THIS has been a significant year for the council and Edinburgh as a whole. Taking the trams first, we have made great progress since mediation took place in March. We reached agreement with the contractors in September and work has now resumed, although suspended temporarily for the winter festivals and retail trading, which are so important for our city. It was a great pleasure to go round the newly completed depot at Gogar in December and to experience the smoothness and comfort of a tram run on the test track.
By the end of 2012, we will have taken delivery of the full fleet of 27 trams from northern Spain. We currently have five at the depot and a comprehensive programme of testing is under way on the 470m track, which, by this time next year, will have been extended towards the airport to allow the trams to be run in over longer distances.
In January, a major period of works gets under way in the city centre, notably on St Andrew Square and Shandwick Place. We are starting this work early to allow for existing utility work to be completed before we can begin laying tram lines at both sites.
We appreciate the continued patience shown by the people and businesses of Edinburgh as we press on with the project, but would stress that we are now working to schedule and on course to have trams running in Edinburgh by summer 2014.
I remain convinced they will deliver a crucial part of an environmentally sound, modern transport system for the Capital.
More generally, the financial pressures on the public sector have weighed heavily over the year, but, once again, every department was on, or under, budget – and I am the first council leader in our history who can make that claim.
We have also consulted and listened to the public on our budget choices more openly and wholeheartedly than any previous council.
At the same time as saving money and building our essential reserves, we have delivered on our priorities. We have maximised dignity and independence for many of our more vulnerable elderly by our life-changing reablement care scheme. Children are doing better at school. We have delivered the best results in Scotland for our housing services and begun the first council houses for a generation. Recycling and street cleaning are both improving. Our parks are recognised as being among the best in the UK. And we have moved from being nearly the worst authority for road conditions to 11th out of 32.
As well as improving the vital frontline services at the heart of every council, we have also made progress in other important areas.
My administration has transformed the way the council does its business. We have a much fairer, more open governance system. We have prioritised economic development and the creation of jobs and opportunities. We have delivered or started major capital projects, such as refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms, Usher Hall, and Royal Commonwealth Pool, new libraries, Saughton Skate Park, four new care homes, with a fifth on the way, and three secondary schools.
I am particularly pleased that Drumbrae/Gyle ward will finally get the library it has wanted for decades as the core of a hub of local services.
Looking ahead to 2012, we need to continue innovation, partnership and a lot of hard work on a range of fronts. The measures that we can take for a brighter future for Edinburgh are extensions of the ones we are already taking successfully – providing high quality and value for money services for our residents, attracting vital income and jobs to the city, whether by multinational companies or increasing numbers of leisure and business visitors, creating the conditions for local entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed, and investing in our future, from major infrastructure projects to employment opportunities for the city’s school leavers.
However, we also need to retain sight of the fact that Edinburgh has great strengths, of which we should rightly be proud, that have seen the city through some difficult times.
As the capital city we are the key driver of the country’s economic and cultural success, but we cannot be complacent in the face of huge competition from major cities elsewhere in Europe and further afield. The last few years have shown us the scale of the opportunities and the magnitude of the challenge.
Our ‘Team Edinburgh’ approach, working with others in the interests of Edinburgh’s future success, has proven its worth and will serve us well in the future.