This text is a contribution by Pete Gregson, who presented a short paper at the CeDEM13 and hosted a related session during the open space. [Survey at the bottom.]
Many aspects of your life will, at some stage, have been mentioned in a Council report. Whether it’s the library you use, the shops and eateries that nourish you, the building you live in, the roads and pavements you travel upon, the school your kids attend, or the crematorium or graveyard you end up in – everything will, at some time, have been subject to a local government decision. So who shapes change in the world you occupy? You may think it’s the politicians you elect. But how do politicians know what to do? The Council officers tell them. That is how local government works, mostly. Occasionally a party will change the city due to a manifesto commitment, but any final decision is invariably based on an officer’s report. It is in this context of policy and operations that government functions.
But what about when government goes wrong? When, for example in Edinburgh, we get a tram system that costs twice as much (1£Bn) for half the distance? When the Head of the Dept overseeing Property Conservation tells Councillors that matters are in hand, but has to resign a year later when it’s clear they aren’t? Sometimes politicians are in the dark for years and years. It was only due to a change of management in the Council’s Environmental Services Dept that parents in May 2011 started getting their babies ashes at Mortonhall Crematorium. It took a further year before it became apparent to SANDS that for the previous 44 years, parents had been getting told there were no ashes, when there were. But politicians could never have uncovered the scandal because… they depend on the officers to inform them of operational matters.