There was an excellent discussion at the conference on September 10th, covering Care, Climate, Housing, Jobs and the Cost of Living. Sadly some people were unable to attend because of the disruption to travel in the city on that day. We were also very conscious that time didn’t allow for all the issues we would have liked to cover to be addressed. So these notes from the conference are work in progress and we aim to build on them over the next few weeks and months to create a charter for Another Edinburgh.
Report from ‘Our City – Our Future’ September 10th, 2022
The conference was organised by Another Edinburgh is Possible and co-sponsored by eleven other organisations (see Appendix for details). Thanks to the City of Edinburgh Unite and Unison branches, the Edinburgh Unite not for Profit branch, Edinburgh Trades Union Council and Edinburgh EIS Local Association for financial support which covered the costs of publicity and room hire.
The first session was chaired by Carmen Simon (Unite and Edinburgh TUC) and Mike Cowley (EIS-FELA) provided some context for the workshop discussions that followed.
Another Edinburgh is Possible extends its warmest welcome to attendees this morning. We meet at a time when society stands at a crossroads. The banking crisis and a decade of austerity compounded already existing inequalities. The pandemic exposed ordinary people to still further pain. Neither event affected our communities equally. People working in essential services, the poor and people of colour suffered disproportionately from a virus the UK government saw not as a humanitarian emergency but as a means of enriching friends and Party donors. Now an energy and cost of living crisis threaten to tip millions of people over the precipice. We are in a national emergency. Yet with some honourable exceptions, the political classes behave as if the old, failed prescriptions can resolve the problems. The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, elected by a tiny fraction of the UK population, proposes as ‘solutions’ tax cuts for the rich and an end to the moratorium on fracking. We have reached the stage where history repeats itself not as tragedy, but as farce.
We hope today will provide an opportunity to identify ways in which individual groups working to defend public services, support vulnerable members of the community or campaign around housing issues can work effectively together. Our core themes are Care, Climate, Jobs and Homes. The TU movement has once again demonstrated that determined collective action can win not only significant concessions for ordinary people in the shape of pay, terms and conditions. When people act in concert, their solidarity can shift the public conversation. What was once seen as impossible becomes a viable option.
We aim to emerge from today’s sessions with concrete ideas of how to share resources and experience, and to identify campaigning priorities which build enduring alliances across our campaigning bodies. Good luck, and solidarity, everyone.
The discussion that followed was organised around three themes: Care, Housing and Climate. Two additional themes, Jobs and the Cost-of-Living Crisis ran through all three sessions.
Workshop 1 – Care
Carmen Simon and Ross McKenzie introduced this session
- Participants in the discussion made the following points.
- Campaigning stopped the closure of 4 of the 8 remaining local authority run care homes in Edinburgh, last year. Another Edinburgh is Possible provided a forum where local authority trade unions and community activists could organise together.
- Issues: public sector homes are set to close if action not taken. 2) national care service is not functioning as it should i.e., not balancing with private sector. 3) Poor pay and conditions. – campaign to focus on what the issues are and most effective way to address them. Unions, social activist can work together but workforce is not well organized because of conditions. Crisis is bigger than acknowledged. Assessments are not happening, and staff are not well trained and remunerated. The basis for the NCS is not sound. There will be opportunities to shape and respond to the proposal.
- Problem is wider – need to tackle funding issues more broadly
- People using care services need to be heard. It’s harder to get care in a crisis as advice is to refer to community / voluntary services.
- Services stopped providing proper care during pandemic and never reverted back.
- Brexit has had a negative impact on workforce – qualifications required are another barrier to entry.
- The mooted National Care Service might make it easier to improve pay and conditions but ‘top down’ service model from central organization is not ideal. Acute services are priority and others left to flounder. Funding is one main issue. People kept in institutions when they need not be is another.
- Campaign could focus on changing perceptions of care service workers to acknowledge skill and professionalism. More effective than striking – public perceptions of strikes is generally positive right now. Can a campaign capitalize on this?
- Lack of care workers in the community is inefficient as hospital care has to cover for shortfalls.
- Main forms of training – HNDs and HNCs in care work are not working – many new entrants to care work are lost to the sector within a year of first entering employment after achieving their qualifications – this links to low pay, poor conditions, and low morale.
- Important to involve care workers in the conversation, encourage them to join unions and fight their corner for the sector. Government and local authorities are part of the problem as outsourcing to private providers leads to further inefficiencies / loss of resources.
- So many people in the community have negative experiences of care sector – important to find ways of involving them in campaigning for a system that puts people before profit.
- Win battles to fight the war – story about 99 y o on a trolley in a corridor in ERI.
- Health service workforce is not highly unionised. Campaigning at community level could change this. Need to defend the core principles of a welfare state. Demand public consultation – this is likely to happen. Too many managers – UNISON coordinator for Edinburgh campaigns on this issue – need to reach out to councillors and MPs, and to unionise and unite different workforces and campaigns.
- Disabled people need to be central to campaigns around care especially (and other issues too – we are disproportionately affected by everything!) and there needs to be more links with disabled people’s groups
A lot has changed over the last three years and the impact needs to be more public. Quantify what has changed in terms of pay and conditions for workers and service user experiences. Research already being done in this area could be shared more widely and used as a basis for involvement in decision making and preparing a response to the proposal Provide an alternative proposal based on user and worker narratives. Societal problem is that people are not valued unless they contribute economically).
Workshop 2 – Climate
Mike Cowley and Johanna Carrie introduced this session
We hear from scientists how advanced the climate problem is.
On Saturday 17th September at the Augustine church there’s a meeting with break out sessions on climate. Individual use of energy in the home can make a difference collectively. Community heat networks are a proposal on the table – to be encouraged. Edinburgh Community Solar Coop – an ongoing investment initiative and the Hydro scheme in Balerno are examples of renewable sources.
Scottish Government Net Zero strategy is short on details of what it means in practice.
During the discussion the following points were made:
- Doing major work on Victorian tenements will need council support (like refurbishment grants of 1970s / 80s?).
- The way tourism operates is a problem as so much useless rubbish is produced, sold and binned. Individual action is important but so is leading by example for the council.
- District heating schemes / collective refurbishments / other community initiatives a better approach than individual improvements. Building standards need to change for insulation and heating (passive house standard).
- Join with young people taking direct / autonomous action against climate change.
- Local activism in a global context. Campaign in Muirhouse an important victory with experience to share.
- Building 60,000 houses in Edinburgh but not linked to energy centre – cooperative solution is worth promoting. Need a climate plan for Edinburgh.
- Other countries (Pakistan) are suffering the effects of our actions.
- The cost of electricity is linked to cost of gas for no reason. Scotland produces a lot of renewable energy, but citizens do not reap any benefits from this.
- Support for renationalization of energy companies is growing. It’s nonsense that the PM is handing out money that will end up contributing to profits of big energy companies.
- Granton housing development will be net zero – council should be pressured not to approve developments that aren’t.
- Renationalization is working in France – why not here?
- New builds should be required to use environmentally sound materials (not concrete).
- Net subsidy to the North Sea oil industry over its lifetime is £250bn and this is about to rise by more than £100bn in just one year. Stop this madness!
- Campaign for a district works dept in Edinburgh – connect to colleges to develop a skilled workforce. The council argues that major building / renovations projects need to be outsourced and skills are not currently available in the private sector. Direct works and good training is the answer.
- Cost effective solution is to insulate not build passive houses which are expensive.
- Eating meat, driving cars are climate crimes.
- E-Bikes are a solution to transport problems.
Workshop 3 – Housing
This session was introduced by Robyn Kane, Ruaraidh Dempster from Living Rent and Maddie Lou Barink from Shelter Scotland.
Maddie Lou Barink: Housing relates to all other topics under discussion today. Living Rent has run successful campaigns in areas of Edinburgh. Only 1/3 of all new developments are social housing so the problem will never be resolved. There are 25,000 people on the waiting list so it’s hard to see how the problem will ever be resolved. Students and tourism exacerbate the issue as it takes many houses out of the long term, affordable residential market. UNITE and UNISON members working in council have power to influence. Thousands of people get turned away from homeless services in Edinburgh every year. If council can’t meet their obligations for whatever reason, they need to state what they need ask demand government provides. Solution is to build and buy more houses – ScotGov has money – it’s a political choice not to spend it on housing. Shelter Scotland has explored ways (e.g. Cables Wynd) to build community support / activism and get council involved in plans. October – six-week program on building activism / campaigns – aim is to build networks / groundswell to spread the impact.
Ruaraidh Dempster: rent freeze and eviction ban even for 8 months is a small step but still a victory to be celebrated. One person (woman in Glasgow with autistic son) started a campaign that resulted in a blanket ban on evictions during Covid. Rent freeze campaign used research and outreach to generate 5-6K submissions in support of rent freeze. Local campaigns linked into national campaign gives power. Rent should be tied to amenities in property and the area. Keep pressure on government to introduce rent controls. Living rent has worked for 5 years to won positive results and will continue campaigns.
Robyn: Culture in council is a problem – employees treat people with contempt when they complain about problems the council has an obligation to fix. The Moredun protest wasted council money but won the case against new housing development on the green.
The following points were raised in the discussion:
- Some council housing is sub-standard and being allowed to run down leading tenants to resort to dangerous practices to heat uninhabitable homes.
- Everything is intertwined – can’t separate issues out – and even though we individually can’t be involved with everything, it’s important to be aware of what else is going on and to find ways of supporting other campaigns when it’s useful
- We need to do research e.g., how many unoccupied homes in Edinburgh – to support demands
- We need to see commonality and not get divided – e.g. my experience of divisions between council tenants versus home owners in my high rise made organising very tricky. We must watch for that sort of division “it’s alright for you lot!” sort of thing.
- Ross McKenzie Campaign for market rents – compile stories about sub-standard homes and council refusal to accept responsibility. Rent control and rent freeze – ScotGov has finally accepted responsibility now need to be held to account. Housing supply – council remedy is to promote mid-market rents but outsourcing to housing associations results in high rents, sale of houses and unfair redistribution of wealth.
- Tourists and residents see different sides of Edinburgh. Most resources get directed to tourism and the city centre. Residents should share wealth generated from tourism. Council claims to deal with most requests effectively but experience suggests otherwise.
- We live in one of the richest countries in the world – but where is the wealth? (Concentrated in a few greedy hands). Working people want hands on the knife to cut the cake as they choose.
Proposals going forward
Nothing inevitable about weak voices in council or government and we need to keep pressure on our representatives. Money wasted by hiring private companies to fix things. Spending a lot of money but not wisely.
All topics intersect. Progress does not rest in any one area. Maintaining status quo must be socially unacceptable to those sitting on councils and committees for change to happen. Shift the metrics.
Social justice across the areas – can different groups collaborate / network to build strength?
- Build a charter of demands for housing to bring groups and organizations together.
- Stop outsourcing of public money to private interests.
- Stop outsourcing jobs via a direct labour / Dept of Works
- Stop outsourcing of in temporary accommodation to vote – it empowers them
- Tie rent to quality of property
- Demand long term rent freeze and no evictions policy
- Rent control / accommodation standards with enforcement plan
- Push for more council housing to be built and an end to homelessness
- Regulate landlords (some are skimming from the public purse)
- Link housing problems to human rights issues
About Another Edinburgh is Possible
Another Edinburgh is Possible was formed in 2022 when activists from existing campaigns, including Edinburgh East Save our Services and North Edinburgh Fight Back met together to discuss what could be done about the long-term crisis in the provision of local services in Edinburgh. The latest version of our campaign statement reflects the shared perspective that was developed at the early meetings of the campaign:
It is time to end the cycle of cuts to vital local services in our city. Austerity, outsourcing and privatisation has been legislated by Westminster via Holyrood and implemented by the City Council for too long.
Edinburgh has the lowest expenditure per capita on local services in Scotland.
Since 2012/13, Edinburgh City Council budget cuts have amounted to more than £300 million. If nothing changes, more huge cuts will inevitably follow over the next three years.
The cuts have already had a terrible effect on essential services. The most vulnerable, already exposed to cuts in social security benefits, have suffered most.
Covid19 added to an already bleak picture with increases in unemployment, child poverty and mental distress. The pandemic shone a harsh light on the gaps in local services and underlined the importance of key workers and provisions for health, social care, housing, and education.
Now huge increases in gas and electricity prices and the rapidly rising cost of living are tightening the screw further. This is not sustainable. We can’t go on in this way.
There is money to fund the services we need. The Westminster government paid more than £30 billion to private companies during the pandemic for outsourced services and equipment that was mostly wasted. Westminster, Holyrood and Edinburgh are all committed to outsourcing services to private providers who then rake off a large percentage of our local and national taxes to pay dividends to their wealthy shareholders. We need an end to outsourcing and the rebuilding of publicly run and democratically controlled local services. The wealth generated by our workers, service providers and service users could be sustainably invested to rebuild our city’s essential infrastructure.
For too long our city has been undermined by Westminster cuts, and a compliant Holyrood parliament, and meekly implemented by Edinburgh City Council. We call on elected councillors, MSPs and MPs to join us in linking the local with the national picture and campaigning for a reallocation of resources to transform lives and livelihoods for the better.
Checkout the campaign website and blog at https://anotheredinburghispossible.org
Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/anotheredinburghispossible
Follow us on Twitter @anotheredinburg
The conference was cosponsored by:
Edinburgh Campaign Against Poverty
Zero Covid Scotland
Edinburgh Climate Coalition
Unite (City of Edinburgh Council)
Unison (City of Edinburgh Council)
EIS-FELA Edinburgh College
Edinburgh Trades Union Council
Unite Edinburgh Not for Profit
Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh
Edinburgh North and Leith Labour Party
Scot.E3 (Employment, Energy and Environment)
Edinburgh EIS Local Association