Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas!

I am in Edinburgh for most of the festive period, but blogging may be fairly light from today!

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 :-)

Very best wishes for Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Teacher numbers down (again)

Just a few weeks ago, the GTC had a pretty damning News Release which showed very real problems with the number of employed teachers in Scotland ...

... and today, the EIS has an equally damning Release about the core number of employed teachers in the country. Scotsman has run with the story this morning.

Frankly, all the main school-based, education commitments of the SNP at Holyrood have been a busted-flush for quite some time - this is just yet more proof-positive of that fact.

Birthday Boy :-)

Birthday today - 45 ... seems like a slightly significant age; although when I consider my Dad is 81 next month puts it all into perspective ;-)

... no particular celebrations today - the weekend visit to Glasgow was my early birthday present!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Spent the day over in a not-so-sunny Glasgow last night and this morning ...

... bit of a treat for the big day tomorrow!

Batteries definitely re-charged and now ready for a few more days at work before the madness of the Christmas holiday really begins.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Xmas Party

Labour Group Xmas party in the City Chambers last night - very good atmosphere and a healthy crowd of attendees ...

... I left about 11pm and it still seemed to be in full swing ;-)

Many thanks due to all the Group Staff who put in a huge amount of work to make sure the evening went smoothly.

P.S. no doubt the real Party started as soon as I left :-(

Friday, December 19, 2008

Council responsibility

Yesterday's meeting was mercifully, slightly shorter than last month ...

... and it has to be said, that there was a little more 'give-and-take', by the Administration, as regards 'compositing/accepting' quite a few of the amendments/addendums etc. from the various Political Groups. Definitely saved at least 2-hours of insightful debate ;-)

It can be done!

Anyhow, one of the significant moments - for me - of the day was an acceptance that traffic management arrangements are the responsibility of THE COUNCIL and not of any arms-length body or external entity ... pleased to see that the local paper reported this almost verbatim today - see the third-last paragraph.

And, I'll quote it here, for ease of reference:

"Councillor Dawe also told the full council meeting that she, transport leader Phil Wheeler, the council's chief executive Tom Aitchison and the city development director Dave Anderson would all take collective responsibility if there was a repeat of the chaos experienced during The Mound closure when work gets under way on Princes Street next year."

We'll find out in February ...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Full Council meeting today

Full Council meeting today ... lots of deputations; probably quite a few political divisions; it is not going to be a short day :-(

... mind you, hopefully it won't be as long a meeting as last month?

Full agenda can be found here.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tram communications

As regular blog readers will know, I'm pretty supportive of the tram project - a view that's not held by every political party in the City Chambers ...

... imagine then our collective disbelief when we carefully read the second bullet point of paragraph 4.1 of this overview report at our Group Meeting last night. I'll quote it:

"delegates authority to me, in consultation with the Council Leader and Depute Leader, to put in place revised arrangements for communications activity"

... yes, you've got it - that is asking for the Council Chief Executive to have delegated authority to finalise communications activity for the tram project in consultation with the Council Leader (fair enough - she wants the trams) along with the Council Deputy Leader; who last time I checked wanted to cancel the whole tram project!

Following that overview report, there are a whole suite of further reports on the tram project (see 8.1 on the the main agenda here), all of which we are broadly supportive of ...

... but allowing oversight of tram communications to an opponent of the tram project - errr, one has to wonder why this has even made it into any set of proposed recommendations?

I wonder if the Council Leader has even really thought this one through properly?

If this is approved, does she think the Council Deputy Leader will play a constructive role in this communications activity??

I don't need to answer that because its so bloody obvious what will happen :-(

Too much to ask

One or two colleagues have asked why-on-earth yesterday's Scotsman was making such ridiculous claims regarding my likely impact on the Scottish economy next year ;-)

... very droll.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Warning: slow-moving policy development

Noticed yet more depressing news on road safety being reported via the Scottish Government website today ...

I blogged about all of this nearly a year-and-a-half ago ... see here ... if you follow the link within that post, you'll see that the Transport Minister said back then that a new "10-year road safety strategy" would be developed? I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at the time.

But he's now saying it will be launched in the New Year ... really, 2-years to develop a 10-year road safety strategy??

Pretty obvious the priority being given to this one :-((

Elections change nothing?

As the eternal-optimist, I don't really subscribe to the view that 'its a bad time to be a politician' ... political scepticism may be rampant, but I for one reckon its been just so for generation upon generation.

And, personally, I reckon such scepticism is no bad thing. If you believe that politics does changes lives, then you surely have to believe that its right and proper for those very changes to be rigorously questioned, challenged and debated?

And for the doubters out there about the ability of democracy to facilitate change - just cast your eye over this quote:

"All of us know the problems that are rooted in our addiction to foreign oil. It constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes and leaves us dependent on unstable regions."

That's the next democratically elected President of the United States speaking earlier today.

Certainly strikes me as a bit of a change from that countries' previous position on oil dependency?

I know that words are easy, and actions are what matter, but as I've mentioned before I do think that the world is in for a bit of a shock following that inauguration on the 20th January 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

School meals back on the menu

Remember the outcry (earlier this summer) over the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration's removal of a whole range of hot school meals from the city's educational establishments?

Guess what ... at this Thursday's Council meeting they are reversing the vast bulk of the decisions. Have a quick look at this report.

6-months late ... should never have happened in the first place ... but well done them.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Unfair funding

Fairer Scotland Fund again I'm afraid ...

... the Policy and Strategy report (which I mentioned earlier) is now coming up to the Full Council meeting this Thursday. The relevant documentation can be found here.

There are a lot of deputations on this issue, and I believe there may well be a considerable public presence at the City Chambers given the strength of feeling about all of this in North Edinburgh.

I still cannot understand why the current Administration just won't back the adjusted motion/amendment - have a look here again?

... if they did so on Thursday, I'd applaud them.


Congestion charging, electoral reform ... no-one will be reading this blog shortly the way things are going ;-)

... so, on a much more serious note - regular readers will know I'm no huge fan of TV but do have a bit of a weakness when it comes to ER and Spooks. Sadly, neither is currently on terrestrial television - which is all the Burns household has access to!

But, for the last three weeks I reckon the dramas (commissioned via BBC Scotland I believe?), based on the Swedish author Henning Mankell's 'Kurt Wallander Mysteries', have just about outclassed the operations at 'Chicago County General', not to mention those at the MI5 HQ on the North Bank of the Thames :-)

... tragically, it was the last episode tonight.

I hope someone at BBC Scotland has already had the good sense to commission more episodes?

ERS Chair

Mentioned a couple of days ago that I was down in London for the weekend - and an ERS Council Meeting ... what I haven't bored you all to death with (but may be about to?) are some of the details of said-Council Meeting ;-(

... well, there's been a bit of external consultancy work finished recently for the ERS, which had recommended quite a significant change to the organisations' Council 'officer posts'. New structure, in effect, to tackle new challenges. The principles of all of this were accepted by the current officer-bearers, and wider-Council body, back in late August.

Thus, this latest quarterly Council meeting has duly seen the election of a new set of such officer-bearers, with the current Chair standing down after some 5-years in post.

... and yes, yours truly has been elected as Chair!

I therefore sense a bit more time being spent in London over the coming months - my no-flying regime could be about to be severely tested?

Friday, December 12, 2008

London alone :-(

I am in London, but not lonely ... referring to the news from Manchester today :-(

I well remember the endless arguments, in Edinburgh, back in 2003-2005 about how all the city needed was 'trams first' and then congestion charging would make perfect sense and would have received widespread public support ... I know its hard to believe now, but THAT IS exactly what was being said at the time.

... well, the news from Greater Manchester today seems to disprove that theory unfortunately: 78.8% No to 21.2% Yes ... and the region has had a tram system for years.

... even more resounding than that 22nd February 2005 result in Edinburgh: 74.4% No to 25.6% Yes.

Very difficult to see any other UK-city taking forward such proposals now?

London alone, indeed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

ERS Council meeting

Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Council meeting in London this Saturday ... off down to the metropolis later today, and not back up until early Sunday evening.

Blogging may thus be a bit light over the next couple of days ... but do look out for those December Council papers (actual meeting is on Thursday 18th), which should be up on "Committee Papers On-Line" (CPOL) around 10am this Friday.

... more to follow early next week, for sure, on many of those reports!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tollcross Community Council

Attended Tollcross Community Council this evening ... was the only elected-Member present, which is an extremely rare occurrence in these multi-member Ward days!

... and, it has to be said, after 18-months of sharing public meetings with other Councillors it didn't feel quite right being there on my tod :-(

Apart from anything else, I wasn't able to cadge a lift home from my local Conservative counter-part ;-)


Well, the day just gets worse and worse for Edinburgh ... massive problem with the successful employment of newly qualified teachers; trams for Glasgow, and now the school building programme has ground to a virtual halt.

Late this afternoon, the SNP/Lib-Dem Council Administration frankly confirmed their complete inability to match Labour's previous school-building programme "brick-for-brick".

Between 1999 and 2006 (a 7-year period) the previous Labour Administration in Edinburgh commissioned a total of 34 new or refurbished schools (all listed here). This has resulted in one-third of the pupils attending Edinburgh's schools learning in buildings that are either new or completely refurbished. Its a statistic that is unparallelled anywhere else in the country.

And today we've had it confirmed that - maybe - 1 school, Portobello High School, could be renewed by 2014. The other four Wave3 Schools are now confirmed as having no associated funding to take their renewal or redevelopment forward. Its a complete disgrace.

James Gillespies High School, Boroughmuir High School, St. John's Primary School, and St. Crispin's Special School, are all being told they will simply have to wait.

The result? - between 2007 and 2014 (a 7-year period) the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration in Edinburgh will have commissioned - maybe - the grand total of 1 new or refurbished school.

Just to remind you - here's what the SNP manifesto said in May 2007: "we will match the current school building programme brick for brick."

It was a cruel deception and the Minister for Education should hang her head in shame.

Trams for Glasgow

The SNP Government have just announced support for trams to return to the streets of Glasgow ...

... no, I'm not joking - it's absolutely true. Have a look at the 3rd bullet-point here and at point number 4. here ...

Just a couple of days ago, I mentioned the likely failure of the Scottish Futures Trust to ride-to-the-rescue of a replacement Forth crossing as part of the wider "Strategic Transport Projects Review" ... and indeed it hasn't. But not in my wildest dreams did I expect SNP support for trams in Glasgow. You could not make it up.

And, going back to that bridge - we now know it will be additional, not a replacement, and that to fund it via 'conventional finance' will mean front-loading the capital programme with this one, single project for years and years to come. Here's the spin:

"Holyrood ministers have approached the Treasury about increasing the capital budget to fund the new crossing while it was being paid for, with a reduction in later years. However, the Scottish Government has yet to receive an answer."

Now, they wouldn't be thinking of blaming London would they :-((

Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.

Employment of newly qualified teachers

The General Teaching Council (GTC) of Scotland has a pretty damning News Release on its website today ... I'm amazed it hasn't picked up more press attention?

The statistics within the research clearly show that - compared to last year - 'employed probationary teachers' are down nearly 9 per cent, 'secondary teachers in permanent posts' are down almost 13 per cent and the overall proportion of teachers on supply lists has increased from 18.7 per cent to over 30 per cent.

Not a pleasant picture for newly qualified teachers.

I understand that George Foulkes MSP - he of the weekly video-fame! - is very keen to hear from probationer teachers who can't find a permanent job as part of a study being undertaken into the broader Education crisis facing Edinburgh ... if you are a probationer with any such information, you can contact George at:


Watch this space ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

North Edinburgh news :-(

I've mentioned the tragedy of the severe funding reductions for numerous North Edinburgh projects fairly frequently recently - see here for my latest entry on this issue ...

... the North Edinburgh News (NEN) has all the gruesome details in its December edition - here.

Not reading for the faint-hearted I'm afraid :-(

Monday, December 08, 2008

An additional Forth crossing?

Thought it noteworthy that the Scotsman picked up on the publication of the "Strategic Transport Projects Review" which is finally coming out today ...

... that said, I've seen no further press coverage of its contents this afternoon and cannot track down an electronic copy?

I do think it could make for interesting reading tomorrow (presuming it will actually become publicly available?) as to whether the proposed new crossing over the Forth will be 'additional' - but, more importantly for me, just how on earth its all going to be paid for?

I am not at all optimistic the Scottish Futures Trust is about to ride-to-the-rescue :-(

... would love to be wrong.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Botanics and garden-mania

Took the visitors over to the Botanic Gardens today ... loads of good events on for the kids, who all had a great time.

And, I must commend an exhibition called "Close" that is running until the 11th January 2009 ... really excellent garden photography from all over Scotland. Thought it was so good, we even bought the accompanying exhibition-book from the Botanics shop.

... from the exhibition, learned that there's a new roof-garden at New Lanark, which looked particularly spectacular.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pre- Christmas visitors

'Christmas run-up' felt like it started properly today, with the first batch of pre-Christmas visitors to stay at the flat over the weekend.

... two other boys as part of the visiting-party, so Junior thoroughly enjoyed the ensuing chaos!

Thankfully, Edinburgh's Christmas kept them occupied most of today :-)

Friday, December 05, 2008

New YouTube phenomenon

I've discovered a new "YouTube phenomenon" this evening ... George Foulkes MSP (he of the late, lamented e-surgery!), has stolen a march on his many younger contemporaries by posting a weekly (yes, a weekly!) video diary about his work in the Holyrood Parliament ...

... this week's unmissable episode can be found here ;-)

And if you're weekend is not too busy making the best of that VAT reduction in the shops, then his back catalogue (of some two months) can be found on his very own YouTube Channel ...

... I'd better get my own camera back into action :-))

Copyright theft?

Council Media Office caught unashamedly stealing my material ...

... took them three-days, mind you :-))

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Communities in Control"

Over in sunny Glasgow this morning for an Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Scotland event - their launch of a new publication entitled "Communities in Control" ...

... very good document; an enjoyable presentation (on the findings); followed by a lively discussion about the pros and cons of STV-PR from the perspective of the communities that have now been living with it for 18-months.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Just watched Michael Martin's statement to the Commons on the Damian Green saga ...

... if what he says is true, and if I've interpreted it correctly, the Metropolitan Police raided an MP's office without a search warrant and failed to tell the responsible officer (the Serjeant at Arms) - as they have a requirement to do so - that she was not obliged to allow access or that she could insist on seeing a warrant (which, of course, they didn't have!).

My personal conclusion - totally shocking Police conduct, and equally shocking knowledge of procedures by the responsible House of Commons officers.

Budget biscuits

On a lighter note, concerning the budget briefing earlier today ...

... the budget packs were handed out in the 'Lib-Dem Conference Room' - you know, that room in the City Chambers which has a mere two seats more than ours :-(

... well, coffee was provided - along with some biscuits, whose sell-by date was 1st November 2008!

Things really are bad :-((

2009/10 Budget Packs

The 2009/10 initial budget packs were distributed around all of the Political Groups on the Council earlier today ... think they have also been given to the press today, so I'm not breaking any confidences here ;-)

Don't have electronic versions (or links) I'm afraid - but you can get the overall feel of the situation by looking at one of yesterday's Policy and Strategy Committee papers - here - and if you glance at paragraph 3.5 you'll see there is apparently £3million available in 2009/10 for service developments ...

... sadly, what this masks are the welter of current (and ongoing) pressures on existing Departmental Budgets which basically leave an overall shortfall of some £7million for this available funding to cover :-(

The fact that it doesn't add up at this stage of the process (budget not actually set until February 2009) is no great surprise, but the pressures and statistics look very familiar to those of last year.

No 'bright new future' here I'm afraid.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wales shows the way?

Not sure I should really post this ...

... but in a moment of non-partisan weakness, I can't help wondering why the SNP Government doesn't just abandon the Scottish Futures Trust and do something similar to what the Welsh Government announced earlier today?

See here and here for further details.

Devolved School Budgets

Devolved School Budgets becoming an increasingly contentious issue within many Councillor's mailbags - the local paper has covered some of the story today: here

Given the level of concern that is being expressed across the city, I'll repeat here our own Group's position on the issue:

... in February 2008, when the Council set its 2008/09 budget, the Labour Group opposed the then 1.5% cut in devolved school budgets and moved an alternative (and competently funded) position of zero reduction. That position was unfortunately defeated in the subsequent debate, and vote, when the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration pressed ahead with a 1.5% cut. Next February (2009), when the Council sets its 2009/10 budget, it will again be our absolute intention to oppose any reduction whatsoever in devolved school budgets - and we will certainly oppose any suggestion of a 2% cut.

Its also worth mentioning that in the last 8-years of our Administration (from 1999-2007) we protected school-based budgets from any reductions in all but 1 of those years. It can be done.

Policy and Strategy Committee

Policy and Strategy Committee this morning - agenda can be found here.

You'll see at Item 5, I had a motion tabled on the implementation of the Fairer Scotland Fund (FSF) in the Forth Ward ... I posted about this very issue quite recently and continue to be astounded at the lack of any political willingness to accept that the transition to FSF funding in North Edinburgh has been disastrously implemented :-(

... no where else in the City is having these problems - that's not to say everything is sweetness and light, far from it - but at least the transition has been far better managed. I'm certain that after the powerful deputations that accompanied this motion today, even those in power must know privately that something has gone badly wrong in North Edinburgh with the FSF.

BUT - stubbornness, and politics probably, prevented any compromise on my motion which was defeated by an amendment saying all was fine.

The whole topic now goes up to Full Council on the 18th December ... if the current Lib-Dem/SNP Council Administration backed-down on this, I'd applaud their good common sense in realising that this part of North Edinburgh needs much more 'transitional' assistance.

I'm not holding my breath.

The other main topic, of more limited discussion, was the report at Item 10 on the agenda ... you can see it here. I've already mentioned the positive press coverage of this report, and indeed my ongoing worries about the accuracy of street-cleanliness measurement!

Anyhow, it does need to be mentioned that this report actually covers three years of positive progress across a variety of service delivery areas of the Council ... 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08.

... you know what's coming next - of course, Labour were in control during those first two years, but we also set the budget for the third year. That budget was set in February 2007 and ran through until April 2008, with the Libs/Nats being in charge from May 2007 obviously.

Remember all that Lib/Nat blind-panic over the budget they inherited, yet somehow they now seem delighted with the performance improvement that it was the foundation of?

They need to read Aesop's fables ... especially that one about the wolf.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Waste Action Grants ...

As well as the (now) very well-established Community Grants funds available via the twelve Neighbourhood Partnerships, spotted that the Council are today promoting applications for a Waste Action Grant - see further information here - of up to £2,500 for local Community Groups ...

... looks like a thoroughly good scheme to me - so do follow those links if you're interested?