Skip directly to content

Edinburgh labelled a dump?

on Sun, 02/17/2013 - 11:47

"Phew! I think we dodged another bullet there? What do you think?"

That may be the reaction in Edinburgh Council to an article by an Edinburgh University academic that examines some unpalatable aspects and failures about the way the city has been run and the effects of these systemic governance failures now emerging across the city.

The original article by Richard Williams, Prof of contemporary visual cultures at Edinburgh Uni, in one of the world's leading intellectual magazines Foreign Policy, pulled together many of the strands of things that have undoubtedly gone wrong in Edinburgh in recent years.

But what may have been a wounding attack on the City Council's culture of complacency turned into a bit of a pie chucking contest between Yes and No sides of the independence debate in the Sunday herald follow up, and has the effect turning the spotlight from the realities listed in the article onto it's place in a supposed list of articles covertly dissing Scotland's fitness for independence.

And in doing so possibly letting the Council off the hook as their last 15 or 20 years of misfiring governance has had far more to do with creating the mess the city is now facing than anything done in London or anywhere else.

While looking at issues through the prism of the Independence debate the original Foreign Policy article  is an interesting and valid take on ithe fact that the manifest, (and many), planning failures going back over more than a decade have left the city in a worse place than it was 20 years ago, and facing an extremely uncertain future.

The fact is that the contininuing state of denial that exists in Edinburgh isn't an 'Edinburgh' phenomenon, a Scottish phenomenon or even a UK or 'Unionist' one.  It's a wider crisis that is exposing faultlines in organisations that we all thought were shining examples of liberal (small L) western democracy but that suddenly appear to have morphed into box ticking, self serving bureaucracies almost while nobody was looking.

Perhaps we, along with the Health Trusts, Food standards managers, Bankers, Journalists, MPs, and Councils were all too busy counting up how much our homes, offices and properties were 'making' in the boom years to bother worrying about boring things such as the fitness for purpose of the agents of democratic process upon which the whole system ultimately depends.

But  while many areas of malfunctioning and misfiring democracy are finally, albeit slowly, being opened up to the cleansing disinfectant of public gaze and open debate, in Edinburgh our Council continues to exist in a world of denial, spin and dissembling about the way in which decisions are arrived at and what 'consultation' and 'engagement' are actually meant to achieve,.

Some of the realities for the city of  treating 'engagement'  and 'consultation' as sterile box ticking for far too long are brought to light in the article.

Try excising the 'Inde slant' to the story and read it as an expose of big ideas a plenty, but all too often accompanied by woeful planning and worse execution.

And if you have time read the comments by Alison Low and Steve McKay ..... especially if you happen to be a councillor in Edinburgh!




Professor Richard Williams is right to identify the failings of the City Council, but it is the officials who should shoulder the blame for  years of incompetence.   The City Councillors think they have the power, but in effect the show is run by the officials who push, frighten and manipulate the Councillors in the most appalling manner.   The Council officers have been guilty of ignoring the ancient and historic attractions of the city in order to introduce their own pet projects.   Professor Williams points out areas where we need to do better, but meanwhile pollution increases, traffic congestion spirals out of control and the residents of the city are ignored.  Who will save us from our incompetent officials?   They seem adept at dodging the bullet.


The idea that some structures of governance are failing  because of a kind of closed system of meaningless box ticking and 'formal' but not real consultation is becoming accepted.


In Edinburgh one postulates this as the most likely explanation for what is going on because it is the most palatable, as  the alternatives are either Bilderburg-ish conspiracy theories, never very convincing, or old fashioned 'brown envelopes stuffed with cash' Poulson style corruption, which doesn't seem likely either.

As neither of these seems realistic one is left with a fundemental malfunctioning of the system to explain the catalogue of pitiful decison making..

Elsewhere of the site are examples of the straightforward evidence of everyday observation being denied in report after report , but accepted as a distinct possibility,  even probability, in secret emails between those officers responsible for the very same,endlessly optimistic reports that herd the gullible councillorss towards the voting reults wanted.

(Some councillors of course may prefer to be thought be gullible, but that's another layer of possible explanation fro what is going on!)

That this is happening is no longer deniable, it's the 'why' it is happening that is so difficult to understand.

As the University Prof says in the piece, and as you indicate, the officers seem adept at avoiding being forced to account for their actions...and that is one vital area in which the system is dmeonstrably failing...even palsied at present, with grave implications for the city.

Post new comment