Monday, March 31, 2008
... lets hope it doesn't result in "Terminal 5-type" internet chaos :-((
... normal service will resume next weekend :-)
Sunday, March 30, 2008
... venturing to sunny (?) Kirkcudbright for the week, from tomorrow through to Friday.
Blogging will thus be extremely light (if not 'non-existent') until next weekend - just how will you cope??
So on the left, we have the site pretty much as found when my better-half was first allocated the plot a couple of months ago ...
And below, a couple of shots of how the site is now looking ... the observant amongst you will spot that 6-beds are now prepared (plus fruit-cage!); with 3-beds to go :-)
Saturday, March 29, 2008
... as regular readers will know, I'm a bit of a part-time cyclist myself - have been somewhat addicted since 1982 and my first big road-tour; and completely hooked after I went to see the final day of the Tour de France in Paris in 1986.
Greg leMond was the first American to win the tour that year ... but I'd really gone in the hope of seeing Robert Millar win - the Scot had come 4th overall in 1984 (still the best any British cyclist has achieved in the Tour) but it wasn't to be :-(
Nevertheless, the atmosphere on the Champs-Elysees as the cyclists finished was electric ... the final stage of the biggest spectator event (and sport overall) in the World! I can still hear the mesmerising whir of the bikes on the cobbles as they sped past the adoring crowds :-))
... with all this track-cycling success, it does make you wonder just why the British can't seem to produce a road-racing star capable of winning the Tour de France? Robert Millar was the closest we ever got (by far) ... and that was well over 20-years ago :-((
Friday, March 28, 2008
- have a look at the Evening News coverage of the Education Secretary's response to the imminent submission of feasibility studies on the Wave 3 schools - here
- those studies are now submitted as of yesterday - see here
- now have a look at a post I did in October 2007 - here - which recounts an all-Party agreed Council motion
- DO READ that motion - almost the totality of it has been completely ignored ... NOTHING has been reported to any Council Committee about the feasibility studies whatsoever, despite the terms of the agreed instruction to the Council
It is a disgrace.
Now maybe the Nats and Libs don't give two-hoots about local democracy and are happy to completely ignore Council decisions, but surely senior officers should at least pay some attention to what the Council instructs them to do??
It is all pretty ironic coming from a bunch of Liberal politicians (in particular) who used to endlessly berate us (when we were in Administration) about how our consultation procedures were 'shallow'.
Would be funny if it wasn't so serious.And it is serious, not just the complete avoidance of any accountability towards Council decisions/instructions, but more depressingly the Education Secretary's comments do seem to indicate that Wave 3 schools are going nowhere fast.
I would love to be wrong.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
... this is the coach loading-up in the early evening as we're about to return home :-)
Not only was there plenty of sunshine, sand and sea ... we even managed to fit in a significant amount of shopping :-))
Back to normality tomorrow ...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I've now checked, in detail, what each political Group on the Council proposed for Edinburgh Leisure's 2008/09 Grant. The various positions are as follows:
SNP/Liberal Coalition - a straight reduction of £300,000
Green Party - a straight reduction of £300,000
Conservative Party - a straight reduction of £250,000
Labour Party - an off-set reduction of £100,000*
Obviously (and unfortunately!) it was the 'SNP/Liberal Coalition' budget position that was passed, but other political parties should at least show some humility and honesty about their own complicity in all of this.
As voiced before, the sad truth is that the City of Edinburgh Council is now being 'finance-driven' and not 'service-driven'.
*Our own proposal was that the Council would pay the complete Edinburgh Leisure annual grant at the beginning of April 2008 (as opposed to splitting it over the financial year) thus enabling Edinburgh Leisure to generate additional interest receipts of approximately £100k to make-up for the grant reduction.
Worse than that, as I've mentioned before, the whole process quite clearly breaks the decision of an earlier meeting of the Education Committee back in October 2007 - further details here.
Its no way to take people with you - and re-organising the largest Department of the Council does need some buy-in! Its not so much the 'what' as the 'how'.
As is so often the case now, its the cavalier-approach that many of these issues are being dealt with that is annoying people - it will surely all come back to haunt those currently in charge?
... it's got over 55,000 members - nearly as many as the daily readers of this blog :-))
Much more seriously ... just how did people cope before the invention of Marmite??
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I mentioned the relevant Scottish Parliament motion last month - here - and briefly commented on the FM's Lockerbie visit - here ... clearly my local Lib-Dem colleagues are paying no attention whatsoever to this blog :-(
Fair bit of discussion about Edinburgh Leisure's decision to close several creches ... and, despite the panicked changes announced over the Easter weekend, Craiglockhart Sports Centre creche is still one going to close.
Seems to me that many are conveniently forgetting the only reason Edinburgh Leisure are thinking of closing creches is because the City Council summarily cut its annual-grant by £300,000 a few weeks ago ... it's that third law of classical mechanics again :-(
I mentioned a few weeks ago, the contrast between Liverpool and Edinburgh ... and you can now draw your own conclusions about Aberdeen's recent track record?
... one can only hope, probably in vain, that certain local colleagues may wish to quietly reflect on just how difficult it can be to successfully run a major city authority ...
But, back to the grindstone this morning after a remarkably quiet weekend - I've never experienced so few work-calls over a holiday weekend ... excellent :-)
You'll be glad to hear I'm not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of my Easter activities, but I am bound to report that 'allotment fever' has featured strongly and to suggest you just will not believe the next round of photographs :-))
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Agenda can be found here - two interesting presentations at items 4 and 5, but they did take up a lot of the available time and other subjects were unfortunately a bit rushed.
Some pretty obvious anger, throughout various sections of the meeting, over recent grant decisions ... unfortunately, I sense it will get a lot worse in the coming months as the full impact of what's just happened becomes fully apparent :-(
Strip away all the commentary and I do think there's a fairly worrying tale of 'loss of direction' here?
Someone really needs to get a grip on 'infrastructure renewal' for the Scottish Government - if the Scottish Futures Trust is deemed dead (consultation is now closed, so we should know soon?) then a replacement is needed very quickly.
We've already had nearly a full-year of not one single, new contract being initiated for a school building in Scotland :-(
... not good.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Bi-annual 'leaving show' for all P6/P7 pupils!
... trying to put parental bias to one-side (nigh-on impossible, I know) we thought the show was absolutely first-class :-)
Excellent performances all round ...
... especially from those "winged monkeys" :-))
... mind you - maybe those Single Outcome Agreements (SOA's) will force the SNP/Libs on Edinburgh Council to do something constructive in due course??
Monday, March 17, 2008
And, the more I think on this, the more depressing I believe the situation actually is ... Scottish Local Government is slowly being stripped of all its significant autonomy, and if the current plans for the so-called 'local' Income Tax get approved as they are, then it would compound the situation ten-fold.
One can only hope the Lib-Dems in the Scottish Parliament stand by their principles (I know, don't laugh) and refuse to support anything that does not allow local variation?
But regardless of what happens to the Council Tax, we are nevertheless just a few weeks away now, as a Local Authority, from signing up to a Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) which will effectively make us an arm of the National (Holyrood) Government:
- we'll be agreeing to deliver national manifesto commitments
- report on the progress towards achieving those commitments
- and having to do so in the midst of a freeze on Council Tax which has removed the last element of our fiscal autonomy
... I'm bound to say, that most of them are about the removal of local autonomy from Scottish Councils - a situation that is about to get a whole lot worse if we implement the 'current' proposals to replace the Council Tax :-((
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Anyhow, despite the trip being smooth, the ERS-Council meeting certainly wasn't ... I've mentioned the old factionalism within the organisation before - and it did seem to emerge with some vengeance on Saturday afternoon :-((
... but, my spirits were lifted upon my return to Edinburgh as I watched a taped-version of the 300th edition of ER (which I'd just missed live). Just about the best drama on TV at the moment I'd say :-))
... just to emphasise that what I posted here is merely a breakdown of the service-cuts in the Department of Children and Families - and you need to look here to get some sort of flavour of the scale of the service reductions now being 'managed' across the whole Council.
It is truly breathtaking and I'm pretty certain that very few (if any) of the 29 Nat/Lib Councillors now running the show truly realise what they have authorised.
As colleagues, and friends, know I'm generally one for 'lengthy explanations' and not too keen on simplifications ... but this whole saga does just prove to me that the City of Edinburgh Council is now being (primarily) 'finance-driven' and not 'service-driven'.
I'm also pretty certain that this will be very apparent by the time we get close to 2011/2012 - as numerous 'services' will have frankly gone. I, for one, intend to keep a close account of that and to use it as forcefully (politically) as I can ...
Friday, March 14, 2008
... back late on Saturday night; and I'm afraid there will be more thoughts on the Council meeting yesterday (and the grants saga) to follow thereafter ...
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Over 20 organisations were up to take part in one deputation or another - just shows you how many groups were being specifically affected by the proposed budget cuts - and it has to be said that all spoke with incredible clarity and power. I think the Administration were pretty taken aback.
And they only have themselves to blame for so many groups coming to the main Council meeting - I've never seen so many at one meeting before; but I've also never seen the grants budgets being set at one Full Council meeting with no chance for referral to another Committee of the Council for further scrutiny :-(
And worse still, almost all of the groups had been given no more than a few working days notice of budget cuts that will force many of them to close completely.
... and there was I believing we were all "to have real opportunity to participate in decision making" :-((
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I'm just going to concentrate on the Children and Families area here - remember those ACTUAL budget-lines from the approved Lib/Nat Council Budget for 2008/09:
- “reduction in commissioned services and grants” = £203,000
- “efficiencies in services previously funded by earmarked grants” = £639,000
... well, the report that is going before the Full Council tomorrow only contains some £28,002 worth of "reduction in commissioned services and grants" (see Appendix 4) and NOTHING in relation to "efficiencies in services previously funded by earmarked grants".
So here's the full breakdown that many people want to keep as quiet as possible:
Reduction in commissioned services and grants (£203,000)
- in the report savings of £28,002 are proposed
- grants contingency of £70,153 being utilised
- Playgroup grants - total savings of £27,345
- Pilton Equality Project - proposed saving of £8,500
- Volunteer Centre Edinburgh - proposed saving of £12,000
- Counselling services on sexual health - proposed savings of £11,000
- Scottish Adoption - proposed saving of £46,000
Efficiencies in services previously funded by earmarked grants (£639,000)
- Adoption services - £8,000
- Corporate Parenting - £9,000
- European Languages - £12,000
- Fostering and Kinship - £18,000
- Free School Meals P1 to P3 - £8,000
- Improving Fostering Services - £20,000
- ISMS - £76,000
- National Priorities Action Fund - £414,000
- Social Work Training - £6,000
- Student Teacher Placement - £4,000
- Youth Justice - £55,000
- Youthwork for Delivery - £9,000
I wonder how many of the 29 Lib-Dem/SNP Councillors realise they're about to cut these sums from all the services listed above?
Would be interesting (if not depressing) to get a true answer to that query ...
Report of most interest is undoubtedly item 7: "Strategic Management of School Provision: Intakes for August 2008" - I touched on some of these issues a couple of weeks ago in relation to one of my own local Ward schools ... Appendix 1 of the report confirms that the timetable for any final decision on this has some time to run.
One noteworthy point contained within the report - here - is at paragraph 3.12, which shows a 3.5% increase in the P1 intake for August 2008. Does seem to go against the grain of earlier estimates about falling school rolls ...
Does appear to be a slight change of financial direction from previous years in the acceptance (and actual budgeting for) that borrowing will rise. That, in itself, could give some much needed (ever-so-slight) room for manoeuvre in the coming couple of years ...
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
- the 'Children and Families Estate Evaluation' ... still completely understandable concerns being expressed by Parental Reps. but at least (at long last) a semi-sensible approach is now being followed.
- the 'Children and Families Revenue Budget 2008/09' ... main concerns were around the, now admitted, cut to devolved school budgets which will undoubtedly have a significant impact on every single primary and secondary school across the city.
Had to leave the meeting just before it ended unfortunately, so missed the conclusion of the discussion on the 'Organisational Review of Children and Families' ... an issue, as I've mentioned before, is now being rushed through consultation - after months of inaction - despite the original decision being taken as long ago as last October 2007.
Putting all the arguments 'for' and 'against' what's being proposed to one side ... there's plenty of propaganda filling the blogosphere on that already! ... I have to say that I find the 'title' being applied to this proposed tax, just ever-so-slightly duplicitous.
It is not - by any stretch of the imagination - a Local Income Tax - it is a 3p levy on personal income that will be applied throughout all of Scotland. The monies collected would then be re-distributed to the 32 Scottish Local Authorities - see paragraphs 41 through to 44 here.
Do read those 4-short paragraphs and see if you agree that this is a national tax, that will be collected nationally, and will then be redistributed to Local Authorities. Personally, I'd respect the authors of these proposals a lot more if they just called it what it is.
If this is enacted as it stands, I'm afraid it will quite simply be another nail in the coffin of Local Government autonomy.
All rather ironic coming from Scottish Ministers who spend a fair amount of their waking-hours arguing for more fiscal autonomy for the political tier they work within.
Just seven more 'beds' to go, a few paving-stones to lay, and the planting will commence on an industrial-scale ;-)
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
As predicted, it's not good news for a lot of organisations, and there is the ever-increasing opaqueness about some of the recommendations - like the totally spurious claim that 'disinvestment' in organisations is only £785,000 ... doesn't alter the absolute fact that some £2.569million has been TAKEN OUT of grant budgets Council-wide.
... more to come on that, for sure.
Meantime, just after the reports were published on CPOL, every Councillor received a copy of this (anonymised) e-mail:
Sent: 07 March 2008 11:19
Subject: Civic Items
In case you don't already know, a small stock of civic items are held by the Finance Department and are available for sale to Elected Members. The items available are as detailed below:
Silver Gilt Mace Brooch - £105.75
Hamilton & Inches Silver Cuff Links - £119.85
Hamilton & Inches Gold Cuff Links - £340.75
Laings Silver Cuff Links - £44.65
Laings Gold Cuff Links - £305.50
If you are interested in any item, please contact ---
... things really must be desperate :-(
... I wouldn't mind so much if I could afford some of what's on offer, but even the cheaper silver cuff-links are outwith my budget :-((
Thursday, March 06, 2008
One of those budget grant-cuts was to take away £300,000 from Edinburgh Leisure ... I wonder how many of the local politicians that voted this cut through realised that it would lead to the closure of almost all of Edinburgh Leisure creches? I doubt very much if more than 1 or 2 did??
But really, you can't cut 300-grand from an organisation's revenue budget and expect things to continue as before ... and sadly, around £2.569million has been cut from Voluntary Organisation grants altogether.
There's going to be a lot more of this ... believe me.
Do visit the new web-site here and you'll be able to:
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... I'm no statistician, but looking over the remaining contests, it just seems impossible for her to do it - unless Obama does something completely outrageous (not likely, but not impossible of course) then I think he has the pledged delegate race secured.
Despite all the fuss over Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont it seems no one has really noticed that on Tuesday Clinton won 187 delegates and Obama 183 - his total lead is still around 150 pledged delegates above his rival ... Clinton would have win big in EVERY ONE of the remaining states to close that gap.
It's just not going to happen.
Thus - it all comes down to the Super Delegates (the great and the good of the Democrat Party) ... are they really going to over-turn the will of the voters and install Clinton as their candidate even though Obama will have won the popular contest? Indeed, it seems to me, she'll need to get an absolute minimum of 65% of the Super delegates to do that (unless Obama's pledged delegate lead collapses - again, unlikely). Clinton currently has around 54% of the Super delegates to Obama's 46%.
So, I've concluded the game is over - Obama will win; and Clinton should stand down now and let the fight with McCain begin proper.
... that's probably the kiss-of-death for Obama ;-)
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
And, overall, it looks tighter than ever now ... CNN currently has Obama at 1,257 pledged delegates and Clinton on 1,127.
Maybe it's going all the way to June after all - still remain unconvinced that will help the Democrats in their ultimate goal of winning in November ... especially with McCain now confirmed as the Republican candidate?
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
... after the truly (politically) depressing events at the City Chambers earlier this morning, it may be that "transcendental meditation" is the only answer?
- Ewan Aitken? ... do you really think he'd say such a thing?; I've certainly no recollection of ever hearing such a statement coming from Ewan in the 9-years I've known him.
- Donald Anderson? ... bit of a reputation for speaking his mind, so maybe he would say such a thing?; well, not that I can remember in the 8-years I worked with him.
- any senior MSPs ... Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, Jack McConnell, Alex Salmond?; nope, I just can't recall ever hearing any of these people voicing such an inflammatory statement. Not even Alex Salmond ;-)
- any senior MPs ... Tony Blair, Gordon Brown?; do you know, even at the height of debate on very, very serious national issues I cannot recall hearing such language from either.
I can recall one very senior American politician saying something similar - along the lines of "you're either with us, or against us" ... George W. Bush, of course - and Wikipedia seems to agree with that recollection.
Well, a senior member of the current Council Administration made the statement that is the title of this post, in an open public debate, of a major decision-making committee of the Council, earlier today.
For me, the whole sorry-episode just about sums up the 'style' of politics we're all being forced to suffer in the City Chambers at the moment.
And it sure as hell isn't a new politics.
... I just get the sense that the two main candidates are starting to damage their Party, and not each other - and once voting is over today, some sober reflection on who their main target should be may well be in order?
After all, only John McCain seems to be truly smiling at the moment :-((
Monday, March 03, 2008
I do though believe, pretty strongly, that the void will only continue to be filled in this way unless something is 'formally' taken into the 'public domain' fairly soon.
There's an Education Committee meeting on Tuesday 18th March, and I know what I'd do if in control of the agenda ...
I have a distinct recollection that we used to ensure the budget details were up there in headlights for as long as possible on the front-page ... this year you can only find them if you delve around in the 'News Archive' section.
Surely nothing to hide??
Openness and transparency eh ... don't make me laugh.
Thinking specifically about the ongoing debate around grants to Voluntary Organisations ... we know there are serious cuts in this budget area, whilst local Libs/Nats continue to accuse us of 'scare-mongering' - so how about some factual evidence:
- have a look at the spin put on the Lib/Nat budget contained with the Evening News coverage on Thursday 21st February - here - check out paragraph 6 in particular were it says that "other savings, such as slashing grants for charities and voluntary bodies by £870,000, are set to be largely dumped. Some organisations will still see their funding cut, though the majority – including the Gorgie City Farm – will be safe." So that's the majority of the £870,000 worth of cuts to be rejected?
- fast forward one day and look at this piece in the Evening News on Friday 22nd February - here - check out paragraph 10 in particular were it says that "Labour claimed the reduction in grants would amount to £2.6m, although the administration insisted the cuts only total £780,000. The details of which organisations will lose out has yet to be made public." So now we're getting an admission that serious cuts are to be made - just not how serious and to who?
- now have a quick look at the Evening News coverage today - here - check out paragraph 11 in particular were apparently "It's unfortunate that Labour deployed the tactic of spreading fear that major (cuts) would be made to grants – that's proven not to be the case." So the figure of £870K was wrong, then we're told £780K and lastly we're told there will be no major cuts??
Confused - you will be after the next few paragraphs ...
Here are some ACTUAL budget-lines from the approved Lib/Nat Council Budget for 2008/09 ... I'm quoting directly and will provide a handy-total at the end; but try adding them up as you go along and see if you agree (by the time you get to the end) that 'its proven to be the case that there are to be no major grant cuts':
Children and Families Department;
- “reduction in commissioned services and grants” = £203,000
- “efficiencies in services previously funded by earmarked grants” = £639,000
Health and Social Care Department;
- "remove inflation provision for voluntary orgs / SLAs = £533,000
- "aids and adaptions" = £66,000
- “reduction in grants” = £325,000
City Development Department;
- “reduction in grants (including Capital Skills)” = £115,000
Services for Communities Department;
- “reduce grants programme” = £150,000
Corporate Services Department;
- “reduction in grants” = £338,000
- "reduce uplift to voluntary organisations" = £200,000
That's the agreed budget.
Only conclusion you can draw - they don't know what they've agreed??
Sunday, March 02, 2008
... not looking too bad I reckon?
Paths, border-edging and maybe even some planting next weekend!
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Weather was fantastic all morning/early afternoon and the three of us had a great time planning out the beds and tidying up the allotment ...
... middle-age is clearly upon me :-((
More digging tomorrow!