Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breathtaking hypocrisy

Council Meeting now finished - concluded around 4pm. The one significant debate was on trams - here's a quick summary (I'm paraphrasing!):
  • Lib-Dems moved a motion to dump tram line 1b, but proceed with line 1a
  • Tories moved an amendment to get a further report in one-cycle on line 1a costs
  • Labour moved an amendment to get a further report in two-cycles on line 1b funding possibilities
  • Labour and Tories conjoined their amendments and Greens agreed to back that position
  • SNP moved, and shouted loudly about, an amendment to scrap the whole tram project

So, let the voting commence:

  • SNP amendment was defeated and fell
  • sensing that their Lib-Dem colleagues were therefore about to lose the next vote ...
  • ... SNP joined the Lib-Dems in the second vote and supported proceeding with tram line 1a
  • that position was therefore carried and Labour/Tory/Green position fell
I know I shouldn't be surprised, but in 10-years on the Council I've never seen such a two-faced position as the Edinburgh SNP adopted on trams in today's debate.

In short - they moved an amendment to scrap the whole project, but when they realised their Lib-Dem partners were about to lose a vote they supported the continuation of tram line 1a in complete contradiction to everything they had said in the debate a few seconds before.

Truly breathtaking hypocrisy.

... and we wonder why people are switched off politics :-(

Abuse of power

Four deputations have been turned away from today's Full Council Meeting - yes, told to come back to another Committee in a few weeks time ... why? Well, because of this Standing Order:


Standing Order 28(3)
If, in the opinion of the Lord Provost, a motion submitted for consideration at a meeting of the Council falls within the remit of a Committee of the Council, the Lord Provost may direct that motion be remitted to that Committee for consideration, including any request for a deputation to be heard on the matter.


This relatively NEW Standing Order was added by the current Administration back in June 2008 - we objected at the time, knowing full well it would be abused eventually.

It was abused today.

Stunning political leadership?

I have to tell you about a set of "questions/answers" coming up later at today's Full Council Meeting (see item 5.8) ... one of my colleagues, Ewan Aitken, has tabled this set of three queries:


QUESTION NO 8
By Councillor Ewan Aitken to be answered by the Convener of the Education, Children and Families Committee at a meeting of the Council on 30 April 2009

Question (1)
What proposals have been discussed to increase your cuts to youth work sessional hours in the city?

Question (2)
Who have you consulted about these cuts?

Question (3)
What impact assessments have you carried out on the possible effects of your proposed cuts?


--- and here is the answer that Ewan has now received:


Answer
Senior officers are currently preparing a range of options (including impact assessments) to reduce projected expenditure in Community Learning and Development to bring it into line with the approved budget for 2009-10. Sustained and proper examination will be given to any recommendations brought forward.


I'll decipher that for you - "I'm politically in charge of a budget; the Department set that budget back in February 2009 with my explicit political approval; that budget is fixed; and it's now the end of April 2009 and I still have absolutely no idea how we're going to make the savings we agreed two months ago".


Truly stunning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More on the CPZ proposals ...

I should have mentioned in yesterday's post, that I will be attending the Transport Committee Meeting at 10am next Tuesday - and any members of the public can also attend: just go the reception of the City Chambers on the High Street (Royal Mile) ...

I'm not a member of the Committee, so don't have a vote, but as one of the local Councillors whose Ward is affected by these proposals I do have the right to speak to the report --- a right I will be exercising!

... I've already had a significant amount of feedback from yesterday's post, and also from having e-mailed the report to hundreds of residents. The feedback so far does back-up my earlier thoughts on this, with quite vocal support for trying to see something happen around Harrison Park - and also Craiglockhart Terrace (in particular), which I didn't mention yesterday.

I will certainly follow these points up at the Committee next week - and please do get in touch meantime if you have any further thoughts on this: andrew.burns@edinburgh.gov.uk or 0131 529 3287.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater ...

I've mentioned the very local parking woes affecting parts of the Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart Ward on several occasions before - see here and the links therein ...

... well, the report which was supposed to address all of this is now out - here (it's large!) - and will be debated at next Tuesday's Transport Committee meeting (Item 22 on the Agenda).

I say 'supposed to' because, as you'll see if you glance at the report, all possible extensions to the CPZ are simply being abandoned. All of them.

I'm not opposed to some local areas being dropped - it's been pretty evident from the Shandon Colonies feedback I've had (for example) that there is little local support for a CPZ there. But other areas - specifically around Harrison Park - have shown a significant level of support for inclusion in the CPZ (49% for compared to 15% against - see page 9 of the report) and yet no recognition is being given to that - and no alternatives are being put forward?

After nearly two-years of debate and consultation, this will be welcomed by some but will undoubtedly be disappointing for many others ... all the talk of 'flexibility' and 'creativity' when considering solutions has simply vanished with the complete abandonment of these proposals.

Classic example of 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' :-(

Shock, horror - Councillor suspended

This event was the lead 'Scottish Politics' story for most of yesterday evening, and early this morning, on the BBC Scotland Politics web-site ...

... what on earth did the man do - there are a few more details here --- but a 6-month suspension?

Wonder if we could get the 'Aberdeenshire Conduct Committee' to put on some training for the Standards Commission for Scotland??

Monday, April 27, 2009

Full Council week

As mentioned last week, its April's Full Council meeting this coming Thursday - main agenda can be found here ...

... difficult to judge how long the principal decision-making body of the Council will last this month - precious little new business of any substance on the agenda yet again: 'trams' and the 'hub initiative' being the two main exceptions. But quite a few questions and motions; several of which I'm sure will attract some deputations to the meeting?

It does appear to be the pattern now - as much formal (and politically difficult) business is being kept away from the Chamber as possible; given the 'challenging mathematics' of the Council make-up.

Little wonder questions and motions are being used so extensively to try and extract political information ...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Allotment update

Managed to get an all-too-brief spell down at the allotment earlier this afternoon ... bright, clear weather.

And, as you can see, lots of growing now apparent: broad beans; spinach; onions; garlic; potatoes; carrots; beetroot; peas --- all going strong :-)

Not to mention the flower-beds, and the pond!

--- and still plenty of 'planting-out' to come over the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Scottish Mining Museum

Made our first ever visit to the Scottish Mining Museum earlier this afternoon - thoroughly enjoyed by all of the family, even the adults!

Would definitely recommend it as an excellent day out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's all relevant

Totally shocked at the lack of prominence for this story in most mainstream press today :-(

--- and not even much mention of this :-((

Sorry - momentarily forgot that everything is London's fault.

Tram Line 1b cancelled

Well, hardly a surprise, but not good that the report which confirms the 'shelving' (in reality, its about to be cancelled!) of Tram Line 1b has today been leaked to many local and national news outlets BEFORE it was made available to most elected Councillors.

Personally, putting that point of local democracy aside, I think what's about to happen at the Full Council meeting next Thursday will be a huge mistake.

The 'bottom-line' is all that now counts - never mind regeneration, the 'business case' is ALL that matters. Its called knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

North Edinburgh is about to lose out on a huge scale, a lost opportunity that will costs tens-of-millions more to regain --- or, more likely, a lost opportunity that next Thursday will be gone forever.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blinded by ideology?

You have to give it to the Nationalists here in Scotland - they know how to whinge!

Strip all the hyperbole away and here are the facts on the "Scottish Government's" Budget for the next few years:
  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2008/09 was £33.3billion
  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2009/10 is £34.8billion
  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2010/11 will be £35.5billion
OK, OK - I got my figures here slightly wrong :-(

But the last figure above: £35.5billion for 2010/11 - does now take account of all the 'much-debated' efficiency savings - is higher than this year's budget ... and double what the first, First Minister had available in 1999.

Despite constantly espousing that this is a new political era, why can't the Nationalists just actually get on with governing the country in a constructive fashion?

--- I'll tell you why: doing such doesn't suit their main political goal.

Budget choices ...

A difficult day for the Chancellor - to say the least.

But given all the circumstances --- the majority of which are impacting the wider world and not just the UK --- do you really think that George Osborne would have included half of this in any budget he had been in charge of, under such economic conditions as those of today?

I know the answer to that question, and I think most fair-minded people do also.

Privatisation; by any other name?

I've never been one who believes in the "all public good" - "all private bad" philosophy of service-delivery, but what's been leaked to the local press today has all the hallmarks of a dash to save money, without proper consideration being given to the longer-term consequences.

I'm frankly not that surprised at the local Lib-Dems contemplating such wholesale outsourcing (and I accept that it is still - at this time - only being contemplated) but I will be surprised if their SNP coalition partners actually go along with this on the scale being hinted at ...

... I certainly hope that some senior SNP Councillors make their position clear before any of this becomes a 'fait accompli'?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget day ...

UK Budget day.

I'm going to resist the temptation for instant pontification and pause for a day ...

... before posting further thoughts on the detail of what's actually announced.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

STUC conference

Up in Perth this afternoon for the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) conference ...

... speaking at a fringe event on "Transport Options for Edinburgh" - 'quality not quantity!' audience; and an enjoyable debate after the informal presentations.

Talking of fringe events - there's an amusing write-up of such a meeting I participated in at the recent Labour Conference in Dundee --- you can find it here: click on the Dragon's Den event :-)

Hope springs eternal, indeed :-))

Monday, April 20, 2009

Legislation-light?

I've mentioned before that, whilst I'm no fan of "legislation for legislation's sake", the situation at Holyrood recently has really taken things to the extreme ...

... well, the contrast now has some actual depth to it as we're just about at the half-way mark of this current Parliament and it transpires only 7 Acts of Parliament have actually been passed.

That total of 7 Bills contrasts with 50+ in each of the first two terms of devolution - so, say, 25 Bills in each half-term; as compared to 7 this half-term.

Even if you want to argue that the first 8-years of devolution were 'legislative-heavy' ... a general point I could agree with ... we still appear to have gone from one extreme to the other :-(

After all, Holyrood is a "legislative body" not a Local Authority which actually 'delivers' services ;-)

Atagoal: Cat's Magical Forest

Junior has a bit of a thing for Manga comics, manga films --- manga absolutely anything actually (think I've 'mentioned' it before) ...

... so, we all went to see a 'one-off' screening of such a manga production at the Filmhouse yesterday. It's already disappeared from their web-site, but a good review can be found here.

Very enjoyable - and graphics were really exceptional.

I'm a manga convert ;-)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A museum for Leith?

Interesting coverage of the long-running campaign for a 'Leith Museum' in the Scotsman this morning ... article here.

Not my part of town, but there does appear to be pretty broad-based support for the idea of taking this forward?

One can only hope the Scottish Government have 'got what it takes' ??

:-)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Turning-point?

I know there's plenty of other significant news around today ...

... but, in the greater sweep of things, I reckon the change of view on CO2 emissions by the US Government today could be an historical turning-point?

I know that words have to be followed by actions - but such a complete reversal of policy direction, from a mere 3-months ago, is truly stunning.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No decisions here today

I know that the Council is still formally in 'Easter Recess' this week, but just contrast the list of meetings last month with this month - April 2009 ...

... it does, to me, seem remarkably light - even when I recall Easter months from previous years?

The cynic in me says its just another example of 'as much as possible' being kept away from Committees (and any formal decision-making process) due to the uncertainty that induces ... primarily down to Council arithmetic.

Not healthy at all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Surgery; Tollcross; and pigeons

Weekly surgery this evening - quiet tonight: possibly down to the school holidays? - and thereafter attended a meeting of Tollcross Community Centre, along with a couple of elected colleagues. Funding, and staffing, issues dominated the discussions.

Don't laugh too much at this --- but in the usual rush home (just prior to attending the above meetings) --- I was merrily cycling along the union canal; there was a slight drizzle so the canal path was wet but not that bad; rang my bell (as I always do!) when I approached one of the canal bridges; gently pulled the brakes to avoid any oncoming pedestrians; and promptly went into a huge skid on the cobbles that line the sections of path underneath each bridge; came flying off the bike and ground to a halt centimetres (and I'm not exaggerating) from the edge of the canal :-(

No serious damage done (other than to my pride) and absolutely no one else around --- thankfully really --- to witness my downfall.

All due to --- wait for it --- excessive pigeon sh*te on the cobbles :-((

I feel a strongly-worded letter to British Waterways in the making!

This all had nothing whatsoever to do with heavy braking on my part, of course --- and I simply refuse to blame London for their rumoured reductions to British Waterways funding ;-)

Neil MacCormick

Regular readers will know that I was doing my best to avoid politics last week - in one of those periodic attempts to re-acquaint myself with the family ...

... well, as a result, I completely missed (until today) the very, very sad news that Neil MacCormick died on the 5th April.

Neil had the good grace (despite his undoubted work pressures) to grant me an interview way back in February 1995 when I was doing some research on constitutional reform - he spent over an hour of his time with me; answered all my (undoubtedly naive) questions with politeness and candour; was personally encouraging about what I was doing; and was genuinely interested in knowing not just about my subject-matter but also about me. He simply could not have been more thoughtful or helpful in the time I spent with him.

The whole experience really stuck in my memory --- I can vividly recall the meeting today, some 14-years later --- and it was a great encouragement to me at the time.

A truly decent man - precious few, the like-of-which, I've met in my 45-years.

Lies, damned lies and statistics ... again

This other Evening News story from yesterday - about a possible Council pay freeze - is pretty grim in its telling ... summary follows:

  • Liberals and Nationalists have been running Edinburgh for two years.
  • everything in those two years has been wonderful - everything!

  • everything in the previous 23 years was awful - everything!

  • a Liberal is the current Finance spokesperson

  • he has form on taking responsibility seriously

  • the UK budget isn't set until next week

  • there may be a Barnett consequential, in terms of additional efficiency savings for the Scottish Government

  • it could amount to a total of £500million (that's half of one billion pounds for all of Scotland) for the whole Scottish Government

  • that's not Local Government, but the whole of Scottish Government (NHS in Scotland etc.)

  • but hey, it may be theoretical at the moment, but in a rash of maturity I'll blame all my problems on that possible efficiency saving being fully implemented and a share given to Local Government in Scotland

  • I know I sound like a Nationalist, but I'm a Liberal so I can sound how I like

Grown up politics - just what we need at the moment.

And here's what is conveniently missing from this stunning analysis:

  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2008/09 was £33.2billion

  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2009/10 is £34.5billion

  • funding for the Scottish Government in 2010/11 will be £35.6billion

  • yes - that's right - a real terms increase year on year

  • over £50billion was pumped into Scotland to save Scotland's two biggest banks - by the Scottish Government? ; by the Liberals in Edinburgh? ; I think you know the answers.

  • over £2billion has been delivered directly to Scottish people via recent tax changes (most implemented just a few weeks ago at the start of the new financial year) - by the Scottish Government? ; by the Liberals in Edinburgh? ; I think you know the answers.

This whole approach is highly intelligent and treats voters with the respect they deserve: of course everything in Edinburgh is the fault of London and nothing --- absolutely nothing --- is the fault of the inspirational leadership that we've seen at the City of Edinburgh Council over the last two years.

No more school closures?

If the schools rationalisation process in Edinburgh is finished, then there is an obvious logic in winding-up the 'Forum' which reviewed the whole process as reported in yesterday's Evening News ...

... but if more school closures are coming up (and I think the Council budget indicates they may well be) then, if true, to axe the 'Forum on School Estate Rationalisation' at this moment in time is just madness.

Can memories really be that short?

... and apart from anything else, there has been no cross-Party discussion on this possible step. So much for consultation (of any kind).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

McBride affair

Oh dear - feel this is not a subject that any Labour blogger can easily avoid :-(

I've mentioned the joys of e-mail on several occasions before --- here and here for example --- but what's been exposed over the last few days has taken my comparatively innocent worries to a whole new (much, much lower) level :-((

I very occasionally lapse into naming the target of my political angst; and even more occasionally this blog does get me into a spot of bother ... but in the main, I think I manage to get my political point across without resorting to personal abuse and bile ;-)

The serious point being - I reckon most voters can judge both personal character and political content pretty well, and trying to 'force-feed' that very individual assessment usually back-fires sooner or later.

And its back-fired spectacularly in this case, that's for sure.

It's damaged Labour yes; but even more depressingly it's damaged the whole political process at a time when it can ill-afford it --- to say the least!

Holiday reading

These days, time spent away from Edinburgh is about the only space I get to read a novel from cover-to-cover; and last week I managed to complete "The Other" by David Guterson.

I mentioned the film of his first major novel some time ago - and I think he's been an author who has struggled to produce something as good as "Snow Falling on Cedars" (which is an exceptionally good book, and now film) ever since writing it ...

... well, in my humble opinion, the problem has been solved - because "The Other" is a classic to rival anything he has produced before.

It's not a book to cheer you up, and challenges modern-day living and all that goes with it.

Timely, I would say.

Allotment planting

Proof that 'spring has definitely sprung' down at the allotment ...

... spent a lot of Saturday down there getting some of the major crops planted: potatoes now all in, along with a host of other vegetables --- and several new plants (obtained from an excellent Nursery near Kirkcudbright) also now laid out.

And if all that allotment-rigour wasn't enough, when we visited my parents' on Sunday we were roped into planting out a large selection of bulbs in their house garden :-(

No rest for the wicked.

Easter over :-(

Easter weekend over.

Had a very relaxing few days (mostly) at home in Edinburgh over the weekend --- in all that glorious sunshine, managed plenty of planting at the allotment; more news of which to follow ...

... and did manage to escape the city during some of last week, returning to Kirkcudbirght (as predicted last year!), which we all very much enjoyed again this time around.

Back to work now, for some in the household :-(

Friday, April 03, 2009

School's out ...

"School's out" later this afternoon, and the rest of the Burns' household will thus be off for a couple of weeks until Tuesday 21st April :-(

So - although we're mostly around in Edinburgh - there will be a bit of a reduction in blogging (and hopefully, work) activity, whilst I try to re-acquaint myself with the family!

Very brief updates 'may' still appear ...

No 1933

I reckon its pretty nigh-on impossible to be 'absolutely certain' about the long-term outcome of yesterday's events in London ...

... so rather than pontificate too much, I'd simply encourage actually reading the 3 (relatively brief) Communiqu├ęs that came out at the end of the formal events (as well as glancing at the longer working papers); look at some of the BBC coverage; and marvel at today's Daily Express!

And, on balance - and I hope even political opponents would accept this - the process does appear to have resulted in some fairly radical changes ...

... it is no repeat of 1933 as many predicted it could have been.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Another 'April Fools' joke?

Still on the theme of 'April Fools' ... just received this e-mail at my work-account:

"From: Communications
Sent: Wed 01/04/2009 8:51 AM
To: Everyone
Subject: Internet access

Access to the Internet is currently unavailable. BT is looking into the problem and we will let you know when it has been resolved."

I 'think' it's a joke ... but nothing would surprise me when it comes to the Council contract with BT ;-)

'Green trams' on their way?

Yet more new tram proposals for Edinburgh have emerged this morning ...

... involving the use of 'green trams' on certain city streets?

You can read all about the plans here.

Very funny ;-)