Saturday, December 29, 2007
Off up to the Cairngorms for a few days now - staying at the Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel (no jokes about age please!) and hoping to get a bit of walking and 'reindeer-spotting' completed :-)
Hoping for conditions similar to last year's epic winter expedition :-))
Friday, December 21, 2007
... how will you cope??
If any constituents, colleagues or other contacts really do need to speak to me then the mobile would be the surest way to track me down ... or chap the flat door if you're local and I may even offer you a drink :-)
Hope everyone has a great Christmas!
Every one of them deserves a medal this year - no, not for putting up with us! ... although; come to think about it :-)) ... but for coping so magnificently with a very intense period of change since May.
And I'm not just referring to the move from Administration to Opposition, but the under-noted story of the move to STV-PR (of which I'm still an ardent supporter!) has been the very significant increase in workload at a Ward level for each elected Member ... and every staff member in Edinburgh has three Councillors to support!
It's been a big transition for all staff concerned ... and they've coped wonderfully ... just couldn't do our job without them!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Do have a look at paragraphs 4.2 and 5.2 in the "National and Regional Sports Facilities - Progress Report" ... I read them as basically indicating that if no land-sale goes ahead then the money has to come from somewhere else in the existing Capital Budget?
In essence that means no money for any other capital projects - now, that's what I call a pretty serious pre-emption of the overall Capital Budget :-(
... or are they thinking of selling-off some other assets - surely they're not about to do exactly what we suggested straight after the election?
If they do, just what has all the budgetary panic of the last 6-months been for??
... and, unfortunately, there was indeed a general theme of 'update', 'work in progress', 'ongoing priority' to a lot of the debates with nothing of huge significance actually being decided. There is, frankly, a distinct lack of 'politics' becoming apparent at many of these monthly meetings ... everything is process, procedure or detail - because nothing hugely 'political' is being tackled by the Administration.
Just about the only thing that was irrevocably decided was the removal of the Biomass heating systems from 5 Secondary Schools and 2 Primary Schools ... I do feel the Administration has been "led" on this one and the local advice they've accepted means the absolute end of any such Biomass carbon-neutral heating systems for Edinburgh schools. Yet another example of 'official-capture'.
Did nobody from the Administration think to ask (or even wonder?) why this new technology was being requested for removal from the contract at the absolute last procedural minute??
It's a real travesty as much of the 'supposed' research they've taken this decision on is inconclusive, incomplete and unverified. They admitted as much.
Contrast that to the national March 2007 Biomass Action Plan (it's a very comprehensive document) which makes it very clear "that biomass can fulfil its potential as a clean, green fuel, providing Scotland with cheap, clean and convenient heat and power."
Well, except in Edinburgh that is ...
The contract COULD have gone ahead as decided back in March - none of the Biomass heating systems would have been operational until 2009 ... plenty of time to rectify any emission concerns.
Instead we've all but pulled-the-plug on the whole innovation ... exactly what numerous, vested interests wanted to do prior to the initial contract close in March.
Strange that :-((
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Well, the measures to help with the numerous safety concerns have now all been implemented: corner double-yellows, access protection markings, and give-way markings etc.
It's actually been a refreshing case of pretty quick action by all concerned and I do believe these measures will alleviate the immediate safety problems of some fairly dangerous parking on corners.
... but, yes you've guessed it, I'm now receiving a reasonable amount of mail complaining about the new Double Yellows in particular!
Classic case of damned-if-you-do; damned-if-you-don't :-(
I do actually accept that the general parking pressures in the local area can't be so easily resolved - that's going to flow out of any 6-month review for the whole, extended Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) ... which is now right up to the edge of Shandon.
I really don't have a fixed view on any particular longer-term solution/s ... but one thing I am definitely 'fixed' on, is ensuring that the review happens as quickly as possible - some of my neighbours might start talking to me again thereafter :-((
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
... add to that, the incumbent Tory Leader being a stately 41 and you can surely be left in no doubt whatsoever about the the current hold that 'image' has over 'substance' in national politics.
Come back "Vicious Vince" - all is forgiven :-))
Monday, December 17, 2007
I've had previous rants about their potential mis-use of Council publications - here, here and here - well, on the further evidence now on my desk, I think THEY ARE BLATANTLY mis-using Council publications for political publicity.
The latest edition of "Involve" (the Health and Social Care Department internal staff magazine) is just out and contains no fewer than EIGHT pictures of Administration politicians ... 3 pictures of our Council Leader; 2 pictures of the Convener of Health and Social Care; 2 pictures of the Lord Provost; and even 1 picture of the Convener of Education, Children and Families! All Liberals, of course.
This is the same magazine that ran 6 pictures of a single politician (also a Liberal) just a few months ago ... told you; no shame :-(
And I've also now got the latest edition of City News on my desk - last one had a picture of the Council Leader in it remember - and this one has a picture of the Lord Provost in it! Both Liberals. Oh, and by the way, the 'Smart Times' four-page pull-out is actually IN this edition ... still no explanation about it's absence in the last edition??
As I've said before, all of these publications are approved by Councillors before going to print ... and, I have to say, I have not seen the same blatant mis-use of Council publications by the local Nats.
In Departments, or arms-length bodies, were they have the Convener-ship there has been the perfectly acceptable use of a single picture with some introductory text, or the like. But not the use of EIGHT pictures of Nationalist politicians in one publication.
Now, as you can possibly tell, I'm so hacked off with the Liberal-lot over this that I've lodged a formal complaint with the Chief Executive ... I doubt if it will get me anywhere, but in the spirit of the season I'll repeat a version of my earlier challenge/s:
... if anyone can find me an internal, Departmental Council publication from between May 1999 and May 2007 with EIGHT or more pictures of the then Administration politicians, I will not only donate £500 to the charity of choice of the current Lord Provost, but I'll also promise never to raise another point-of-order with him at Full Council meetings prior to the next Local Government elections!
- I'm that confident of success :-))
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Trams, elections, sports facilities, Pathfinder, schools ... to mention but the obvious! Seems to be more on this one months' agenda than has been processed in the whole of the last 6-months :-(
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Haven't been to visit yet, but the new arrival is already causing great excitement amongst close family and friends ... should all make for an even more uncontrollably chaotic, and enjoyable, Christmas as that side of the family are all coming to the flat on the 25th :-))
Friday, December 14, 2007
... and tonight sees the main Labour Group Xmas party in the City Chambers.
On a slightly smaller scale this year - no gloating, thank you! - but should be a bit more relaxed and informal than usual hopefully :-))
Thursday, December 13, 2007
In fact, as far as I'm concerned, any credibility they had left (and that wasn't much!) on green issues has now been shot to pieces.
I hear on the grapevine that they are about to announce that the second round of school-building programme, which was approved in March with all-Party support, is to have the 'biomass heating systems' removed from the contract. 7 of the 8 schools involved were to have had this innovative, and totally carbon-neutral, heating system. The eighth, Tynecastle High School, is to be heated by a nearby distillery!
Taking biomass heating out of the other 7 schools is total madness. Edinburgh is signed up (again with all-Party support) to be a 'zero-carbon City' by 2050, and here is what our current Convener of Education said just a few days ago (when speaking about Tynecastle):
"The City of Edinburgh Council have a commitment to sustainability" ... really??
Biomass is already used in the new Council Care Homes, and Queen Margaret University had it installed in their new campus - to great acclaim. The Schools in Edinburgh were to have sourced their wood-based biomass material from the Lothians (Dalkeith to be precise), so pretty damned local!
Now prepare yourself for some hypocrisy on a grand scale ...
Here's what the Libs local manifesto said earlier this year:
"Liberal Democrats want to create a greener, cleaner city, where good environmental practice is at the core of all policy and practice, and where resources are protected for future generations."
How does scrapping a carbon-neutral heating system for 5 High Schools and 2 Primary Schools square with that statement??
... and for good measure, here's what the Nats local manifesto said:
"An SNP administration is committed to making Edinburgh an environmentally sustainable city. We will be an administration that would lead by example by making council offices and services as energy efficient as possible. Our city's environment must be protected for future generations."
Quite obviously all of this was complete, and total, 'greenwash' and wasn't worth the paper it was printed on :-((
Each and every Lib-Dem and Nationalist Councillor in Edinburgh should truly be ashamed if this decision goes ahead. Weren't they being serious when they said that our environment had to be "protected for future generations"?
Shame on them all.
To be fair, a 'working group' is to be set up to look at the issue ... but "no change yet" was the clear message.
This new 'working group' is to report for 2009, which to me (and I hope I'm wrong) means the earliest that any substantive change "could" happen is from the 2010/2011 financial year onwards.
Another missed opportunity to properly recognise the very real 'Capital City financial pressures' which are increasingly falling on Edinburgh.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Yesterday, in my favourite local newspaper, our esteemed Convener of Finance at the Council penned a short article on local government finance. Frankly, I've not read such inconsistent twaddle for a long time ... my 10-year old could string together a more coherent argument.
Said Convener's argument went something like this:
- Edinburgh is a great place - no question about it
- as Capital City it has particular status and importance
- I won't trouble you with who ran this city for over two-decades
- whoever it was, they clearly had absolutely no part whatsoever in making Edinburgh successful
- by the way, the Council is about to set it's 2008/09 budget
- lots of people and organisations are going to be disappointed
- why, because we have a dire financial crisis which has Edinburgh on the verge of economic meltdown
- I WILL tell you who's responsible for that and it's NOT me
- it was the previous, evil administration who ran the city (but had nothing to do with its success) and I'm going to blame all the difficult decisions I have to take on them
- I'm taking no responsibility whatsoever for those decisions
- despite saying I want to look to the future, I'm actually going to keep constantly carping on about the past
- but still, Edinburgh is a great place - no question about it
- I'm taking Edinburgh forward not back
- Aren't I ??
Appalling stuff, truly appalling.
I know you'll be tired of me banging on about Council finances, sorry, but lies about the past simply annoy me ... so 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 Council balances 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. And the Council tax rise that then Opposition parties suggested was only just above our own rise - it would have raised a negligibly greater amount.
I do feel compelled to repeat ... 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 has taken the Libs and Nats less than 23-weeks to do just that - they are choosing NOT to protect services for the vulnerable and the young, it's a clear political choice which they will try desperately to take no responsibility for ... just read that appalling article again.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
... and, up until this week, I actually thought our First Minister was also doing the right thing by not commenting on the whole saga - okay, he was leaving the dirty work to his Deputy but all is fair in love, war and politics :-(
But after last Thursday's debate in Parliament - when, I think, it's commonly accepted that the Nats did actually lose the debate, not just the vote - the First Minister couldn't help himself and waded in with a call for resignations. Personally, I think that was a serious mistake - frankly, he should just have left the dirty work to his Deputy and kept the office of First Minister above such machinations.
... and guess what, his intervention has now stoked a furious debate about his own probity regarding use of ministerial cars and meetings with certain businessmen. Not surprisingly, the Scottish Sun really waded in yesterday.
Who's the winner then in this increasingly bitter row about personal probity - well, not politics that's for sure :-((
A plague on all our houses - not good, not good at all.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Now, I'm fairly certain that asked what the major threat facing planet earth was in the next 100-years, most folk today would say 'global warming' ... would welcome any evidence to back up that admitted 'assertion' :-) ... and there does appear to be an increasing acceptance that population growth is playing a significant part in all of this. Just cast your mind back to that recent GEO4 United Nations report!
I'm left wondering if organisations like the BBC just reflect our 'collective schizophrenia' over this issue - one day saying 'massive population growth is going to be the environmental death of us all'; the next saying that 'mild population decline will be the economic death of us all' ...
I don't doubt that 'extremes' at either end of the scale would be catastrophic (for humans), but it does seem pretty clear to me that we're nowhere near population collapse as a human race, but instead increasingly moving towards 'resource exhaustion' in a potential 'tragedy of the commons' on a global scale.
... and as Garrett Hardin recognised full well, nearly 40 years ago now, such "common resources require management".
Problem is, when he recognised it (in 1968) the world population was some 3billion and it's now more than doubled to 6.5billion ... and in another 40-years it will be very close to some 9billion.
Puts the 'mild decline' of Scotland's population into perspective ... does it not?
... on the front-page there is a trailer for a "Four Page, Smart Times, Pull-Out, pages 7-10", yet pages 7-10 seem to be missing from every single copy of the publication that I (and others) have come across?
Can anyone help solve the mystery? Four pages missing from a magazine that goes to around 20,000 staff - not a cheap error, if error there has been??
Sunday, December 09, 2007
... just a bit of a weekend break from the day-to-day maelstrom, and we had a really relaxing time. Stayed near the Byres Road (pictured here!), and didn't really venture into the city centre much at all ... decent shops, pubs and food all within reasonable walking distance :-))
Friday, December 07, 2007
Interesting to see that both articles have generated a large number of the usual suspects commenting ... but from my quick scan, no one seems to pick up the issue of arguably, both the National Conversation and the Scottish Constitutional Commission being (primarily) orchestrated by political elites??
I do believe a truly 'Citizen-led' Convention is possible ... and British Columbia proves it has been done elsewhere.
And, indeed, my attention has been helpfully drawn to an existing 'Constitutional Commission' right here in Scotland which is attempting to take a citizen-led approach ...
... in my opinion, all of these current initiatives/proposals could be given a huge boost by the passing of a Citizens' Convention Bill through Holyrood, which would give Parliamentary approval to the setting up of a Citizen-led Convention and would thereafter be impossible to ignore.
None of this is rocket-science, any such Bill (of only 2 clauses) would simply need to read thus:
Scottish Citizens’ Convention Bill (Draft)
1. Scottish Citizens’ Convention
(1) For the purposes of:
(a) modernising the way in which Scotland is governed; and
(b) involving the citizens of Scotland in that process
the Scottish Parliament must within 12 months establish a Scottish Citizens’ Convention.
(2) Before establishing the Scottish Citizens’ Convention the Scottish Parliament must consult citizens of Scotland and without prejudice to the generality this must include community organisations, organisations that have an interest in the governance of Scotland, organisations that have an interest in the environment, business organisations, trade unions and the voluntary sector, regarding the way in which the Convention shall be set up and shall discharge its functions.
(3) In particular the Scottish Parliament must take all reasonable steps to ensure that persons from the most under-represented, disadvantaged and disengaged sections of society are involved in the Convention.
(4) The Convention shall include meetings and other mechanisms to involve citizens in all parts of Scotland.
2. Implementation of recommendations by the Scottish Citizens’ Convention
(1) It shall be the duty of the Scottish Citizens’ Convention to make recommendations to achieve the purposes specified in section 1.
(2) The Scottish Parliament must co-operate with the Convention in deciding upon the implementation of the recommendations made by the Convention.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
I'm pleased to say, given the marked success of this initiative, that the Group decided to continue meeting under another guise ... next gathering sometime in March 2008.
A really good, and unfortunately all too rare, example of joined-up working :-)
... and, personally, I think it's almost inevitable that Party funding is going to overshadow any debate on the 'next constitutional steps' for Scotland. I know ... that's politics ... and I'm not complaining. But, it is pretty certain that on the morning that the constitutional future of Scotland will get significant debating time in the Chamber it will get less than significant time in the press.
Not good ... because, for me, there is a very important point behind almost all of the current 'Political' debate about the future of the constitution - and it is: "who develops and decides?".
All the current models of progress on offer centre around 'elites' developing a scheme - whether it's the National Conversation or the proposed Scottish Constitutional Commission.
I accept that the former could lead to a referendum, but it will be a referendum to decide on a scheme developed by Politicians and Civil Servants - much like 1997 in fact. And, I accept that the latter could be independently chaired and take evidence from others, but it would lead to a scheme of change being primarily proposed by Politicians - again, much like 1997.
There is another way - a way that, I believe, would lead to a more long-lasting acceptance of any settlement ... I'm not saying it would never, thereafter, change but that the model of development - once used - would be hard to ignore for future constitutional proposals.
It's called a Citizens' Convention, and it has been tried in other parts of the world - notably British Columbia in Canada. I'm not convinced that the 1980's-1990's Scottish Constitutional Convention was a true Citizens' Convention - it too was led by Politicians and elites, and not Citizens.
There's a very simple Citizens' Convention Bill gaining significant support in Westminster right now - it would be easy to amend the Bill to Scotland's needs and lodge it through Holyrood.
Problem is, the 'process of development and decision' LEAVES Politician's hands under this model ... maybe, just maybe, that's why so few Politicians are willing to promote it :-((
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Well, at a further public meeting on all of this this evening, there did appear to be some real progress on a solution that will now be put out to all the owner-occupiers and Council tenants for consideration.
The question of cost is always contentious for owner-occupiers, but there is no doubt that the door entry fitted to the Westfield Court 'Banana Flats' a few years ago has made a significant difference to the security issues they were facing.
I'm sure the same level of improvement would happen at Moat and Hutchison House, with the subsequent improvement in property values ... unfortunately, not something that's easy to scientifically prove.
What's bizarre about it is that there was no report on the agenda, it just came up in general discussion that this cutback was being considered and - quite obviously from the feedback on the meeting - there's been no dialogue whatsoever between the two Coalition partners (Libs/Nats) about the subject matter.
It is indeed yet another, classic example of an ill-considered proposal being 'launched' into the public domain with no thought being given to the likely reaction ... well, not 'likely' almost 'certain' reaction :-(
It does appear to me that the Libs and Nats locally are still operating as two entirely different entities - technically, I know they are - but they are supposed to be in a Coalition that's running Scotland's Capital City and having these constant public, disagreements is doing no one in Edinburgh any good.
Worse still, on the actual subject matter, I heard just today that some Primary Schools (Currie was mentioned to me specifically) have recently seen a real renaissance in the uptake of cooked, school meals.
Now, the on-site production of these meals always helps, but apparently Currie have jumped from just over 100 meals per week being provided, to just short of 500 per week - a truly incredible improvement.
Perfect timing from the Lib/Nat partners to consider removing the Friday afternoon hot meal, wouldn't you say :-((
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Hopefully the quoted "further review of the communications service budget" will also lay down some clear guidelines about the mis-use of Council publications for political publicity?
... bloody hell, that last paragraph sounded just like a pre-May, Liberal motion to Full Council :-((
In particular though, the Liberals constantly banged on about Outlook (the 'external' magazine that goes to every door in Edinburgh) and City News (the 'internal' magazine that goes to every staff member at the Council) arguing - quite rightly in my view - that neither of these publications should be used as promotional vehicles for Party politicians. We never did such.
... so what has now landed on my desk - you guessed it, a copy of the latest edition of City News with a two-page spread about the stunning Location, Location, Location competition victory featuring a large picture of our esteemed Council Leader, who happens to be a Party politician :-((
Now, I know from previous experience that 'politicians' sign-off this magazine, so there really can be no excuse. And, Council photographers always take pictures "with" and "without" politicians at such occasions, knowing that they will need some "without" ... and if it wasn't a Council photographer, then the sign-off process (by politicians) should have removed this particular photo.
All in all, it's just not cricket! - of course, being a fair-minded chap, I'll repeat a version of my earlier August challenge:
... if anyone can find me such a picture of Donald Anderson or Ewan Aitken in City News then I'll donate £100 to the charity of choice of the current Council Leader.
Monday, December 03, 2007
... five and a half years in that particular 'front-line' was enough for anyone :-(
... but, more seriously, I don't think politicians should bang on about issues that relate to a previous portfolio they may have held when they no longer have any responsibility for it; shadow or otherwise.
BUT - I'm going to break my rule on this occasion, because I feel the Council is about to make an error over the carriage of bikes on trams ... or should I say, the 'banning' of bikes from trams?
I hear on the grapevine that Spokes, the Edinburgh cycling campaign, are being told that the carriage of bikes on trams is unlikely but that the possibility is not being ruled out indefinitely. And you "would" think this was the case, given that Green Party Councillor Maggie Chapman's motion on this was passed at the October Council meeting - it read thus:
I supported Maggie's motion in October, and was pleased it was passed by the Council ... but has this clear Council decision reached those who are planning the detail of the tram implementation? ... is the internal layout of the tram vehicles being designed to allow the possibility of bike carriage??
I do think the current Convener of Transport should come clean and just make an unequivocal statement on all of this ... I'm receiving some very contradictory messages from different quarters, and it's one role of good leadership to ensure that doesn't happen.
Will bikes be allowed on trams, off-peak, yes or no?
It's the first time I've been on this Committee, since going on the Council in 1999 ... and, interestingly, there has been a bit more of an external-focus on the work it does since the electoral "trials and tribulations" of May 3rd!
Sunday, December 02, 2007
... made the rash-decision to stage it in the flat - which, remarkably, remained in one piece throughout the afternoon :-))
The boys decided to have a "Beyblade" theme this year, and there was great excitement at the ensuing "BBA Tournament" (don't ask me?) ... a good time had by all.