Sunday, February 28, 2010

Game on!

I do know that one swallow doesn't make a summer ...

... but the polls reported today at a Scottish level and at a UK level are part of a clear, recent trend as we move closer to the General Election.

All the signs have been there for some time of an increasing nervousness within Tory high command about their election strategy ...

... and if that nervousness continues, and the gap continues to narrow, then it is most definitely 'game on'!

Not that I've ever doubted it ;-)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Another glorious defeat

Stopped working for a few hours this afternoon to watch the Italy V Scotland rugby match ...

... I should have gone back out to do a bit more leafleting :-(

Brought back all those memories from the very same encounter at Murrayfield in 2007 :-((

Friday, February 26, 2010

Campaigning day

Campaigning work almost all of today again - there's just no doubt that the pace has really stepped up a gear.

Several weeks coming up now when I'll almost certainly see more of Party colleagues than my own wife and family ...

... and I can't even promise it will be quieter next year (Holyrood elections), or the year after (Local elections).

Better start planning a really good family-holiday in 2013!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Election mania

Well, it may be several weeks to go (of course, I don't know exactly how many?) ...

... to the General Election but all sorts of deadlines are looming large and taking up a lot of time and attention at the moment :-(

I think its safe to say that election mania has well-and-truly set in!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hutchison walkabout

Periodic 'walkabout' for the Hutchison Estate area later this morning, with various Community Councillors and assorted Council Staff officers ...

... of course, these are very worthwhile events: especially the light-refreshments at the start of proceedings, all courtesy of the Community Council Chair ;-)

Looking at the rest of my diary for today, I'd better make the most of those biscuits!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Neighbourhood Partnership meeting

Edinburgh South West Neighbourhood Partnership meeting this evening ... unsurprisingly, the whole evening was really dominated by the proposals to close 5 (out of 6) Community Centres in the South West and West of the City.

Quite evidently, a lot of people very, very unhappy.

Managed to get a joint-motion referred to the Full Council Meeting on 11th March - lets hope a bit of sanity might enter the proceedings thereafter, and the headlong rush to close these facilities can be somewhat curtailed!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday blues ...

Did something this morning I've not done in a very long time - turned up an hour early for a meeting ...

... having altered a time-slot in my diary for Monday 22nd February, when I should have altered said time-slot for Monday 22nd March :-(

How long to those Easter holidays??

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Play the ball, not the man

No point in avoiding the subject ... and I can hardly deny that I regularly read the Sunday Observer :-(

Well, today's re-launch may have promised more news analysis and fewer supplements - but I can't help feel that there's still just one "supplement" too many this week :-((

... it just gets better and better for those of us doing the hard work on the doorsteps!

And all this comes today as a Sunday Times/YouGov poll has the Tory lead down to just 6-points ... playing the ball, and not the man, does tend to work over time - one can only hope it's not just me that realises this in the coming crucial weeks?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Allotment visit

Managed to fit in a brief visit to the allotment this afternoon, pretty cold but clear sunshine ... quite a contrast to a few weeks ago!

Brussels all but finished now, the leeks still look fine though, and many of the various bulbs (tulips etc.) are starting to appear.

Pond still completely frozen over ...

... and the ground, whilst not frozen solid, still far too hard to even think about much new planting :-(

Friday, February 19, 2010

5 Centres to close in South West!

Many of you will have already spotted that 5 of the 6 Community Centres about to be closed are in the South West area of the city:

A complete list of all the community facilities in the city can be found here, but it really is worth clicking on each of the individual links - as above - to see the range of services provided at each of the 5 threatened Centres on this side of the city.

Removal of all of these services will undoubtedly create a short-term financial saving, but I'll (sadly) safely predict that such drastic action will store up really serious long-term problems for the local communities around these Centres, which will certainly cost the city more money in the long-term.

It's yet more proof, if ever it were needed, that the current SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition know the cost of everything but the value of nothing :-(

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gorgie War Memorial Hall fights back ...

All credit must go to the Management Committee at the Gorgie War Memorial Hall - one of the six Community Centres threatened with closure due to last week's budget ...

... less than 24-hours after being told their centre is to close, they've managed to get a piece on STV News!

Pity the news team covering the story couldn't track down the local SNP or Liberal Councillor to explain why they voted to support the closure??

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

6 Community Centre closures

I reckon we've got literally weeks and weeks of this type of story about cuts and closures to come yet :-(

That - tragically - is just the start of it.

The devil is, indeed, in the detail ... and I remain convinced that most of the 29 SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition Councillors have little, or no, idea on the detail of what they have just approved!

A budget to be proud of?

Monday, February 15, 2010

At least show some decency?

Looking back at the leaked (so-called) 'officer-proposals' from the Evening News coverage of the 25th January - that article predicted a grant cuts programme of some £1.5million ...

... well, it wasn't far wrong was it?

The SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition now know TODAY that they've got to remove just over £1million from grant awards --- that's what they approved last Thursday - so why leave it until the 11th March before releasing the details - wouldn't it be more decent to let people know as soon as possible if their organisation is facing a massive grant cut?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

over £1million removed from Council grants

More depressing detail from that local budget - and I suspect many of the SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition backbenchers don't even realise they've done this - but OVER £1million has been removed from the voluntary and third-sector grant blocks :-(

That is going to lead to a huge amount of pain come the 11th March Council Meeting, when individual grants are set.

It does appear that the SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition have set aside £146,000 in a 'unallocated' pot to meet some of the inevitable campaigns that will arise between now and the 11th March - problem is, they've taken £1,154,000 out (see below for the summary figures) of the overall grant blocks!

- Children and Families grants - £494,000 cut
- Health and Social Care grants - £99,000 cut
- Services for Communities grants - £330,000 cut
- Sports and Arts grants - £231,000 cut

On the 11th March, every Council Department will thus have to slash grants and reduce support to hundreds of organisations that have been doing critical work on behalf of the Council - in some cases for several decades.

The +£1m of cuts will, without doubt, threaten the existence of many organisations that provide essential services - ranging from services to young people who have been abused to services for children with learning disabilities.

Frankly - we are looking here at the slashing of grant funding to organisations such as Barnardos, the Disability Action Group, Alzheimer's Scotland and many local Youth and Elderly Clubs across the City. And, I simply find it astonishing that many of these groups have not yet even been informed of the potential reductions being proposed!

By stark contrast - the Labour Group protected all these crucial budgets in our alternative proposals that were dismissed last Thursday :-((

Friday, February 12, 2010

More expensive than Council Tax?

Been looking in a bit more detail at that appalling local budget ...

... the level of price hikes, for some pretty basic services, is frankly going to impact on many, many people in a worse fashion than a modest increase in the Council Tax would have done :-(

Glad to see that the local newspaper picked up on the theme today - and the specific price rises that are mentioned in that article are only the tip of the iceberg!

Most stupid of all has to be the flat £20 charge for every single 'large-item' rubbish uplift - no more 'first one free'?

I'll safely predict that it leads to an even worse outbreak of fly-tipping than we're seeing around the city at the moment - here's Ritchie Place recently ... just wait until every single uplift will set you back £20 :-((

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good day for Edinburgh's vulnerable :-)

Might well have been a bad day for Edinburgh's schools ... but, at least it was a good day for Edinburgh's vulnerable.

In the second half of the Council Meeting, there was a complete, and total, climbdown on the Care and Support Services tender

The Council basically agreed not set a rate for Direct Payment, but to set up consultation involving a wide range of service users, providers and others.

Here's the text of the amendment that was agreed unanimously:

"Council agrees with the need to achieve best value in all of the services provided by the Council. The way in which Care and Support Services have evolved has resulted in a large number of providers with a wide variation in prices. Council recognises that this may not represent best value.

Council notes that the competitive tendering approach was aimed at providing best value in the commissioning of care and support services for Vulnerable people. However, Council agrees that it is no longer appropriate to award the contracts as originally planned, given the shortcomings identified in the Chief Executive’s report to the Finance and Resources Committee of 4 February 2010 and the changes notified in the original business case. Specifically, the level of direct payment applications has risen dramatically, bringing into doubt the viability of awarding contracts.

Council notes that, according to the Deloitte high level analysis the execution of the tender evaluation process is, “not as sufficiently meticulous or as thorough as might have been expected”. Council regrets the distress and uncertainty caused to users, families and carers and wishes to take full cognisance of the representations made on this matter.

Council therefore:

(i) instructs the Chief Executive to review comprehensively the Council’s arrangements for tendering, including the communications and consultation strategy, to ensure that this situation is not repeated;

(ii) instructs the Chief Executive to carry out a rigorous assessment of the development and management of the care and support tender process, including the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the process, and to report on this as part of his report on lessons learned to the Finance and Resources Committee on 1 June 2010;

(iii) instructs the Chief Executive to take account of the findings of these inquiries when preparing the overarching commissioning strategy as a template for future procurement activity.

Council further agrees to:

(a) note the changed position in relation to the number of people who have now applied for Direct Payments;

(b) not proceed to award the care and support contracts as originally proposed;

(c) note that a Commissioning Strategy will be brought forward for consideration by Committee/Council in the summer;

(d) in the meantime, not to adopt the recommended Direct Payment rate of up to £15.04; and

(e) instruct the Chief Executive to set up an arrangement, to include service providers, service users and advocacy organisations, to facilitate a dialogue and process that will help lead to the identification of an appropriate and fair Direct Payment rate, to be reported in no more than 2 Council cycles."

Just what can one say!!

Bad day for Edinburgh's schools :-(

Well - budget meeting over and the SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition proposals were passed :-(

As I've indicated before, we remain firmly of the belief that front line services should be protected as much as possible and we were simply not convinced that funding cuts were absolutely necessary in 2010/11 - the Council's revenue budget allocation from the Scottish Government for 2010/11 will be £810.885m, an increase of more than £14m (1.76%) from this current 2009/10 year.

Inevitably though, the combined vote of the SNP/Lib-Dem coalition Administration was sufficient to approve their budget and it will now be implemented.

As a result, a quick analysis of the main education-proposals show that:
  • £2.440million will be cut from devolved school budgets across the city meaning an average reduction of approximately £10K in each Primary School and approximately £40K from an average sized High School.
  • £655K will be cut from Community High Schools across the city.
  • £260K will be cut from Community, Learning and Development services.
  • A further £1.355million will be cut through "various" and "additional" savings from services to children and young people and school and community services. These have not been itemised.

A whole range of reductions to block grants were also approved, but the detail of their implications won't be fully known until the next Council Meeting on Thursday 11th March, when individual grants are allocated.

There was also a huge range of very significant increases to service charges and I'll try and blog about them over the coming days.

All-in-all though, a bad day for front line services - and a particularly bad day for Edinburgh's schools :-((

Protecting Front Line Services

Budget Day - in Edinburgh at least!

Rather than repeat some of the earlier main messages, I'm just going to provide a couple of links to the complete Labour Budget Amendment - here ...

... and also to the complete set of supporting figures for Labour's Amendment - here.

This local budget, more than any for several years, is about political choices - and we're making our primary choice very, very clear --- the protection of front line services.

As ever, I would welcome any feedback in the comments box and/or you can e-mail me direct at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Drumbrae School site

Hard not to welcome another new Care Home for the City ...

- to add to the four initiated under the previous Administration!

... but I'm really not sure of the sensitivity of publicly shouting about this literally just a few weeks after the actual decision to close Drumbrae Primary School?

Maybe not quite as bad as the infamous Christmas Card, but still pretty insensitive if you ask me :-(

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

No more cuts!

The City Chambers quadrangle was fairly full with hundreds of children and parents this afternoon - and there was a very, very clear message from all those in attendance: no more cuts!

... quite right too.

Especially when you consider that no one - and I mean no one - is contesting that the City of Edinburgh Council has MORE revenue funding this year than last.

So why are schools still having their budgets slashed by 1% - which is around a £10,000 reduction for an average primary school, and up to a £40,000 reduction for a larger secondary school?

It's surely not all based on that incredibly accurate Long Term Financial Plan?

Whatever - no need to worry though, because:

"they actually will not feel, thankfully, the effect of this 1%"


Monday, February 08, 2010

Local Budget Priorities

I mentioned way back in mid-November what our main budget priority would be this year:

"to put up the strongest defence possible of front-line public services. Many of these services in Edinburgh have already suffered over the last few years, and I certainly do not feel they should bear the brunt of any further financial-savings required. Quite the opposite."

And, as per last year, I'll be sure to post the full detail of our Opposition budget up on the blog first-thing Thursday morning - but for now here's a bit more on the priority areas we will protect and how we'll pay for them:

Edinburgh Labour will protect front line services:

a. take NO cuts from any of the city’s Nursery School, Primary School, Secondary School or Special School budgets;
b. take NO cuts from any of the city’s learning and development services at Community High Schools or Community Centres;
c. take NO cuts from the Children and Families’ Department in relation to grants to third parties and voluntary organisations;
d. take NO cuts from the Health and Social Care Department in terms of ‘Care for the Elderly and Disabled’;
e. take NO cuts from the Edinburgh Leisure budget in relation to existing crèche provision;
f. take NO cuts from any other third party or voluntary organisation.

Edinburgh Labour recognises the crucial importance of these front line services and thus, to achieve any required savings, proposes:

a. To dispense with unnecessary schemes and back office functions;
b. To instruct central and non service delivery functions to produce more efficiencies;
c. To freeze the pay of Chief Officers;
d. To freeze the pay of all Councillors;
e. To freeze the pay of all staff earning over £40K (excluding teachers);
f. To reduce the use of highly expensive consultants.

In essence, the Edinburgh Labour budget will again focus on schools; services for vulnerable people; and support for the voluntary sector - areas which have been badly hit by Lib-Dem/SNP cuts over the last 3-years.

By stark contrast, on Thursday 11th February 2011, we'll promote a local budget for the city's youngest, oldest and most vulnerable people.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Japanese day in Glasgow :-)

Off to sunny Glasgow today ... with a focus on all things Japanese :-)

Junior is obsessed with Studio Ghibli movies, so my sisters have got tickets for the preview of the new Ponyo film, at the launch of the 2010 Glasgow Film Festival ...

... and then we're all off to Wagamama in West George Street for a spot of lunch, just to keep the Japanese theme running!

Bit of light-relief from the travails of the last few days!

UPDATE: just back from Glasgow ... if you've got kids, take them to see Ponyo - if you haven't, go and see it anyway! --- really magical film, enjoyed by all :-)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Shame on you!

I am completely and totally appalled at Councillor Phil Wheeler's comment, as reported in today's Evening News, in relation to the ongoing Care and Support Services tender fiasco:

"It is a matter of great concern that the council leader, myself and other members of the administration were kept in the dark about the mistakes."

I've nothing against Phil as an individual, but this type of buck-passing is completely beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned.

I've had to politically-front some rather difficult transport projects in my time, several of which came under the most intense public scrutiny - yet if anyone can find a comment from me where I publicly criticised officers during that time I'll write a cheque for £1,000 to the charity of that person's choice?

Now - my money is safe ... because you just shouldn't do it; and I never did --- in circumstances that were often a lot more politically charged than the Care and Support Services tender.

Apart from anything else - Phil Wheeler, Jenny Dawe and Paul 'everything is fine' Edie should have bloody well known what was going on ... every one of the 29 Opposition Councillors knew and we shouted load and clear about it as far back as October 2009!

Indeed, my colleagues Lesley Hinds and Ewan Aitken have been shouting about it for a lot longer!

Pig-headed political stubbornness has blinded the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration from listening to us. And now we've been proven correct they're lashing out and blaming officers.

Shame on you Phil. Shame on you all.

Friday, February 05, 2010

£2million removed from schools :-(

Here's the political spin ...

... which does just prove my earlier accusation of truly appalling professional and political shroud-waving :-(

But sadly, here's what a 1% cut to devolved school budgets still actually means:

If the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration take a 1% cut to devolved school budgets it will have a significant impact on teaching and learning:
  • a 1% cut in school budgets means stripping £2million out of city schools
  • a 1% cut is around £10,000 for an average primary school
  • a 1% cut is up to £40,000 for a larger secondary school

Front-line services being reduced, during a year when revenue support has gone up by 1.76% ?

The city is being run by people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing :-(

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Care and Support Services update ...

The Care and Support Services tender was up at Committee (again!) this afternoon ...

... I hear from colleagues that proceedings dragged on for over 4-hours, but ultimately the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration, having abandoned the whole tender programme, proceeded to simply push through their views on the 'next-steps' with no recognition whatsoever that they'd done anything wrong :-(

From all accounts they tried to shuffle-off the blame onto Officers, with one SNP Councillor (who shall remain nameless) saying "the Conveners job is to take the Officials advice" ... really??

Well, he did do that I suppose, and then he publicly announced (one day before this all went pear-shaped) ... "I have said all along that we have a good robust tendering process that has been cleared by the lawyers at every stage."

Given everything that has happened since, its clear that statement was complete and total rubbish ... how else can you phrase it?

100's and 100's of lives - lives of many of the most vulnerable people in Edinburgh - have been negatively affected by this fiasco, and yet we're seeing a classic attempt to avoid all political responsibility :-((

Well, I can categorically assure the politicians (and officers) involved in this whole sorry saga that the main Opposition Group on the Council has no intention of letting this issue drift into the bureaucratic short-grass ...

... it may take time, but we are determined to make sure that those responsible for this mess have to properly account for their actions.

and the prize goes to ...

David Howarth and David Heath must be avid readers of this blog ...

... no sooner have I posted about a potential referendum amendment, and they have much the same text formally tabled in the House of Commons!

Full marks to them :-)

Only needs 349 Labour MPs to support them now and there will be a referendum on FPTP against STV, for House of Commons Elections, on Monday 30th May 2011.

If only ...

Only just made it :-)

A blogging colleague has just drawn my attention to a Scottish Roundup Blog Award I appear to have been honoured with - only just ;-)

... how many more of these things do I have, that I know absolutely nothing about??

No need to answer that!

Interesting point, I think, on this top 10 "Politicians' Blogs" category --- 4 Labour, 2 Independent, 2 Lib-Dem, 2 SNP ...

... I'm pleasantly surprised at that :-))

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A 108% increase!

Never mind all that excitement about AV/STV and electoral reform ...

... I've just discovered that our annual allotment charge, which was a mere £48 when we first got the plot in February 2008 (2nd anniversary just yesterday!), is set to rise to £100 by 2015 (look at table 6 on page 29 here)!

That's a whopping 108% increase :-(

I'd be willing to wager there will be LOTS more of this buried in the small print of the local budget when its finally set next Thursday.

That referendum on AV, could be on STV

Well, the Government Amendment on the use of the Alternative Vote (AV) for Westminster elections has now been tabled ... you can see it here.

Pretty straightforward to adjust it from a majoritarian system to a proportional system ...

Under the section on Referendum on voting systems:

- amend clause 2a to read Single Transferable Vote system

- amend clause 3 to read Single Transferable Vote system

- delete clauses 4, 5 and 6; and replace with:

In this section “Single Transferable Vote system” means a system under which:

- The number of Members of Parliament to be returned in a constituency shall be either two, three, four or five, as determined by order.

- Different numbers may be determined in relation to different constituencies.

In each constituency in which there is a contested election, a poll shall be held at which each person entitled to vote as an elector may vote by marking on the ballot paper:

- the voter’s first preference from among the candidates to be Member of Parliament, and

- if there are three or more candidates and the voter wishes to express a further preference for one or more of those candidates, the voter’s second and, if the voter wishes, subsequent preferences from among those candidates.

Then re-number remaining clauses as appropriate!

Its certainly not rocket-science.

Any bets on the first MP to table such an Amendment??

A step in the right direction?

Yesterday's announcement on potential changes away from the Westminster first-past-the-post electoral system shouldn't come as a complete surprise ...

... the far more important issue now (for me!) is whether the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill can be successfully amended to actually produce a proportional system, as opposed to pure-AV, which no matter how you cut it, is a majoritarian electoral system?

A matter of days will tell us the answer ...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Culture and Leisure committee

Substituted for one of my colleagues at the Culture and Leisure Committee this morning ...

... and, despite there being an incredibly light agenda, I swear there were more Officers in the room than elected politicians!?

At least, I think they were all Officers - there just could have been the odd (and rather expensive) consultant in amongst them?

Sometimes difficult to tell in the City Chambers these days.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The new Tynecastle High School

Attended a brief meeting down at the new Tynecastle High School later this evening - and after the formalities, got a tour around the new school facilities ...

... now, bias openly admitted - but the pupil and staff facilities really are just truly stunning :-)

And real credit is due to all those who managed to ensure such a smooth transition from the old to the new building over December/January.

And - I can't resist now the last one is open - here's that list of 34 schools completely rebuilt or refurbished under Labour:

New Build Schools

Braidburn Special School
Rowanfield Special School
Oaklands Special School
Gorgie Mills SEBD School
Woodlands Special School
Oxgangs Primary School
St Peter’s Primary School
Forthview Primary School
Castleview Primary School
Craigour Park Primary School
Craigroyston Primary School
Broomhouse Primary School
St Joseph’s RC Primary School
Pirniehall Primary School
St David’s RC Primary School
Gracemount High School
Craigmount High School
St Thomas of Aquins High School
Bonaly Primary School
Juniper Green Primary School
Niddrie Mill Primary School
St Francis Primary School
Broughton High School
Forrester High School
Holy Rood High School
St. Augustine's High School
Tynecastle High School
Craigroyston Community High School

Refurbished Schools

The Royal High School
Firrhill High School
Drummond Community High School
Canal View Primary School
Pentland Primary School
Curries Primary School

And here's the list of those commissioned and opened since the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration took over:


brick-for-brick eh??

Heads should roll

Care and Support Services tender report out today - going to yet another re-convened meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee this coming Thursday ...

... and guess what: the whole programme is to be abandoned because of flaws in the tendering process.

Who would have thought it - certainly not Paul --- "I have said all along that we have a good robust tendering process that has been cleared by the lawyers at every stage." --- Edie, that's for sure.

And, as if the whole sorry saga hasn't been bad enough - the consultants report that came up with the stunning conclusion that this process has been a basket-case cost £80,000 :-(

... it's only 5-pages long: £16,000 per page :-((

What a bloody mess.

Heads really should roll.