Spaces for People warnings ‘ignored’ by council

Tuesday August 10th 2021

Edinburgh-Council-Spaces-for-People


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Joseph Anderson

Council chiefs have been accused of ‘consistently ignoring warnings’ after risking the council’s finances and reputation over Spaces for People schemes.

The criticism came after Edinburgh City Council’s internal auditors published a damning report into the implementation of Spaces for People – specifically the lack of consultation with residents and the lack of a financial plan for ending the scheme.

However, the SNP/Labour administration says it was facing ‘extremely challenging timelines’ when the schemes were first implemented’ and that issues have now been addressed.

Although the council has now consulted extensively with the city’s residents, and has budgeted for making some schemes permanent and scrapping others, auditors took aim at the ‘significant and/or numerous control weaknesses’ that were prevalent when the scheme was first implemented.

The damning report gave the council a ‘red’ rating – the second worst possible – which means ‘significant and/or numerous control weaknesses were identified, in the design and/or effectiveness of the control environment and/or governance and risk management frameworks’.

Labour Colinton and Fairmilehead councillor Scott Arthur said “Although it is a little dated now, this is a damning report. It does, however, explain why the Spaces for People Programme has been so controversial in Edinburgh.

“Many of the points identified by the auditor have been raised by the public many times.

“Whether people love Spaces for People or hate it, there can be no doubt that this damning Internal Audit judgement could have been avoided if residents were listened to.

“Not only were the expectations of people in Edinburgh not met, the council did not even comply with the community engagement guidance set by Sustrans.”

And Conservative Lothian region MSP, and Pentland Hills councillor Susan Webber said: “The council’s own internal audit has produced a conclusion that aligns with the issues that I have presented to the SNP convenor, who has consistently ignored my warnings.

“The report gives the council a ‘red rating’, the second worst possible. You do not need to be an expert in understanding risk registers to know that red is bad.

“Disability groups like RNIB, Guide Dogs and EAP have consistently flagged issues with the Integrated Impact Assessments (IIA) and initially queried if they had even taken place.

“This shows the harsh reality that the council’s own commitment to equality has been severely damaged through the Spaces for People schemes.

“Despite all these issues the SNP/Labour Administration are planning to retain the controversial schemes across the city. This should be a big concern to all Edinburgh residents.”

Liberton and Gilmerton councillor, and SNP transport convener Lesley Macinnes defended the scheme however, and said the council had worked hard in challenging circumstances to tackle issues as they arose.

“As recognised by the internal audit, we faced extremely challenging timelines when assessing and prioritising project proposals for urgent implementation in early 2020,” she said.

“This was to support the Scottish Government’s guidance for physical distancing as a key requirement for tackling the COVID crisis.

“Over the last year and a half, officers have worked extremely hard to address issues in the project’s approach, such as the retrospective publication of prioritisation outcomes or the creation of a programme risk register.

“For the duration of the programme, the team also reported all proposals to the council’s Incident Management Team and sought to act on public feedback, including the introduction of additional measures as a result of suggestions received through the Commonplace consultation.

“Since the audit was carried out we’ve already made several changes which address some of the issues identified, such as the incorporation of public feedback into the review of existing schemes and the development of detailed exit costing.”

City Centre Labour councillor, and vice convener of the transport committee, Karen Doran, said: “Since the audit was carried out in October, we have continued to develop project practices, with schemes reviewed on a two-monthly basis and recommendations for changes reported to committee for approval.

“We do, however, take the findings of the internal audit seriously, and will act upon recommendations to further improve project practices.”

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