Why are so many areas locked out of council decision-making?

The recent Edinburgh People Survey published by Edinburgh Council makes for bleak reading if you are from Sighthill-Gorgie. The area is bottom of the rankings on a wide range of areas. Residents are unhappy with street cleaning services, dog-fouling, anti-social behaviour and the maintenance of parks and green spaces. Local people are also the most dissatisfied in Edinburgh with the council’s management of their neighbourhood, with only 58 per cent stating they are content against an Edinburgh average of 73 per cent. And critically, a mere 23 per cent of Sighthill-Gorgie residents feel that they have a say on local issues and services – the lowest percentage in the whole city.

More worryingly still, Sighthill-Gorgie is being routinely under-represented in council decision-making bodies. Edinburgh Council has recently set up a number of ‘Neighbourhood Networks’ across the city. Although there are 17 wards in Edinburgh, there are only 13 Neighbourhood Networks. This is because though the majority – nine out of 13 – are organised at ward level; in four cases, two wards have been combined into a single Neighbourhood Network. In the case of the wards in question, they will have half the representation enjoyed by the rest of the city when it comes to their community representatives feeding in their views to council decision-makers on a wide range of planning and policy issues. I do not think this systematic under-representation of certain areas of the city, including Gorgie and Leith, is acceptable.

I am particularly concerned because in the case of my own ward, Sighthill-Gorgie, this structural imbalance is compounded by the fact that we are by far the most populous ward in Edinburgh, with more than 37,000 residents compared to a city-wide average per ward of 27,000. As the largest ward by population with a diverse community and wide geographical spread, it is vital that the views of our community are effectively represented in all council structures.

These problems have been raised repeatedly by myself and community representatives in Sighthill-Gorgie with little response. Edinburgh Council has described this as a “legacy” issue, but in my view repeating previous mistakes is no excuse for overlooking whole areas of the city in this way. Catriona MacDonald, co-organiser of Common Weal Edinburgh South West, agrees: “Sighthill-Gorgie has been systematically under-resourced and under-represented in recent years. It is therefore no surprise that we are the most dissatisfied area in the city on a wide range of issues. New structures and policies offer us a chance to rectify this problem and the council must listen to feedback from our community to ensure this opportunity is not wasted.”

As an independent Councillor I will continue to vigorously advocate for my ward on behalf of local people and will campaign to ensure that the views of local residents in Sighthill-Gorgie are heard and their views treated on an equal basis with those of other communities in the city.

Published in the Edinburgh News | 15th July 2019