Friday, November 30, 2007

London calling ...

Off down to London this evening - still using the sleeper, as part of my no-flying regime :-)

... attending the regular Electoral Reform Society 'Council' meeting, which has a pretty full agenda. Could be a long Saturday?

And then, upon my return late Saturday night, there will have to be frantic preparations for a certain household members' 10th Birthday Party on Sunday!!

I just cannot believe he's 10 already :-))

What can you say?

Seems "serious stooshie" may have been an understatement!

Another electronic epistle has arrived from cyber-space this morning, in a swift clarification following a maelstrom of negative press coverage - both local and national :-(

... as per yesterday, I'll re-produce the message in full below.

What can you say? ... I am still intrigued as to why on earth this type of information was sent out by e-mail in the first place??


From: Communications
Sent: Fri 11/30/2007 9:35 AM
To: Everyone
Subject: Shared Service Pathfinder project

You may have noticed media coverage concerning the Shared Services Pathfinder project which was the subject of an e-mail Chief Executive’s briefing yesterday, 29 November.

Following the inaccuracy of some of this press coverage we are taking the opportunity to address these matters.

To recap, the Pathfinder project is part of a national project for which we are receiving government funding. The Shared Services team, working with departments, have put together a high level business case with an estimate of potential efficiency savings of over £57m over three years.

It is important to stress that it is now over six months since the baseline data was gathered and many departments have already introduced significant efficiency savings in the intervening period to address their projected budget deficits. The Chief Executive’s briefing states that the business case was for a reduction of 800 employees across all departments. As almost half of these posts related to agency staff on temporary contracts and some of these have already been put into effect. This means that the figures quoted will be significantly lower than those shown in the press.

In particular the Contact Centre jobs figure quoted is inaccurate. These figures relate to initial contact and assessment roles rather than staff in the Contact Centre.

Work will now be undertaken to bring forward detailed proposals and accurate cost and benefits calculations that will enable informed decisions to be taken over the next three to four months.

Although it is not possible to rule out redundancy at this stage, the Chief Executive in his briefing states the aim will be to achieve any staff reductions through natural wastage and redeployment wherever possible.

Managers should ensure this message is cascaded to staff who do not have access to e-mail.
The High Level Business Case will be published on the intranet homepage shortly.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interesting rates

I mentioned earlier this week how I really rate some of the BBC Correspondent blogs ...

... as well as Nick Bryant's excellent coverage of the recent Australian election, I've really enjoyed Robert Peston's ongoing coverage of the financial challenges currently facing the UK economy :-(

Peston posted an entry earlier today, ending with a brief update about the Governor of the Bank of England's statement to the Treasury Select Committee this morning, that frankly made me thankful that our 1989 mortgage now has less than 7-years to completion ...

... all that said, the interest rate today (at the end of 2007) is still some way below (if not half the level?) of that when we first took out the mortgage at the end of the 80's.

Will it stay below that highpoint all the way through to 2014 though ... any bets??

The joy of mass e-mail

Bit of a serious stooshie brewing at the Council this afternoon ... all down, it appears, to some injudicious use of mass e-mail :-(

Just after 4pm, everyone at the Local Authority (yes, everyone on e-mail ... that's thousands and thousands and thousands of individuals) received an e-mail 'Briefing' from the Council's Chief Executive.

I'm just going to re-produce it in full below (at the bottom of this post) - I don't usually do that, but given the BBC story (here) that originally appeared less than 2-hours after the e-mail was sent, I hardly think its contents are a state secret?

It all centres around the "Pathfinder Project", as it's known within the Council.

In itself, this is not anything new - indeed, there was a report about it at the October 2007 Full Council meeting, see here, which stemmed from a motion that one of my colleagues had moved at the September 2007 Full Council meeting as follows:

10.3 By Councillor Munro - KPMG Pathfinder Project

“Council calls for a report to the next Full Council on the work by KPMG on the Pathfinder Project, containing:
1 ) the full original report and its recommendations;
2) details of how these recommendations have been implemented; and
3) whether the potential for savings identified in the report can help improve the Council’s financial position.”

... and, as you'll see from the October report which resulted, the whole topic has it's origins in mid-2006 - see paras. 2.1 and 2.2 therein.

So why, oh why, send round an e-mail - of all things! - stating that nearly 1,000 jobs 'could' be affected? ... the October report made it clear (see para. 3.1 therein) that further work is ongoing and Trade Union consultation would take place??

Just an accident of judgement (??) or is there something more 'immediate' to all of this than we've been led to believe to date?


From: Communications
Sent: Thu 11/29/2007 4:07 PM
To: Everyone
Subject: Chief Executive's Briefing - Shared Services

The Council has made progress in improving performance in recent years but we recognise that there is more that we need to do to improve services and maintain value for money for the people of Edinburgh. Therefore the Council welcomed the opportunity, funded by the Scottish Government, to lead a Shared Services Pathfinder project, in partnership with Fife and Scottish Borders Councils and to be at the forefront of moves to create a more efficient public sector in Scotland.

This project aims to identify opportunities for efficiency savings and service improvements through the simplification, standardisation and sharing of council processes and services. It builds on a range of improvement activity that has already been undertaken by the Council, including restructuring around customer focussed service groupings, rationalising our office buildings and investing in modern technology.

The first phase of the project resulted in the development of an outline business case which highlighted nine areas where simplification, standardisation or sharing could potentially improve services and reduce costs. However, it is still at a preliminary stage with more detailed work required before any decisions on changes to services can be taken by the Council. Also while a potential net saving over three years of up to £30 million was estimated, some service areas would require substantial investment before any benefits could be realised and it has currently not been identified how this investment would be funded.

The service areas considered during phase 1 of the project were:
1. Initial customer contact
2. Customer assessment and decision making processes
3. Council tax revenues
4. Home based services
5. Procurement
6. Strategic functions
7. Administration and clerical support
8. Pensions administration and investments
9. Trading standards and environmental health

The business case also points to a potential reduction of over 800 employees across all departments. Almost half of these posts relate to agency staff on temporary contracts and in fact some of these staff reductions have been put into effect already with a dramatic reduction in the number of agency staff working across the Council as a result of the tight financial constraints. The aim will be to achieve any staff reductions through natural wastage and redeployment wherever possible.

The Council has recently received further funding from the Scottish Government to undertake a second phase of work which will bring forward detailed proposals and accurate cost and benefit calculations that will enable informed decisions to be taken on the way forward for the Council. This work should be complete by spring 2008 and we will inform you of the details in the proposals at that time.

Tom Aitchison Chief Executive

Managers should ensure this message is cascaded to staff who do not have access to e-mail.


Gould - again!

The Electoral Commission have today published a fairly detailed response to the earlier Gould report, which I've posted about extensively.

The Commission's News Release is here; their main report here, and the brief BBC coverage here.

The second of those links - the main report - is a pretty comprehensive response to the Gould recommendations. Given my earlier ramblings about all of this requiring the Scotland Act (1998) to be re-opened, I was particularly intrigued to read para. 17 of the report this morning:

"17. The Commission intends to undertake an examination of electoral administration structures across the UK, rather than considering Scotland in isolation, or considering some Scottish elections but not all as needing changed arrangements. It is our view that this matter is urgent, and must proceed immediately."

... now if that isn't a good enough excuse to end up saying what Gould wanted to, but didn't (that STV-PR for the Holyrood elections would solve a lot of problems!) I don't know what is?

Surely such a comprehensive review should conclude that a single system for all Scottish elections - whether decoupled or not - would be desirable and given the last decades' move away from majoritarian to proportional systems, then STV-PR has to be the universal answer??

We may find out pretty soon, as the said-report is apparently due in mid-2008!

On a less-important issue, but interesting for my nationalist colleagues, para. 32/33 is noteworthy:

"It is our recommendation that legislation is amended to require that registered names of political parties (rather than their descriptions) appear first on all regional ballot papers for the Scottish parliamentary elections."

... no more 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' - I'm gutted :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another blogging Councillor

Yet another blogging Councillor has entered cyber-space today ... Ian Murray (pictured opposite) is now the first Edinburgh South Labour Councillor - that I know of! - who has crept into the 21st century :-)

... I make that six of the Edinburgh Labour Group who are now keeping (reasonably?) regular blogs - soon be half the Group at this rate :-))

What about the rest? - I know Cllr. Cameron Rose (Tory) has a 'Newsblog' - it can be found here - and also has a Facebook presence (along with Cllrs. Charles Dundas and Louise Young - both Libs) ... but nothing else on the blogging front that I'm aware of??

If you know of any more out there, then do pass on the details ...

Bike trauma

My poor old bike - it is some 24-years of age! - suffered a bit of a trauma this week ... one of the pedals, and associated crank, sheered right off and the thread to the main shaft is completely shot!

Not good :-(

... so, temporarily back on the bus whilst I locate a decent mechanic to give the 'old boy' a complete overhaul - obviously badly needed!

It has to be said that the evening commute, from town centre back home, is now much slower than when I was on two wheels :-((

Elections fatigue

Elections Consultative Group met again this morning - last in a long line of meetings that have been trawling over the problems encountered during the May 2007 elections.

It does finally appear that a pretty comprehensive set of reports is now going to the December meeting of the Full Council.

I posted about all of this way back in June - so, it has taken nearly six months for this work to be completed. To be fair to the Council, the whole process was rightly delayed to await the final publication of the Gould Report.

... and, it does appear that Gould's recommendation to de-couple the Holyrood and Local elections (which seems to have been accepted by UK and Scottish Governments) will take the 'heat' out of a lot of the issues which were faced on May 3rd - so, maybe the report going to the December Council meeting will not now be as contentious as I had first thought??

Just in passing, the de-coupling of National/Local elections is something I've firmly changed my mind on over the years. I'm now convinced that yes, for the Council, it will lead to local issues being debated/decided in isolation and on their own merits, but that tragically the turnout for those elections will drop by around 15% as a result. Not good.

And really ... are local issues so separate from national politics? Who is it that provides some 80% of our finance? ... and who are we going to have to sign Single Outcome Agreements with in the not too distant future?

... surely far better to change the electoral system for Holyrood to STV-PR and leave both elections on the same day :-))

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Shock, Horror - non-Council evening, meeting!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that "Unlock Democracy" had finally managed to stage its 2007 AGM - was a good meeting - and am pleased to report that tonight the new Scottish Advisory Group will meet for the first time following the earlier AGM.

A non-Council, evening meeting ... it may very well snow tonight :-)

Unfortunately clashes exactly with the bi-monthly meeting of Craiglockhart Community Council, to which I've reluctantly submitted my apologies.

It is nigh-on impossible to make every, single meeting under the new Ward Boundaries ... but, given my long-held views (still as strong as ever!) on STV-PR, I can hardly complain, can I?

Monday, November 26, 2007

No defence, but ...

Just read about the latest "money and politics" saga :-(

I'm not going to try and defend the situation that Peter Watt has found himself in ... he is the legally responsible officer for donation reporting ... but, in all the time he's been General Secretary he has always struck me as the consummate professional - and no, I don't know him!

Personally, for me, it just further underlines the inherent unsatisfactory nature of (all) political Party funding in the UK. If someone doesn't bite-the-bullet soon on some sort of enhanced state funding (and there are a myriad models out there) then it will only get worse, not better.

Spreading too thinly

I've felt a bit like one of those circus plate-spinners for most of today :-(

... just been dragged in too many directions (literally) and have probably spread myself too thinly on everything as a consequence!

Indeed, such a day has it been that the next person who asks me how I'm managing to fill my time now that we're in Opposition may not get the customary politeness in response :-((

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Labor election victory

Not that I've been avoiding our own national news today :-(

... but have been particularly drawn to what's happened in Australia over the weekend.

Kevin Rudd does appear to have clinched a pretty emphatic victory, and I think the removal of John Howard from the international stage could have quite an impact - particularly on the green agenda.

I've really enjoyed Nick Bryant's (from the BBC) blog that's been running for the duration of the campaign - great example of a well-informed, running commentary on a big political event as it happens.

I'm convinced that good blogging-journalism like Nick's (and many of the other BBC correspondents) will become pretty valuable source material for future historians.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Airdrieonians Invasion

Talking of a takeover by the West-coast, some old friends from Airdrie coming over to stay with us in Edinburgh this weekend :-)

Don't have any specific plans, but undoubtedly a reasonable amount of food and drink consumption will simply have to take place :-))

... at least there are no high-profile, national football matches on this weekend, the results of which would undoubtedly have wrecked the atmosphere of conviviality :-(

Friday, November 23, 2007

Captured Coalition

Thinking a bit more about yesterday's meeting - and the "yet another debate about finance" ... I'm fast coming to the conclusion that a classic case of what some in the trade call 'official capture' has taken place on a grand scale since May 3rd.

I mean at a local level and certainly not at a national level - the contrast could not be starker.

You can almost hear the voices of senior Council Directors ringing through the comments of the current City Council Coalition politicians ... and I can just hear the earlier debates around the senior management team table - "must keep their feet to the fire, don't let them slack off on re-aligning those damned departmental budgets" ??

And, to be fair, those 'damned departmental budgets' are indeed being re-aligned ... problem is, the whole process is being undertaken in a completely unimaginative, technocratic fashion. Politics seems to be absent; and services for the vulnerable, young and elderly seem to be suffering in the managerial process we are currently in the midst of.

And all the while, if that wasn't bad enough, there seems to be a real lack of direction on all the really big issues facing the city ... what, of significance, has happened in any of the major portfolio areas in the last six months? Again, politics seems to be absent.

All that said, maybe I'm just doomed to suffer the "yet another debate about finance" syndrome for a while yet - but come April next year, the budget thereafter will be a Coalition Budget ... assuming they do actually agree between themselves and accept the removal of significant local autonomy? ... and ducking any sense of responsibility will become increasingly harder.

Meantime, unfortunately, our competitor cities (of which there are legion) are leaving us to eat their dust ... and even more worryingly (despite being from the West myself) one of them is just 50-miles away and you can almost 'feel' the centre of economic gravity shifting their way :-((

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No early evening finish!

Shock, horror - the Full Council meeting finished just before 4.30pm ... a mere six-and-a-half hours, with at least two breaks totalling around an hour. So only just over 5-hours of actual meeting time! Now, I don't think that's too drastic for the main decision-making body of the capital city, Local Authority of Scotland?

And whilst I've openly admitted that I do think there are a large number of motions at current meetings, there was a strange reaction to them today by the Administration - they simply moved "No Action" to most of them, in an effort to try and 'persuade' us troublesome Opposition politicians from tabling anything that may just commit the Council to anything remotely innovative :-(

And when pressed in various debates on this, they seemed to indicate that all we had to do was ask the relevant Convener (and/or Officer) and we'd get the answers we needed without 'wasting' good Council time by tabling troublesome motions and questions??

I'd accept that with a bit more good grace if I thought it would actually happen - but I've now had two written assurances (via Council Questions, not voluntarily) from the Convener of Education that all Opposition Education Spokespeople would be kept informed of progress with Portobello High School, and the other Wave3 schools, and to date I've received not one single e-mail, letter or verbal briefing to such effect? Could be that absolutely nothing has happened (which wouldn't have surprised me) but I know that's not the case.

Communication has to be two-way, and at the minute it certainly is not. I know who's "court the ball is in" on this general issue, and it's not the Oppositions.

The meeting itself today didn't really tackle any of the key strategic projects for the city, that all appear to be in a permanent state of suspension at the moment: Schools, Zoo, Tynecastle, Meadowbank, Sighthill, Commonwealth Pool, Old Town developments ... to mention but the obvious :-(

Someone will need to take a decision on some of these issues soon - surely??

So, highlights of the day had to be:
  • the Depute-Convener (Provost) taking the chair of the meeting; having to use his casting vote twice; and chastising one of his Administration colleagues for using un-Parliamentary (un-Chamberly doesn't sound right?) language in one of the debates. I won't embarrass the Liberal-Democrat member for Southside/Newington by naming him :-)) ... although, joking aside, all-credit to him for immediately withdrawing the phrase used!
  • the Convener of Education accusing previous Labour Administrations of "building schools for electoral advantage" ... yes, she really said it? I'd love to know which schools this highly-scientific accusation was referring to??
  • the Council Leader pointedly NOT taking part in yet another debate about finance that was generated with the sole purpose of having yet another go at the previous Administration for leaving Edinburgh on the verge of destitution and ruin ... why anybody is still living and working here I don't know? I think the Council Leader's lack of contribution to that debate was very telling - it's a great shame she doesn't have the majority of her colleagues on her side :-(

December's meeting can only be worse :-((

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Full Council meeting tomorrow ...

November's Full Council meeting tomorrow - agenda can be found here.

Does seem like a more manageable agenda on the face of it, but still a lot of motions (19 compared to last months 17!) to debate - and four additional deputations, I hear, who are not on the published agenda?

... so, could still be an early evening finish I'm afraid. May not be much blogging tomorrow :-(

Grove Street application approved ...

The Grove Street application was back before the Planning Committee this morning - full report can be found here ... I know the report title says 14th November, but it's a mistake!

Unfortunately, from my personal perspective, the application was finally approved today - you'll remember it's been before Planning twice before; see here and here - as I still believe strongly that the amenity of neighbouring residents will NOT be safeguarded by this development and that the parking facilities (zero!) will come back to haunt the area.

Very unfortunately, officers disagreed with me - they had always recommended approval of the application - as did most of the Committee Members who voted in favour of granting planning permission.

So, pretty disappointing.

That said, a degree of thanks should go to the Committee Members who did have to listen to me on three occasions droning on about this - many of them also attended a site visit into the bargain - and several planning conditions were attached on the issues of density, parking and security which may help ... but I have my doubts :-(

Identity theft

No - I'm not referring to the trouble with missing CD's at HM Revenue and Customs :-((

... but, one of my esteemed colleagues nicking my blog identity!

So, I've decided to change the background - and layout, a little - of the Really Bad Blog. I would welcome any (constructive please!) feedback on whether you think it looks better, worse, or has it just always looked terrible :-)

Remember, you don't have to leave a comment here - you can always e-mail me direct at: - work
or - home (don't miss out the 'd')

... and before any wag asks: it stands for Douglas :-))

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Drummond Community High School

With various colleagues, visited Drummond Community High School earlier this afternoon - some of the senior pupils and Head Teacher gave us a very informative tour of the whole building.

It has to be said - there was a remarkably impressive atmosphere throughout the school ... incredibly calm and relaxed for a city High School!

Thoroughly enjoyed seeing around the facilities and speaking to some of the students and staff.

Schools: let's get it right this time

My favourite local newspaper has published a short article on yesterday's developments re- the Cross Party Forum - you can find it here.

They've also published an "opinion-piece", from myself, on the same issue - it can be found here.

... but nothing on the voting defeat for the Administration :-(

Any feedback welcome - and, of course, I'll put up posts as and when the new Sub-Committee meets to keep blog readers informed of any progress.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Education Committee meeting

Education Committee meeting earlier this afternoon ... agenda here ... and the Lib/Nat Coalition suffered it's first (I think?) defeat on a policy issue since May.

And surprisingly, it had nothing to do with the formation of the new Cross Party Forum - which was approved unanimously - but concerned the "Pre-2007" report, which I blogged about earlier here ... the Administration moved an amendment attempting to continue the (now proven) myth that somehow we had previously drawn up a secret list.

I should pay credit here to the Tories, Greens and Church Representatives who all backed my call to just accept the report as it stood ... which led to the Administration losing the vote by 11-votes to 10.

We did still agree, as mentioned above, to get on and take part in the Cross Party Forum ... I'm hoping now that the type of destructive nonsense we heard today from the Lib/Nat Administration is at an end - but realistically I'm afraid we may yet hear more of it at the Full Council this coming Thursday :-(

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bowled over ...

No, not the Scotland football team ... although I think they were :-(( ... but I'm referring to a family visit to do a bit of ten pin bowling earlier today ... and the ongoing Council Concordat saga!

Hadn't been bowling for ages, and all the kids present this morning really enjoyed themselves - as did the adults :-)

On a work-note, I see the Sunday press has widely varying views on the whole COSLA Concordat saga ... is Local Government autonomy being stripped away, or are we on the edge of nirvana and a Council Tax freeze?

I know which view I feel is closest to the truth:
  • Scotland has an inflation-busting settlement (even John Swinney sometimes publicly admits that this year is 0.5% ABOVE inflation)
  • Local Authorities are to be given £70million to implement a 0% Council Tax
  • none of that money is for the SNP National Manifesto priorities, but to fund the loss of Council Tax income
  • but to get the money Local Authorities have to sign a Single Outcome Agreement confirming they will deliver those very same national priorities

So, the options are:

  • sign the deal, implement a 0% Council Tax, be bound to deliver the National Government's priorities but not receive a penny to do so, even though to do so will cost an absolute fortune - result: over time, numerous public services will lose funding and support as there is a blind panic to deliver national priorities at the expense (literally) of local services
  • don't sign the deal, raise Council Tax, stand back and watch local voters reaction

New politics??

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Scotland to beat World Champions?

I don't think I've witnessed so much hype and expectation for a football match since Scotland went to the 1978 Argentina World Cup ... not a good precedent :-(

I really hope that Scotland beat Italy later today - but whatever the result ... why do we go through this ridiculous ritual of over-inflated expectations that must put huge pressure on all those concerned with the 'actual game'? :-((

Anyhow, cross your fingers ... I think they'll need all the luck they can get later this afternoon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Family matters

Family duties this afternoon - my better-half is off to a conference event, related to her work, and so junior is with me. I think we'll do absolutely nothing in particular!

Spending a whole week-day afternoon on family matters was almost impossible before May ... definitely one of the few benefits of Opposition :-)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Audit Committee

Attended the Audit Committee earlier today - as a substitute for one of my colleagues.

Was specifically interested in the Internal Audit review of the 2006/07 Children and Families budget - the full report is here. I personally think it's a very clear report with very clear conclusions and recommendations.

There was an interesting debate at the Committee about the contents of the report - with (surprisingly for a change) no political-mud being thrown and a constructive discussion about how to avoid such problems in the future.

We moved a motion welcoming the report and asking for it to be referred on to the Policy and Strategy Committee - I'll reproduce the full text below. Was pleased that the motion was accepted by all Parties present, with the slight amendment to refer it to Full Council and not Policy and Strategy.

... will be interesting to see if the constructive approach taken at today's meeting is mirrored at Full Council - I have my doubts, but perhaps I'm getting too cynical in my old age :-(



Committee acknowledges that the report, in relation to action taken by the last administration, states that "reports to the council highlighted the seriousness of the budget situation" and the departments were instructed by the Council Executive committee to "prepare a raft of measures to contain the projected overspend".

The report in particular identifies failures in the financial management arrangements within the Children and Families budget par 3.4 (1 – 19) which was exacerbated by the inability to track income as well as expenditure adequately.

Also in relation to demand led budgeting the report concluded that "the lack of operational information on current demand and trends leads to an inability to forecast costs and undermines the effectiveness of management control"

The committee therefore agrees,

1) To note the report by the Council’s Chief Internal Auditor and to approve the action plan appended to the Auditor’s report.
2) To refer the Chief Internal Auditor’s report to the Policy and Strategy Committee for consideration.
3) To acknowledge the findings of the report and ask the Director of Finance to undertake the work identified in paragraph 4.8 and to report to the appropriate Committee in due course.
4) To recommend that the Policy and Strategy Committee, as a matter of urgency, reviews how ‘demand led’ budgets are managed particularly in relation to the increasing complexity and cost of services to the elderly and ‘vulnerable’ young people


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Emasculated - "to deprive of strength or vigor; weaken" - that's what I feel has potentially happened to Scottish Local Government today.

The COLSA President and Vice-Presidents may well have signed a 'concordat' this morning ... but as I mentioned earlier, the COSLA Leaders don't meet until Friday ...

... and I wonder what they'll make of the fact that despite all the warm words on "greater flexibility" and "greater responsibility" in the concordat, the truth is that every Local Authority will be bound by a Single Outcome Agreement (SOA), the sole purpose of which will be to ensure delivery of 'national' priorities.

Now it's fair enough for a National Government to seek to ensure its priorities are delivered at a local level - but this concordat, if agreed on Friday, will mean less autonomy for Scottish Local Government - plain and simple.

I'd have more respect for the Scottish Government if they just openly admitted this truth ... and called a spade, a spade.

Game, set and match

Well, well, well ... remember all those accusations of a "previous Labour schools rationalisation list" back in August ... do have a quick read at this report, just published on CPOL (Committee Papers On-Line), a report that was specifically requested by those who hoped to unearth some dreadful evil-doing by the previous Administration.

Do please pay particular attention to paragraphs 9, 10 and 12 which state respectively:
  • "no financial or implementation appraisal of the options was undertaken for deliberation by the Steering Group or the Administration"
  • "there was therefore no formal rationalisation plan agreed with the last Administration"
  • "no financial appraisal of the individual projects was shared with the previous Administration"

Frankly, this report unequivocally demonstrates that no school rationalisation plan was agreed with the previous Council Administration ... as I've said all along.

This confirms that the proposals which came forward in August of this year, and were then subsequently abandoned in September, were the 'political proposals' of the current Lib-Dem/SNP Administration and of no one else.

All those who have suggested otherwise should now retract their entirely false assertions.

... actually, an apology wouldn't go amiss either.

Financial maelstrom

Scottish Budget Day - I mentioned it was coming up last week - and the mainstream press do appear to be in a bit of a lather over the whole event ... it's even made the front-page of the Guardian today!

In several earlier posts (all can be accessed from here) I've made it clear that I do seriously fear for the long-term future of Local Government in Scotland ... the irony of the Scottish Government, which currently wants more fiscal autonomy for itself, removing fiscal autonomy from Scottish Local Government, is surely apparent to others than just me?

... and I find no reassurance from the fact that the SNP are going to pontificate on all of this in today's budget statement as if a deal has been finalised with COSLA already - when the truth is that COSLA Leaders don't even meet to discuss it in full plenary until this coming Friday (16th November).

I do sense an absolute furore of political activity over the next week on all of this ... I just hope that full and fair funding of Local Government services isn't lost in the maelstrom :-(

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

British booze culture

Could be in danger here of coming across all sanctimonious ... but I do think, as I've mentioned before, that the 'booze-culture' is pretty appalling in the UK.

As good friends know only too well, I like a social drink as much as the next person ... but when you read the lead BBC Health story today, you surely have to conclude there's a serious problem in the making here?

I'm not though currently convinced on the price-rise issue - it is already pretty expensive here in the UK - but I remain open to the arguments ...

... but I am wholly supportive of potential moves to try and bar advertising of alcohol before 9pm ... as many now seem to be suggesting. Would that really damage the advertising industry irreparably ... I suspect not?

Not jumping on the bandwagon

A quick glance at the press this morning clearly shows that everyone and their dog is having a right-old-go at the Nats for failing to deliver, what they said they would deliver, as regards 1,000 "new police officers" provided for by "new resources".

I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon ... but, the whole situation does give cause for comment - hopefully, you'll agree, not 'too' partisan in nature :-)

I've always thought it would be pretty impossible for the Nats to deliver their 'whole' manifesto ... even die-hard SNP supporters will acknowledge this in private. As far back as early August, we started to see the first problems with some of their commitments; and just a few days ago I commented on the class-size pledge, which I personally feel is a LOT more unachievable than the 1,000 police officers.

And the sad truth is, the position they've now got themselves into is of a completely self-made nature. Why on earth, when they realised they were in a minority Government position, didn't they quickly state they would have to re-assess their manifesto commitments and come forward with an achievable 'Programme for Government'?

In 1999 the Coalition Parties negotiated a "Partnership for Scotland" - a joint programme of their respective manifestos, with some things added and some dropped - and in 2003, again, the Coalition Parties negotiated a "Programme for Government" - a coming together of their respective manifestos, with some things added and some dropped.

Yet in 2007 despite being in a minority position, the SNP came forward with a "Programme for Government" that included almost every one of their election manifesto commitments - they produced this 'programme' in early September in the full knowledge they had only 47 out of 129 MSPs ... surely someone in their inner-circle must have realised that what was published in September was unachievable given the make-up of the Parliament and finances available?

Back in mid-May, when it became obvious we were looking at a minority Government, I don't think many people would have baulked if the SNP had said ... "okay, we don't have a Parliamentary majority, we'll need to carefully assess what we can definitely deliver from our manifesto and come back with an amended 'Programme for Government' in due course".

But no, from May-September they didn't go through that process and have stuck (almost to a word) with their original commitments, many of which - given Parliamentary arithmetic and available finance - will simply not be deliverable.

Bravado? ... naivety? ... I'm not sure; but I do think it's been a huge tactical error. There needs to be some honesty now about what they can and can't do.

I would stop digging.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Night cycling

Into the fifth month of cycle-commuting now ... it's been thoroughly pleasurable and I'm pretty certain I won't be going back to the bus - except on the very odd occasion :-)

Last few weeks have though been a bit more challenging - especially since the clocks went back, which means it's dark even if I manage (which isn't a frequent occurrence!) to escape the City Chambers early.

... but, I've invested in a decent set of lights - which are so much better now than when I last bought any - and also a good, reflective jacket ... and am determined to keep going right through the winter.

I will report if my resolve fails :-(


As an atheist, I don't often use the word Hallelujah ... but I can't think of a better heading for this particular post :-)

At long last, the new Council Administration has seen sense over the rationalisation of the school estate. It's taken 5-months ... but I do very much welcome the change of approach.

Have a quick read at this short report - here - which is now going to next Monday's (19th November) Education Committee ... and then compare it with our earlier Council Executive motion of 19th June 2007, as contained within my earlier blog entry - here.

I'll say no more.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A majority for STV-PR

Interesting occurrence at the Scottish Green Party conference yesterday - I know it seems an unlikely statement :-)

Haven't seen any press coverage of it yet, but the Greens voted to support STV-PR for Scottish Parliament elections ... as long as there is an average of 5-members per constituency; which there almost certainly would be for any National scheme, as opposed to the Local scheme were the Ward numbers are 3 to 4 members.

This is a clear change in Scottish Green Party policy, and the interesting point is that it now means there is a definite majority in favour of STV-PR within the Scottish Parliament:
  • Scottish National Party 47
  • Scottish Liberal Democrats 16
  • Scottish Green Party 2

I make that 65 out of 129 :-))

Now, I know the voting system for Holyrood is a Westminster issue; but given the ruminations over the Gould Report, that could well change ... and even if it doesn't, why should the three Parties above not now move a motion to change the electoral system to match their Party policy?

It would certainly make a point.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Class size confusion

Appears to be continuing confusion over the SNP class-size pledge ... to be perfectly blunt, as far as I can make out, there's just NO WAY they are going to deliver what they said on this in their manifesto:

"Smaller class sizes in P1-P3
We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development."

... that's pretty unequivocal, but it's now being openly contradicted even by their Minister in charge of Education - i.e. see here. Why can't she just be straight and admit that the manifesto-pledge is now a busted-flush?

And I see that a bit of a smokescreen is being thrown up by some, claiming that other Parties had 'similar' pledges - well, to an extent that's true, but to be specific the Labour manifesto pledge was this:

We will agree, early in the new Parliament, a detailed plan to bring class sizes in Scottish schools below the OECD average and keep them there."

OECD average class-size for Primary Schools is 21.5, not 18 ... it's a pretty significant difference.

I do think the Opposition Party Leaders would do better to concentrate some political fire on this issue ... I get the sense that 1,000 Police Officers (whether old, new or re-cycled - never mind that the pledge was 'new resources' for 'new police officers'!) may well be found from somewhere before 2011; but I can't see ANY possibility of class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 being at 18 by 2011.

It was a truly undeliverable promise and needs to be exposed as such.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Edinburgh forward not back?

I see that those currently in charge of the City Council are continuing to look to the future with an ever-positive attitude that must continue to be hugely uplifting to all those looking to live and do business in Edinburgh - NOT :-(

I've gone over this territory so frequently - but for a quick summation, do have a look at this earlier entry and the links therein.

As I've said frequently before, a huge sum WAS taken out of reserves to settle the equal pay bill (and it was right to do so!) leaving the balance some £2.5million in the negative. That was replenished to the tune of nearly £3million in 2006/07 (the last year of the previous Administration) despite the huge budgetary pressures that were assailing the Council - much the same pressures that are assailing the Council now; a 70% increase in child-referrals leading to a £7.3million pressure being the most significant.

What else can I say - Labour controlled the Council for some 23-years; of course not everything was perfect, but I don't recall any of those years having a puerile, backward-looking, budgetary panic negatively affecting services for the vulnerable and the young.

It's taken the Libs and Nats less than 23-weeks to do just that.

Why can't they just get on and govern constructively, whilst trying to positively promote Edinburgh ... 'any' Administration that did that would have my moral support.

Glasgow wins race for 2014 Games

Just heard - great news for Glasgow and the whole of Scotland.

... I'd better get that training programme moved up a gear pronto :-)

Actually - just realised that junior will be 16-and-a-half ... wonder if he'll be old enough to compete??

Go on Glasgow!

As someone who originates from the West Coast, I really do hope that Glasgow wins the 2014 Commonwealth Games this afternoon ...

... would all make for a fantastic two-summers of sport with the Olympics in London in 2012 :-)

... not to mention the huge boost it could bring to an area of Scotland that would undoubtedly benefit from emulating Manchester's 2002 success.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Parents evening and a missed meeting ...

Juniors Parents' Evening tonight - all went well - but unfortunately meant that I missed the second South West Neighbourhood Partnership meeting which was also taking place this evening.

Mind you - much as I love evening Council meetings, I do know which event was more important to attend tonight!

The end of local autonomy?

I've outlined my serious worries before about the potential problems on the horizon, as regards local government finance and the "Central/Local" relationship - see here, here and here.

Well, I guess D-Day in this regard is now on the horizon with the Scottish Budget about to be set next week and, I have to say, I'm increasingly convinced that we are about to see a bit of an emasculation of local government powers ... it will, undoubtedly, be branded as a "Council Tax freeze" but in reality what we may well be about to witness is the virtual elimination of local councils' ability to decide their own levels of revenue, which is weak enough at the moment as it is.

All rather ironic from a Parliament that is currently decrying its own lack of powers and, in particular, its lack of revenue-raising autonomy ... that same Parliament could be about to remove all fiscal autonomy from Scottish local government.

Devolution of power - don't make me laugh :-(

... and so much for "parity of esteem" :-((

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Parking woes

Increasingly difficult parking woes have formed a hefty part of my mail-bag in recent weeks ... unfortunately for me, the area of contention is right outside my front door :-(

Regular Council watchers will know that Shandon (where I live) was originally to be zone S5 of the recently extended CPZ - general details here - and specific details about the removal of S5 can be found in this report here.

Well, after a huge number (nearly 2,000 if memory serves me correctly?) of objections to the original traffic order, S5 was removed from the scheme. To be perfectly honest, hindsight should have many of us reflecting on whether that was the right long-term decision? Result today is a lot of pretty indiscriminate parking in parts of Shandon, which is now 'just outside' the new zone.

There is, undoubtedly, a particular problem around Craiglockhart Primary School and the surrounding streets with a serious local worry over child safety being foremost in many residents minds - including myself, as my own son attends that very school!

So, today a whole array of officers (Police, Fire and Council) - who have all been extremely helpful - did a bit of a walking-tour with me around the area and further remedial measures have now been agreed: corner double-yellows, access protection markings, and give-way markings etc.

I do hope these measures will alleviate some of the safety issues, but I'm not so optimistic that the general parking pressures in the local area can be so readily resolved. That, more longer-term solution, may well come at the 6-month review period for the whole scheme ... not now far away, around January/February 2008.

Recruitment training earlier today

Yes, surprising I know, but Councillors do occasionally receive some training ;-)

Attended a short-session on current Council recruitment procedures earlier today - and despite being personally CIPD qualified I did find it very useful as a reminder of the up-to-date legal framework and current best practice.

Mind you, not at all sure how much I'll get to use this new-found knowledge in my current exalted position :-(

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Spooks ...

No, not of the Halloween-type, but the BBC TV Drama ... as friends know, I'm not that much of a TV-person but am somewhat addicted to the Spooks series :-(

... don't always catch it, but have managed to rush home tonight and will actually see this evening's episode.

I know it's only a placebo for my ER-addiction :-)

School leaving age ...

The "Education and Skills Bill" announced in today's Queen's Speech at Westminster has had quite a bit of trailing over the past few days.

I'm convinced it's a very positive move and do feel that when it's considered in an historic context, it really is nothing that extraordinary:

1870: First compulsory school for younger children
1880: Attendance enforced for 5-10 year olds
1899: Leaving age raised to 12
1918: Full-time education compulsory up to 14
1944: Education Act raises leaving age to 15
1964: Raising of school leaving age to 16 announced, but not in place until 1972
2007: Raising of school leaving age to 18 announced, but not in place until 2015

What I do find worthy of note, is that I think it's probably the first significant and progressive step for Education since devolution that is NOT going to apply to Scotland.

I'm not complaining - that's devolution, which I remain an ardent supporter of. That said, I can't help but reflect that Labour's local Edinburgh manifesto had the following commitment:

"Make sure every young person leaving school is qualified to go straight into work, or into training, or into more education. We don’t want anyone left aside."

... and Labour Scottish manifesto had this commitment:

"We will make leaving school at 16 and 17 conditional on a young person staying meaningfully engaged in higher or further education, skills training, or full time volunteering."

In a sense, it's too early to say if this will be another policy-divergence as the purely 'England and Wales' change announced today won't come into full force until 2015 ... but even if Scotland 'catches up' it is the first time since 1999 that I've felt that we, North of the Border, may have some catching up to do at all.

To date, post the 1999 devolution settlement, I've felt that the most progressive changes to social and educational policy have happened right here in Scotland - no longer I'm afraid.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Unlocking Democracy?

Didn't really get much of a rest today, after the frantic weekend ... still the usual swirl of 'truly gripping' meetings to attend :-(

... anyhow, putting truly gripping meetings to one side - I forgot to mention that I did go to at least one good meeting last Tuesday evening! Unlock Democracy (Charter88/NPN), of which I've been an active member for longer than I care to remember, had its Scotland AGM and there was a refreshingly non-Party political discussion about the ongoing trajectory of constitutional reform at the wider UK-level ... and not just a fixation with all-things Scottish.

There was a particularly interesting thread of discussion around the devolution (or lack of it!) of power to Local Councils ... and by coincidence the Local Government Association in England was trumpeting a report on this very issue a couple of days later - see the BBC coverage here.

In essence, a pretty senior cross-Party group down South is calling for a genuine devolution of power from Whitehall to local government. 'The Chamberlain Group' says councils should have greater financial freedom and have their constitutional role monitored and protected by Parliament. This would reinvigorate democracy and boost political engagement, it says.

Of course, this all applies to England and Wales and I have to say that I'm unaware of any such serious thought being given to 'further devolution' to the local authority level in Scotland?

Obviously, the report has come out just days before the Queen's Speech and the publication of a Constitutional Reform Bill. It sets out 10 principles including letting councils make more decisions about finance and local tax revenue. It suggests central government should accept the need for less ring-fencing of grants (to be fair, the rumour-mill indicates this may be about to happen in Scotland?) so councils can spend according to local people's priorities.

The report is the result of two years' work by the Chamberlain Group, named after the pioneering Victorian Mayor Joseph Chamberlain.

Former Labour local government minister Nick Raynsford said: "To counter public cynicism about political institutions and low levels of turnout in elections, we have to find new ways to engage citizens in the political process. More devolution of power and the active involvement of local communities in decision-making are essential if we are to rebuild confidence in our democracy locally and nationally." Former Conservative local government minister David Curry said government closest to the people was always left out in debates about constitutional change.

I think there's a possible hint in all of this on just how devolution (from the UK-perspective) may be about to develop ... I do wonder if Scotland's unionist parties (I've bemoaned the new Scottish Government's approach to this already) are paying enough attention to the detail of this debate?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Guy Fawkes weekend

Back in Edinburgh after an exhausting "Guy Fawkes weekend" of child-centred activities in the North West of England - I must be getting old :-(

I should first report that the train travel all went remarkably smoothly, with everything running on time and no engineering works to be seen anywhere. Amazing.

Here's a flavour of what we got up to, so you can appreciate (if not sympathise!) with my state of exhaustion:

Of course, this is not to mention the inescapable socialising that occurs when you haven't seen friends for a while - especially after said-children are all safely asleep :-)

Back to work tomorrow for a rest :-))

Friday, November 02, 2007

Canal crisis ...

Before jumping on the train to sunny North West England, have just been on a brief (but formal) site visit to the Canal [at Ogilvie Terrace] by the Council's Regulatory Committee.

Bit of a local issue bubbling away re- the application for a traders license (food) at the canal edge ... I have to say, I've been assuaged by a very large number of objectors and a smaller number of supporters.

On balance, I think the majority have it right this time ... Council-watchers will know that I'm not one for automatically going with the majority - often to my cost! ... but do feel strongly that the location is just not appropriate in this instance.

The application now goes, for final decision, to the Regulatory Committee Meeting in a couple of weeks. Watch this space ...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Heading South ...

We're off down 'Manchester-way' this weekend - visiting some old friends - so blogging may be a bit light :-(

... doing the whole trip by train - bit of a trial-run as we're actually on the verge of selling the infamous Citroen Saxo :-((

Not been car-less as a family for some 8 or 9 years, so it may all go horribly wrong?

Soon find out ...

League Cup voting scandal

Rumour has it that Ron Gould has been called in by Dundee United to report urgently into the CIS League Cup voting scandal :-))

... personally, I think the guy in the middle of this picture should be given the job of running Scotland - the other two can't draw four-balls out of a bag properly :-(