Council boss retires - 'Aitchison has been a steady hand on tiller '

Hogmanay is traditionally a time to sweep out the old and bring in the new. So it is at the city council this year.

In what amounts to a generational changing of the guard, chief executive Tom Aitchison stands down after 36 years service, 16 at the top. Today he reflects on his time in the job - but how kindly will history judge him?

It will undoubtedly record some failings. The 1999 election night fiasco was surely his worst moment. In line with most local authorities, Edinburgh finds itself with a major budget black hole. And then there are the trams, of which the chief executive was an early advocate.

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More generally, critics accuse him of being conservative, inward-looking and defensive, though these are typical traits - a few would say strengths - of a top official who must sometimes be the brakesman to pushy politicians.

In fact, one of Aitchison's talents has been to work with councillors of many colours, some of them driven and a few unhelpfully egotistical. He was the cement which held the council together in the difficult early days of the current Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

In fact, this Leith-born Hearts supporter has been a steady hand on the tiller since he oversaw reorganisation from Lothian Regional Council, since when the city has enjoyed economic development unparalleled in modern times.

So he has earned his retirement, and the knighthood that may come his way on top of his 2005 CBE.

Now the council moves on, under the leadership of outgoing Aberdeen City boss Sue Bruce. She promises a different, perhaps less dour and behind-the-scenes, style. Ring in the new.

Pursue tax cheats

times are tough in homes across the country and council tax is not cheap.

But is there really any excuse for more than 90,000 people failing to pay their share of the cost of local services in the Capital?

The average Edinburgh council tax bill may be a whopping 1169 a year, but the sliding scale of payments, plus benefits and tax credits, mean the worst off are asked to pay only a fraction of that. There is also help and advice, including rescheduling payments, for those struggling to make ends meet.

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Genuine cases of hardship deserve the help that is available. But the other non-payers should be vigorously pursued to make their contribution - or all of us pay.