Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
--- but potentially replacing it with 'another' majoritarian system would not be, if you'll forgive the pun, my first preference :-(
The 'Alternative Business Models report' was approved unaltered - all three Opposition Groups put up different amendments, and our own attempt to get the issue discussed at Full Council thus failed :-(
Interesting that several speakers from the Lib/Nat Administration openly admitted that the whole process was being driven forward for financial reasons. At least the Tories have an ideological under-pinning for their support of this general course of action - those currently in charge are simply doing it to 'save money'.
Mind you, the meeting got even more depressing when the worst satisfaction ratings ever achieved in Edinburgh were simply noted and Directors asked to do a bit better.
Requests to have the matter debated more widely at Full Council were, once again, dismissed out-of-hand. Can't have any of that pesky local democracy getting in the way, can we :-(
I do though suspect members of the public may have a somewhat different view on what action they would have liked the Council Administration to take.
Monday, September 28, 2009
... it's not 'nearly 3,000 Council Staff' who will be affected, but potentially 3,880!
An amended Appendix 4 has been circulated and has clarified the total figure of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) posts which are within the five opportunity areas.
Nothing to worry about then.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
My mid-life crisis is clearly now well-and-truly established, as the highlight of a visit to the allotment this afternoon was discovering a late-flowering (and differently coloured!) water-lily in the pond!
What can you say ...
... anyhow, other excitements included our first crop of baby-sweetcorn (didn't grow them last year), and some early brussel sprouts - along with an abundance of flowers.
Dug more leaf-mould in to a couple of the beds, and will get those late-cropping potatoes in very soon ... allotment sprouts and potatoes looking increasingly likely as part of the Xmas-day fayre :-)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
'Edinburgh Labour' policy events, over in the East of the city, earlier this morning.
An enjoyable few hours of debate ...
... just a pity there are still 30-months, or so, to go before we actually turn it all into a local manifesto for the 2012 elections!
Can't come soon enough.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
... I've been chastised previously for daring to mention the sheer scale of what has, for several months now, been actively considered - all under the guise of 'Alternative Business Models'.
Wasn't I just indulging in a bit of political scaremongering?
Well - as implementation of all of this gets perilously close (the 2010/11 local Budget will be set in less than 20-weeks time!) do have a look at the diagram contained within Appendix 4 of this report ...
... I'm not sure why the Full Time Equivalents (FTE) for staff involved in 'Corporate and Transactional Services' isn't shown in that diagram, but it must be several hundreds - so if you add up the five areas that are now being considered for privatisation (sorry - as 'opportunity areas' ... seriously, read the report!) then we're talking about some 3,000 Council Staff.
That is a pretty significant percentage of this Local Authorities total workforce. Such a whole-scale outsourcing could have a huge negative impact on the levels of service the citizens of Edinburgh currently receive ... the five 'opportunity areas' do indeed include many front-line services.
And as I said just last week - I remain very worried that there's simply not enough political maturity in Edinburgh's City Chambers to avoid what looks increasingly to me like a bureaucratic 'budgetary top-slicing' and widespread 'outsourcing programme' to be continuously inflicted on the capital.
... 'opportunity' indeed :-(
Sleeper back up to Edinburgh this evening and a pretty flat-out Friday and Saturday ahead of me ... roll on Sunday is all I can say!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
SNP/Lib-Dem Council is achieving the worst satisfaction ratings ever in Edinburgh;
Ex- Labour Minister decides to assist in driving home the message that Labour has a proud record of policy delivery!
If I had hair, I'd be tearing it out :-(
... now, even long-term supporters of the project would accept that the ongoing construction of the route is hardly endearing the public to trams at the present moment - but to try and avoid all political responsibility for some shocking figures by blaming one project just won't wash.
Please do have a look at the figures in the report - second table on page 5 of Appendix 1 is truly shocking ... satisfaction rates with the Council have dropped by nearly 20% in just 2-years; and dissatisfaction rates have gone up by over 15%
But it's okay really - the trams are to blame, nothing else - and the following list of post-May 2007 policy successes has nothing whatsoever to do with the current appalling ratings for the City of Edinburgh Council:
- attempting to close 22 Schools and 4 Community Centres, immediately after new Administration took power in 2007
- attempting to ‘gag’ school deputations at Council Meetings during this process
- failing to establish a properly funded school building programme to aide any such school closure process
- increasing the cost of school meals by 10p – an inflation-busting 6% rise
- removing the hot meals service from 14 of the 18 Council Nursery Schools in the city
- removing kitchen staff (and hot-food preparation) from 6 Primary Schools in the city
- removing the offer of a hot meal on a Friday lunchtime from all Secondary Schools in the city
- thus all (obviously!) damaging the uptake of healthy and nutritious school meals across Edinburgh
- cutting devolved school budgets by 1.5% in their first budget – some £870,000 removed from schools
- cutting £966,000 from the ‘SureStart’ programme in their first budget
- signed a Single Outcome Agreement, thus accepting the Council should deliver SNP Government manifesto commitments with no additional resources being provided to do so
- have thus failed to reduce class sizes significantly
- have thus failed to commission any new school buildings
- have thus failed to increase Nursery hours provision significantly
- closed down several Community Newspapers across the capital, which were locally popular and key sources of community information
- have closed down a raft of successful local community projects – latest example being ‘Instep’ at Castlebrae Community High School
- totally mismanaged the Fairer Scotland Fund implementation, particularly in the North of Edinburgh
- re-introduced old desks and chairs to Council meetings at a cost of over £112,000 – nearly £2,000 for each Councillors desk and chair
- spending over £1,600 on introducing ‘traffic-lights’ into the Council Chamber to help the Lord Provost do his job
- trying to spend £1.3million on ‘ceremonial flags’ for the city
- trying to introduce ‘ceremonial robes’ back into the Council, indicating it would distinguish elected Members from the ‘Hoi Polloi’
... and we're not even half-way through the current Council term yet :-((
As I've mentioned before, I appreciate that many people have strong opinions on the issue of assisted-suicide, but personally I very much welcome developments South of the border today and I do hope they feed into a rational debate here in the Scottish Parliament in due course.
Manifesto Quote: "We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development."
That's NOT going to happen.
... the Scottish Government has also published the 2009 "Pre-school and Childcare Statistics" ...
And guess what: Whole Time Equivalents (WTE) of GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) registered teachers in posts providing pre-school education has fallen for the second year running.
... worse still: the overall percentage of children who have access to a GTCS registered teacher providing pre-school education is exactly 70%.
Manifesto Quote: "We will increase the provision of free nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds by 50 per cent. That means increasing the entitlement from 400 hours a year to 600 hours a year. We are concerned at the removal of nursery teachers from nurseries in some council areas. We will deliver access to a fully qualified nursery teacher for every nursery age child."
That's NOT going to happen.
Of course, the other main education policy commitment, to match earlier school building programmes brick for brick will be delivered - won't it?
What is it that's commonly said about "three strikes and you're ... " ??
... instead of suffering 'death by a thousand denials' why doesn't someone senior in the Party have the guts to admit what's obvious to everyone else in Scotland: they're not going to meet any of the main school-based, education commitments from their May 2007 manifesto? Why continue the charade that all is well?
The Nationalists are in the middle of a car crash (when it comes to education policy) and the SNP need to walk away from the scene of the accident as soon as possible - pretending that the crash hasn't happened is helping no one and is an ongoing, cruel deception for many, many parents across the country.
... someone really needs to get a grip on all of this :-(
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
... and clearly a very quiet news day :-(
All that said - there is a serious issue behind all of this ... just a pity that wasn't the focus of the news story.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
... my colleague Maureen Child was pursuing a supplementary question with the Convener of Education about Castlebrae Community High School when said-Convener responded (something like) that Councillor Child was being somewhat dishonest in her interpretation of events - you know, the usual political banter that mature adults generally ignore ...
... of course, I couldn't resist a muted 'chuck her out' call to the Lord Provost, which promptly received a somewhat louder than intended 'I'll second that' from the SNP benches :-)
Of course, I have no idea which SNP Councillor showed such stunning foresight and bravery :-))
- somewhat sadly, the Lord Provost ignored our combined pleas (don't think he even heard them!) and we didn't resort to using Standing Order 21 in an entirely inappropriate manner.
- maybe next month??
.. please, if ever I start to pose for photos like that - tell me loudly so I can quickly seek some therapy :-(
... I can't help but wonder who'll be its next owner, and if anyone will ever realise just how 'far-travelled' that frame has been??
Ah well - my mission now is to get that Ridgeback Panorama up to a decent mileage itself :-))
Friday, September 18, 2009
Now, I'm no fan of SOAs, but lets stick with the claimed importance of outcomes ...
... strip away all the political hyperbole about whether the Scottish Budget is going up or down this coming 2010/11 financial year (by the way - it is going up!), and isn't it the outcomes that really matter?
And here are the likely outcomes in Edinburgh:
WHERE THE CUTS WILL COME
PEOPLE: They are responsible for more than half of the council's costs.
Cuts could include:
• Redeployment of staff into other roles
• Freeze on recruitment
• Four-days weeks for some staff
• Career breaks
• Pay freeze
SERVICES: Looking at alternative ways to deliver services, including privatisation.
Areas affected could include:
• Refuse collection
• Street sweeping
• School meals
• Museums and galleries
• Ground maintenance
PROPERTY: The council will be examining all of its property assets to identify things which can be sold off. The Chesser House office complex in Gorgie is already set to be axed.
All the shouting in the world, about who is to 'blame', won't change these potential outcomes - only concerted political action will.
... and I do worry whether there's enough political maturity in Edinburgh's City Chambers to avoid what looks increasingly like a bureaucratic 'budgetary top-slicing' and widespread 'outsourcing programme' to be continuously inflicted on the capital.
Many of his points do have a validity to them - and whilst I might not agree with everything he has said over the years, it is very hard to disagree with his 'parting-shot' analogy that trying to change the capital city is like trying to alter the course of a planet.
One thing that did cause me to somewhat despair though was the constant berating about the Waterfront: in design terms, that may be fair enough ... but there was also an implicit, and repeated, assertion that the tram will unlock the potential of that part of Edinburgh?
... I agree, but Line 1b - in an act truly lacking of any long-term foresight - is already in the proverbial dustbin and has been for many, many months :-(
I continue to believe its appalling cancellation back in April was a dreadful exemplar of knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing.
... its one of these 'lose-lose' blog posts:
- pro-tram folk won't like me linking to it and will no doubt complain;
- and anti-tram folk will probably whinge because I'm not taking supposed tram problems seriously enough ...
P.S. of course, I should stress that I personally see no correlation in real life between the SNP Government and the German Officers portrayed in the film!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I'd like to say it was due to the rapier-like chairing skills of the Lord Provost - but it wasn't :-(
Basically, the Lib/Nat Administration weren't immediately threatening any schools with closure; no school budgets were before us with a recommended cut; and no community groups were being threatened with oblivion --- and, amazingly, this led to a complete lack of outside deputations?
End-result --- a quick Council meeting.
Most cynical moment of the day though came as various Lib/Nat Administration Members repeated like demented parrots that the City of Edinburgh Council is Scotland's 'most improved urban local authority', whilst continuing to decry everything and anything that Edinburgh Labour ever did.
It's actually true that the Council is the most improved in Scotland - but what they all mysteriously forgot to mention was that the Accounts Commission report, which found that the City of Edinburgh Council is Scotland's 'most improved urban local authority', was based on the three financial years of 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08.
Edinburgh Labour set the political direction and budget for all three of those years, as I blogged about at the time the report came out back in December 2008.
Is it really any wonder that so many people find it almost impossible to believe a word a politician says :-((
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
... and all apparently because I wasn't wearing a helmet?
The Officers did hand me some useful information about bike-security --- and it was good to see them being so visible on their bikes etc. --- but I'm not at all convinced that stopping people who are not breaking any law is the best way to sell a message??
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
... more details on the current Scotland-wide consultation on this issue can be found here.
I had to laugh - it was that or cry - when I heard the main rationale for Edinburgh attempting to address the growing waste problem was that "doing nothing was not an option" ... how short Liberal-Democrat political memories must be :-(
Monday, September 14, 2009
Interesting, I thought, that there's an ongoing industrial dispute at the Local Authority and yet not a single mention of it in this month's Leader's Report?
... not a very good sign - but at least there are no more misleading statements being made about the current situation!
A 'factual' update would have been good though.
All that said - the last paragraph of section 6 is a very good idea :-)
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Apparently there were just over 7,000 riders this year, which is a significant contrast to the first year I completed the ride back in 2003 ...
... and the old 1983 bike completed its last journey in style :-)
Actually, having finished the ride at Victoria Park, my better-half and I were on our way back to sunny Shandon when I got a puncture on the canal - literally yards from home!
Clearly a sign that it's had enough :-(
Ridgeback Panorama here I come ...
Saturday, September 12, 2009
No jokes about the monkey-enclosure resembling the City Chambers please :-))
Early night tonight - we have to be at Victoria Park for 6.30am latest!
Friday, September 11, 2009
... as many colleagues, friends and family know, I'm really rather attached to my current bike - bought it in April 1983 and its been to just about every continent of the world with me. It's literally got tens of thousands of miles under it's wheels.
Well - this evening, I've taken the plunge and as part of the bike-to-work scheme picked up a brand-new Ridgeback Panorama.
Rode it home from the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative, and it feels fantastic :-)
Pedal for Scotland ride this Sunday (will be my 7th in a row) - and for old-times-sake I'm sticking with the 1983 classic (will be its last trip!) before donating it to the Bike Station.
Over a quarter-of-a-century of cycling on one bike about to come to an end :-(
Thursday, September 10, 2009
All the relevant details about the (potential) Community Council elections can be found here - and as you'll see, yours truly is the local Returning Officer for Tollcross ... all forms to be with me (at the City Chambers) by deadline above.
On a totally separate note, as I was on the way home - around 9.30pm - that whole side of town did smell of acrid smoke ... so, sadly, I wasn't surprised to see this story up on the BBC web-site earlier this morning :-(
Inglis Green Road is just outside my Ward, but it is a bit of Edinburgh I know particularly well as I often walk/cycle past this very spot, on the other side of the Water of Leith, on the way to-and-from the allotment.
Not good - and I can well imagine there's significant localised smoke-damage around the old B&Q Store :-(
The ending of specific funding for flood prevention work, back in 2007, is definitely an illustration of why all Local Government finance 'ring-fencing' wasn't necessarily bad :-(
Frankly, I - and many others - think something is very seriously awry with the way the Scottish Government are now allocating flood prevention monies.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
These figures just have to be a unionist plot --- I mean, just how can such good news be true?
The SNP weren't in power for any of this period.
Labour were in charge of UK-policy from 1997 onwards; and alongside the Lib-Dems they were also in charge of Scottish policy from 1999-2007. Even the Tories were involved, as they were in charge of UK policy from 1990-1997!
See, I told you - a unionist plot.
Stewart Stevenson needs to get a better spin-doctor ;-)
Monday, September 07, 2009
... I know, quite rightly, that most attention is on the proposed closure of the 4 Primary Schools - but tucked away in the Appendix of an update report on the 'second school building programme' is a further litany of cock-up over the removal of Biomass from these schools.
Do have a look at Appendix 1 of this report ... paragraph 5.1 is just appalling ... these school buildings are no longer as efficient as they could/should have been: and all for nothing!
... on top of that - I'm not aware that the change in contract (mentioned in paragraph 5.1) was EVER reported to any Committee of the Council?
As I say, an appalling end to a totally avoidable series of bad decisions.
Sunday, September 06, 2009
... weather held out pretty well and managed to get quite a bit of tidying up completed.
And whilst all of the potatoes are now up (and mainly eaten!) we're now getting the ground ready for some 'late crop potatoes' - haven't tried them before, but they'll apparently grow right up until late November/early December?
Should go well with the brussels, already planted and still going strong, and that we know from last year keep producing pretty late into the year :-)
... but, I couldn't help other than spot pretty widespread coverage on the issue in today's Observer - further details here; and an ERS News Release (with more details of the actual YouGov poll) here.
There's also a letter on the subject of an 'election-day referendum' in the Observer - here.
... there's just no escape from the bloody subject :-(
Saturday, September 05, 2009
... said ex-Defence Secretary lives 'reasonably' near the route of the No.4. in Craiglockhart: he's one of my constituents ;-)
Now speeding back to Edinburgh on the East Coast mainline - fast as the train is going, it could be so much quicker :-))
Friday, September 04, 2009
... Electoral Reform Society Council meeting tomorrow; and before that this afternoon there's the first "away day" for the whole Council that I can remember since being involved with the organisation?
Looking forward to what should be an interesting couple of days.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
... but I reckon this 'local taxation' inquiry could have a significant impact on what goes into the 2011 Scottish Election manifestos - for several Parties!
... but, having watched this saga unfold, and twist-and-turn, I do feel compelled to comment further on it all. Many politicians I know, both local and national, have expressed similar thoughts to those below.
I watched almost all of the debate in Holyrood yesterday, and on the whole thought many of the contributions (from all sides of the Chamber) were well-considered, carefully thought-through, and sincerely delivered. I have to say, the First Ministers' summing-up wasn't one of them :-(
But, on the whole, I thought the Parliament acquitted itself well - better than during the re-called session last week.
Contrast the (relatively) measured tone within the Parliament to the debate outside; and I'm just left with a sickening feeling in my stomach.
Both politicians and activists have been at each others throats over this issue - the News Releases from the main Parties have hardly been a model of political restraint, and the on-line debates have been nothing short of vitriolic.
It could have been handled so differently.
Why didn't Salmond just speak to Gray, Goldie, Scott or Harvie prior to the Scottish Government pouring forth with the original announcement? I'm not claiming agreement would magically have been reached - but, surely, in the wider interests of Scotland they could have agreed how to potentially handle all of this far better?
Why didn't the Scottish and UK Governments liaise more closely ... all the correspondence in the world won't replace good face-to-face relationships! ... over how to handle this issue? I'm not suggesting MacAskill should have been involved - he clearly had a Ministerial decision to make - but other senior players in the whole saga seem to have 'barely spoken' to each other about how to deal with what many see as the biggest Holyrood decision since devolution.
Tragically - the core answer to both the questions above, is that the historic hatred between the SNP and Labour stopped such closer cooperation.
That hatred has literally poisoned this whole debate - as with so many others - but on this issue the results have been very, very damaging for Scotland. I know that many, many colleagues - both Nationalist and Labour - agree this to be the case. There is a time and a place for political knock-a-bout ... but this was not one of them.
Truthfully - nobody comes out of this whole episode with much credit.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
... hey presto, this News Release magically appears ...
Not that I think there's anything suspect about the Council's website, of course :-))
- I've given up flying completely (since the start of 2007) and have managed, fairly easily, to maintain 10-12 journeys per year to London ... and even managed to make it to Rome this summer ... all by train
- given that most of my London journeys are on dates I know well in advance, they are definitely costing less than flying. I'm not going to claim the train trip to Rome was cheaper than flying - it wasn't :-(
- we switched our electricity supplier to Good Energy - a 100% renewable energy provider
- the tariff is higher than our old supplier but we also now use a 'real-time' energy monitor in the flat and our electricity bills have plummeted as a result
- Good Energy have just started selling a gas product as well, so we've now switched our gas supply to them also - too early to be certain on the cost-implications of this yet!
- since July 2007, I've cycled more than I've used the bus to get to work ... so much so, that I no longer buy an annual bus pass
- thus the cycling is obviously saving me considerable sums of money - not to mention the health benefits :-)
- we do own one small car, but use it as sparingly as possible
- I've joined the City Car Club, and use that whenever required - and, who knows, it may help lead us to be without a car completely one day?
- we're growing most of our own veg (and some fruit!) since getting an allotment plot in February 2008 ... was a near three-year wait on the list for my better-half, but the sooner you get your name down!
- there's just no question that the allotment is saving us a fortune in food bills - not to mention, again, the obvious health benefits --- of all the digging, not necessarily the food ;-)
- our family composts and recycles just about everything possible - the Council make it pretty easy - and there's no doubt our general consumption levels have fallen considerably as a result
- our general household bills are definitely down due to the high levels of recycling undertaken - in both directions, of course!
- we renewed our household fridge, which was well over 10-years old, and bought a new A+ rated model
- that new fridge uses a significantly lower amount of electricity, and is saving us a fortune - we know, because of that eco-eye :-)
- I generally don't bang on about this last point, but we are all vegetarian - I'm in my 16th year; my better-half about her 30th year; and our 11-year old has known nothing else
- meat is more expensive, less healthy, and generally much more damaging to the environment - in terms of achieving a positive, collective environmental (not to mention a positive, personal health!) impact, its probably the single biggest step most of us can make ... and, its so easy to do
All of these steps have been fairly painless to make, and all of them have saved us very significant sums of money - and undoubtedly made us healthier into the bargain :-)
But - I know we can make another 10% reduction by 2010 ... we certainly now need to fit a new (condensing) boiler for the gas central heating of the flat. The money we've already saved can easily pay for it (not to mention any 'subsequent' payback) and I'm going to try and have one installed by the start of this winter!
That act alone, alongside doing better on (and more of) all the above, should take a further 10% off our carbon emissions by the year-end ... watch this space ;-)
I'm going to post later today outlining the actions I've taken, hopefully to illustrate that almost all of them have been painless AND have saved me serious money ;-)
... but for now, please sign up to 10:10 this morning - I have - and I'm pretty sure there's no good reason why 100% of people who read this post couldn't reduce their emissions by 10% by 2010.
The BBC covered the launch yesterday ... and today's Guardian has widespread coverage of the campaign.
Go on - sign up :-)
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
... very different format from previous occasions - and it seemed to work reasonably well?
Will be interesting to read the formal feedback in due course, to see if it confirms my initial impressions??