Sharing in our City's success

Cllrs Adam McVey and Cammy Day outline their priorities for the next six months...


As we find ourselves in the midst of another bumper month of summer festivals, and all that they bring, it seems fitting that we consider our priorities for the next six months – and beyond.

August in Edinburgh is a unique atmosphere that can be found nowhere else on earth. For four weeks, we will welcome the world to share in our festival spirit and sample some of the thousands of performances taking place in this unique and beautiful city.

But with that popularity, success and acclaim, comes the other side of the same coin: the pressure on our core services and on the people who live and work here.

Of course, we’re glad that so many people want to visit our beautiful city and recognise the importance of tourism to our economy. But we also recognise the impact this has on residents and that we have a responsibility to manage that impact. 

With this in mind, a huge number of column inches have (rightly) been devoted to our ongoing campaign to ‘win’ the powers to introduce a transient visitor levy (TVL).

Having already demonstrated through our research that a TVL would not harm the hotel industry, and gained the unanimous support of all Scottish local authorities, we will continue to host a series of round-table discussions with industry stakeholders to discuss the details of what an Edinburgh scheme could reasonably look like and options for implementing it.

While hoteliers and businesses are critical stakeholders, so too are our residents and our tourists. To ensure that their voices are a part of this debate, we have commissioned specific research in partnership with Marketing Edinburgh. We are also working with Edinburgh University’s economics department to examine the tax burden and ‘price elasticity’ in more detail.

We will be in a position to consult publicly on the proposals in the autumn but fundamentally this is a matter of fairness. It is entirely fair to expect tourists to contribute to the city maintenance, to cultural and tourist investments, and to marketing the city so that it remains globally attractive. We fully expect the work we are doing to make a compelling case for the Scottish Government and our Parliament to consider.

Staying on the theme of fairness, we are acutely aware that short term lets are causing serious issues for residents and damaging communities and will continue to do all we can to alleviate this pressure.

We have set up a working group to look into issues like antisocial behaviour, rent rises and the effect on residential housing supply and, last week, councillors unanimously approved their recommendations – a great result of effective collaborative working.

We will now work closely with the Scottish Government, and other local authorities, to consider piloting regulatory solutions. Our preferred route is through a new licensing system which will allow us to properly manage the concentration of short term lets, the overall numbers and make sure that landlords are acting responsibly.

These pressures are essentially a microcosm of the many opportunities and, simultaneously, challenges facing our capital city. Edinburgh will continue to grow, to thrive – of that there is no doubt. But our focus must be on promoting fair and sustainable growth. We live in a city full of opportunity and, as a coalition, we are working extremely hard to ensure that all residents can share in that success.

Over the next six months, and beyond, we will be working hard to improve the quality of life for all residents, enhancing the environment, delivering better infrastructure and building upon what is already a fantastic place to live, work and visit. 

The Edinburgh City Poverty Commission, which was given the go ahead in June will be a key mechanism for making progress on these ambitions.

All too often the poverty which exists in Edinburgh is hidden by the dramatic buildings and the affluence that we enjoy. But reports by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that the total cost to the public sector in Edinburgh of addressing the impacts of poverty, including poor health, poor education outcomes, lost economic output and criminal justice outcomes is £408m. The need is unequivocal and the clock is ticking.

In the coming weeks, then, we confirm the Commission Chair and its membership; we will identify a site for action research in the city to challenge poverty in real time; and we will begin the most important work of all: hearing the views and voices of those in our communities who experience poverty and disadvantage.

The work of the commission will go hand-in-hand with our new Economy strategy – which looks at eight key themes, all geared towards our priorities of inclusion, innovation and collaboration – and the work of our Homelessness Taskforce.

The Taskforce has already made a number of bold recommendations to further that work. When implemented, they will improve the quality of life for some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

We are finding better solutions for young people requiring temporary accommodation. This includes applying for funds to offer support packages for homeless people with complex needs and beginning a series of conversations with our partners to consider how best to deliver this support through the ‘Housing First’ scheme.

And we want to move towards the ending of B&B use as temporary accommodation, particularly for families, but this will take time. So, as of this month, B&Bs will be compelled to allow people to wash their clothes, store food and cook during their stay.

Of course, the most obvious way of ending homelessness is to provide enough homes for families to live in, which is why we will be investing £1.2bn over the next 10 years towards our pledge of delivering 20,000 new affordable homes.

With over 2,000 on site currently, completions this year set to increase by over 50% from last year, and a clear plan for delivery coming back to councillors for approval in November, we are absolutely on track to meet our short-term target of 10,000 affordable homes over the next five years.

Much of our housebuilding aspirations will be made possible by the City Region Deal, signed jointly last week with the Prime Minister, First Minister and our fellow council leaders. The culmination of years of hard work by this council and our partners, this was a hugely significant landmark, confirming £1.3bn of investment in the region and allowing us to push ahead on other core projects around infrastructure, skills and technology and in support of our festivals.

The Deal will allow us to transform Edinburgh and the surrounding area, delivering over 21,000 high quality jobs, together with a new skills programme and to address key economic barriers and issues of inequality across the region.

While not part of the City Region Deal, our plans to take trams to Newhaven are progressing well and we are confident of gaining council support for the project by the end of this year.

During the first stage of consultation, we gathered thousands of comments from a wide range of residents, businesses and organisations in what was the most comprehensive public consultation exercise ever undertaken by the Council.

This allowed the project team to better understand the needs and concerns of the local community and, from that, modify the plans before running a series of workshops with key stakeholders. The revised plans will be published in September prior to being considered by councillors in December.

Elsewhere, we are investing £25m this year (£100m over the next five years) on maintaining and improving our roads, carriageways and pavements, including resurfacing schemes across the city, and upgrading several bridges, as well as close to £1m of additional investment towards issues such as pothole repairs and street lighting.

Our decision in February to agree to invest £119m over five years in upgrading our school estate is a sign of our determination to improve the quality of our buildings.

Over 50 schools and nurseries in our estate are currently undergoing planned maintenance ranging from upgrading windows, refurbishing toilets, replacing lighting, ceiling repairs to installing new boilers.

Work has been ongoing over the summer to complete eleven rising rolls extensions before the start of the new school year to accommodate our extra pupils. In addition, more early years buildings are being provided across the city to meet the 1,140 hours a year for all 3 and 4-year-olds and vulnerable 2-year-olds. This includes more nursery classrooms for Leith Primary and St John’s Primaries, opening later this month, and a brand new Tynecastle Nursery in September.

Meanwhile, construction work is now underway on the new Queensferry High School and, in October, we will be unveiling designs for the replacement high school for Castlebrae. 

We will soon be starting to engage the local community on the development of the wider site around Meadowbank Sports Centre.  While we have already consulted on our proposals, there is clearly a lot of public interest in the wider plan and a desire for more user and resident engagement. A working group will be set up and we will work with the local community to create a development everyone can be proud of.

We recognise that there is still a long way to go in improving our Health & Social Care service and will continue to support the Edinburgh Integration Joint Board and the ongoing work of the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership.  

In keeping with Scottish Government’s 2020 Vision for healthcare, new Chief Officer Judith Proctor is overseeing an ongoing and deliberate move to shift the balance of care from hospitals to community-based settings but any transformational change like this is never easy.

There is, however, real potential for big steps to be taken over the next six months as the Partnership’s two major development plans begin to take effect. These plans focus on alleviating pressures on services and budgets while making the necessary service design changes to support health and social care in the capital.  

Core services such as these are fundamental to the quality of people’s lives and, as with this year, our budget priories for 2018/19 will once again focus on frontline services and protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

But exactly how we do this will depend very much on the views of the people of Edinburgh and, from October, we will be asking for their feedback on our latest budget proposals. The response to this has been excellent in recent years, with thousands of residents taking the time to play their part in informing our decision-making. This year we will be bringing back the popular ‘budget slider’ as a means of ensuring that residents can have a real and sophisticated conversation with us about what matters to them most in the current financial environment.

Lastly, and sticking very much on this consultative theme, we will very soon be launching the next phase of our Edinburgh 2050 Vision Project, giving every resident of Edinburgh the opportunity to have their say on how their city should be in 32 years’ time.

Our Vision for Edinburgh 2050? A thriving, united city enjoying fair and sustainable growth with all residents sharing in its success.

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