Another Edinburgh is Possible – Interim report on the results of a survey of how Edinburgh residents experience council services
Since 2012/13, Edinburgh City Council budget cuts have amounted to £320 million. Year on year of so-called ‘savings’ have resulted in a hollowing out of jobs and services to Edinburgh residents.
Over the last 12 months, Covid-19 has been devastating communities across Scotland. It has also shone a light on the destruction to public services brought about by a decade of austerity.
Many people agree that things cannot simply go back to the way they were before. However, Another Edinburgh is Possible believes that if we don’t fight for them to be better, it is more than possible they will be worse. We are concerned that the UK and Scottish governments will attempt to use Covid-19 as a pretext for cutting back local government budgets yet further. Edinburgh Council has already identified over £80m of savings and funding in 2020/21 but has to find at least £5.1m more because of the extra costs and lower income resulting from the pandemic. Over the next three years, the Council has already identified £40m of ‘savings’ but needs to find at least a further £47.5m.
Another Edinburgh is Possible not only believes this is unnecessary; it is unsustainable. Year after year of cuts has pushed services to the edge and the people of Edinburgh are paying the price. We also believe more cuts will further weaken local democracy and accelerate the centralisation of power over local issues in the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments.
We believe that the citizens of Edinburgh deserve far better than this. It is in this light that Another Edinburgh is Possible decided to carry out a survey amongst Edinburgh residents and service users to ask them directly about their experiences of current Council service provision and the services they would like to see in the future.
This preliminary report summarises the main findings from the first 483 responses and outlines recommendations we are asking the Council to consider. The survey closes on the 21st February. We will then produce a more detailed and comprehensive report based on all the responses that have then been received.
Read the report here: https://tinyurl.com/1rain9ts
Edinburgh residents think services are deteriorating.
Only four per cent of respondents think that council services are better than three years ago fifty five percent think they are worse.
- There are high levels of dissatisfaction with many council services.
Of all the services provided by the council public toilets attracted the most adverse comments. Housing, homelessness services, social work, social care, community centres and community education were also considered to be poor. Many respondents backed up their ratings with detailed open comments. Roads and pavements are considered to be poorly maintained and dangerous to users.
- Some services received high levels of satisfaction.
Museums and galleries, transport and parks rated highly.
- The council has a serious problem with communication.
Many people reported difficulties in making contact, lack of response and failure to deliver on commitments made.
- Bins and litter provoked a large number of angry written responses
Thirty six percent ranked refuse services as good, twenty six percent poor. Yet at the same time large numbers provided eloquent and angry testimony to failures in the service. There is a perception that different areas of the city are not served equally.
- Respondents dissent from the council’s policy priorities
Spaces for people attracted a lot of negative comments. On the other hand, cycling is a priority for many. Written comments expressed the view that the council’s priorities are tourism, business and the city centre with Edinburgh residents and the periphery of the city coming a poor second.
- Edinburgh residents think that local services should be publicly provided and democratically controlled.
- Edinburgh residents believe that public transport should be integrated, publicly owned and free.
On the basis of an analysis of responses to date we make the following recommendations.
- The in-housing of Edinburgh’s public services: our survey confirmed a widespread frustration at a perceived lack of accountability from service-providers. One conclusion is that services be delivered in-house. That would immediately clarify lines of responsibility, leaving residents clear on who is accountable for quality of delivery. As things stand, a mosaic of providers means service users are often unsure of who to contact should they have questions or queries regarding any one service. Councilors would also be in a stronger position to make a case for additional funding if they are directly responsible for services that they are democratically accountable for. The incentive to improve would be re-directed towards elected politicians as opposed to distant corporations with little connection to the city or its people.
- Improved Council communications with Edinburgh residents: Residents expect direct and unmediated contact with Council officials. Internet access should not be a prerequisite for residents looking to speak to those responsible for delivering key amenities. Dedicated phone-lines employing trained advisors familiar with Edinburgh services would make a significant contribution to Council/resident relationships. Mobile advice centres, Council officer as well as Councilors’ surgeries and improved public access to Council Chambers might also build confidence in a Council which to many feels remote and unaccountable.
- A re-ordering of Council priorities: the commodification of public space is not referred to in our report. However, this is an issue many residents have repeatedly raised over the years, and it is reasonable to infer that many of the frustrations expressed by respondents imply an expectation that a city as beautiful as Edinburgh should be accessible to all, and not only tourists and the cultures industries which too often price people out of their own streets. For instance, cultural facilities which are accessible – galleries, museums and parks – score highly in satisfaction ratings. In contrast, 36% of respondents are unhappy with the quality of their community centres, and only 20% are content with housing, a perennial and growing concern amplified by Uber and student accommodation which reflect Edinburgh’s globally recognized social capital. Consequently, a delegating downwards of cultural centres and activity and the resourcing of local creative initiatives could contribute to a year-long re-imagining of how art and culture can take root outside of the City centre.
- Edinburgh transport should be integrated, publicly owned and resourced: Comments on transport were limited, perhaps reflecting a general contentment with the quality of service provided by Lothian buses. However even here, the survey recorded complaints regarding how busy buses can become, their cost and the quality of Edinburgh’s roads. An integrated transport service could knit together the varied concerns that an otherwise popular service still attracts. A joined-up, publicly owned matrix of services would be better equipped to incorporate a sustainable network in one of the busiest cities in Europe, particularly during the Festival.