Seeing RED – Spaces for People Internal Audit

The Council’s Internal Auditors had given the Spaces for People Programme in Edinburgh a RED rating. This means “Significant Improvement Required” (See Appendix 13 of this report) . This is the second worst rating it can give.

Specifically, they conclude “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. Consequently, only limited assurance can be provided that risks are being managed and that the Council’s objectives should be achieved.”

The auditors noted the context of the Covid-19 crisis but conclude that “proposals are not appropriately prioritised for approval, and the rationale supporting decisions is not recorded” and that these schemes “were largely based on professional judgement with limited justification available to support prioritisation outcomes…”

They also stated there was a “public perception that feedback provided through the Commonplace survey was not considered in relation to ongoing schemes.”

These conclusions are not a surprise, as I know many residents raised these concerns with myself,  and the Transport Convener often justified the approach taken when questioned.

Based on work they did in October 2020, the Auditor recommended the Council should:

  1. ensure that prioritisation outcomes and supporting rationale are clearly documented.
  2. publish the outcomes of a retrospective prioritisation process.
  3. consider whether any changes to either completed or initiatives in progress are required based on public feedback.

The Auditors said that where possible there was a “need to align proposals with public feedback and opinion” but found that “where public feedback was incorporated into projects, no audit trail was available to confirm that this was completed”. Again, myself and local residents have been calling for greater public engagement since summer 2020!

In terms of project delivery, the Auditors said “no risk management process was implemented to support identification, assessment, and management of programme delivery risks.”, and that “no assessment has been performed to confirm that expected benefits have been realised”.

In terms of the Commonplace survey used to collect feedback early in the SfP Programme, the Auditors say “data controller responsibilities have not been clarified between the Council and the application provider”.

On removing or retaining the scheme the Auditors say “there is currently no clear strategy for determining the potential exit costs associated with reversing individual projects, or transitioning them into permanent solutions, and it is currently unclear how any significant exit costs will be funded”. They say £175,000 has been retained to complete a review of programme benefits by an external consultant, but no “supporting rationale for this retention value” and that “Management has advised that this budget allocation was defined following detailed engagement with Sustrans, however no evidence has been provided to support this”.

Conclusion
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 judgment could have been avoided if residents were listened to.  No only were the expectations of people in Edinburgh not met, the Council did not even comply with the community engagement guidance set by Sustrans.

11 thoughts on “Seeing RED – Spaces for People Internal Audit

  1. To be honest the planters at Buckstone Loan East and Buckstone Circle are a waste of time.
    As there are no signs detailing restrictions, contractors working in Buckstone Primary are parking in the restricted area. Delivery drivers and Highways agency Survey vehicles have been witnessed mounting the pavement, at BLE, driving around the planters. Hope this practice doesn’t continue when the schools return, although there is nothing to stop them.
    The measures at Buckstone primary were meant to be reduced to school times only. This clearly is not the case. As said previously there is no signage, so hard to challenge contractors

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      • Scott could you clarify what you mean by “the prohibition has been lifted”. As the planters being in situation would suggest it’s still in place for law abiding residents who don’t drive over pavements.

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  2. To be honest sfp has been shambolic. Residents have been ignored and the Labour councillor failed to support residents request to remove sfp on Braid Road (74%) and Comiston Road (62%). The whole thing should be scrapped, a full mail drop survey sent to all Edinburgh households asking if people want to support sfp yes or no. No biased questions to be asked. This ensures those with no access to/cannot use IT are not excluded. An independent research company with no link to Sustrans, Spokes or the council would ensure probity. SNP, Labour and the Green councillors have lost credibility in Edinburgh. CEC is a mess and has become a dictatorship rather than a democracy this needs to stop.

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    • Dee, all political parties support some SfP schemes and oppose others. Braid Road is not in my Ward, but I worked hard with the Labour Councillor there to ensure residents have a say the the review which is about to get underway.

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  3. “Spaces for People’ in Ednburgh has been haphazard in its implementation, at best. It seems to be enthusiastically pursued where it suits other objectives (primarily roadbuilds and building development) and convenienttly disregarded where it does not suit;. key citycentre friction points, eg West Approach/Lothian Road and WestEnd Shandwick Place/Hope Street/Princes Street are desparately in need of improvement and are being ignored

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  4. Is there really no doubt that the audit findings could have been avoided “if residents had been listened to”?

    The report is more of a snapshot than I expected, for example it makes the observation that £175k was retained for removal of schemes without a detailed costing; but then in the response to findings section it turns out there is actually a budget for the removal of each scheme agreed with the contractors (and this was true as of some time ago).

    There are other findings which are quite valid and certainly should be addressed, yet aren’t really the hole below the waterline that detractors of the programme might wish. For example that prioritisation was poorly documented does not imply that the prioritisation was wrong, or that said documentation would have meaningfully impacted the overall programme spend, nor that the committee should have done much differently.

    It seems to be like the difference between this audit report and a report with a clean bill of health might not have been obvious to many residents at all.

    What I consider to be the biggest failings around the programme not only aren’t highlighted by the audit, they aren’t even in a category the report seems to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David,
      The key flaw with SfP is the failure to outline the justification for schemes and work with residents to co-design them. I’ve had many e-mails about this from residents, and this Internal Audit shows those people were correct to have those concerns.

      Scott

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  5. Furstly, many thanks for posting your excellent summary of this audit Scott.

    We were all told by Transport Convener Lesley Machines & co that the SfP measures were “temporary” for 18 months to help fight the Covid virus by creating more “space” – even though on the Pentland Terrace stretch of Comiston Road (which I know is not your Ward) there is the huge green “space” that is The Braidburn Valley – well, the 18 months have passed, Scotland is at Level zero, & social distancing has been mostly abandoned.

    Furthermore, there are still no hordes of uphill cyclists on Comiston Road & Lanark Road / Longstone area, ( there NEVER were pre-pandemic, & they have yet to artive, apart from a protest group who needed SAt Nav to locate Lanark Road) yet, the bollards & kerbside parking restrictionsare all still In situ. Why?

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