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:
- ensure that prioritisation outcomes and supporting rationale are clearly documented.
- publish the outcomes of a retrospective prioritisation process.
- 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”.
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.