Friday, August 31, 2007

St. Cuthbert's petition

St. Cuthbert's Primary School has an online petition up and running on the 10 Downing Street website - it's here. I'd encourage people to sign it.

I know that education is entirely devolved, and that the petition to No.10 will likely be passed on, but the petition facility at Holyrood takes some time to set up and I do think that this, meantime, is a good way of registering any objection to what is being proposed.

I'll obviously post on any Holyrood petition once it's established. Unfortunately the Council doesn't have an online petition facility but I do know that St. Cuthbert's have a paper petition for the Council and are in the throes of setting up a website as well.

More to follow next week I'm sure ...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Men divorcing at 43

A general news-piece about divorce has created waves of expectation within the Really Bad Blog household :-)

As you'll see from the link to the BBC report, paragraph 5 makes it clear that apparently the average age for males to divorce is 43 ... my better half is telling me I have only a few months left to pack my bags :-(

I'm sure she's just joking??

What would you have done?

"What would you have done about the schools issue?" ... it's a question that numerous people have asked me over the last few weeks.

Of course, I'm not in charge of Education any more - the Liberals and Nationalists are, and the decisions of the last few weeks have been theirs (and no one elses!) based on evidence given to them by officers. I've not seen everything that's been given to them as they haven't included other parties in the decision-making process ... even though we offered to be so involved.

But, all that said, given how many people have asked I will try and outline here - and in accompanying links - how we may have approached what faced the Council post May 3rd, if the election result had been different. And I'll also lay out some of the history to this whole saga.

To some considerable extent, I have already touched on most of this debate ... if you go to my post of August 16th here ... you'll be able to see most of my argument, but please do 'follow back' on the links that are within that post to read the whole debate.

I also posted links to two articles (one by me, one by the new Administration) on August 21st giving the pros and cons of the proposals - that post can be found here.

  • Previous Labour Administrations have closed schools in Edinburgh. We are not automatically opposed to the 'principle' of rationalising the school estate when there is substantial, and long-term, over-capacity in the system.
  • We undertook those closures against a backdrop of significant amalgamations and new-buildings, more on that here and here.
  • We did try to have as inclusive a process of consultation on these issues as possible, and certainly always heard Deputation requests ... but recognising that we didn't always succeed in getting every single aspect of consultation right, we set up a Cross Party Working Group (CPWG) as far back as October 2005 - see item 2 on the Council minute here - to try and keep as much consensus on a way forward as possible.
  • Unfortunately, in October 2006, one of the political parties on the Council abandoned the CPWG. Added to this, there were considerable difficulties in the work it was considering being leaked to the press, so we decided to disband the group - see item 8 on the Council minute here. PLEASE do read the wording of this decision.
  • From that moment (10th October 2006) all political work on this process ceased.
  • There has subsequently NEVER been a political list for the 'next-round of closures' - such claims are simply a lie.
  • we lost the election :-(
  • mind you, we did get more 1st preference votes than any other Party and formed the second biggest group on the Council :-))
  • but, the Liberals (17 Cllrs) and Nationalists (12 Cllrs) formed a coalition with 29 members, thus THEY KNEW they would have to depend on the casting vote of the Lord Provost to push through anything controversial which all the other opposition Parties - Labour (15 Cllrs), Tories (11 Cllrs), Greens (3 Cllrs) - would not support.
  • I tried on two occasions (see here and here) in June 2007 to get the new Administration to reform the CPWG, and had hoped they would accept that the time was right to do just that. We made it clear we wanted to play a part in any new process of school rationalisation - maybe naively, I actually believed they would be sensible enough to want to tap into the experience of Councillors who had been through all of this on several occasions in the last few decades.
  • Those approaches were rejected out of hand and NO cross-party discussion occurred on this during June, July and August.


  • in mid-August, the new Administration announced it plans to consult on the closure of 22 schools and 4 community centres
  • we had had no involvement whatsoever in deciding what was on that list, probably more importantly neither had any of the partners that COULD have been discussing this for over 2 months as part of the CPWG ... parents, teachers, churches and unions.
  • there are criteria for closing schools, and many of the criteria are simply NOT met by those establishments on the list ... I posted on this yesterday here.
  • there is no new building proposed, numerous schools annexes would be created, and no over-arching vision was put forward. The case was not made.
  • in addition, the SNP at a national level are committed to reducing the class sizes of P1/P2 & P3 to 18 pupils and increasing Nursery provision by a whopping 50% - none of this has been considered, meaning we could end up getting rid of over-capacity now only to have to re-introduce capacity to cope with these almost certain national changes in the very near future. It's mad!
  • and, the way that Deputation requests have been dealt with has been scandalous - there's almost no need to go on about it, but see here, here and here.


  • the Administration, in public at least, have been clear that this is primarily about best use of the educational estate, and not about finance. Although, as I said above, I don't think they've made the case on educational benefit in any way, shape or form.
  • there has been a serious conflating of ongoing revenue pressures within the Council, with the school closure programme - the two are separate issues. I posted on the revenue pressures as far back as June - see here.
  • the Council has a near £1billion 'annual' revenue and capital budget, as well as fixed assets of over £2billion.
  • there is no need to swallow hook, line and sinker the proposed 'service rationalisations' and 'property rationalisations' (cuts and closures!) that officers put forward. Sadly, that appears to be what has happened here.
  • collective political choice needs to be exercised, and put simply, I don't think it has been in this process.
  • given the huge Council-wide budgets mentioned above, alternatives would have been feasible, but I'm not convinced that many (if any?) alternatives were collectively discussed.


  • what if we had been in charge?
  • well, I must STRESS, this is obviously all hypothetical :-(
  • we would have reformed the CPWG as quickly after the election as possible.
  • it would have met relatively frequently.
  • we would have got agreement (or as much agreement as feasible) around the criteria for school closures; those criteria do exist, but we 'could' have adjusted them after dialogue.
  • we would have published the criteria first.
  • we would not have blindly accepted any initial list presented to us by officers - many of the schools on the current list just DO NOT meet the current criteria. I still don't understand WHY they are on any public list at all?
  • I would have rigorously tested each school-closure proposal, that came from officers, against the agreed criteria before going into the public domain.
  • we would thus have had a well-considered programme, nowhere near the scale of the current proposals, based on clear criteria and we certainly would have agreed to any deputation requests.


  • well, frankly - it's a dog's breakfast, with the timetable and process changing every time its opened to challenge - just one recent example being here.
  • the whole process has been discredited and it's now impossible to see any support forthcoming for these proposals as what's led to this point has been so seriously flawed.


  • the Administration should now abandon this programme, instigate meaningful dialogue with all interested and concerned parties before bringing any such proposals back to the Council for decision.
  • if they did that, I'd publicly applaud them for listening, and our Group would join any CPWG that was subsequently formed and constructively use the years (if not decades) of individual experience we have to offer in this policy area.

Many apologies over the length of this post, but hope it has answered most - if not all - of the queries that have been put to me over the last few weeks.

PLEASE do follow the links from here, and previous posts, to access the full debate.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Targeted schools 'not half empty'

This story has got some prominence on the BBC Scotland website at the moment.

I really do think this is the tip of the ice-berg, as regards 'facts and figures' underlying the school closure proposals. I've had endless queries raised with me - mostly about the schools within or near my own ward - but I know from speaking to colleagues that the same applies right across the city.

There really should have been a more concerted effort to 'make the case' first before releasing the whole school closure list into the public domain ... that process, in itself, would have exposed any statistical flaws and led to some erroneous assumptions being removed from any calculations that led to the list.

Weekly Surgery

Weekly surgery at Fountainbridge Library this evening fairly busy.

... I don't 'usually' get many enquiries about educational matters directly at my surgery; but that was certainly 'not' the case earlier tonight.

Croc clothes?

Now, my love of Crocs caused me untold problems when I last posted about them ... you simply would not believe the grief I received by the way :-(

Well, I'll regret this I know, but I need to alert you to this story in today's Guardian ... shirts, shorts and skirts soon to be made from spongy, foam resin?

... and I'll bet the orders are flooding in already - just what is the world coming too??

And just to prove my point - the company you may be about to keep apparently goes something like this ...

... "fans of Crocs footwear include the actors Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino, royal consort Kate Middleton and even George Bush, who was pictured sporting grey Crocs with black socks recently" ...

... I rest my case :-))

Bit of a shambles ...

Well, it gets worse and worse ... at today's Education Committee, it transpired that the whole sequencing of the first round of consultations was a bit of a shambles frankly.

Have a look at the Table at Paragraph 9, bottom of page 2 ... here.

Go back and have another look - 6 of the 8 public meetings are AFTER the Committee next meets during the daytime of 24th September ... that's the Committee meeting where we were going to decide whether to keep open or shut an establishment??

Thus, on 24th September we would have decided whether to keep open or shut Grassmarket Nursery School, but the public meeting as part of the overall process is not until the evening of the 8th October.

Thankfully, and to her credit, the Convenor accepted the illogicality of the whole process and agreed to bring back these 8 proposals to the October meeting of the Committee ... all before they go, for ultimate decision, to the Full Council meeting on 22nd November (see paragraph 10 on page 3).

It's a dog's breakfast of a process, and my confidence in what is happening is diminishing instead of being strengthened. It can surely only get better ...

Monday, August 27, 2007

1st Education Committee tomorrow ...

Sorry - the blog is becoming a bit of a constant 'education' experience at the moment ... it is hard to avoid though, with feelings running so high in so many communities.

So, tomorrow sees the 1st meeting of the new Education Committee ... that's right, the Council has agreed to consult on closing 22 schools and 4 community centres and the new Education Committee, which will have the unalloyed joy of overseeing that whole process, hasn't even met yet.

Of course, it may be the cynic in me .... but it surely wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the new Administration has no guaranteed majority on the Education Committee, due to the presence of an additional 5 voting members; 3 from the Churches, and 2 from the Unions - as opposed to the Full Council where it can always count upon the casting vote of the Provost.

It will be interesting to see how they approach this issue tomorrow - the report before them asks that the Committee "approves the attached papers for the purposes of consultation". I still don't see why we should.

St. Cuthbert's Primary School public meeting

St. Cuthbert's Primary School public meeting this evening ... I would say well over 200 people attended, which in itself is a big statement of the strength of feeling over it's 'proposed' closure.

It was principally a 'planning meeting' to organise an effective campaign in the run-up to, and during, the January/February 2008 formal consultation period ... but it was clear there was a lot of anger at the way the whole process had been handled to date.

I agree that local people have every right to be angry ... I still can't, for the life of me, see why the new Administration didn't just listen to the Deputations last Thursday ... they could easily have been asked to speak collectively, based on geography; or some similar criteria? As it was, we ended up listening to an hour of deputations on Meadowbank (all well and good) and one deputation about putting a tunnel under the Firth of Forth, when there wasn't even an item on the agenda about that subject ... but we couldn't listen to school parents??

Anyhow, back to this evening's meeting ... one significant (and I think valid) worry that did come up a lot was the reputational damage this whole process could do to the school. Even if (and it has to be an 'if' at the moment) it is saved, then existing and prospective parents could still be 'worried' into moving current children and/or applying for new child places at another school.

I find it all pretty annoying (to say the least) ... schools like St. Cuthbert's should never have been on the list and I've yet to hear any rational argument as to why it is? As far as I can see, it meets only 1 of the 10 criteria for Primary School closure consideration ... and that's "can be accommodated elsewhere". Hardly a rock solid case to shut it.

All that said, one 'positive' that came from the evening - and I guess the events leading up to it - was a recognition of the true value of a local school to a community and how important it is that such a facility should be supported. As someone at the meeting optimistically said ... 'if nothing else, this whole process will pull us all together and make the community stronger'.

I certainly hope that will indeed be a silver-lining in an otherwise unnecessary black-cloud for the local area.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Well, managed to survive the family gathering up at Auchterarder - only just.

And even the weather remained fine for the barbecue :-)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Auchterarder tomorrow ...

Off up to sunny Auchterarder tomorrow afternoon, where my brother lives, for a bit of a 'family barbecue/general gathering'.

... obviously hoping the weather holds out okay!

He is a distinctly bad influence on me - as I've mentioned before - so, may not be much blogging this weekend I'm afraid :-(

... just when you need a quiet, alcohol free weekend :-((

No, No, No

Thinking of yesterday ... nearly forgot to mention that the Lord Provost didn't just use his casting vote twice, but three times!

Yes indeed, the City Council was evenly divided 29/29 on three occasions and he cast his vote to say no to:
  1. more than a dozen deputations being heard before the Full Council meeting, including at least one MP and one MSP, who wanted to speak to their elected representatives about the biggest potential school closure programme this city has ever seen.
  2. the opposition motion asking the new Administration to abandon the programme of school closures and instigate meaningful dialogue with all interested and concerned parties before bringing any such proposals back to the Council for decision.
  3. giving a civic reception to Scotland's World Cup champions - the Scottish Homelessness World Cup Team - to honour their fantastic achievement.

Welcome to the New Edinburgh :-((

Some more photos

Some photos from this week's demonstrations about the schools closure programme are available here. Thought they may be of interest ...

Farcical end to a serious day

There's no doubting that yesterday, if not very democratic, was a pretty serious day. It did though, I'm afraid to report, have a deeply farcical ending.

Near the end of the agenda (see item 11.10), the Administration actually "did" commence an attempt to bring back Robes for ceremonial occasions by passing a motion calling for a report on the topic.

On this one - what can I say - told you so!

I do though owe an apology to the two Tory Councillors (Buchan and Rust I think it was?) who had the good sense to vote with Labour and the Greens to try and stop this nonsense in it's tracks. Unfortunately, our combined numbers only only amounted to 20, with all the Libs/Nats and the remaining Tories totalling 38 and thus winning the day.

And it gets worse ... whilst speaking in the debate, the Council Leader said that she thought bringing back Robes for ceremonial occasions was a good idea because "it would separate us from the hoi polloi" ...

... I don't think she was referring to the Australian band of the same name; and yes, she REALLY did say it :-((

An affront to democracy

It was indeed a very long day yesterday, with the meeting lasting from 10am to beyond 8pm ... and as you can see from the picture, a lot of people turned up to protest about the proposed school closures and service cuts.

I'll come back to these two issues in later posts, but I do want to say a bit more about the meeting itself yesterday ... I frankly think the way that Deputation requests were treated was an affront to democracy. I did mention all of this in an earlier post and unfortunately my worst fears appear to have been justified.

Well over a dozen Deputation requests, including from at least one MP and one MSP, were refused a hearing on the casting vote of the Lord Provost ... the Chamber was split 29/29 and the Provost used his casting vote to pass the motion stopping members of the public from being heard, at a time of their choosing, in front of the people THEY elected to represent them.

I don't think there's any way you can claim that's democratic or fair.

I've been on the Council just over 8-years, and in that time have had to deal with some pretty vocal opponents ... I've never tried to quash open debate, and have always tried my utmost to allow those who disagreed with me to have their say.

Sometimes it cost me dearly ... but that's democracy.

Yesterday wasn't.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Full Council Meeting

August Full Council Meeting starts in a few hours - agenda here.

Reckon it could be a very long meeting indeed ... not just due to the schools issues, but also significant reports on sports facilities, general finance and decision-making structures to mention but the obvious.

... this could well be the last post of the day :-(

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fair play?

I'm going to do something slightly unusual here and paste below the anonymised (from/to) text of an e-mail that I've just received a copy of. I understand that the same text has now gone to several recipients across the city.

I should make it absolutely clear that I think the 'sender/s' of this message are entirely innocent actors and are only following instruction - as should be obvious from the text.

This is basically what Deputation requests are being told, as at 5pm yesterday. I really do think this is completely outrageous and anti-democratic ... how can one Councillor decide all of this without any reference to the Full Council, which doesn't meet to discuss the subject until tomorrow?

In essence, one Councillor has decided that NO deputations will be heard at tomorrow's Council meeting on the biggest school closure programme this city has ever seen proposed??

Not good.


Subject: RE: deputation
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2007 16:56:02 +0100

I refer to your request for a deputation to the Council meeting on 23 August 2007. As you are aware, the report on the Children and Families Estate Review contains proposals for hearing deputations on this matter. The report proposes that each community be invited to bring a deputation to a meeting of the Education, Children and Families Committee on a phased basis (the proposed consultation timescales are attached as Appendix 2 to the Director's report) and that deputations are not heard by the Council and the Education, Children and Families Committee at other stages of the process. This advice has been given to each organisation requesting a deputation on this issue and a number of those organisations have withdrawn their requests in the spirit of the proposed consultation process.

You have indicated that you would still like to go ahead with your request to be heard at the Council meeting. I have therefore spoken to Councillor Mrs MacLaren, the Executive Member for Education, Children and Families, and advised her that some organisations and individuals have withdrawn their requests but that others still wish to go ahead. She has taken this into account and does not think it would be fair to hear any deputations at the Council meeting. However, she has agreed that deputations wishing to speak on the general principles of the Review, without mentioning specific schools, can be heard at the first meeting of the new Education, Children and Families Committee on 28 August 2007.

Please confirm whether you wish to accept this offer.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stop the Cuts - but Ward life goes on ...

Obviously, the threatened closure of St. Cuthbert's Primary School is focusing most of my attention at the moment ...

... but - as well as trying to Stop the Council Cuts - other Ward life goes on, and just a very brief reminder that if you live anywhere within Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart (map here) then don't hesitate to come to one of my local surgeries - details here - I'll be at Fountainbridge Library in Dundee Street tomorrow (Wednesday) at 6pm.

If you can't make one of my surgeries, then do just write, 'phone or e-mail - all the details here.

I can't guarantee to always 'deliver' exactly what you want, but I can guarantee that I'll try my very best to help.

Pros and Cons?

Local paper have run a piece from me today, as to why I think the city-wide school closure programme is totally unacceptable ... you can see it here.

They have also run a piece from the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration justifying the proposed programme ... to be fair, you can see that here.

I remain totally unconvinced!

Monday, August 20, 2007

You couldn't make it up

It just gets worse - the Leader's Report this month (see here) is nothing short of a political leaflet. I do hope no Council officer had any hand in it?

And just how, I'd love to know how, you square the statement that "maximising participation in local democracy is paramount" with the genuinely anti-democratic report I mentioned in my last post, is simply beyond me.

You couldn't make it up.

Local politics - no thanks!

Now as if I wasn't annoyed enough at the completely unacceptable school closure programme, I've today properly read one of the shorter reports coming up at the same Council meeting this Thursday ... it's here, and may seem fairly innocuous, but let me explain why I think it's frankly one of the most insidious Council reports I've ever read.

It's basically trying to curtail the right of individuals and organisations from coming to any meeting of the Council (of their choice) and requesting 10-minutes to put their case before all elected Members present. It does this under the guise that there are now 5 political groups on the Council, a new Administration, and there is considerable pressure on time and management of meetings ... well that's fine then, perfectly good set of reasons to deny people some basic local, democratic rights.

Stunning, truly stunning.

The report also hints that not only should troublesome members of the public not ask for deputations at awkward times, but also that elected Members should refrain from tabling too many motions at Full Council meetings because it's just not cricket :-(

It's no joke, I'll tell you :-((

You should read this short report, and the appendix (both here!) ... you'll rarely see a better argument for why local political choices actually do matter.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just what is the rationale?

Spent this evening going over the school closure report - the full document is available here.

I've already mentioned how I'm stunned by the scale of the proposed closures ... well, I have to say that having read the report (several times) in some detail now, I still find myself struggling to grasp the ultimate rationale behind it all?

Secondary schools in some of the most deprived areas of the city being closed - not exactly helping those who most need the Council's assistance? Primary schools in some of the more affluent areas of the city being closed - denying access to popular schools for many, many families? No indication exactly where, and when, any money saved is to be reinvested? No coherent, overall purpose or rationale being put forward at all?

These proposed changes will affect hundreds of families - and there seem to be dozens of unanswered questions ... it's just not good enough. Someone needs to get a grip of the whole process and start leading from the front.

Mind you, better still would be to simply go back to the drawing board and speak to people first.

Saughton Mains Allotments Association

Down to visit the Saughton Mains Allotments Association again this afternoon - earlier visit recounted here.

Have managed to get a degree of clarity over the longer-term Water of Leith Flood Protection measures ... new fence will be on top of an approximate 5-foot wall, but may not be completed until 2011; so still need to press for some shorter-term improvements to the perimeter fence!

After the meeting, the Association was having a bit of a Barbecue (good job it wasn't yesterday, given the weather!) ... Robin Harper was present and we were both duly coerced into sampling some Saughton Allotment "rose-petal wine" :-)

Thankfully I didn't have far to walk home :-))

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Well done that man

I see that the only Edinburgh Councillor who had a dual-mandate has resigned from one of the posts earlier today - see the BBC story here.

I very much applaud that decision - all credit to him.

Obviously, I had hoped that he may consider keeping the MSP job, thus causing a by-election for his Council seat ... but I guess that was just too much to hope for :-((

Hopefully though, all the other (think there are 4 more?) Councillors in Scotland who have dual-mandate's will now follow suit??

Friday, August 17, 2007

St.Cuthbert's Primary School

Well, unsurprisingly given the scale of it all, the 26 establishments earmarked for closure do include St. Cuthbert's Primary School within my own Ward.

I posted (rather ironically) quite recently about it's 50th Anniversary School Fayre and did have a very constructive visit there (with my old hat on!) back in November last year.

It's one of the proposed closures I really, really don't understand - I'll be objecting to it strongly, and not 'just' as it's in my own Ward but because:
  • as a denominational school, what's proposed would lead to a truly huge catchment area, stretching from Haymarket to Balerno, with all the children having to go to the current Broomhouse/St. Joseph's site - seems crazy to me, and not exactly designed to ease the school-run!
  • I'm entirely uncertain that the Catholic Church have been properly (if at all?) consulted as of yet - as far as I know, they can ask Scottish Executive Ministers to review any closure they disagree with, so it would have been wise to talk to them first (as I proposed back in June - see paragraph 5 of our motion)
  • the school also has a specialist, and well respected, Language Unit within the grounds; for which the current report makes passing mention without any firm commitment
  • the school itself is far from empty, and has a healthy (and, I believe, recently growing) school-role of children
  • the whole site has had a fair amount of investment in recent years
  • and, most importantly, it's very popular with parents!

As you can tell - I'm not at all convinced and will do all I can to have this proposal rejected by the Local Authority.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

26 educational establishments in 8 months

It's quite breathtaking - the new Lib/Nat Council Administration (which was only formed with the acquiescence of the Tories remember) - has just confirmed its proposing to close 26 educational establishments (6 Nursery Schools, 13 primary Schools, 3 Secondary Schools and 4 Community Centres) across the city ... ALL consultation on which is to be completed within eight months. Incredible.

All this from a collection of Lib-Dems, in particular, who spent every week of the last eight years criticising us for not consulting properly? Quite incredible.

We did offer an all-Party approach to this way back in mid-June ... see earlier post here ... which was rejected at that Council Executive meeting and again at the later 28th June Full Council meeting. So, several months have gone by with no cross-Party input whatsoever; and worse still, no professional or stakeholder input as we had proposed. And there's still no proposal, even at this stage, to properly involve all stakeholders.

As I've mentioned before - I'm not opposed to the 'principle' of rationalising the school estate when there is substantial, and long-term, over-capacity in the system ... but the way this is all being put forward is ill-considered and, frankly, undemocratic ...

... there's actually a few paragraphs in the report, which is going to Full Council next week, that seek to instruct the Council Secretary to 'corral' deputations from schools and organisations into an appropriate Education Committee meeting, thus not allowing deputations to make any multiple requests to be heard at different meetings of the Council - it's a breach of the principles of free speech!

... and it's gets worse, and a little farcical ...

Here's why - because the 'new' Education Committee only meets every eight weeks, the Lib/Nat Administration are inserting extra meetings to allow it to meet every four weeks, and asking the Convener to ensure that Standing Orders are relaxed to allow the 'corralled' deputations to have extra time and a two-way discussion with the Committee Members. All well-and-good in itself ...

... but now, guess what met every four weeks, had a much more informal setting than a traditional Committee, and often had dialogue between members of the public and elected Members? That's right, the Children and Young People's Scrutiny Panel which has just been unilaterally scrapped (with ZERO public consultation) by the shiny new Lib/Nat Administration.

It would be funny, if it wasn't so serious.

And worse than all of that - there is absolutely nothing new, to offset the closures ... I posted before on this here ... and I'm afraid to say that there does indeed appear to be a complete separation between the rationalisation programme being proposed and any new third-round of building programme - to me, that's unacceptable and means that we're being asked to agree 26 establishment closures with NO guarantee whatsoever of any further new school building to assist that process. A far cry from what has gone before.

And some would have you believe that local politics doesn't matter ... well, voters in Edinburgh may want to disagree at the end of this process.

No.1. Legacy

There's (obviously) been a fair bit written about Jack McConnell over the last few days ... I can't though find anything on the 'mainstream websites/media' that applauds him for, what I consider to be, his biggest achievement ... STV-PR for local government elections in Scotland?

I don't deny that trying to tackle sectarianism, efforts in Malawi, and the smoking ban are rightly recounted as notable parts of his legacy ... but he led the Coalition Government that introduced electoral reform for Scottish Councils, in the teeth of fierce internal Labour Party opposition ... tell me, I know!

... it's a reform that will have a long-lasting affect on Local Authorities across the nation. There's just no argument, that it's already brought a new pluralism to Scottish local government and that the old, almost unassailable, hegemony's have gone. That will be to the incalculable, long-term good of local politics (and local communities) in Scotland.

And what of all those predictions of doom-and-gloom prior to the introduction of STV-PR - you would have thought the world was literally about to end ... actually, bit like just before congestion charging was introduced in London :-))

It's a real shame he didn't press further and ensure that STV-PR was used for the Scottish Parliament elections as well ... he just might still be in power if he had! ... but I guess that will be down to his successor?

... at least, from my perspective, I hope so :-)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I don't like to quibble, but I make 11th September 1997 somewhat 'just' short of ten years ago - not what I'd class a "generation" ... I've always considered that to be more like thirty years?

And over the last few days I've heard Nationalists say endlessly that the "National Conversation" - and subsequent (they hope) referendum - is a 'once-in-a-generation' chance to vote on our nation's future ... that's what I thought I did on 11th September 1997 when I voted YES/YES to a devolved Parliament with tax-varying powers?

I've made it very plain before that I'm no slavish opponent of Independence, and do feel strongly that devolution is (and has already been) a process and was not a singular event. And I guess the 'Scottish' Nationalists, to be fair, are at long last accepting that there's a very long-game to play here and have long since dropped the 'free by 93' approach ... can't they just go that one last step?

... look hard at Catalonia's powers; note who achieved them (yes it was Nationalists - or I should correctly say non-secessionist Nationalists!) in the main; consider what they never pressed for (outright Independence) whilst accruing those achievements ... now if Scotland's Nationalists took that step, would they be facing the hostile political opposition of the last few days ... and worse still, from my political perspective, would Wendy Alexander's (let's just assume!) forthcoming task be easier or much more difficult?

But aren't colours now too firmly nailed-to-the-mast; surely the SNP wouldn't drop their demand for outright Independence if the "National Conversation" overwhelmingly rejected it ... they wouldn't be that sensible would they??

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Work assistant

Last day of the holidays for junior - school starts tomorrow and P6 beckons ... before I know it, he'll be at High School :-(

Completely stymied on the child-care front today, so he had to spend most of the day in the office with me - I spared him the boredom of the last ever Council Executive and allowed a bit of unsupervised computer-time ... was secretly hoping he might accidentally delete all my e-mails :-)

... no such luck.

Monday, August 13, 2007

400th post!

This is it - the 400th post of "The Really Bad Blog" - what a milestone.

I do hope my more regular readers appreciate the severe difficulty I had in finding such an appropriate picture :-)

... it is, after all, the small things in life that make all the difference :-))

The joy of e-mail?

Back in the office today, after the travails of the weekend ... catching up on the never-ending stream of e-mails seemed a comparative joy :-(

Ah well, always got the very last Council Executive tomorrow to look forward to ...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mild exhaustion ...

Kitchen completely painted from floor-to-ceiling ... mostly finished by Saturday night!

Mild exhaustion now setting in and most definitely looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow for a bit of a rest :-)

I do so love D.I.Y.

Friday, August 10, 2007

D.I.Y. weekend :-((

Now, long-term blog readers will recall my love of all-things D.I.Y. - the observant amongst you may well recognise those shelves from my later, infamous, high-quality election podcast?? ...

... well, this weekend holds further D.I.Y. trepidation I'm afraid :-(

I'm under strict instruction to paint the kitchen from floor-to-ceiling, despite it looking perfectly clean to me?

But, I do know what's good for me, so almost all of Saturday and Sunday I'll be a slave to the paint-brush until the whole job is finished ... I just can't wait :-((

'Third-round' programme of school building?

I've been thinking a bit more about the upcoming Full Council meeting on Thursday 23rd August - I mentioned it at the end of an earlier post here ...

... there is almost certainly going to be a full announcement on a programme to close numerous schools in the city. As most will know, previous Labour Administrations have closed schools in Edinburgh. I'm thus not going to automatically oppose the 'principle' of rationalising the school estate when there is substantial, and long-term, over-capacity in the system.

But any such closures HAVE to be undertaken for good educational reasons and never to save money ... any forthcoming school closure programme, if it's cast as a cost-saving exercise, will simply be unacceptable as far as I'm concerned. The Council may be facing financial pressures - I've debated before the 'genuine' severity of the current situation - but it never has, and never should, close schools to save money.

It is all indeed an irony, that despite Edinburgh's rising general population, we do have a falling school-age population and we previously did close schools against that background - for sound educational reasons - and we supplemented the closure programme with a new school-building programme ... giving opportunities for not only amalgamation of existing schools, but movement into brand new, much-improved schools.

There is a big difference today. There is no 'third-round' programme of school building ... the 'second-round', which is currently underway, was signed and delivered as part of the previous overall programme of rationalising the school estate.

The previous Administration did have a 'third-round' in the planning stages - I asked about it's progress at the June Council meeting; here's the question, and response I received:

By Councillor Burns to be answered by the Executive Member for Education, Children and Families at a meeting of the Council on 28 June 2007.

To ask the Executive Member for Education, Children and Families whether the initial contact (of March 2007) with the Scottish Executive, over a potential third-round of school building programme, has been formally followed up since the local government elections on 3 May and to provide complete details of any response received?

The Director has raised this matter with The Scottish Executive and has requested a meeting. I have separately written to Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, requesting a meeting to pursue this matter.

I further asked specifically about a timetable for the five schools we had in mind for the 'third-round'. Again, here's the question, and response I received:

By Councillor Burns to be answered by the Executive Member for Education, Children and Families at a meeting of the Council on 28 June 2007.

To ask the Executive Member for Education, Children and Families to make clear what the timetable now is for new/refurbished buildings at the schools below:
1. Portobello High School
2. St. John’s Primary School
3. Boroughmuir High School
4. James Gillespie’s High
5. St. Crispin’s Special School

Progress on these new/refurbished schools is dependent on funding from the Scottish Executive. As previously stated, we are actively pursuing the matter with the Scottish Executive.

I also referred to these five specific schools in an earlier post - which lists all the other new or refurbished schools delivered in the 'first-round' and being delivered in the already signed 'second-round' of school building programmes.

I'll thus remain sceptical about any upcoming programme of closures - for me, it has to be cast within a wider programme of developments. I'm not at all clear that will be the case ... and each, individual school proposal will have to be looked at very, very carefully against that overall background.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

ALDI store refused?

There's no question the developers will be disappointed, but the recent application (I mentioned it earlier here) by ALDI to site a store off Chesser Avenue within my local Ward has been recommended for 'refusal' at next week's Planning Sub-Committee - the full Committee report is here.

Of course, the Councillor-members of the Committee may overturn that recommendation; but that's not a very common occurrence.

I think it does now throw the spotlight back onto the owners of the land in question (not the Local Authority, I hasten to add!) to look seriously at other potential uses ... the report, which refuses this application, makes specific mention of this current proposal not being for a "community purpose" - a subtle hint to what may be acceptable in the future I feel?

Floored by the big clunking fist?

There's no denying that the last few posts have been a bit depressing about the state of local politics in Edinburgh ... those that know me, will testify that this is a little out of character as I'm generally the eternal optimist - honestly!

So, just to cheer up any Labourites out there ... if you haven't read it already, please, please do have a look at Michael Brown's article in today's Independent :-))

Personally, I think the Full Council meeting timetabled for Thursday 25th October 2007 may yet have to be cancelled ... unless anyone can convince me that politically, at a National UK-level, things will 'certainly get better' over the forthcoming months??

Shiny new secrecy

Something else has just struck me about the shiny new, streamlined committee system that is about to suffocate the City Chambers ... pre-meetings.

For the Scrutiny Panels, for all their flaws, there were pre-meetings that were open to ALL Political Parties on each respective Scrutiny Panel. That meant there was some Opposition input into the agenda formulation ... and Panels could have a further, direct impact on policy development through the use of 'initiated policy reviews' at a Scrutiny Panel level.

With the new (or it should really be called OLD) committee system, I have to presume that pre-meetings with officers will NOT be open to the Opposition? ... that's how it was before 1999.

I could be wrong, maybe I'm unfairly judging the intentions of the new Liberal/Nationalist hegemony and they will have all-Party pre-meetings with officers before agendas are set ... or is it simply a case of 'shiny new committees, shiny new secrecy'?

The first 100 days :-(

The reports for next week's Council Executive (the last one!) are now out (the agenda can be found here) and there still seems to be absolutely no identifiable progress on any really significant policy issues ... I had an earlier rant about this here.

I do genuinely think this situation is bad for the city - I would rather, even though it would be to my own political detriment, that it wasn't the case and that we were seeing a new injection of energy and enthusiasm for many of the currently 'on-hold' development projects that are always needed to take a city (any city) forward.

I actually now make it 100 days this Saturday or Sunday (depending on whether you count May 3rd!) since the local elections earlier this year. What, of significance, have we seen since then: a new, internal decision-making structure for the Council has been imposed without any (yes, ZERO) public consultation whatsoever.

I'll resist any further dictatorial references, but in seriousness this is the only significant change we've seen and no one was asked about it ... to claim there's any sort of mandate for it from the election result is a nonsense if you briefly consider the percentage of the 1st preferences (or even Council seats!) gained by each Party.

Will the Autumn bring some badly-needed dynamism to the leadership of the City Chambers? ... I've got my doubts.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Campaign for a "Scottish Ten"?

Appears to be a lot of political fuss today about the re-ignition of the campaign for a Scottish Six ... it's been a long-running saga this one, but I do really think events have moved on somewhat since it first arose (with some justification) in the late 1990's.

Just think back to pre-devolution 1998 and how often (and where) you accessed your news from? Maybe, just maybe, back then I did occasionally watch the BBC Six o'clock News ... not now, and I can't understand why politicians get so excited about it - I doubt if any of them ever see it? I access almost all of my news on the Internet now ... most of it Scottish and pretty local ... and I'd hazard a guess that most people who read this blog have a similar pattern of accessing news?

These days I never, ever, ever, ever see the BBC Six o'clock News - I'm never in the flat at that time - and if some MSP's are actually watching it every night, I can't help but ponder on their political commitment :-)

Now, if someone wants to start a campaign for a "Scottish Ten" ... I'd actually be able to see some rationale in such a debate :-))

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Here's a challenge ...

I've just received an internal (City of Edinburgh Council - CEC) Departmental magazine - we get lots of them in the post at work :-(

Obviously, with the change to the new Liberal/Nationalist hegemony, I'd fully expect a piece in each relevant Departmental magazine about the new Executive Member (as currently is - but soon to be stream-lined Committee Convener). And yes, this has been the case in most of the Dept. mags. I've received - one (or two at most) pictures of the new Executive Member with a bit of introductory blurb about them ... all very reasonable and fair.

But the one I've just got is somewhat different.

Before I tell you why, let me try and put some context behind my ever-so-slight annoyance ... I've just come out of eight years being in the ruling Administration of CEC where hardly a week (and I don't exaggerate) went past without the Liberals berating us for spending too much on 'glossy' magazines that did nothing to improve service-delivery and which (they claimed) only served as 'self-promotion' vehicles for individuals within the Labour Party?

Now, with that in mind, I've got on my desk - actually, it's just gone into the re-cycling bin - an internal CEC Departmental magazine with six (that's 6!) pictures and nearly three pages of text all about said Department's new Executive Member :-((

If anyone can find me an internal CEC Departmental Magazine, dated between May 1999 and May 2007, with more than three pages and 6 pictures dedicated to an individual Labour politician then I'll donate £100 to the charity of choice of the fore-mentioned Liberal Executive Member ...

Elections Consultative Group

Elections Consultative Group met again today - have mentioned this group's workings previously here - and a clear timetable was (at last) outlined for the internal review of elections held in Edinburgh on May 3rd.

We received confirmation that the final report on all of this is now going to the November 2007 Full Council meeting - I do welcome the clarification over timing, and feel the delay makes perfect sense given that it appears the National 'Gould' report won't be ready until October.

All that said, I do strongly feel we still need - after November's report - an Independent assessment of lessons for Edinburgh ... after all, that's exactly what Ron Gould is providing for Scotland and I simply don't see any good rationale for NOT pursuing the same for Scotland's Capital City.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Can't resist it ...

I'm probably about to affront numerous 'crocs-wearing' constituents, but I have to be honest and admit to a long-standing dislike of these ubiquitous plastic shoes, which do appear to be taking over the world ...

... so, imagine my mirth when I read The Daily Mash this morning - which I should warn does contain some strong language :-(

I nearly cried laughing.

Harrison Park to fly the Green Flag

Well done to Harrison Park ... along with Braidburn Valley Park, and another park in Dundee ... they have all been awarded Scotland's first Green Flag Awards for 'parks and green spaces'.

The Green Flag Award scheme has been the national standard for parks and green spaces in England and Wales since 1996 and is being piloted in Scotland this year in partnership with Greenspace Scotland.

The scheme aims to "encourage the provision of safe, clean and accessible public parks which are managed in an environmentally sustainable way" ... well, I must have used Harrison Park (it's just across the road from where I live) on literally hundreds of occasions over the last 10-years and can definitely confirm that there's been a huge improvement in the quality of its environment and the facilities provided within its boundaries over the last few years.

Well-deserved award for all those involved.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Two David Greig plays

In an effort to try and squeeze in some 'Festival Culture' before things really heat-up at work, went to see our second David Greig play this afternoon ... Damascus ... having seen Yellow Moon on Thursday Night.

Thoroughly enjoyed both, but something about Yellow Moon definitely made it stand out for me ... yet I see the critics (in the main) have tended to prefer Damascus?

Maybe I could just recognise too many "Stag Lee Macalinden's" from my time growing up near Airdrie :-(

Gorgie City Farm fun-day

Gorgie City Farm fun-day this afternoon ... marking its 25th year of operation. Sun was shining and appeared to be a huge crowd in attendance - excellent event.

I've a bit of a soft spot for Gorgie City Farm - have been going there ever since junior was born ... and when he attended Tynecastle Nursery School the "Macaroni & Chips" at Jemima's Pantry (the on-site farm café) after I picked him up on a Wednesday afternoon was one of the highlights of our week :-))

Friday, August 03, 2007

Terrible confession ...

I've a terrible confession to make ... I got the bus to work today. Second month of the new regime; and I've already cracked under the pressure :-((

Actually, I was just delivering a suit to the office (can't get anywhere near the City Chambers by car due to the Festival!), so that I don't need to cycle in one next week :-)

To be honest, despite it hardly being the driest summer, the cycling is proving a complete pleasure ... and I must be healthier for it - surely?

Newton's third law of classical mechanics

I know I'm biased ... but I do genuinely think we're going to see a lot more of this type of political story developing over the coming months.

Short-term populism is easy, pleasant stuff ... the long-term results much less so.

Newton's third law of classical mechanics ... 'if a force acts on a body, then an equal and opposite force must act upon another body' ... applies (unfortunately) not just to physics, but often to politics.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

For Foulkes Sake!

As many of you may know, for the first time since devolution .... down to some 'far-from-stunning' constituency results :-(( .... the Lothians now has its first "Labour List MSP" in George Foulkes.

I hear on the grapevine, that despite his years, he's just launched the first Parliamentarian website with a fully integrated and interactive electronic surgery! Check it out here.

Can this be true - surely blogging wizards like David Cameron, with his numerous staff, (no sour grapes here at all) has already thought of such an innovation?

Mind you - even lowly George Foulkes has personal staff, unlike us even-more lowly Councillors :-)

Edinburgh South Suburban Railway

An electronic petition calling for the re-introduction of local passenger services on the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway, raised by an ex-colleague of mine, is still open on the Scottish Parliament's website here ...

... it can be signed up until 8th September 2007. I've signed it, and would encourage others to do so.

Despite huge investment in transport infrastructure throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians over the last decade, this is one project that never attracted appropriate funding from the Scottish Executive ... maybe the new Executive will approach the project afresh - the more signatures on the petition, the more likely they are to sit up and take notice of course :-)

Service-reductions on the horizon?

Having spent a couple of days back in the City Chambers now, with my head actually hurting from all the reading, I'm astounded to see almost zero 'public' policy progress as regards the fairly significant decisions facing the shiny new 'Liberal/Nationalist/Tory coalition' that runs the Council ...

... let's not forget that the Tories are a part of all this, in due course they'll be claiming that all the service-reductions (they ARE going to happen, of that I'm unfortunately certain) are nothing to do with them as they're not in the 'formal' coalition. Okay, strictly true, but it was only their abstention at the crucial Lord Provost vote which led to the ability of a group of 29 liberal and nationalist Councillors (out of a total of 58) to form a coalition Administration ...

- that reminder aside, there does indeed appear to have been no significant 'public' policy progress from the shiny new 'Liberal/Nationalist/Tory' coalition ... education, housing, economic development, environment - all areas with huge challenges for Edinburgh (it was ever thus) but it's surely now time for some political direction (and action) on these issues from those who have been in charge since last May?

I really do hope all these difficult decisions are not just being 'held-over' until the next Full Council meeting on Thursday 23rd August ... there needs to be political dialogue on these issues, and to date there's been zero. Full Council meetings are the ultimate decision-making body of the Local Authority and leave little or no room for political compromise - all the political Groups know that to be true.

The new Administration have only 50% (literally) of the Councillors, a lot less than 50% of the first preference votes cast ... it would not be wise to consider that an overwhelming mandate. I do speak from some experience here :-(

Enough of the Hamster!

Enough of the Hamster ... what about a bit of fame for one of the many other members of our huge pet menagerie?

Well, as mentioned much earlier (follow that second link!), we do have a rather large collection of stick insects :-)

They reside in a big plastic tank in the kitchen ... problem is, they do occasionally manage to escape - bit like the damned Hamster actually :-((

Here's the flat-favourite (that's flat, as in house, and not squashed!) - called Gordon - during a brief spell of freedom in our back garden. I'm pleased to report that he is now safely returned to said-tank and enjoying all the luxuries of friendly captivity with numerous stick-insect colleagues :-))

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Paperless office?

Given my trepidation over the number of potential incoming e-mails, I somewhat overlooked the volume of potential paper mail :-(

E-mails are actually just under 400, which is pretty light really ... but very surprisingly there appears to be a huge volume of paper mail. So much for the paperless office?

I have noticed an increasing trend of several organisations/ correspondents going back to paper and abandoning e-mail ... strange, but true.