SNP austerity should help council staff become ‘trauma-informed’ – John McLellan

As the finanical guts are ripped out of local government, the Scottish Government wants council staff to be ‘trauma-informed’, writes John McLellan.

Memorial benches from Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens are burned at a facility on the outskirts of the city

After the Princes Street Gardens bench burning, the ongoing Christmas Market fiasco and the still unresolved trams disaster, Edinburgh Council management has organised an event which would attract international attention, if only it was open to a wide audience.

On May 7, there will be what is described as the “exciting launch” of the authority’s “Trauma Informed Leadership Training” in which a day will be spent hearing about the impact of adversity on individuals and services. Amongst other things, delegates will be able to analyse practices and policies “through a trauma-informed lens” and there will be no shortage of case studies in the City Chambers, certainly not as it implements some £36m of cuts to services already pared to the bone.

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But councils lumber on come what may, unlike scores of excellent projects and organisations around Edinburgh facing the withdrawal of their grants, 13 of which protested at this week’s education, children and families committee about the funding axe about to fall.

In the area I represent, the Ripple Project charity, which runs the Hub community centre and café in Restalrig and Lochend, is set to lose £96,000, a third of its revenue, which if enforced will make it unviable. One of the few community facilities in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas, it performs a vital function as a place where otherwise isolated people can meet. At the same time, the council needs to find £13m to bring a dozen of its community centres up to a good condition and that’s not counting the £1m or so it will cost to bring the fire-ravaged Corstorphine Community Centre back into use.

Yet the Ripple Hub costs the council nothing because the building is owned and maintained by Forth Ports which only takes a peppercorn rent. There are no rows about key-holders, caretaker reviews or any of the other disputes which plague council-run facilities, so it’s a model of efficient service delivery thanks to what is a public-private-third sector partnership which is precisely the kind of thing local authorities should be encouraging.

The chair of the Ripple Project is former Edinburgh Council leader and Church of Scotland minister Ewan Aitken, now chief executive of the Cyrenians homelessness charity, and if he can’t negotiate a sensible compromise then no-one can. Meanwhile, senior officers are getting set for their trauma training.

Why? Because the Scottish Government has apparently “made an express commitment to develop trauma-informed services and a trauma-informed workforce”. By ripping the financial guts out of local government, it’s certainly made a good start for the 14,000 or so people Edinburgh Council employs.

Piglet’s stockpile sounds fun

With just 11 cases of coronavirus in Scotland when this column was submitted, the trauma is more one of a public relations exercise on war footing than real experience, with sell-outs and rip-off prices of hand gel now being matched by reports of toilet roll and tissues bulk-buying in Edinburgh supermarkets.

The problem is no-one knows how many people have the virus but show no symptoms, a virological equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns, and therefore calculating its impact is equally impossible.

What we know is that although the death rate from over 3,000 cases in Italy has been three per cent, in the new epicentre, South Korea, the 37 deaths represent just 0.6 per cent of those with symptoms and the number of new cases in China seems to be slowing. It’s no consolation to the families of the 37 Koreans or the Berkshire woman who died this week, but the fear being created looks increasingly disproportionate to the reality.

At tomorrow’s rugby international at Murrayfield, hygiene information will be handed to supporters, translated into French, of course, sanitisers distributed and a “primary care facility” set up in the ground. According to the SRU, medics can speak to fans who have concerns over their health, which might not be limited to coronavirus. Supporters are also being advised to avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals. Those of us who went over to Rome for the Italy game two weeks ago got a wee health check, with sensors to detect who had a temperature as we went through Fiumicino Airport, which was very reassuring given the likelihood of excesses ahead, but now it appears we were very lucky to get to the match at all. The biggest sigh of relief of all, will be that of former Scotland winger Derek Stark whose business chartered three planes to take 600 people over.

With First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying it looks “increasingly unlikely” the outbreak can be contained, we might as well relax because what is coming will apparently come. As Piglet says to Winnie the Pooh in the coronavirus spoof now doing the rounds on social media, “What we need are family sized bags of chocolate buttons, massive Toblerone, jelly babies and Crunchies and a freezer full of stuffed crust pizzas, and all of the Prosecco that we can possibly carry so that when we get quarantined we won’t mind it even slightly.”

“Oh Piglet,” said Pooh. “I really do think you are a very wise animal.”

Biltong braces

Forget coronavirus, what’s really giving Scottish rugby supporters the vapours is the signing of a 17-year-old South African, Jordan Venter, on a professional contract at Edinburgh to join the other Sporraned Springboks WP Nel, Pierre Schoeman, Mike Willemse, Nic Groom, Jaco van Der Walt and Jason Baggott.

What that does to encourage home-grown young talent in schools and the Super 6 semi-pro clubs is anyone’s guess, but it is argued that bringing in overseas players who can earn residential qualification provides insurance if the local production line fails to deliver. Call it biltong braces, if you like.

Criminal kindness?

News trade website Holdthefrontpage reports that several publications have been approached by people with criminal convictions demanding that stories about their offences are removed from websites because of the late TV presenter Caroline Flack and the subsequent “Be Kind” campaign.

Iliffe Media editorial director Ian Carter told HTFP: “It’s ironic that the Be Kind trend is now being used as another stick to beat journalists with.”

It is also apparently being used to shield shamed Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay from criticism of a potential £50,000 retirement deal for him to quit on health grounds. Maybe part of the trauma training.

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