers.
This is a city, it’s not a nation state, and once the local elections are finished, we really should be moving away from the constant adversarial nature of party politics and focussing on what’s best for the capital.
I think we haven’t – collectively – done that in the last 5 years, and I’m determined that we do so in the coming 5 years.
We will work collaboratively with all political and non-political partners after May 3rd. There has to be a ‘Team Edinburgh’ culture and I intend to play my part in making sure that it happens.