Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Christmas!

Last day in the office today, and then a few days break for Christmas :-)

I am in Edinburgh for most (not all) of the festive period, but blogging frequency may be fairly light from today, until the start of the New Year and 2010!

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. I will also be periodically checking e-mail.

Very best wishes for Christmas :-))

Monday, December 21, 2009

Adding insult to injury

Dear oh dear ...

... after all the angst and worry caused to parents (at Burdiehouse, Drumbrae, Fort and Royston) over the last few months, this story covered by the local paper today does indeed seem to convey an incredibly insensitive blunder :-(

On top of some of the dubious justification for closing these schools (used verbally during the actual debate on Thursday) this really does add insult to injury.

Not clever at all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

No educational benefit at all

Been reflecting a bit on the events at the end of last week ... much was made by the SNP/Lib-Dem local Administration of the number of 'empty desks' in Edinburgh's schools: the so-called under-occupancy when compared to notional capacity.

Well, here are a few facts that make a complete mockery of what's just happened:
  • class sizes in Edinburgh are higher than the national average and currently the second highest in Scotland
  • the average class size in Edinburgh is currently just under 25, with the national average being 23 --- this makes the capital second highest in Scotland next to Glasgow
  • after last weeks events, Edinburgh will surely soon have the largest class sizes in Scotland?
  • the Council are thus badly failing to meet the national targets of reducing class sizes in P1-P3, and actually now have fewer pupils in classes of 18 or less than last year
  • only 6.5 per cent of P1-3 pupils are currently in classes of 18 or less, which has decreased from 8.6 per cent last year
  • that's a long, long way from 100%, and not even anywhere near the downgraded target of 20% that was being touted a few weeks ago
  • the pupil teacher ratio has also risen in the past year, while the number of teachers employed in Edinburgh schools has fallen
  • the number of teachers has dropped from 3,475 to 3,361
  • that ratio can surely only get worse with the closure of four primary schools now on the horizon?

Yet more proof, if ever it were needed, that this whole fiasco had nothing whatsoever to do with educational benefit and everything to do with simply trying to save some money.


Glasgow weekend and angry e-mails

Been over in Glasgow for the weekend ... thus the paucity of blogging in the last few days ... much, much more snow on the West-coast than over here!

Needless to say, despite trying to have a quiet weekend away from all-things political, when wandering down the Great Western Road early Saturday evening who should I bump into but one of my fellow Edinburgh-bloggers!

There's just no escape possible ;-)

On a much more serious note, upon our return to Edinburgh my in-box is simply awash with a huge number of exceptionally angry e-mails from parents of children at the four schools which were summarily closed on the casting-vote of the Lord Provost last Thursday.

I do think the Council Administration may just have under-estimated what they've done ... its not just the closing of the schools, but the way the whole thing has been handled. The tone, and content, of the messages I've received seem to indicate that none of this will be forgotten for a very, very long time ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No status quo here

Full Council went on until 10.45pm ... longest I've experienced in the near-11 years I've been a Councillor :-(

As I alluded to last Sunday, we did vote against all four proposed school closures (see item 8.1 on the agenda), as did the Greens and the Tories - didn't make a blind bit of difference at the end of the process sadly, as the Lord Provost simply used his casting-vote four times when the Full Council was evenly split on each occasion to close every one of the four schools: Burdiehouse, Drumbrae, Fort and Royston ...

... nothing strictly 'illegal' in doing this, but the political morality of so drastically moving against the status quo, by use of a casting-vote, must surely be on the minds of every Lib-Dem and SNP Councillor ... at least, I hope it is?

There will certainly be endless press coverage of these events - suffice to say for now, there are four communities in Edinburgh who are extremely angry and saddened by today's events :-((

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Counting the votes?

Attended one of the periodic Elections Consultative Group meetings in the City Chambers earlier this afternoon ... as well as the unsurprising speculation about the actual date of the upcoming UK Election, there was also debate about a newly launched consultation on when to count the votes?

The consultation document should be accessible here - and the basic question is whether to count straight after the polls close at 10pm (as usual in a UK Election), or to leave it until the following day: Friday?

Despite my own personal views on this, I just can't see the prospect of the UK General Election result not being known until the Friday afternoon as gaining much support from the main political parties :-(

Last 2009 Group Meeting

Very long Group Meeting last night - final one of 2009 - in preparation for the Council Meeting this coming Thursday (agenda here).

Although there are only 5 deputations on that agenda - latest list doing the rounds indicates over 10 will be the final count, which probably means that this month's meeting could have a similar end-time to last month :-(

Main issues of contention will undoubtedly be: school closures; home care modernisation; alternative business models; and maybe even trams ...

Wonder if any 'declarations of interest' could see an upset tomorrow?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Care and Support Services tender ...

I've had numerous readers ask for a further update on the Care and Support Services tender ...

... well, as soon as I have any definitive information to impart I will indeed be sure to post about it - sadly, as of Monday evening, there has been no formal communication to elected Members giving the current state of play with the independent investigation :-(

We do have several questions down on this subject matter - at Thursday's Full Council (see item 4 on the agenda) - the formal answers to which we should receive this Wednesday lunchtime.

So, do watch this space ...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

School closure debate - deja vu?

Full Council week coming up, and the main agenda now out which can be found here ...

... main items for debate (item 8.1 on the agenda) will undoubtedly be the proposed closure of the four primary schools at Burdiehouse, Drumbrae, Fort and Royston.

Frankly, many of our concerns about the initial proposals back in August 2007 still apply today - not one single school amalgamation, renewal, refurbishment or rebuild as part of what's on offer. Indeed, money seems to be the only reason driving this process now - not educational need :-(

Friday, December 11, 2009

Labour Group Xmas Party & policy chaos!

Labour Group Xmas Party this evening ... good time had by all :-)

Of course, there was no political-gloating whatsoever in Edinburgh Labour circles about the near-collapse of the Scottish Government/COSLA concordat education commitments and the ensuing policy chaos ...

... just what can I say?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Community High Schools?

When are Community High Schools not community high schools ... well, maybe if they lose control of all their community facilities?

This report was up at Education Committee on Monday - I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post - and has now led to these significant concerns gaining some traction in the local press.

I am entirely confident that this is not the last you will hear of this issue!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pre- Budget Report

Pre- Budget Report this afternoon - missed the main speeches as didn't have access to a computer at 12.30pm :-(

... good analysis though on the main BBC web-site and journalist blogs!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Health and Social Care Committee

It's been a very busy 7-days, and I do have several draft posts to complete - so will try and keep my points brief ... and apologies to my regular readers who have been complaining about my lack of blogging activity :-(

Health and Social Care Committee this morning (Tuesday) - was substituting for my colleague Ewan Aitken. A couple of reports were referred to Full Council (coming up next Thursday, 17th December) ... one being the report at item 16 on the agenda, concerning Home Care Modernisation.

Key paragraph is 2.2 where it clearly states that the public/private split of care provision is to be moved towards 33%/66%, and the third of the 'market' for the public sector would be all those with 'complex needs'?

... needless to say, there is no analysis within the report about which type of provision consistently performs better in any client-surveys for levels of satisfaction? Strange that :-(

Monday, December 07, 2009

That weird 25% rule

Remember that weird 25% rule which looks like it has saved a flawed tendering process from being nodded through Committee ...

... well today at the Education, Children and Families Committee - having learned their lesson about the importance of decent scrutiny? - the Nat/Lib Administration completely ignored Labour and Green concerns about a report on facilities at Community High Schools and refused my colleague Councillor Henderson's perfectly reasonable request to refer the report to December's Full Council Meeting on the 17th :-(

They can do this at the Education, Children and Families Committee because the presence of non-aligned (Church and Teacher representatives) means that Labour and Greens alone don't make up 25% of the Committee - this is the only Council Committee where that occurs.

Well - here's a prediction ... I'll be careful with my language ...there were some very clear terminological inexactitudes in that report approved today; Councillor Henderson politely pointed the issues out and was impolitely ignored; this will all come back to haunt the Administration and they'll be regretting (again) their inability to listen to reasonable requests for clarification and further information.

More to follow on this for sure.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Woe is me ...

My middle name is Douglas ...

... I could really have done with an extra £220,000 just before Christmas :-(


Edinburgh-bound on the East Coast mainline (can't believe they've re-branded all the trains??), following a lengthy set of ERS meetings ...

... juniors' 12th Birthday tomorrow - 8 X 12-year old boys round for a house-Party in the afternoon! I may need to retreat to work for some serious recuperation on Monday ;-)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

PR referendum?

Well, off down south for a couple of days - so blogging may be a bit light ...

... various Electoral Reform Society (ERS) events/meetings to attend and bound to be significant debate around the latest moves on a potential referendum on the UK electoral system.

Of course, straight AV (the alternative vote) is not proportional - but if the Constitutional Reform Bill is to be amended in order to get rid of FPTP (first past the post), by a system that uses preferential voting (AV), is it really impossible that the Bill could be amended just a bit further to preferential voting in multi-member wards (STV)?

... or amended to seek preferential voting for all elections - local (English and Welsh) and Lords, as well as Westminster?

... unlikely - maybe?

But not impossible.

Coalition as safe as houses?

What can I say ... so the current coalition is as safe as houses, and they disagree on nothing but trams?

... well, you can believe that if you like - I know what I believe, and I also know what's being actively discussed within the City Chambers.

Care and Support services tender update

Well, it was a pretty quick meeting this morning ... the Convener read out a pre-prepared statement announcing the independent investigation (as we thought) and then indicated that there would be no questions taken :-(

Reading out a pre-prepared statement I can accept - this whole process is in such a mess, it makes sense to be careful about what is now said by those in charge politically ... especially after his colleagues' words yesterday:

"I have said all along that we have a good robust tendering process that has been cleared by the lawyers at every stage."

But - why questions weren't allowed to the Officers in charge, I just don't understand? There are many immediate queries that it would have been good for clients and their carers to have had answers to - and many of them were in the room this morning.

But the whole process is now, in effect, on hold until Thursday 21st January 2010 whilst the investigation takes place.

We'll be doing everything in our power to ensure that whoever undertakes that investigation has all the relevant facts --- and some of them do not make pleasant reading.

And, in due course, those responsible for this whole affair must answer for their actions.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Serious questions now need answered

I'll undoubtedly post more about this whole saga in due course ...

... but needless to say - I am bound to point out that without significant public pressure, and some concerted action from the Opposition Group/s, then this whole process would have been approved way back at the Finance and Resources Committee on 27th October :-(

If ever a case was needed to show that the current 'political scrutiny structures' at the Council are simply not fit-for-purpose, then this is it.

Thank goodness for some old-fashioned student stunts, is all I can say!

Frankly, Councillor Paul Edie has some very serious questions to answer - just today in the local paper he is quoted thus:

"I have said all along that we have a good robust tendering process that has been cleared by the lawyers at every stage."


An independent investigation ordered into 'Care and Support Services' tendering

Significant developments with the Care and Support Services tender early this evening ...

I'll simply re-produce the relevant text/News Releases below:


Please forgive the impersonal nature of this update

Contracts for the provision of Care and Support Services

We've just learned, very late this afternoon, that the Council's Chief Executive is postponing any award of the Care and Support Services contracts. An independent investigation is being launched into the whole process, which will report back to the Council in January 2010.

The special meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee will still go ahead tomorrow, but it will simply last a few minutes and the Convener will announce the intention to postpone award of contracts pending an independent investigation.

Our Group's reaction to this whole situation follows immediately below, thereafter a copy of the News Release from the Chief Executive's office.

I hope this information is all of some assistance - please don't hesitate to get back to us if you need any clarification.

--- and, once again, many thanks for all your efforts in keeping this process in the political spotlight.



News Release from Edinburgh Labour
For immediate release

Burns and Hinds welcomes postponement of Care Contracts

Edinburgh Labour's Group Leader, Andrew Burns, and Spokesperson for Health and Social Care, Lesley Hinds, today welcomed the fact that the Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council has intervened directly on the issue of the Care and Support Services tender and that at tomorrow's meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee the award of these contracts is to be postponed.

Councillor Hinds commented:

“The Labour Group has been asking questions in relation to this whole process for many, many months now and has consistently voiced serious concerns about how the tendering has been managed.

I would like to thank all the individuals and organisations who have contacted their local Councillor, and raised this issue with them, over recent weeks. That direct lobbying has helped keep this process under proper scrutiny."

Councillor Burns added:

"Many service users and their carers are, however, still in a state of uncertainty and anxiety and the Convener of Health and Social Care, Councillor Paul Edie, now needs to tell us how he personally intends to sort this out as quickly as possible.”



from Chief Executive's Office

The following is a statement from City of Edinburgh Council Leader Jenny Dawe.

She said: “I recognise the importance of the Care and Support Services Tender to vulnerable people in the city and have insisted that all aspects of the tendering process must be robust. I have been in regular touch with senior council officials on this and have just been advised that there remain a number of outstanding issues surrounding the Care and Support Services Tender. As a result, I have instructed the Chief Executive to have the tenders independently evaluated.

“The specially convened Finance and Resources Committee will meet tomorrow when the Convener intends to adjourn the meeting to allow officers to provide an updated report in January.

“On behalf of the Administration, I would like to reassure service users there will be no interruption to their current care and support arrangements, pending a decision in January. Direct Payment applications will continue to be processed as previously agreed.

“We are determined to ensure the integrity of the tender process and believe an independent evaluation is the best way to achieve this.”


Labour re-shuffle?

Been thinking a bit more about the recent demise of the Education Secretary ...

... and with obvious apologies to Rhona Brankin; it is a fact that Des McNulty has been in his current shadow post little more than a month and appears to have dislodged his opposite number??

... wonder if Iain Gray should consider moving him to another shadow portfolio very soon ;-)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SNP to leave local coalition?

I'm generally pretty careful about what I put up on the blog, and only post about certain issues when I'm entirely convinced they are true:

- like the aborted plans to bring back Councillor's robes
- like the (unfortunately) enacted plans for traffic lights in the City Chambers
- and like the incredibly mistaken plans to ignore all the public anxiety over the tendering of Care and Support Services

- I give these as just a few examples.

Well, tonight, it appears that the SNP locally are actively planning to walk away from the Nat/Lib Coalition, that currently runs Edinburgh Council, within the next 18-months and certainly before the May 2011 Scottish Parliament elections ...

... the rationale is clear, if not twisted --- get out and blame all the ills-of-Edinburgh on the Lib-Dems before the national poll in May 2011; and hopefully thereafter bolster their collective position for that year's election-day, and the following May 2012 Local Government elections.

Never mind the Nats' role in everything up until then --- the plan is simply to just walk away and leave the hapless Lib-Dems carrying the can for the lot?

A Coalition Partnership "founded on the democratic principles of trust, equity, openness and fairness" ... I humbly suggest not :-(

Simply not listening!

Well, tragically, it appears the rumours earlier this morning about the Nat/Lib Administration basically pressing ahead with the Care and Support tenders - with the associated, and previously published, Direct Payment rates - appear to be 100% true :-(

The report/s for Thursday's special Finance and Resources Committee meeting are now up on CPOL - the main report can be found here, with the appendices here ...

... and despite numerous pages, full of numerous warm-words, the final recommendations are not significantly different from the Council Meeting on the 19th November :-(

I sense the rate of Direct Payment applications may now increase even further in the next couple of days before the 3rd December deadline.

Very, very disappointing ... and clearly those in charge are quite simply not listening :-((

Cabinet re-shuffle ... at last

The Scottish blogosphere is awash today with re-shuffle mania ...

... and whilst clearly the First Minister didn't pay any attention to my earlier post back in February ;-)

... I think he has taken the right action today in changing his Education Minister. I've got absolutely no axe-to-grind with Fiona Hyslop as an individual, but the SNP's education policy is a complete mess (few would deny it!) and it does indeed need some fresh thinking.

Time will tell if the right man has got the job - if he starts arguing for the concordat and the accompanying SOA processes to be scrapped (they are at the root of all these problems), then he'll get my support!

... mind you, I won't be putting any money on it just yet :-(

Doing the wrong thing?

Well, it's just City Chambers gossip (but you do know that's usually correct!) at the moment ...

... but word is that the Nat/Lib Administration are to press ahead on Thursday with the Care and Support Services tendering exercise, and to pretty much ignore the previous Council-agreed Amendment?

If that happens, I think it's safe to predict a high number of the City's most vulnerable people, and their carers, will be hugely disappointed and quite rightly angry.

Ignoring the strength of feeling on this issue (never mind the will of the Council?) would be a monumental mistake, which will continue to haunt this Administration if they really do choose that course of action in a couple of days time.