Ahead of this weekend’s Scottish Co-operative Party Campaign Convention with its emphasis on local government, Edinburgh Councillor Paul Godzik outlines the manifesto to make Scotland’s first city a ‘Co-operative Capital’

It’s been a hard time for local government in Scotland over the last 4 and a half years, and with the figures outlined in the Scottish spending review, and continuing economic woes, it is very unlikely to get easier any time soon. It’s been a hard time too for the Labour Party in Scotland, battered and bruised given the results of the Scottish Parliament elections, leaderless, and badly in need of a narrative to counter the SNP.

Our Labour councillors could be forgiven for being depressed, overawed even, at the challenges facing them. Yet in Edinburgh our work in pulling together a manifesto consultation document has, so far, been a wholly positive experience. Not only that, the enthusiasm for pursing co-op ideas has been overwhelming.

Our document ‘Moving Edinburgh Forward’ sets out a number of positive policies, which we would like to pursue should we be able to form an administration following the local government elections is May 2012. We believe our ideas can help transform Edinburgh and the way in which the Council does business.

Firstly, we want to open up the Council, making it more transparent and responsive. For too long the City of Edinburgh Council, like many councils across the country, have failed to truly work with communities, or take on board local people priorities. We want to make Edinburgh a co-operative council in the truest sense of the word, providing genuine co-operation with the communities we seek to serve.

Given the budget challenges facing local government we’ve made revamping the budget process a priority. It’s an issue we’ve pursued in the Council for the last four years and we believe there is a real need to open up the process, allowing community groups and service users the opportunity to input into the process. So we’ve suggested the establishment of budget committee to look holistically at the Council’s finances, consult fully on proposed changes, establish local priorities and hear from those affected. In a time when our funding is set to contract so dramatically it is essential that we make every effort to involve those who will be affected by these changes.

We have also proposed the establishment of a petitions committee, similar to that already in place within the Scottish Parliament. Giving ordinary people a voice and giving them the opportunity to put issues of concern on the Council agenda.

A community transport forum is another suggestion, mapping out our real transport needs, getting input from local communities on where there is lack of provision and examining models on how we can fill the gaps. As well as this we are proposing Parent Councils are given the opportunity to nominate a member of the Education Committee. At the moment we have teacher and religious representation but parents are for some reason excluded.

We’ll also look to protect our green spaces, giving local people a greater say in their upkeep and development, and ensuring that local groups benefit from major events in their parks. We want to encourage local sports clubs, and give them a role in managing the pitches and pavilions they use. Giving the community a real say in the way their community facilities are run.

Secondly, we are determined to ensure that co-ops play a key role in addressing the challenges facing the City. In this initial document we’ve set out three areas – energy, housing and childcare – where a future Labour-led administration would seek quick action, because we know that too many families are struggling right now. Increased heating bills are affecting all of us and pushing households into fuel poverty, many people are out of work, and those that are in work are fighting to meet childcare costs, or get a foot on the housing ladder. So we’ve proposed:

  • An energy co-op fitting renewable energy at homes across the city. This would not only benefit the environment and help reduce bills, but would create a number of jobs and apprenticeships.
  • A child care co-op, building on the network of breakfast and after school clubs already established in the city. This could help ensure accessible, affordable child care in our communities. Helping working families and keep child care costs down.
  • A housing co-op, which would deliver housing for first-time buyers unable to get on the housing ladder.

In those three simple ideas we aim to create jobs, make work pay, reduce bills and help people into homes.

I know that there are so many more areas where we could seek to deliver co-op solutions, and I am delighted that the recently launched Co-operative Councils Network gives Councils in Scotland a bank of experience and ideas on which to build.

The experiences, and successes of Labour councils in Lambeth, Oldham, Rochdale and elsewhere, shows a clear way forward for councils in Scotland. Examining the models they have put in place and seeking to adapt them to local circumstances here in Edinburgh is something we will be seeking to do as we move towards publishing our final manifesto. Having the opportunity to move Edinburgh forward by putting these policies into action is a task my colleagues and I would relish.