Sunday, September 30, 2007
I've never understood why the film didn't attract more critical praise when it was released in 1999/2000 ...
... it is completely absorbing and I've not seen (with the possible exception of The Crucible) a better portrayal of love, hate and the fear of difference.
It is a truly haunting tale containing absolutely timeless messages.
... as regular blog readers will know (see comments here), my 9 year-old son is a bit of a Simpsons fanatic but I don't think I've ever watched a full episode - it's on at 6pm on Channel 4 (I think?) and I'm rarely around at that time.
Anyhow, due to Frank Boyle's portrayal of me as Mr. Burns (above), I was hoping to see 'myself' having a major role in this film :-)
... well, no such luck as Mr. Burns only had a walk-on role :-(
... worse than that, he seems a really nasty bit of work - must complain to Frank next time I bump into him :-((
Mind you, the film is very, very funny ... and I now understand why junior is addicted ;-)
Saturday, September 29, 2007
The kids seemed to absolutely love the assault course, which was set up in the playground - especially when the 'obstacle-wall' they had to jump was raised gradually to 6ft :-)
Later in the afternoon, and into the early evening, managed to fit in a short walk in the Pentlands and visit one of the family's favourite weekend haunts - Flotterstone Inn.
... and the weather was good all day :-))
Friday, September 28, 2007
That said, the funeral itself was as good an event as these occasions can be. Lots of great childhood memories been flooding back and surely helping us all cope.
But for many friends and family, there's no denying it's been a very difficult day ...
Thursday, September 27, 2007
... looking forward to the visit.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
No question there are serious issues flagged up for further improvement within the Edinburgh report, but there is also the clear recognition that significant progress has been made from the very, very difficult circumstances of 2003.
Our Group has put a Press Release out, given the report is no longer embargoed (is now up on the HMIE site 'just' before midnight). Text as follows:
EDINBURGH LABOUR SAYS GOOD PROGRESS BUT STILL MORE TO DO ON CHILD PROTECTION
The Labour Group of the City of Edinburgh Council welcomes the report of the Joint Inspection of Children’s Services published today, September 27th. Whilst there is no doubt that there is much still to do, the report indicated that the Council and its partners have travelled a long way in the right direction in improving services and protection of the most vulnerable children in Scotland"s Capital City since the O’Brien report of 2003 and then the Blackie report of 2005.
The Labour Group is particularly pleased that recognition has been given for the creation of the Children and Families Department as a vehicle for better integration of services, the significant improvements in information sharing, the effective early intervention for unborn children and young children and the effective leadership provided by the Council staff and elected members and its partner agencies.
The Labour Group would also highlight the huge turn around achieved in social work recruitment and retention from over 30% vacancy rates to rates lower than the national average and the effective, and award winning, fostering campaigns which saw enquiries about becoming a foster carer rise from 1 to several hundred in only 12 months.
Labour Leader Ewan Aitken said. “The inspection has identified huge improvements since the O’Brien report. The significant improvements in information sharing and joint planning, 75% increase in child protection referrals and the increases in accommodated children are a sign of a greater confidence in the system and a more effective response to concerns about the safety of children.
I and my Group recognise however, that there is still a long way to go so that there is the maximum possible protection for the children of Scotland’s Capital. We increased significantly the expenditure in the areas covered by the report and we remain committed to providing all the support we can to making the very necessary improvements rightly identified by the report as still being required”.
... now, before anyone shouts I should have stayed on the bike; I did have junior in-tow for the middle-meeting having completely failed to make any other, suitable arrangements.
Poor blighter :-(
Anyhow, all reminded me just how damned easy it is to use the City Car Club at very short notice and without any hassle whatsoever :-)
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Was a shame I had to leave the CCWP, the meeting had just reached the item on the agenda concerning the now-cancelled estate rationalisation programme. Seemed to be a tacit admission that 'something' would have to come back - let's hope that any such proposals are via a properly constituted Cross Party Group (with external input) and that the criteria for any rationalisation are publicly agreed FIRST ... I can but hope :-(
All that said, Craiglockhart Community Council was enjoyable - yes, I know, political life is sad - but there was good debate on several local issues causing concern and verbal reports on various positive projects being funded, or about to be (hopefully!) funded that will benefit the local area.
Thinking about it - second meeting of the evening was more inclusive than the first :-((
... admit I'm guilty of taking part :-(
That aside - I think the Boyle Cartoon yesterday hit the nail on the head (as he so often does) ...
Still waiting to hear a good argument about why it will be better next year?? and I still reckon there will be no Council Meeting on 25th October ;-)
... item on the agenda I wanted to speak to briefly, concerning the Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) ...
I was actually never on the 'old' Transport Committee between 1999-2000, prior to the Executive/Scrutiny system being set up.
Ah well, it's back to the old ways now ... fewer meetings, less paper, quicker decisions, better scrutiny, everything 'streamlined'.
I'd laugh if it wasn't so serious :-((
Monday, September 24, 2007
Putting my obvious bias to one side, I was astounded to NOT hear one single mention of David Cameron, the Tories, Ming Campbell, the Lib-Dems or any other Opposition figure or political party. Interesting.
I can't think of any such major conference speech in recent British political history where that has happened ... I could be wrong - sure someone will point it out if I am - but I found it a real breath of fresh air.
Ming Campbell mentioned Brown by name 11 times in his recent Leader's Conference Speech ... will be fascinating to see how David Cameron responds in his forthcoming conference address? Could he speak for an hour (or so) without having a go at Brown by name??
... I'll take almost any odds that it won't happen ;-)
Sunday, September 23, 2007
... actually, that's the Saturday afternoon at Holy Island - wasn't quite as good on the Sunday, but still pretty reasonable.
Bit too much whisky consumed on the Friday night, but now suitably recovered and refreshed ;-)
... and in true 'camping weekend' fashion, a light shower just as we were packing up the tents means that the fly-sheet is now taking up the whole of the garden in an attempt to dry it :-(
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
As debated extensively on this blog, the central plank of the new Administration's Education policy has recently gone belly-up ... due entirely to the way they mishandled it ... and they have now top-sliced a whole range of services to compensate for that fact.
There just isn't space to list all the service reductions here - but PLEASE do have a look at the full report (in particular, the appendices), which can be found here.
And yes, we did get the expected defense that went along the lines of: "of course, we're only having to do this because of that terrible financial hole we inherited' ... well, as I've repeated frequently now, blaming your predecessors is easy but it won't be possible for ever and sooner or later it will become apparent that this mess has been the making of THIS Administration and nobody else.
Constructive alternatives were offered and rudely rejected. Revenue options were put forward and refused. And please don't forget:
- the Children and Families Department alone has an annual revenue budget of over £300million
- the Council's overall, combined annual revenue and capital budget is over £1billion
- the Council owns over £2billion of fixed assets
As we've now illustrated on several occasions, there are ways of funding (what are admittedly expensive) services for those most in need - it just needs a bit of political will. I'm not saying that everything in the last 23-years was perfect, but there were never service reductions of this scale and of this type ... services for the vulnerable, the elderly and the young being the main victims.
But - very unfortunately from my political perspective - it has become apparent, for real from today, that the Council is indeed now being run by politicians who don't want to prioritise services for those most in need.
To be fair, it has to be said, that they did show a slight glimmer of actually taking on-board "a very few" of our earlier suggestions and have at least managed to defer some of the worst 'Health and Social Care' proposals (but not the Children and Families proposals) and have at last accepted that, in-extremis, it is entirely rational to use one-off capital receipts to provide some revenue protection.
That said, the omens for a more inclusive policy-making approach still appear pretty bleak.
Still "old politics in a new setting" I'm afraid.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
... and just heard that there are at least 11 public Deputations (not about the Estate Rationalisation programme of course as there is NO report) ... think it may well be a very, very long meeting :-((
Actually, the list appears to have been compiled by Grant Thoms, author of the Tartan Hero blog, so many thanks to him for his constructive consideration of the Really Bad Blog ... despite the fact that he appears to have suffered one moment of complete irrationality by listing Edinburgh Sucks! at No.4 :-))
... only joking of course John! - just were would I be if it hadn't been for that NSNMA nomination ??
Thinking about it, this pluralism-thing can be bloody hard at times ... thanking a 'Glasgow SNP Councillor' and 'Edinburgh Council's favourite blogger' :-((
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Some hasty re-arrangements and he (unfortunately for him!) had to spend the day with me. Couldn't avoid the Group Meeting at 1pm though, so the poor blighter had to come to the City Chambers with me - I made sure he couldn't access my e-mail this time :-)
Monday, September 17, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
... hopefully, to have a bit of a quiet family day doing nothing much in particular - doesn't happen very often, believe me.
And absolutely no cycling whatsoever will be permitted.
... if you're trying to contact me via that route, I will get messages (as I can still access them remotely) but may be a bit slower than normal in getting back to you.
Any hints on how to dry out a mobile greatly received??
... that said, can't say I'm missing its dulcet tones going off every 5 minutes :-))
... I do not exaggerate when I say it rained consistently (and heavily) for the whole day :-(
It's a real shame about the weather, as the route followed was by far the best to date ... the new stretch through Hopetoun House was particularly pleasant - if not very wet!
Airdrie, my home town you'll remember, was in the midst of a veritable tropical storm ...
... my cycling jacket may be dry by October :-((
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Thankfully, they did at least accept the Labour/Green motion to cancel the programme.
So, this lot have now:
- stopped schools from speaking at Full Council meetings
- stopped people from protesting at schools
- caused unnecessary panic within some school communities
... and, for good measure, just to prove their democratic credentials:
- stopped elected Members from having an open debate about the whole sorry saga
Mind you, that was undoubtedly the point - they don't want a public debate about what has been an unholy mess from start to finish.
And, talk about it 'all being okay as we can have such a debate on Thursday 20th September' at the regular Council Meeting is nonsense - as mentioned earlier, there is NO item on the agenda about the Estate Rationalisation (school closure!) Programme. NOT A THING.
Today was a democratic disgrace.
Unfortunately, it's becoming a regular occurrence ...
First though, just to be clear, the Liberals and Nationalists have just ACCEPTED a Labour/Green motion to cancel the school closure programme. Here's the wording:
1. We hereby call for a Special Meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council.
2. There has clearly been a ‘material change’ to the very recent decision of Council, of 23rd August 2007, concerning the Children and Families Estate review.
3. Given the next full meeting of Council is not until 20th September 2007, it is essential that Council meets as soon as possible to bring absolute clarity to the current situation for children, parents, staff and local communities across Edinburgh.
4. And Council thus agrees to abandon the current programme.
This was on the 'order paper', submitted by me with Cllr. Alison Johnstone (Green) as the seconder.
So, the Opposition have forced the Administration to agree to cancel the programme of school closures. They didn't move anything as an alternative, simply accepted our motion.
We tabled an addendum - worded thus:
5. Council further agrees that the principles outlined below (taken from the “Coalition Agreement” of the Partnership Administration) have been broken. The Agreement states that:
- “the Partnership is founded on the democratic principles of trust, equity, openness and fairness”
- and will “guarantee stable and viable management of the Council”
The recent breakdown of this Agreement has shown that the current Coalition has not provided the required leadership for the City of Edinburgh Council to take forward the Children and Families Estate Review.
6. Council thus requests that the 5 Party Group Leaders should meet urgently to clarify the status of the Partnership Administration and how Council business, such as the Children and Families Estate Review, can be best managed to the long-term benefit of the City of Edinburgh.
The Lord Provost chose to rule this as 'incompetent' - very convenient ... it stopped any debate as they simply accepted the Labour/Green motion.
Anyway, more on that in the next post ...
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
- "I now realise that being in opposition is easier than leading a successful, ambitious and high profile capital city."
This shocking, political revelation has only taken four months :-((
Then, for a few paragraphs I thought it was actually going to be a better report than last months effort, until I got down to the bottom of page 2 and the section on "Schools Rationalisation Consultation" ...
- "the consultation had become highly politicised" - errrm ... it was all about closing 22 schools and 4 Community Centres; of course it was a political issue.
- "I am disappointed that costs will be incurred by the public purse in convening this meeting" - errrm ... your Lord Provost was responsible for setting the date.
- "the matter could have been given full and proper consideration at September’s scheduled meeting of Council only five days later" - errrm ... no it bloody well couldn't as there's NOTHING on the agenda about the subject.
I despair, I really do.
... I am becoming more and more convinced by the day that the Full Council Meeting on Thursday next will be the last one until November ;-)
I reckon Michael Brown may just have hit on something in that last paragraph of his 9th August Independent article?
Not flash, just Gordon. Indeed.
Absolutely NOTHING on the agenda about the Estate Rationalisation (school closure!) Programme. NOT A THING.
Completely unbelievable. But true.
Just as well some of the Opposition Groups have called that Special Council Meeting - date set in the middle of the holiday weekend by the Lord Provost remember - to try and extract some accountability out of those in power for just what's happened over the last few weeks. Yet, given there's no actual report to debate on Saturday or next Thursday, I'm now at a loss to know how the affected schools will actually learn what is happening next - other than the abandonment of the closure programme by Press Conference. It's all totally unacceptable.
I got into a spot of bother for my earlier dictatorial references to how this lot operate - but, in all honesty, I'm more convinced than ever that they have a complete and total disregard for democratic procedure.
And it gets worse by the minute - it also transpired today that a significant set of changes has been made to the criteria for allocation of Full-Time Nursery Places without any recourse WHATSOEVER to the elected Members of the Council - NO report, verbal, written or otherwise - to any Council Committee or Meeting. I wonder if the Convener of Education knew anything about it??
Not only have the criteria been secretly changed, but it appears Nursery Heads no longer have the final say in the allocation of Full Time places, but senior management now have to be involved ... good bit of workplace trust and devolution that is :-((
In essence, the central plank of the new Administration's Education policy has gone belly-up ... due entirely to the way they mishandled it ... and they now appear to be thrashing around looking for alternatives to balance the books all over the Department. For example, one report that IS at next Thursday's Full Council meeting does seek agreement (it won't be forthcoming from us) to go ahead and close two community centres (see paragraph 3.32) - no consultation, no certainty on just where those who are currently accommodated are going to go - 'but we'll close them anyhow' ... and that's just the tip of the ice-berg. Do have a read at the rest of the report - here.
I can hear the siren voices already - 'of course, we're only having to do this because of that terrible financial hole we inherited' ... well, blaming your predecessors is easy but it won't be possible for ever and sooner or later it will become apparent that this mess has been the making of THIS Administration and nobody else.
Constructive alternatives were offered and rudely rejected. Revenue options were put forward and refused. And don't forget, that the Department alone has an annual revenue budget of over £300million; the Council's overall annual revenue and capital budget being over £1billion; and that the Council owns over £2billion of fixed assets.
There ARE ways of funding (what are admittedly expensive) services for those most in need - it just needs a bit of political will.
But I'm afraid, to put it simply, the Council is now being run by politicians who don't want to prioritise services for those most in need.
It's now quite obvious they have no intention of seeking to protect such services and, if these first four months are anything to go by then, the next four years are going to pretty damned unpleasant for those who most need this Local Authority's help and assistance. They ain't going to get it.
Mind you, what about Scotland V France - not only are we obviously going to win the Rugby Union World Cup in 2007, the Football European Cup in 2008 is also now looking like a certainty ... that elusive referendum on Independence should be scheduled for next Summer and the nationalists would be certain of victory :-)
... of course, that's assuming Scotland thrash New Zealand at Rugby, as they did Portugal ... and humiliate Italy at Football, as they did France ...
... nothing to worry about there then :-((
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Have a look here ... this Independent article even mentions a 'front-page Sun expose' last week, but you need to pay to access it so I've not been able to reproduce it here :-(
There even appears to be a whole blog (absolutely nothing to do with me!) dedicated to the campaign now - see here.
- the momentum seems unstoppable ...
These new multi-member wards have definitely led to elected Members losing touch with their communities and not being reactive to local events ... NOT, of course.
All the doom-mongers, who were certain that the mythical Member-Ward would be broken and local politics would collapse, do need to reflect on their predictions.
I've never seen so many elected Members at Community Council meetings; with healthy competition between them; and good, constructive engagement with the actual Community Council members themselves.
Okay - my Ward is obviously bigger, and I'm noticeably busier at a local level ... but isn't that a good thing?
Mind you, maybe that's exactly what the cynics were afraid of?
Monday, September 10, 2007
... I was somewhat pre-occupied with the seemingly never-ending, household D.I.Y. project list :-(
And, I have to tell you, I never want to see a tin of varnish again - what a nightmare :-((
Here's a quick synopsis of the weekend from hell:
- remove all furniture (everything on the floor in fact) from the kitchen and not insubstantial hallway
- sweep said floors (several times) to remove a huge amount of dust and a truly indescribable amount of cat hair
- sand both floors (by hand) to remove the top layer of existing varnish to ensure any new varnish 'takes' properly
- wash both floors with white spirit - I assume (just followed instructions) to ensure complete cleanliness and in preparation for the new varnish
- varnish both floors with 1st coat
- allow 2 hours to dry
- varnish both floors with 2nd coat
- allow 2 hours to dry
- varnish both floors with 3rd coat
- allow 2 hours to dry
- leave flat empty for at least 8 hours before 'heavy traffic' allowed on new surfaces
Now, the finished product does look pretty good (if I don't mind saying so myself) but what a performance getting there.
That is definitely it - no more D.I.Y. this side of 2008 ... my lawyers are on standby :-)
Friday, September 07, 2007
... regular readers will recall my absolute love of all-things D.I.Y. - well, I make it no more than 4 weeks ago (at the very most!) that I had to completely re-decorate the whole kitchen.
And yet, this coming weekend I'm under strict instruction to re-varnish the floors in said kitchen AND in the hallway. Now I live in a tenement flat - the bloody hallway is huge :-(
That's it - after this weekend, no more D.I.Y. in 2007; after all I'll be too busy attending weekend meetings of the Full Council :-((
I'd applaud such.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Just can't believe there isn't another slot between now and the 17th September which is slightly more convenient than in the middle of a holiday weekend ... mind you, that's the whole (petty) point I suspect :-((
... will be interesting to see if these Committees do become "a bit of a quiet revolution in the way the Council does business"?
I have to say, after my earlier optimism, early signs of the new Council being more 'democratic and open' don't really auger well :-(
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
... well, a dark rumour is circulating the City Chambers (I've heard it from several sources, so that IS as good as 'true' in local politics!) that the Lord Provost has called the meeting for 12noon on Saturday 15th September?
Now, remember they've had the requisition for this Emergency Council Meeting since Monday and could have called it at almost any time between now and the 17th September - only three days notice required.
So why call it in the middle of a local holiday weekend, that coincides almost exactly with the 12.30pm kick-off of the Hearts V Rangers game??
Now, just to be clear, I am no football fan - unlike many of my colleagues! - but this all seems designed to make the Emergency Council Meeting as 'difficulty-timed' as possible.
'Maybe' I'm becoming too cynical in my old age - but it strikes me as petty and not very professional ... then again, maybe I'm being naive to hope that it wouldn't be so :-(
Have a look at this story on the BBC earlier today ... here ... I just knew there was something suspect about them :-))
... 'health and safety risk'
... 'infection risk'
... 'static electricity build-up caused by the shoes could disrupt medical equipment'
- what more can I say?
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Whilst welcoming that decision, I really don't think it acceptable that this type of major policy-change should be announced at a Press Conference where Opposition members (correctly, I accept) cannot ask questions.
There still needs to be a 'formal' Council decision to put a 'formal' end to the consultation process, with a chance for the Opposition to hold the new Administration to account over the events of the last few weeks. And the next Full Council meeting isn't now until Thursday 20th September. I genuinely think a further three weeks of drift, rumour and uncertainty will not be good for the city.
So, the Council Secretary now has the required "quarter of the Councils' signatures" calling for an Emergency Council Meeting. The Council Secretary has up to 14 days to organise it - I seriously hope it's arranged as quickly as possible; as far as I can see, there's no good reason why the notice calling the meeting couldn't go out today.
Never mind 'formally' ending the consultation process (which is crucial but hasn't happened yet), there are very serious questions to be asked about the last few weeks and these need to be resolved as quickly as possible, so that the public know just where this new Administration is going.
I am increasingly worried about the potential damage all of this is doing to Edinburgh. We already knew that there was a complete inability of the Liberals and Nationalists to agree on the main tenets of transport policy, but now that inability to agree has stretched to Education policy. What will crumble next?
And more importantly, just what ARE they going to agree on over the next four years? - actually, it might now be five years!
Edinburgh does deserve some answers and some degree of clarity; and an Emergency Meeting should allow us to extract just that - I certainly hope so.
Maybe, just maybe, the Liberals would actually be better off going it alone in a minority Administration? ... their erstwhile Nationalist colleagues at Holyrood clearly decided that to be the best option.
Gordon may be a Tory, but he can't be all bad because at least he voted against the re-introduction of those damned robes :-)
Seriously - many congratulations to all his family.
Monday, September 03, 2007
... just spotted that someone actually appears to agree with me in my slight dislike for overly colourful, plastic shoes :-)
Could this be the beginnings of yet another mass campaign? You never know, it just could be :-))
It does appear - although Council Policy cannot be made by press statement - that the whole programme is to be abandoned forthwith. Great news.
It's a victory for all those parents and school communities who spoke up and made their views very clearly known to the politicians in power.
But, there are very serious questions to be asked about how the whole process has been handled - or I should say, mishandled. Today's not the day to go over them - I'm just glad public pressure has paid off ...
... but I will come back to those questions of process, as frankly I'm finding it hard to see how the present crowd who are running the show can ever agree on anything after this fiasco?
Saturday, September 01, 2007
I should add, that the daily 'cycling to work' is also still going well :-))