Friday, August 29, 2008

London bound ...

ERS quarterly 'Council Meeting' tomorrow in London ... so, off on the sleeper again later this evening.

Planning to stay until quite late Sunday, so blogging could be pretty light until then :-(

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rhetoric and Reality - MIND THE GAP

Here's a first-class example of good old "National Rhetoric" - just check out this Scottish Government News Release from yesterday - here - and by the way, just what is the point of those last couple of paragraphs :-(

- now contrast it with the "Local Reality", here in Edinburgh, by scanning through some of these posts (and the links therein) on Early Years Education in our Capital City during 2007/2008.

Honestly - the gap between such vacuous rhetoric, and the reality on the ground, is enough to make you weep :-((

For good measure - throw in the class-size ruling in East Lothian, reported in The Herald today, and its hard not to come to the conclusion that the whole Education Policy Framework of this Government is simply a joke and quite frankly not worth the paper its written on.

Without legislation (which would lead to the requirement for financial investment) then class sizes of 18 or less for P1-P3 are not going to happen. It's a cruel deception to suggest otherwise.

I do cling to the hope that more and more will see through all of this nonsense in coming months ...

Airdrie to win CIS Cup ...

Amazing - my old home-town team put Hearts out of the CIS Cup last night ...

... need to be careful what I say, what with thousands of Hearts fans forming part of my potential electorate :-(

But, lets face it, who can possibly stop Airdrie now??

Mela mania

Went to the opening evening of the Edinburgh Mela festival last night ...

... very enjoyable - especially all that fantastic food ;-))

P.S. and before any wag asks - yes, I did pay for my own ticket!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Congratulations Tavish Scott

Slightly belated congratulations to Tavish Scott on a pretty convincing victory.

I see there's a bit of banter on several Scottish blogs about his unwillingness to do a deal with the SNP last May and how this could be a poor omen for the Libs - who are now to be consigned to political oblivion due to Scott being such a tribalist??

... well, for what its worth, I had to work very briefly with Tavish Scott when he was Minister for Transport, and I had the Transport Brief at the Council, and found him to be quite the opposite of tribal. It was never a difficulty to get an agreement (with him or his advisers/civil servants) on a way forward - despite political differences.

P.S. Actually, this reminds me that during my near 5-years with the Council Transport Brief (which felt more like 50!), I worked with all of the first two-terms of Devolution's Transport Ministers:
  1. Sarah Boyack
  2. Wendy Alexander
  3. Iain Gray
  4. Nicol Stephen
  5. Tavish Scott

- and no, no matter who requests it, I will not be undertaking a preferential voting exercise on who was the most effective Minister ;-))

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Political Shambles (2)?

Attended an enjoyable (Council-sponsored) lecture last night by the City Design Champion Terry Farrell ...

... he presented a fairly blunt message about the need for some clear leadership on certain specific (planning) topics - top of the list: trams. It has been a common theme of his time as Design Champion.

And, I am stating the obvious when I say his specific message(s) haven't always been heeded ... but, at the very least, clear political direction has been present - even if not of his liking.

As for the future, I'd love to be wrong, but given the current political circumstances I just cannot see such equivalent leadership being forthcoming in any shape or form :-(

Not good for the city ...

A Political Shambles?

My thoughts on the Edinburgh tram project are well known - in summary here (but do follow those links therein!) ...

... and equally, my thoughts on the current Council Coalition are hardly secret - my most recent ramblings on this issue are probably here.

And if you need an exemplar of how these two topics collide, then just cast your eye over this article from yesterday's local newspaper ...

... surely, even if you're opposed to the tram project, you have to concede that this type of 'political' response is doing nothing but damage to Edinburgh?

Its just very hard to see how a truly difficult political decision can be made on anything in this current (and obvious) climate of mistrust between the local Coalition partners ...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Council has spare cash?

A rumour is sweeping the City Chambers this afternoon that a deal (signed today with BT) to provide a Council-wide fixed rate telephone network, has just resulted in "immediate savings" of £250,000 per year?

If true, that's a considerable saving to make on a revenue account ...

... one would hope that such an amount could be put to some immediate good use??

John Travolta need not worry ...

Various colleagues (of all political groups) have been giving me serious grief over the last few days for NOT blogging about Frank Boyle's 'Traffic-Lights Cartoon' in last Thursday's Evening News (on the day of the Full Council Meeting) ...

... well, okay - here it is.

I ask you, do you blame me for not wanting to publicise it any further than need be ... I stopped dancing like that a long time ago ;-))

Quality debate?

Am I getting too cynical in my old age:
  • 5pm'ish Sunday evening and the SNP Sports Minister puts out a call for a Scottish Olympics Team (such good timing, many wonder?)
  • 2am'ish Monday morning and the SNP First Minister recycles an old story about a possible UK Olympic Football Team - even better timing :-(

Oh well, no need to worry ... after all, it is only the future constitutional status of our nation that's at stake over the coming months.

Plenty of time to raise the quality of debate before that pesky referendum eh?

... you do have to wonder :-((

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Scottish Olympics Team?

In a way, I'm sort of surprised its taken until after the closing ceremony for the Nats to have yet another go at this one ...

... but really, and I say this as someone who is not tribally opposed to those who choose to make an intellectual case for Scottish independence, I don't think this is the smartest move to make just minutes after the most successful-ever, modern UK Olympics Team is winding down and celebrating its phenomenal success.

This could have been left for another day - surely?

Sad but true

Sad but true, even with all these international visitors on our local doorstep -

... well, you do have to agree that Coatbridge does feel somewhat like another country ;-) ...

- we did manage today to fit a quick 'allotment visit' into the hectic, festival schedule :-((

And, just look at that prize-winning pumpkin!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bank Holiday weekend

Bank Holiday weekend, and a whole stream of visitors coming to Edinburgh, and our corner of Shandon, over the next few days ...

... thought this headline might be appropriate for Edinburgh given current weather, and tram works, but the sun is indeed shining today! Amazingly?

And, to add to the feeling that anything could happen, our weekend visitors are travelling from an incredibly diverse range of locations: some from Holland, and some from Coatbridge!

I kid you not ;-))

Friday, August 22, 2008

Financial Competence?

Well, well, well ... remember last February and the setting of the 2008/09 Council budget?

A bright, new future for Edinburgh - was it not:
  • "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

Now then, just look at the Month 3 (yes, only Month 3!) financial figures for the Council's two largest Departments (you'd better sit down first, if you have a weak constitution) ...

  • first, have a read at paragraph 3.1 here - which shows a £4.4million projected overspend in the Health & Social Care Department budget at the end of Month 3
  • worse still, have a look at paragraph 3.1(a) here - which shows a £8.9million projected overspend in the Education, Children & Families Department budget at the end of Month 3

In both of these Departments, further significant management actions (code for yet more front-line services cuts?) are now being employed to bring these budgets into line.

Financial competence?

Sadly, as I've said before, this is NOT now a Council which is 'service-driven' ...

... but the mechanistic-approach adopted last February - one of "knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing" - also now appears to be failing miserably.

Not good for Edinburgh, not good at all.

STOP - lights at red

Those pesky traffic-lights might well work in curtailing a bit of democratic debate ...

... but they won't necessarily improve the quality of decision-making currently being undertaken in the City Chambers :-(

And don't forget, the lights themselves cost some £1,600.00 :-((

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Full Council

Well, the meeting finished around 1.45pm - my prediction was correct!

... of course, I'm sure some will claim it was all down to the infamous traffic-lights, but truth is the agenda was pretty light and I suspect September's meeting will be more weighty?

Of note:

But, much more serious than the LP using his casting vote to prevent progress on items such as those above (important though both are in their own right obviously) is the ever-creeping, and blatant, politicisation of the LP's position.

At the meeting (and anyone present will confirm this I'm sure) there was a woeful use of Standing Order 22 (see page 11 here) which stops a decision of the Council being changed within 12-months.

The LP has used it frequently to prevent us discussing issues such as school meals, and he used it during this month's meeting to prevent the Council discussing the Fairer Scotland Fund (see item 10.1 here) ... all these topics are just too embarrassing for the current Lib/Nat Pact, you see :-(

... but not Post Offices - no, that's not too embarrassing because the whole Post Office Agenda is being led by a tier of Government within which they have no power or control.

Now, the fact that we've discussed, and made significant decisions, on Post Offices at Council Meetings in both May 2008 and June 2008 was quickly swept under the carpet and Standing Order 22 (despite my request for it to be applied consistently!) was ignored when it came to discussion of an 'emergency motion' on Post Offices.


Full Council meeting today

Full Council meeting today - agenda here - wonder if it will be as interesting as last night's hustings??

... unfortunately, I've got very severe doubts :-((

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Leadership Hustings - Edinburgh

Attended the Scottish Labour Leadership Hustings in the Grassmarket earlier this evening ... pretty big crowd in attendance and I thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Personally, I thought all three main contenders spoke very well in their opening 4-minute speeches ... Andy Kerr and Cathy Jamieson were confident and clear in their message, as was Iain Gray whose contribution definitely had the most heartfelt passion behind it.

All three also dealt pretty well with a fairly wide range of questions - although, it has to be said, that during the Q&A's I felt they were all overly conscious of the presence of the press-pack at the back of the room :-(

That aside, on the evidence of tonight, I don't doubt for a second that any one of the three of them could successfully lead the Scottish Parliamentary Party - a very heartening conclusion to the evening.

For Leader, Iain will be getting my first preference - he's got the breadth of experience from both within, and outwith, politics to bring real 'added-value' to the job; he's passionate, sincere and has the skills to work across the myriad levels of today's Scottish Politics.

And, crucially for me, he's not overtly tribalist or unnecessarily partisan.

Talking of which, next up were the Deputy Leadership candidates who were somewhat ... what can I say? ... more 'entertaining' ;-)

... but, for me, there is no doubt that Johann Lamont came across the much stronger and I'll be casting my 'Deputy Leader vote' for her.

Whatever the outcome on September 13th, this whole leadership selection process will definitely have strengthened the Party for the challenges ahead in the run-up to May 2011 ... no bad thing in itself!


Enforced day at home today ... Juniors' entry into P7 delayed by one day :-(

Not entirely certain if Craiglockhart Primary School is closed due to the one-day strike action (I think not actually?), but believe it may be down to ongoing window-repair works that haven't been completed before the start of term ... frankly - someone, somewhere, hasn't planned the timing of the works effectively if that's the case?

Anyhow - that new graphics card, which was very recently fitted to the home computer, is currently being tested to near-destruction ;-))

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Computing Support

My main computer, at home, came to a crashing halt recently ... despite owning a computer, of one-sort or another, since the early 1990's I've never had one completely stop working on me whilst still in active daily use ... very lucky I know!

But, I'm pleased to report that in my never-ending quest to use local businesses as much as possible, I've located a very local outfit in Craiglockhart who repaired and upgraded my old computer in rapid time, and levied a pretty reasonable charge for their services ;-)

... and no, I wasn't given a reduction on promise of advertising their services!

Group Leaders meeting

Attended my first 'Group Leaders meeting' this afternoon ...

... a scurrilous rumour is doing the rounds at the City Chambers that 'lunch was provided' by the Leader's Office in an attempt to induce agreement on a whole range of difficult topics for the Lib/Nat Administration ... well, the bit about the lunch being provided is true ;-))

Joking aside, personally I very much welcome any efforts (from all political sides!) to reach consensus on some issues before the hot-house of the main Council Chamber is reached. That doesn't mean that heated political disagreement will always be avoidable - it won't be, and neither should it be ...

... but, its a simple truth that on some 80% of Council decisions there is absolutely no political division - yet, you would be right to doubt this statistic from the way that the remaining 20% of decisions are dealt with :-(

Monday, August 18, 2008

Labour Group re-shuffle

Minor Labour Group re-shuffle confirmed at our Group Meeting earlier this afternoon ... been a bit delayed since my appointment as Group Leader due to holidays etc.

... but for those 'political anoraks' out there who are interested in such things, the complete list of posts follows below.

Needless to say, our focus will now be renewed on:
  • promoting Edinburgh's wider interests at every possible opportunity
  • speaking up (loudly!) in defence of essential front-line public services here in the city
  • professionally scrutinising every action of the current Council Administration
... I sense the next 4-years will be busy!


Andrew Burns - Group Leader
Ricky Henderson - Deputy Leader

Ian Murray - Chair
Lesley Hinds - Vice Chair

Ian Perry - Secretary
Paul Godzik - Assistant Secretary

Elizabeth Maginnis - Whip
Angela Blacklock - Vice Whip


Lesley Hinds - Health and Social Care
Ewan Aitken - Community Safety

Ricky Henderson - Children and Families
Angela Blacklock - Children’s Support Services & Equalities

Elizabeth Maginnis - Economic Development
Ian Perry - Transport and Infrastructure

Gordon Munro - Housing
Maureen Child - Environment and Sustainability
Norma Hart - Communities and Social Justice

Ian Murray - Finance
Paul Godzik - Culture, Sport and Leisure
Donald Wilson - Smart City

Eric Milligan - Planning/Police
Eric Barry - Fire/Licensing


'Traffic Lights' to the rescue?

Well, by all accounts, the much-trailed traffic lights will be in full operation at this Thursday's Council Meeting :-(

Two quick comments come to mind:

1. all seems a bit pointless, as the agenda is pretty short anyhow - as I mentioned earlier - and why the whole 'project' can't now be shelved I'm not entirely sure?

2 . much more seriously, it is all costing yet more money (some £1,600 apparently) at a time when funding is being reduced right across a whole range of City Council services.

Mind you, such a sum seems paltry when compared to:

There may well be a time for such expenditure, but this year isn't it :-((

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Allotment update

Down at the Allotment this afternoon ... no further sign of the frog I'm afraid :-(

... but, the whole family will be eating potatoes for the foreseeable future, having harvested an enormous crop from one of the vegetable beds!

One downside of all this home-grown produce is we've now had to cancel our fortnightly 'organic vegetable box' which we received from East Coast Organics, whom - I hasten to add - consistently provided great produce right to our door.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Afternoon at the beach :-)

Not at a real beach - unfortunately ...

... but spent a couple of hours helping over at Juniors' school were the Parents' Association had organised the painting of a "Beach Hut Mural" ... details at the bottom of this page!

Final product looks great - nothing to do with my painting skills I hasten to add - and I'm sure the children will love it when they return to school this coming week ... strike/s allowing :-(

Friday, August 15, 2008

August's Council Meeting

The papers for August's Council Meeting are out this morning - they can be found on CPOL, and the main agenda is here.

There are one or two contentious reports, but nothing in comparison to some that have been before the Council in the previous few months ...

... I'll regret predicting this, I just know it, but I reckon we could actually be out of the Chamber before late afternoon??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tougher road death laws

I've mentioned before my personal disdain at how road deaths get such relatively low political attention ... so, I have to say I do agree with the main thrust of the Scottish Government's position on recent changes to UK road death laws.

I also happen to think that Scottish Ministers are correct to press for a further lowering of drink driving limits - I hope the UK Government will respond constructively in due course ...

Bus trip/s

Out of the (new!) office most of today ... last chance to escape with Junior before he returns to school next week, so we headed up to Loch Lomond this morning on a bit of a bus trip ...

... good time had by all :-)

Talking of bus trips - read this local news story on my return, and find it hard to believe that a bit more flexibility can't be applied when dealing with these issues ... David Griffiths, chief executive of ECAS, hits the nail-on-the-head with his quoted comment.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Glorious Gardens

Given my week to date, thankfully Tollcross Community Council was a relatively lighthearted affair ... all down to some local Garden Competition Awards being presented at the very start of the meeting, which was followed by a few nibbles and a glass of wine BEFORE going back to the usual monthly agenda ;-)

... unfortunately, I've missed the deadline for this month's Full Council meeting or I would have tabled a motion calling for "pre-agenda wine" to be compulsory at all Edinburgh Community Councils :-))

Office Move!

And just to top of the enjoyment of this week, I've had to move office today :-(

... those that know my previous room will appreciate just what a task moving all my filing and paperwork has been :-((

But, all now completed and off to my weekly surgery and then on to Tollcross Community Council. I hope its not a fractious meeting!

Roll on the weekend ...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Treadmill day2 :-((

'Slightly' less pressurised day ... but still wading through what seems like millions of e-mails and letters.

Full Council meeting next Thursday as well - with the deadline/s for questions and motions today and tomorrow, so no respite from the treadmill :-((

Monday, August 11, 2008

Treadmill day

Back at work.

... and it really felt like I was straight back on the treadmill today ... huge amount of stuff to catch up on and straight into a series of difficult meetings.

... such a contrast to the tranquility of the last two weeks :-((

Glen Affric and Orkney

Well, first week away (which already seems a lifetime away!) was up in Glen Affric - stayed on a farm which has a number of cabins/cottages etc. - details here. We had been there before - some 6-years ago - and thoroughly enjoyed returning. Lots of cycling, walking and fresh air - and; the weather was pretty decent too ...

... nowhere near as good weather as the second week though - up in Stromness, on Orkney (rented a pier-side cottage: details here) - and we had practically 7-days of sunshine, which I understand is in stark contrast to the weather in Edinburgh over the last week or so :-(

I simply can't speak highly enough of Orkney ... if you haven't visited, its well worth the effort. The natural beauty of the place is quite breathtaking, and its history simply fascinating.

... I'm certain we'll be returning again - hopefully in the not-too-distant future ;-)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back in Edinburgh

Back in Edinburgh this evening.

Family have had a great two-weeks away, more to follow on all of that tomorrow ...

... going to try and catch up on 'mail/e-mail' for the rest of tonight :-((