Saturday, 5 November 2016

Response to David Frost's 'State of Edinburgh'

Here is the text of today's article I have in The Times.

Edinburgh is a great city bedevilled with some problems.  Confident leadership empowered to take innovative and effective action is the key to resolving these intractable challenges.

The assessment of Edinburgh by David Frost, leader of the Scotch Whisky Association, was painful.  In reviewing his three years in the capital, he highlighted three areas of concern.  He is uncontroversial in noting the filthy streets and overflowing bins.   The wisdom of separating different types of recycling at source is increasingly looking to be folly.  It has contributed to bin-strewn pavements and extra collection journeys. The alternative - separation after collection - might provide poorer quality recyclate but is more efficient.  No part of that debate is an excuse for filthy streets and the political leadership must take responsibility.

Then there is the transport system.  Lothian Buses is much loved, relatively cheap and provides a good service.  But Mr Frost is right to question the clogging of Princes Street by queues of buses.  The tram was supposed to reduce the need for so many buses in this heritage area and the flow of traffic cries out for improvement.  Useful though the curtailed tramline is, its glacial speed remains a missed opportunity to enhance the efficiency of travel.

Third, Mr Frost pinpoints the scandal of the institutionalised delays of endless attempts to find the perfect plan to restore buildings.  The streamlining of the planning process must be addressed.  But the SNP's national independence has smothered focus on council business.

A missing feature is strong leadership.  This derives in part from Scotland's local government electoral system, which, since 2007 has almost guaranteed coalitions.  David Frost's observations suggest there is evidence of the need for decisive leadership focused on getting things done in the city.  Perhaps Edinburgh needs a mayor after all.

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