Council told it ‘can do more’ to improve residents’ lives

Watchdog commends City of Edinburgh Council for progress but says it 'can do more' to improve lives of local people.

Council told it ‘can do more’ to improve residents’ lives Getty Images
Watchdog findings: City of Edinburgh Council 'ambitious' but found 'mixed progress' at strategic level.

The City of Edinburgh Council has been told it “can do more” to improve the lives of local people by a watchdog.

An Audit Scotland report described the local authority as “ambitious” but said it must communicate and deliver more effectively.

The spending watchdog’s Accounts Commission found there has been “mixed progress” at a strategic level and with the council’s community engagement since 2016.

But the report highlighted positive work to address poverty and sustainability.

It said: “In Edinburgh’s case – a prosperous city with a relatively strong economy – we commend the council in its commitment to reducing inequalities, most recently seen in the work of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission.”

While it concluded the council has “well-managed” finances, the commission called for the creation of a long-term strategy to deal with the financial impact and consequences of coronavirus.

The report found the local authority is facing a £12.2m budget gap this year, although it stressed the audit was mostly carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also states City of Edinburgh Council – Scotland’s second-largest by population, with 524,930 residents – had the lowest rate of unemployment and the highest proportion of workers in highly skilled jobs compared with other major UK cities, excluding London, before the pandemic.

Elma Murray, the interim chairwoman of the Accounts Commission, said: “The City of Edinburgh Council can do more to maximise its potential to improve the city and the lives of local people.

“Whilst the ambition of the council and its partners is impressive, the detail of how it will deliver, monitor and report on its key strategic goals must be in one accessible and coherent plan.”

The report noted “strained” relationships between councillors.

Ms Murray added: “It is the responsibility of all local councillors, working together, to ensure the city and its services continue to improve.

“It is important for the council to focus on continuous improvement and the creation of long-term financial and workforce plans.

“I expect the council to act swiftly on our report. Doing so will support the council’s ambitions to improve the lives of its residents.”

Council leader Adam McVey welcomed the report’s findings.

He said: “We are pleased to note their positive comments about the levels of ambition we have shown in addressing our key priorities of poverty, sustainability and wellbeing.

“The Controller of Audit acknowledged the improving picture of our core services, while our bold strategies to put people at the heart of how we design public space, our proven ability to take difficult decisions like taking trams to Newhaven, and extensive consultations with residents and stakeholders to put communities at the heart of our decision-making are all cited as strengths.

“Of course, we’re always striving to improve wherever we can so that we deliver the best possible services and achieve what we’ve set out to achieve on behalf of the people of Edinburgh.

“We are now carefully reviewing the full report and will work hard to address areas in need of our attention going forward.”