Sunday, January 31, 2010

U-turn if you want to ...

The most definite smell of burning rubber emanating from Tory High Command throughout today ...

... I know I'm biased, but all of a sudden there is an air of serious nervousness about their apparent economic strategy for the upcoming General Election?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Allotment update!

Managed to get a bit of time down at the allotment this afternoon - weather was really glorious, and everything feels like its really about to start moving ...

... looks remarkably tidy, don't you think :-)

Friday, January 29, 2010

'B' for broadcast :-(

Well, that 'B' Agenda item from yesterday's meeting did pick up significant local press attention - here ...

... and it appears to have whipped up a bit of a storm on some Army notice-boards as well!

A classic case of 'how to make friends and influence people' :-(

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Full Council day ...

Council Meeting did indeed prove to be a very short event - finished just after 1pm!

... most significant divisions were on the horrendously rushed workforce management proposals, and on the 'B' agenda item, which I'm certain will pick up further press coverage given the nature of the topic discussed :-(

On a lighter note - numerous colleagues kept asking if I was okay, due to the lack of posting on the blog ... so, shamed into action, I'll make sure its a bit more up to date as soon as practically possible :-((

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Local surgery tonight

Local surgery tonight, at Fountainbridge Library - attendance now starting to pick up again following the winter-break and that spell of atrocious weather ...

... still getting complaints about bin collection issues :-(

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Full Council week ...

Full Council this coming Thursday - main Group Meeting tonight to go through the various papers ... agenda here; and individual reports on CPOL (as usual).

I'll regret this prediction - but looks like a really remarkably light agenda to me?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Budget-mania (again!)

Never mind the annual Burns Supper - we're all now fully in the grip of the annual budget-mania ...

... roll on the 11th February with all the uncertainty that awaits the final outcome on the day :-((

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Burns Supper

Was the annual Edinburgh South West Labour Party Burns Supper last night ...

... very enjoyable evening had by all, with the venue being pretty much full to the limit!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Midlothian meeting/s

Braved a meeting of the Midlothian Labour Group this afternoon ;-)

... main topic of discussion being that Alternative Business Models report, which it now appears the City of Edinburgh Council are trying to bind surrounding local authorities into?

Guilt by association on open offer :-(

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Budget consultations

Local budget consultation event this evening with the wider 'Edinburgh Labour' Party membership ...

... have made an increased effort this year to try and broaden out the level of input beyond the City Chambers!

Good level of debate, and I'm pretty certain many of the ideas generated will directly influence our final proposals in a few weeks time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Neighbourhood Partnership meeting

Neighbourhood Partnership business meeting this evening ... preparation for the next main public event at the end of February.

Continue to think the new format of the main public events is proving a step in the right direction.

Professional shroud-waving?

Well, items 9, 10 and 11 did generate some debate today - but the most significant point of the day (for me!) came at item 7 on the 'revenue budget update' ...

... that revenue report shows a decrease in the required 'budget gap' for 2010/11 from nearly £40million in the Long Term Financial Plan (as of October 2009) to under £28million today (the figure on CPOL is wrong as an amended appendix was tabled - says it all really) ...

... that's right - the 'budget gap' has reduced by well over £1million per week since the Long Term Financial Plan was launched by the Council in October last year.

When a senior Finance Officer, who shall remain nameless, was asked by me if he could offer any absolute future assurance about the 'budget gap' figures now being presented for years 2 and 3, given how badly wrong the figures for year 1 were back in October, the answer I received was something like:

The only absolute assurance I can give you Councillor Burns is that the figures for years 2 and 3 will not be correct.

So - there you have it ... the constantly parroted £90million of savings required over 3-years isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Shroud-waving, I think it's called :-(

Monday, January 18, 2010

Policy and Strategy Committee

Policy and Strategy Committee meeting tomorrow ... the main agenda is here, and all the papers can be found via CPOL here.

Quite a bit on the agenda, although most of the budgetary information will simply be referred on to the budget-setting meeting of the Full Council on 11th February next month ...

... I suspect agenda items 9, 10 and 11 may well generate most debate: I'll report back any further interesting details after tomorrow's meeting is finished!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pond still frozen :-(

Managed a very brief visit to the allotment again this Sunday ... few more brussel stalks pulled up, and everything generally looking much livelier for the vast majority of the snow having melted ;-)

Pond still frozen solid mind you ...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Birthday boy ...

My dad was 82 during the week, so spent the day over in sunny Salsburgh (actually, still quite a bit of snow there!) celebrating the momentous event ...

... very good time had by all :-)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pretty poor service

Whilst the weather may be on the turn ... sad to say I took some calls today from a street in my Ward which still hasn't had a refuse-collection since the 18th December 2009!

Pretty poor service ... to say the least!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Budget 2010/11

Budget-setting day for 2010/11 now fast approaching - will take place at a Full Council Meeting on Thursday 11th February ...

... to say we're somewhat awash with last-minute papers, and adjustments to figures, would be an understatement :-(

There appears to be an inverse relationship between the amount of budget-growth and the amount of paperwork?

Of course, that's not to say the budget isn't growing - as regular readers know all too well, the revenue funding for 2010/11 is going up by an inflation-busting 1.76%!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

London bound

Whole day spent down in London - Electoral Reform Society (ERS) meetings all afternoon/evening ... and then back up to a still-wintry Edinburgh on the sleeper. And, believe it or not, the trains were all on time!

That's over 3-years now without being on a plane ;-)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Normal service to resume very soon?

Well, 9.30am this morning and my own street (Cowan Road) was mostly cleared of rubbish - but the larger bins on Ashley Terrace remain completely awash with rubbish, with many of them also surrounded by discarded Christmas trees :-(

I know I should be grateful for small (and personal!) mercies, but clearly that promise of re-setting to normal collections has still a few days to run yet ...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Promises, promises ...

Sorry - back to the weather situation again :-(

... I remain nothing but welcoming of the additional +350 staff now deployed onto snow-clearance duties, and was pleased to read the latest Members Briefing (out late this afternoon) which clearly indicates that not only is snow now being cleared with gusto, but also rubbish!

Said briefing makes an unequivocal promise that:

"Refuse collection has been reset and will start normal collection from today."

So imagine my dismay when I eventually got home this evening to find my own street's bins (and those on the main road nearby) still totally overflowing, with discarded Christmas trees still in abundance ... my street's collection day? --- you guessed it: Monday :-(

That briefing goes on to say:

"Members will be provided with a list of streets that we have been unable to collect from, and the reasons why, on a daily basis."

Well - nothing has arrived in my in-box (as of 8.30pm) but I look forward to hearing why refuse collection has not been 'reset to normal collections' for this bit of the town (and who knows where else!) as was clearly promised?

... and why-oh-why promise that everything will be fine, when blatantly for large sections of the city it simply is not?

I just despair.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Allotment produce!

Yes - even in the depths of the winter whiteout that is currently covering the whole of the UK ...

... isn't that a completely amazing picture - taken from space on Thursday apparently? ...

... the Burns' Allotment continues to deliver produce - and I thought I should show you the photographic evidence, just to prove it :-)
This picture taken (not from space) earlier this afternoon, when we managed to extract two complete brussel stalks from a cold allotment!

Cooked them all this very evening - they were totally delicious :-))

Friday, January 08, 2010

Boiler scrappage scheme?

No - this post is not going to be about the local SNP/Lib-Dems needlessly getting rid of biomass boilers in Edinburgh schools :-(

... it's about that rather attractive 'boiler scrappage scheme' announced as part of last December's Pre-Budget Report!

Regular blog readers will know that I've been keen, for ages, to renew our very old (and almost certainly, wholly inefficient) gas boiler --- well, imagine my dismay to discover the scheme doesn't operate in Scotland, as its up to the devolved Parliament to decide how to use the monies allocated to the scheme?

I've yet to track down just why the SNP Administration at Holyrood are refusing to operate this scheme in the coldest part of the UK, but if anyone out there knows what on earth they're doing refusing to implement such a no-brainer I'd love to hear from you :-((

Thursday, January 07, 2010

At long last!

At long last!

... an extra 350 staff allocated to snow clearance duties - see today's Members Briefing here --- which has just come out at 6pm this evening.

Why there wasn't a serious contingency plan to do this earlier (when the need was greatest) is a question for later?

For now, lets hope this begins to make a discernible difference to residents across the city.

Preparation, preparation, preparation?

Sorry to bang on about the weather ...

... but I'm somewhat frustrated by the increasingly shrill tone of much of the official Council briefing and news releases of the last few days: the general message of 'were doing all we can and trying our best' seems to be repeated ad nauseum?

Well, I do not doubt for one second that the workers on the ground are doing absolutely everything they can - and I've got nothing but admiration for them ... problem is, there's not enough of them and there should have been a much more significant redeployment of staff by now.

What about the contingency plans for such a redeployment over the holiday-period when the help was needed most? To me, it appears such plans just didn't exist and you get a hint of the confusion if you glance back at this 'briefing note' from 30th December 2009 which clearly states:

"However, due to a favourable weather forecast, every effort will be made to grit residential non-main routes by the end of 31st December, 2009."

Really? Few, if any, of the residential streets in my Ward have been gritted and we're now at the 7th January 2010.

The same briefing note goes on to say:

"In order to encourage the use of salt-bins for “self-help” purposes to grit residential footpaths, a full compliment of vehicles have been assigned to refilling salt bins from today."

Really? I've had numerous complaints about salt-bins being empty right throughout the last week.

Yet, whilst formally briefing that all of this was in-hand, on the very same day (30th December 2009) a Met Office public weather service advisor, was saying:

"The weather for Hogmanay evening looks like it will be generally cold and clear.

"With the risk of snow showers affecting the city, there is a possibility that there will be some further snow on the ground.

"Temperatures will be just below freezing but with a brisk north-easterly wind, the chill factor will make it feel bitterly cold - more like -8C.

"I would advise people to ensure they wrap up warm and as untreated surfaces could be icy, sensible footwear would be a good idea."

It just appears to me that all the warning signs were there, and yet sufficient preparation was not made to redeploy enough staff to deal with the impending crisis.

As I said a few days ago, I'm not really expecting anybody to openly admit they've got anything wrong --- but I really do hope that senior figures make sure the right lessons are learned from this whole episode and that much better contingency arrangements (especially for the redeployment of staff over holiday periods) are in place for the future.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Clear your own pavement?

Never mind all those ex-Cabinet Members ...

... just what about those still in power locally here in Edinburgh?

Someone should draw my SNP colleague's attention to this bit of the Council's web-site ...

... and even more importantly, he should possibly read this section of the relevant Roads Act?

Given recent form - some of my Council colleagues (whose names and Party affiliation I couldn't possibly mention!) are beginning to wonder if Councillor Work has actually been planted in the Edinburgh SNP Group for some covert political advantage ;-)

PLEASE, please just shut up

Not again ...

SNP Holyrood government claiming everything is just fine whilst country suffers its worst winter for a generation;

Local SNP Councillor tells Edinburgh residents to stop moaning and clear their frozen pavements themselves;

First day of the 2010 UK General Election campaign does not go well for the Tories, or the man who would be their Prime Minister;

Two ex- Westminster Cabinet members decide to draw voters attention to all of the above points by calling for a UK Labour leadership ballot!

Most of us are slogging our guts out to ensure a fourth-term Labour Government ... a hard enough job in the current circumstances ... and frankly people like Hewitt and Hoon (and Clarke) should just bloody well shut up - PLEASE!

Take it or leave it ...

Back in late November last year, I mentioned the Joint Consultative Group meeting which I attended and specifically flagged up the woeful state of the relationship between the local Trade Unions and their political masters ...

... what I didn't specifically mention - as I always do try (believe it or not!) to retain a level of 'confidence' via this blog - was the fact that the Modernising Pay proposals were on the verge of being rejected and there was talk from the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration of moving to the 90-day notice period, whereby employees are ultimately given a choice to accept the changes to their conditions or face having their contract terminated and having to re-apply for the 'new' job on the 'new' conditions.

At that meeting, I specifically asked if any such move to the 90-day notice period would first go to a Council Committee for decision. I was given the categorical assurance that it would and both the Council Leader and Convener of Finance were in the room when that assurance was made - as were several local Union officials.

Well, I've just received this briefing note via the Council's e-mail system ... please do read it and you'll see that the 90-day notice period began YESTERDAY.

This decision has been nowhere near a Council Committee.

Very sadly, this is completely indicative of the way the current Administration run the city.

Even more sadly, my 24th November 2009 prediction of serious industrial 'trouble and strife' could well be about to come true :-(

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Must do better ...

Sorry to return to the state of the local roads and pavements - but I'm not at all convinced those in charge fully realise the scale of the problems across the city at the moment?

... there's been a flurry of Council press releases and announcements today, all indicating that everything that can be done is being done - well, frankly I just think its too little too late.

There's been virtual 'political silence' from those in charge on all of this until this morning and several crucial days have been lost in trying to redeploy as many staff as possible to deal with the local roads and pavements problems. There appears to have been no serious contingency plan to cope with the New Year weather ... weather that was widely predicted long before New Year, and actually began prior to Christmas!

I don't doubt for a second that the staff on the ground are doing the best they can, but there are quite clearly not enough of them and I remain wholly unconvinced that everyone who could be redeployed to help out, has been ... the Council has some 17,000 employees and an annual revenue budget of £1billion - they should be coping with this situation far more effectively than they are.

I'm not really expecting anybody to say they've got anything wrong --- but I do hope that senior figures make sure the right lessons are learned from this whole episode and that much better contingency arrangements (especially for the redeployment of staff over holiday periods) are in place for any recurrence of present weather conditions.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Roads and pavements disgrace

Having mentioned the relatively benign weather of the 31st December in the last post ...

... I do also feel obliged to highlight just how generally appalling the weather has been over the holiday period - and the now totally treacherous condition that many of the Capital's roads and pavements are in.

I've been awash with complaints about the appalling condition of many local pavements and roads, and whilst I appreciate that main routes have to be cleared as a priority, the current weather conditions have now been with us for over two weeks, and very few residential pavements and roads appear to have been cleared?

Frankly, I find it simply unacceptable that so many frail and vulnerable residents have been left at the mercy of such icy streets.

And, to make matters potentially a lot worse, there are now reports that many Councils are running desperately low of gritting salt - whilst all the weather reports are indicating this cold snap will last at least another week, if not two!

Those in charge really do need to get a grip of the vital services they are responsible for and start to remedy this whole unacceptable situation immediately.

Happy New Year :-)

Happy New Year to one and all :-)

... saw the New Year in down on Princes Street this year, for the first time in a long while - and pleased to say that everyone in our group had a great time!

The weather on that night (31st) wasn't too bad, but it has been pretty poor right across Edinburgh throughout the holiday period - and it now looks set to continue for at least another week :-(