Friday, September 07, 2012

A Cooperative Edinburgh - will the Council join in?

Believe it or not, I've had quite a few requests for the text of my speech at this morning's Co-operative Edinburgh event so, for those interested, here are the full notes that I used earlier.

Co-operative Edinburgh
Thinking outside the box
Good morning Ladies and Gentleman and a warm welcome to the City Chambers and this Co-operative Edinburgh event.
I’m delighted to see so many people here this morning and I’m really looking forward to the contributions, debates and discussions that are about to happen over the next few hours.

My task in the next 15-minutes, or so, is threefold:
·      to briefly lay out the background to today’s event
·      to give voice, from my perspective as Council Leader, to the vision that the new Capital Coalition has for Edinburgh
·      and to make sure we all know just what the next steps are, in realising that vision

Should be easy!

So firstly, by way of background … I think you’d need to be inhabiting a wholly different world from the one I live in, if you weren’t aware that trust between the electorate and those of us either elected, or employed, to serve that electorate, has broken down badly.
It’s not a malaise that just affects Councils, or is unique to Edinburgh, but as a starting point, I believe it has to be openly acknowledged.
For me, we’ll never successfully re-invigorate our local democracy if we can’t even bring ourselves to acknowledge that there’s a problem to solve.
And in the recent Local Government Elections here in Edinburgh, I think all 5 major Parties did indeed acknowledge - in different ways - in each of their respective manifestos - that political business as usual, just simply wasn’t an option, post-election.
And, I’m delighted to confirm, that business as usual, we are not going to have.
As you’ll all know, the outcome of that election has led to a local coalition between Labour and the SNP here at the City of Edinburgh Council.
A coalition that has agreed a clear set of some 53 commitments, in a new ‘Contract with the Capital’.
That contract has been openly published, and within weeks, the ‘monitoring against delivery’ of our promises will be live and very visible via the front-page of the main Council website.
But the delivery of those promises can’t be a one-way street, there has to be an ongoing, two-way dialogue, with the citizens of Edinburgh, about their role in just what the Council does for the next 5-years.
And today is a key point in starting that process of engagement … it’s a discussion that won’t end at 2pm this afternoon, but must continue all the way through to May 2017, and undoubtedly beyond.
And I think it is crucial to openly acknowledge that for all of us, Council Officers, but also Councillors – from across all the political groups – there is a varying degree of understanding about just what being a cooperative council could actually mean in practice?
And a key object of today is to try and address that variable understanding …
… initially here amongst the ‘+plus100’ people present this morning; yes primarily Council Officers and Elected Members; with some external input … but today will not be the end of this discussion – it is very markedly, just the beginning.
Our next phase will undoubtedly be to have this dialogue with many more of our external partners, at many more of these types of event.

So much for the background to today, secondly … what about our vision for Edinburgh?
Well, in essence, Edinburgh’s new Capital Coalition wants to radically transform the way that services are planned, managed and delivered; and move Edinburgh towards being a truly Co-operative Council.
We want Council services to be transformed by shifting power; so that the Council is working much more ‘in partnership’ with the local people it is ultimately here to serve.
That won’t happen overnight and it won’t apply to all of the Council’s services … but as evidence from elsewhere has proven, and which we’ll hear much more about throughout today, small beginnings can lead to a major transformation in service design and delivery …
… and, crucially, can lead to a real transformation in the relationship between the electorate and those elected and employed, to serve them.
This approach is about giving local people a refreshed sense of choice and control, over the public services they use.
The way different services work, will vary, but the objective of finding new ways of working in partnership with local people will remain constant.
And in the coming months, we are certainly not going to consider turning absolutely all services into co-operatives, and it is certainly not intended to replace skilled professionals with volunteers.
It is about giving local people a renewed sense of choice and control over the public services they use.
So – such a co-operative approach will put people much more at the centre of decision-making and provide the opportunity to develop new and imaginative ways of supporting communities, empowering people, delivering services and caring for public assets.
We do intend to develop a new partnership with local people, in a radical bid to improve public services and strengthen local communities.
Instead of doing things to our communities, a ‘Co-operative Edinburgh Council’ will work with our communities to make sure local services meet the needs of local people.
It will mark the end of top-down services where residents are expected to put up with what’s on offer.
For all of us, it’s certainly going to be a challenge …
… and, as I’ll outline in a second, its not just about developing cooperatives; but has to be about a whole new approach to the way we work, and the way we engage with our electorate.

So that does lead me to my third point; what of the next steps in realising this vision?
Well, I hope I’ve been clear not just this morning, but throughout recent months, that this is going to be a process and not a one-stop destination.
Today marks an important point in that process.
We’ll shortly hear from 2 other speakers with very real experience of actually making a reality of developing a co-operative approach.
And later this morning, we have workshops on 4 key target areas where we want to see the co-operative vision being made a reality:
·            Energy
·            Housing
·            Childcare
·            & Social Care
All of what we hear in the next few hours may not be directly transferable to Edinburgh, but much of it will indeed be so … and a bit of local adaptation cannot be beyond the wit of the people in this room and the residents of this city.
And whilst the 4 areas I’ve mentioned are our initial targets, we are absolutely not excluding progress in other areas if opportunity– and beneficial circumstance - arise.
But this all has to be part of a wider, new approach.
That new approach to the way we work, and the way we engage with others, will include some definite actions in making the vision of a cooperative council a reality:
1.there will be the first Petitions Committee, and petitions process, established here in Edinburgh - this October. This will enable local residents to have an additional channel to raise issues of concern, with their elected representatives, and directly with the Council.
2.there will be a completely revised budgetary process, which will ultimately mean the publication of a draft budget – for the first time in decades - here in Edinburgh, at the end of this calendar year. That will then allow 2-months of detailed debate and scrutiny before we finally set our 2013/14 budget in February of next year.
3.there will be a renewed focus on neighbourhoods and communities within our decision-making structures, and by April next year, ‘worked-up’ proposals for the next stage in the development of our Neighbourhood Partnerships will be put before the Council for debate and decision.
4.there will be direct, parental representation within our Education’ decision-making processes, by this Autumn.
And – in addition to these very definite --- and timetabled! --- changes to the way we work, and the way we engage with our electorate; there will also be the establishment of a Cooperative Development Unit, which will help facilitate some further, definite developments …
… thus – by this time next year – we will have an exemplar cooperative project, right here in Edinburgh, in each of the 4 key target areas I mentioned earlier; there will be:
·            a new Energy co-operative
·            a Housing co-operative
·            a Childcare co-operative
·            & a Social Care co-operative

To me, this all seems an entirely possible, and eminently pragmatic, set of goals.

The Capital City of Scotland can – and will - achieve this.

And – all of this will help us learn lessons …
-       upon which further changes to the way we work, as a Council, can be developed
-       and upon which future cooperative developments can be delivered, right here in Edinburgh.

So, in conclusion, I’ve briefly covered:
1.the background to today’s event
2.the vision that the Capital Coalition has for Edinburgh
3.and the next, definite, steps in realising that vision

Thanks very much for listening.

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