Friday, February 29, 2008
Well, the rotavator investigation is not only complete but I've gone ahead and hired one for this weekend in what will probably be a disastrous attempt to try and 'turn over' the whole site in a couple of days :-(
I've never used one of these things before, so if blogging suddenly stops after today, you'll know I've had some terrible accident and can no longer type :-((
... probably shouldn't joke!
... so, I think I'll just keep a diplomatic silence and let you make up your own mind?
Again, no gossip here I'm afraid ... but hopefully an update report (which would be public) may be at the next meeting of the Education Committee?
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Personally, I'm sympathetic to his plight - he has apologised very promptly for any offence caused - and many of his colleagues have quickly jumped to his defence, whilst acknowledging that the words used weren't perhaps the 'most' appropriate :-(
That should be the end of it.
... tell you what though, I'll be waiting for an an equally gracious attitude when next (it will happen!) an Opposition MSP says something ever-so-slightly outrageous.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Scintillating stuff I hear you say - well, you may just have a point ... us political anoraks tend to get pretty worked up about all of this, but personally I'm not at all convinced that ordinary mortals are too worried about which Ward, Constituency or Region they reside within?
Decent local services are more likely to feature as being of importance, rather than which exact polling district they live in ;-)
All that said, I'm in a state of personal crisis as the street were I live (Cowan Road) is about to be lobbed into Edinburgh South and I could end up with a Liberal-Democrat as my MSP :-(
... unless he lost the 2011 Holyrood election of course??
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
... enjoyable evening, with a good mix of civic and party activists present - sure I spotted the odd fellow renegade blogger, but didn't (unfortunately) get the chance to swap notes ;-)
It is a pretty long report - full version can be accessed here - but well worth a read, and the conclusions from the extensive analysis are very clear:
- STV has produced much more representative councils than would have been elected under the former First-Past-The-Post system
- parties appear to have adapted well to the new system, although we expect that parties will develop their techniques as they gain experience of STV campaigning
- voter understanding of the system appears to have been generally good, with a relatively low level of spoilt ballot papers (unlike the Scottish Parliament election held on the same day)
- most votes mattered, in the sense that they contributed to the election of a councillor
... just a pity about that damned result in Edinburgh :-((
... fast-forward a few days and just this morning the Policy and Strategy Committee meets, and our esteemed Council Leader approves the minute from last months meeting - see here.
Go on ... follow that link, you know you want to ... read Item 5, on Page 3, concerning the Annual Performance Report for 2006-07, which clearly states that "the report described how well the Council was performing in terms of its financial management arrangements, provision of local services and strategic initiatives and objectives."
Minute duly AGREED by the Council Leader, who must have had a temporary bout of amnesia and momentarily forgotten who was in charge in 2006/07?
And politicians wonder why nobody believes a word they say :-((
I mentioned the Lib-Dem/SNP approved '10p rise in school meals' a few days ago ... well, it finally seems to have attracted a bit of press attention.
That 10p increase represents:
- over a full 6% rise for Primary School meals
- a near 5% rise for Secondary School meals
And it really does seem to me that such inflation-busting increases are completely at odds with efforts to promote and encourage healthy eating.
Sadly, given the opaqueness of last weeks three-year budget, I expect a lot more of this to come :-((
Monday, February 25, 2008
NO - not the equally mythical 2007/08 budget, whose year-end figures aren't yet available and which has been under the control of the new regime.
BUT - the 2008/09 budget which was set just last Thursday. Transpires that the Lib-Dem/SNP three-year budget they set last week does balance in that first year - 2008/09.
It doesn't in 2009/10 or 2010/11 - well, technically they have balanced it ... but here's how:
- 2009/10 - Children and Families Department - remaining savings target still to be identified = £5,421,000
- 2009/10 - Health and Social Care Department - remaining savings target still to be identified = £3,170,000
- 2010/11 - Children and Families Department - remaining savings target still to be identified = £11,052,000
- 2010/11 - Health and Social Care Department - remaining savings target still to be identified = £5,081,000
That's just short of £25MILLION worth of savings (yet to be identified) to make the books balance in years 2 and 3 of this budget. Now THAT is what I call a real BLACK HOLE.
I think this type of stunt is sometimes called creative accountancy.
... and before you ask, we presented a balanced budget for a full three-years last Thursday with all savings identified.
In the new spirit of openness and transparency that pervades Edinburgh politics, I think we should be told just what services are to be cut to make the books balance in years 2 and 3?
It's all budgeted for after all - just not identified??
Shocking! - see here for the details.
I quote: "The figures will fuel the debate over the impact of road tolls on congestion, suggesting that charges do discourage drivers from using their cars. They also suggest that experts who told the Government last August that scrapping the tolls would worsen traffic congestion were correct."
Never mind - they may just have to be re-introduced to pay for that rather expensive second road-bridge ... which even makes Edinburgh Trams seem cheap ... unless the fabled Scottish Futures Trust can magic up over £4billion?
Choices, choices ...
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
... you have to admit that its not looking that good at the moment - but you just never know with the Scottish Rugby Team!
- of course, within Edinburgh Labour there will be NO JOKES ALLOWED that contain either of the phrases: "unbearable pain in the neck" or "cant think straight" :-))
On a more serious note - we missed him during the Budget debate on Thursday, and I think it showed.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
- "Council finances are now back onto a stable course" - Councillor Dawe, Council Leader
- "We now have the budget under control" - Councillor MacLaren, Convener of Education
So everything will be perfect from now on - its a Bright New Future for Edinburgh :-((
And personally, I think it's all very bad for the long-term future of the city - only time will tell whether that assessment is correct.
In the short-term though, it is a pretty poor settlement for local schools and young people in Edinburgh:
- every Primary and Secondary school in Edinburgh is being forced to take a 1.5%-2.0% budget cut
- this basically amounts to at least a £10,000 reduction per average Primary School
- at least a £10,000 reduction per average Special School
- and at least a £50,000 reduction per average Secondary School
- and to make things worse all school meals are being increased by 10p from August
- in addition, the Council's 'Youth Services' are being slashed by £357,000
- and 'Community Learning and Development' is being cut by by the full-year equivalent of £850,000
These so-called 'budget re-alignments', will result in the loss of much-needed local services for young people in both schools and the wider community.
For me, there is just no doubt these service cuts will have a serious and negative impact on young people and families throughout Edinburgh.
Not a good day.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
... lot of concern expressed about initial proposals to composite a P2/3 class from this coming August.
I sense that there's quite a bit of debate to be had, before any final decision is taken on this issue in June!
... and how they may impact on Community and Adult Education services.
All made me think back to a hustings I spoke at in March 2007 ...
... so much for consensus now on Adult Education :-((
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
It has been an entirely different experience constructing a coherent alternative, as opposed to what's actually going to be implemented ... unless of course comrade Cardownie re-defects ;-) ... but the one thing that hasn't changed is the quality of professional, officer input we've had ...
... I've even over-heard some of my colleagues joke that the advice has been better this year than for many a year - at least I think they were joking ;-))
Monday, February 18, 2008
... lively, and frank, discussion and debate - very much enjoyed the evening!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
... quite disturbing story-line, but definitely worth going to see and certainly a play that will stick in your memory.
Its in Edinburgh this coming week - at the Kings Theatre - and I simply can't recommend it highly enough.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
... including major decisions on the structure of the Council's largest Department within the overall budget decision is an absolute abuse of process. Its a democratic disgrace.
I, for one, will be requesting (forcefully but diplomatically) that the Lord Provost takes these items separately (and BEFORE the budget decisions) at the meeting on Thursday.
To do otherwise would speak volumes about how serious the new Administration is when it comes to allowing due and proper scrutiny of decisions ...
Friday, February 15, 2008
Basically, the budget (main agenda here) can be summed up as "if its not statutory, its not necessary".
'No added-value services here' - truly shocking ...
I appreciate I've gone on about Council financial issues at length - I won't repeat the whole debate here, but do have a look at this earlier post for a summation of the arguments - but things appear even worse now for next year:
- £833,000 being wiped-out of Community Learning and Development - an area that's not, of itself, overspending. Tell me where the financial rationale is there? ... answer: there isn't one - its a political choice to decimate that service
- school budgets being cut by a significant sum
- Sure Start budget being completely decimated
- Home Help service being slashed with some service being stopped completely
- Nursery Places being further reduced
- the list goes on and on ...
And its true, the Council DOESN'T HAVE to do provide any of the things that are being cut ... but remind me again what it is that assists Edinburgh to come near the top (if not top!) of most polls along the lines of 'Best Place to live in Britain?' - yes, "quality of life".
Well, for me at least, things like:
- Community Development
- Sure Start
- Home Help
... ARE all about "quality of life".
Next week, when the budget is actually set, you'll hear lots about 'all the woes of the world being down to the evil-empire who ran the City so appallingly for 23-years' - when all those awards were won?? - and 'how there is now no choice but to cut services'. Well - that's quite simply rubbish.
This is all about political choice; do remember:
- the Council's overall, combined annual revenue and capital budget is over £1billion
- the Council owns over £2billion of fixed assets
And - very unfortunately from my political perspective - the Council is now being run by politicians who don't want to prioritise services for those most in need.
The Council could be making a positive choice to support schools, promote the economy, and protect the vulnerable.
Its not going to make that choice, instead those in charge are choosing to cut non-statutory services and blame their predecessors.
Result? - mark my words - Edinburgh will be the loser.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
... "The Invincible Donovan University will offer conventional subjects and qualifications but with meditation to boost learning, culture, the arts and wellbeing."
Any suggestions for course-candidates??
Colin Hunter and Allan Jackson's comments in the article are a class-example of professional restraint :-)
... certainly put a smile on my face :-))
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
... really quite a day for Australia - yet it hardly seems to have registered in the mainstream UK media throughout the last 24-hours?
Maybe there will be more coverage tomorrow??
And if the CLD review process wasn't confusing enough ... what about the overall review of the wider Children and Families Department?
I've mentioned it all before here ... and if you look at the second-half of that 'question/answer' No.12 here ... you'll see that there is now to be a Special Meeting of the Education Committee on 15th April 2008 to agree the new Department Structure ... that's a full TWO MONTHS AFTER we'll have agreed same Depatment's budget??
And sorry for repeating this - but I happen to think its fairly important - just how can all of this be consistent with the extant Council Decision of the Education Committee Meeting on 30th October 2007 - have a look at Paragraph 8 of this minute ...
... again, for ease of reference, the above decision reads - "To approve the departmental review as detailed in the report subject to the outcomes report being submitted to the Education, Children and Families Committee ahead of the Council budget meeting." (my emphasis)
That's just not happening is it.
Surely the whole Departmental Review isn't procedurally flawed??
... literally a few days ago, in a written reply to a question I tabled, it was "confirmed" that the review outcomes would be going to the Full Council meeting on Thursday 21st February - see 'question/answer' No.12 here.
I was about to say one of the people who gave these answers is wrong - but they were both given by the same person :-((
It's a mess - from start to finish it's been clear the whole process would lead 'to a subsquent reduction in posts' - para. 3.15 of the September 2007 report openly admitted it - and that's a significant part of why we've constantly voted against this specific review. It's going to lead to service reductions - plain and simple.
There's a new campaign-site trying to galvanise efforts to put a stop to all of this - here - do pay it a visit ... it could be your local Community Centre that's affected.
... but whatever your view (and I'm wholly supportive of what he has done) surely you'd have to agree that this is a first-class example of just what a difference political choices can make?
Rudd's full statement can be heard here - it's well worth listening to.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I've discovered that the 'London Councils' report (erroneously cited as why biomass was being stopped in Edinburgh) on the use of biomass is now actually published - it does identify that biomass plants, if poorly run, can cause particulate emission problems ... but it also states that:
"A toolkit has been produced which provides a means of estimating the scale of air quality impact of wood fuelled biomass appliances of a wide range of sizes and chimney heights. Using the toolkit it should be possible to identify significant air quality impacts of biomass combustion and seek either through reduced emissions or higher chimneys to mitigate the impact."
Sounds like a good reason to pursue implementaiton of the national Biomass Action Plan - and it seems some sensible Liberal-Democrats agree ... see this motion. I'd hope that Mike Russell (the relevant Minister) will support this when the topic is debated in Parliament later this week.
... none of this will be happening imminently in Edinburgh though, as the contract to fit biomass systems in 5 secondary schools and 2 primary schools has been cancelled - by the Lib-Dem Leader of the Council :-(
Overhead line damage was blamed, but quite how getting a bus from York to Darlington should add over 3-hours to the journey is slightly beyond me.
Come back GNER ... all is forgiven.
Add to that, she's nearly 2-years old now and I'm sorely tempted to stick her on "e-bay China" ... have a look here ... prices have tripled ;-))
Now, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt just now - surely they wouldn't be stupid enough to try and repeat the stunt they pulled during the August school closure saga?? ... after all, that all went so well for them :-(
Monday, February 11, 2008
Youth issues pretty dominant and a distinct eagerness to ensure the follow-up meeting to the recent Problem Solving Partnership (PSP) happens fairly soon.
... no significant (public) progress on the Fruitmarket development to date, but still (quite rightly) intense local interest around how the whole project will unfold over the coming months.
... now nearly EIGHT times the cost of Edinburgh Trams; £4.2billion and counting - wonder just how that will be paid for??
... I'll take any odds that the Council Leader's words from mid-October (see my earlier post here and news release here) will not feature as part of the ruling Coalitions narrative on budget day, Thursday 21st February??
Strange that you just can't find that News Release if you search from HERE ... it seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Good job I blogged about the content at the time eh?
The picture was taken during a visit to Gorgie City Farm earlier this morning - and the horse's name is 'Red'!
... much more seriously, would be a pretty poor show (to say the least) if Gorgie City Farm suffered a serious funding reduction in the forthcoming budget-setting at the Council. I really can't think of many other local projects in Edinburgh that are quite so successful (and popular!) as this one.
... lets hope the ruling Coalition see some sense and firmly reject such an outcome.
... I have to report that London is in a visible state of shock at the SNP's latest separation wheeze :-((
Is Ms Grahame serious? Just heard her on Radio 4 saying (and I paraphrase here) that 'everything was so wonderful in Scotland after 8-years of devolution that surely Berwickers would want to return to the fold' ... er, think she may have strayed from the script there??
My faith in serious politics will be duly restored if several SNP MSPs quietly refuse to back this ground-breaking motion ...
Friday, February 08, 2008
Thursday, February 07, 2008
... anyone know what happens to John Edwards' 26 pledged delegates - they could obviously be pretty crucial come the Convention?
... was precious little debate about anything really - one can only assume all the difficult decisions are being pushed into the Budget-setting Council Meeting on Thursday 21st February? I'll be surprised if that one finishes before 12noon :-((
Laugh-of-the-day, came when - during Leader's questions - someone complained about the SNP Councillors all wearing their Party badges, which were thus getting into non-Political, Council publications via their photographs ... outrageous behaviour ;-)
Our esteemed Leader retorted that she might just get her lot to start wearing their own Party badges as well - so, just in case they decide to pursue that course of action, here's a handy 'cut-out-and-wear' version I prepared earlier :-))
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
... so, just looked again at the ever-dependable Committee Papers on Line (CPOL), and I see that the Supplementary Agenda is now out (one day before the meeting!) and one of the very late reports is entitled "Improvements to Revenue Monitoring Process".
... wait for it - one of its recommendations is to ensure "Faster Monitoring information to Elected members". Oh dear :-(
Not to worry, in just a few weeks time the Council’s finances will be on a sound footing and Edinburgh will be prosperous, enriched and have a sustainable bright new future ... or so we're confidently assured??
... hope its not not an 'omen' for tomorrow's Full Council meeting - the agenda for which can be found here :-((
Blogging may thus be light tomorrow ...
... I just can't take my eyes of the ever-changing (and I do mean minute, by minute) delegate count for the Democratic contest! Don't forget that it's 'pledged' delegates that come from the votes ... 'superdelegates' are frankly the Democratic great-and-the-good, and whose allegiances are by no means fixed in stone.
Firstly though, I think it's relatively safe to say that McCain, barring disaster, has won the Republican nomination. He has more than double the delgates to the Republican Convention than Romney, who himself is being closely chased by Huckabee. Everybody else is out of it, and I fail to see how McCain can blow it now ... famous last words ;-)
Secondly, the Democrats and that ever-changing count ... well, Obama won the majority of the States being contested yesterday (by quite a margin - 13 to 8, with 1 still to be decided) but it's been reported all day today (Wednesday) that Clinton has won the majority of delegates due to securting the biggest States - principally California and New York.
Well, I'm just not sure how true that all is - yes, she won those two large States but even so, her delegate count from the night seems LOWER than Obama's from what I can glean across the internet - see here and here for example. I know these figures are 'larger' than the CNN totals, but they do appear to be fairly consistently repeated across the web - I guess CNN may just be publishing 'absolutely confirmed' figures?
Anyhow, it strikes me that Obama won last night - not just the majority of States (which no one is contesting), but possibly the majority of delegates as well.
"Game still on", as they say - at least for the Democrats :-)
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Now, I promised on the 9th January to ease off on American politics - and I think I've held to that commitment, but I must warn regular readers that the next few days may have a slight American-focus :-(
... so, to start with, have a quick look at these polling figures - if they're anywhere close to being correct (I know, I know, remember New Hampshire!) then there could be a big shock in store over the next couple of days.
Personally, I sense that Clinton will win a majority of the States which are voting today - but unless she pulls ahead by more than 200 delegates (and it's delgates that count NOT the popular vote) then a real contest will run into March ... and it could even keep going until early June!
... for those true-anoraks out there - all the details can be found via Wikipedia :-))
Monday, February 04, 2008
... okay, it's a brief press report - but the full Audit Commission report (January 2008) can be found here (as a PDF). Use the search tool to look up 'Liverpool' and see what you get :-(
By contrast, have a quick look at the Audit Scotland report (here), from February 2007, about the services provided by the City of Edinburgh Council.
Liverpool or Edinburgh - choices, choices ...
... and don't just take these two reports as contrasting evidence - why not have a look at this recent Annual Performance report for 2006/2007 (the full version can be found here) published by the Council in January 2008 - under the new Lib-Dem/SNP leadership. Take their word for it - not mine.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
... spent a lot of the afternoon down there looking over the site - and assessing the amount of work that's required!
Here's a snap of Junior and I in front of the shed - yes, there is an 'allotment shed' and the home-brew will be on the go shortly ;-))
Rotavator hire is under active investigation :-(
Friday, February 01, 2008
... was all over in under an hour - and there were scones to go with the tea and coffee!
Now, that's my kind of meeting ;-)