Thursday, September 30, 2010

ABM Cross-Party dialogue

Back to local politics today - no family drama in the Council Chamber (that I'm aware of, anyhow!) - and the subject of the Alternative Business Models (ABM) programme ...

... regular readers will be aware that our Political Group remain deeply sceptical about the direction of the ABM programme - but, to my surprise recently, the Lib-Dem/SNP Coalition agreed to the formation of a Cross-Party grouping to input into the process ... at least up until the next ABM December 2010 report to Full Council.

Well, that Cross-Party grouping met for the first time earlier this week and there was a constructive debate about a wide variety of issues concerning the programme ... doesn't mean we're all going to ultimately agree on this (I strongly suspect that may well not happen) but at least views are being aired and documents are being scrutinised, in a fashion that has not been open to Opposition Groups up until now ...

... personally, I strongly welcome the change in approach.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The right call ...

On balance, I think David Miliband has made the right call this afternoon by deciding not to stand for the Shadow Cabinet ...

... every significant Shadow Cabinet decision in the coming years would have been seen through the false prism of his relationship with his brother - every minor nuance would have been refracted in those terms.

Labour has just had several years experience of what that type of personal drama can do to an organisation ... frankly, I'm glad it's not now going to be repeated through the Miliband brothers.

Miliband senior, in my judgement anyhow, deserves enormous credit for the magnanimity he has shown in his actions today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Craiglockhart Community Council meeting

Craiglockhart Community Council meeting this evening - agenda here ...

... localised traffic issues dominated tonight's discussions: with quite a bit of support for the potential use of 20mph-zones if the trial in the South of the city is successful?

Full details of that proposed trial can be found here.

Calm and collected

I know I'm biased - but not that biased ;-)

... but, I do think Ed Miliband coped pretty well this afternoon in delivering what must have been a difficult conference speech to make.

He was calm and collected and very clearly communicated all his key messages.

Early days obviously - but I suspect there may be more to Miliband junior than many opponents would like to hope.

Policy and Strategy committee meeting

Policy and Strategy committee meeting this morning (agenda here).

Bulk of the meeting taken up by the update report on the Refuse Dispute ... the very short-report in question can be found here. Basically, this signifies the imposition of new terms and conditions and surely marks the final failure of the Council to resolve this dispute after nearly a full year-and-a-half of industrial work-to-rule :-(

Not something to be particularly proud of - and not a good omen as the Local Authority embarks on some really difficult budget decisions in the coming few months, when the support and understanding of the workforce is going to be completely crucial.

Some debate also on the Fairer Scotland Fund update report (here) - but, thankfully, this was continued until the next Policy and Strategy committee meeting --- in very early November --- so, does buy a bit of time and we may even know quite a bit more about available monies then?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tynecastle High Parent Council

Tynecastle High School Parent Council meeting this evening ...

... first full meeting of the School year and very good to see some new faces present and participating!

New school building still looking (and feeling) as good as that first tour back in February ;-)

Nursery School closures announced by Press Release

Just after 11am this morning I received a Press Release announcing that 2 Nursery Schools were going to close in the city - you can see the text here.

I've blogged before about how I believe there is a tragic undermining of the status of Nursery Education going on in this city - see here - and can only conclude that this is yet another sad milestone, especially when you reflect on the history of Nursery provision and the role that the old Lothian Regional Council played in pioneering it for the whole of Scotland.

How times have changed :-(

But what's particularly bad about this recent disgrace is that the Lib-Dem/SNP Council approved a budget, way back in February 2010, that took a swinging cut of some £302,000 out of Nursery School provision in Edinburgh. As we made clear at the time, it was a wholly unnecessary funding reduction.

But we've been pressing them ever since to name the 3 Nursery School closures that this £302,000 cut equates to, and for 7-months they've refused to come clean and say what their proposals were.

Now in late September, via a general Press Release, they say they are going to close 2 Nursery Schools with a saving of some £200,000. It is an appalling way to treat parents, families and children and shows no respect for the very serious concerns this will raise for many, many families in the city.

The Lib-Dem/SNP local coalition now urgently need to show some honesty and tell parents how they are going to make the further £102,000 of cuts in Nursery School provision that they have already approved, and not hide-behind any further Press Releases.

Are they going to close another Nursery School or not - yes or no?

Tragically, I do not expect a straight answer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Salsburgh day (& football)

Spent most of today over in sunny Salsburgh visiting my folks - and yes, the sun really was shining ;-)

A pleasant afternoon watching Manchester United fail to take advantage of both Chelsea and Arsenal losing yesterday - such a shame ;-))

Ah well, guess there's always the 2011/12 season for them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Allotment update!

Now - just because the Labour movement is abuzz with Leadership chatter ... doesn't mean the Allotment stops needing attention ;-)

... and, believe it or not, we did manage to get down there earlier this afternoon and everything is looking in pretty good shape for the onset of Autumn - and still a fair bit of colour in some of the beds, as you can see from this snapshot :-))

Labour Leader announced

Very, very close result ... as expected in the last few weeks ... but Ed Miliband clinched it on the last round of transfers!

Not my personal, first preference but I'll now get 100% behind the new Party Leader and I've every confidence that the wider Labour movement will do the same ...

... we're all very clear what we now need to focus on: and that's continuing to work flat-out towards a Labour victory next May at Holyrood and ensuring Iain Gray is First Minister ...

... and beyond to a Labour victory at the next General Election - whenever it comes - and seeing Ed Miliband as the next UK Prime Minister.

Campaigning morning

Good crowd of activists out campaigning all across Edinburgh this morning ...

... whilst everyone was, of course, totally focused on the job in hand - it has to be said that all the talk was of the Leadership announcement later this afternoon!

Not long to go now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

2011/12 Budget proposals ...

I mentioned the Full Council last week, when the Budget proposals (Package 1) were approved on a division ...

... well, I've found that most of the Package 2 proposals are now up on the Council web-site: you can see the main-page here, and the details for Package 2 here (although Health and Social Care appears to be missing at the moment?).

My current understanding is that these Package 2 proposals are open for discussion/consultation until the final 2011/12 Budget is actually set in February 2011 - you can go to one of the remaining local meetings (or host your own meeting!) and/or just e-mail your feedback to:

No matter what you think of the process so far, I do believe it important that as many people as possible submit feedback into the system ... I hope 'really bad blog' readers will do so!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Audit Committee

Audit Committee meeting this morning (and afternoon!) ... main agenda here, and individual papers on CPOL here.

Unsurprisingly, the whole session was (rightly so) dominated by the "Care and Support Services - Lessons Learned" report (here). The debate was mainly constructive, with a whole host of Directors and senior Officers giving evidence to the Committee ... such a refreshing change from the usual Committee Meeting which has no real space, or procedure, for proper scrutiny.

Some Directors, and external witnesses, couldn't make it today; so the Audit Committee is going to reconvene (soon hopefully!) to hear from them before coming to any final conclusions.

Personally, I think it was obvious to anyone - as far back as October 2009 - who 'cared to care' about this issue that there were very, very serious problems with this process ... which all ultimately led to the collapse of the programme in February this year.

As I said at that time, the main Opposition Group on the Council has no intention of letting this issue drift into the bureaucratic short-grass, and we remain determined to make sure that those responsible for this mess have to properly account for their actions.

If the next meeting of the Audit Committee doesn't do that, then - frankly - I think elected members will have failed in their democratic duty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Weekly Wednesday surgery

Weekly Wednesday surgery at Fountainbridge Library is usually the busiest of the three I do ... but, tonight, not one single customer :-(

Being relatively disinterested in football (except when it comes to the World Cup, of course) I can only assume that there was some hugely significant match being played tonight?

Either that, or everyone's perfectly happy?? ... okay - maybe not.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

COSLA and Merchiston Community Council

COSLA meeting this morning to see the launch of a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Framework for Elected Members in Scottish Local Government ... no laughing in the back row please ;-)

... actually, I felt it seemed a pretty impressive (and easily accessible) package and I certainly hope that the City of Edinburgh Council signs up to it in due course.

Merchiston Community Council meeting this evening ... packed agenda, the details of which can be found here.

Never a dull moment!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Local holiday ...

Local holiday today - and despite having one morning and one evening meeting, managed to fit in a family film trip: went to see Scott Pilgrim VS the World ... I thoroughly enjoyed it ;-)

I'd strongly recommend it to any family with a youngster interested in Manga and the internet ... that's probably everyone with a 12-year old??
Very enjoyable (and funny) film.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Botanics visit

Some family over today for an 'Edinburgh visit' ... so we managed to fit in an afternoon trip to the Botanics.

First time I'd been since the opening of the new John Hope Gateway building ...

... I was hugely impressed with the design and the facilities therein: the kids particularly enjoyed the exhibition on fungi!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

No future for the Lib-Dems?

As a left-wing alternative to Labour that is!

Don't take my word for it - have a read at what their Leader is saying to the Independent today ...

... personally, I think this will go down like the proverbial lead balloon for the vast majority of Lib-Dem voters in Scotland.

They weren't on track to do well next May anyhow, but this type of stunt - in my humble opinion - will only damage their chances further.

The present MSPs in Edinburgh West and South must be loving it??

Autumn Allotment Update!

Managed to fit in a bit of time down at the Allotment this afternoon ... everything now in good order ;-)

Most of the cropping is done for the year, but the red cabbages are still growing fine, and the brussels will be going for many more months yet!

Hoping to have some of the home-grown brussels for Christmas lunch - and could be that we'll still have some of those numerous allotment potatoes as well :-))

Friday, September 17, 2010

Space Hop

Spent a bit of time at Fountainbridge Library this afternoon, attending a small party marking the end of the summer reading challenge for numerous 4-11 years olds, who have successfully completed 6-books over the last few months ...

... the children present were all far better behaved than the adults in the Council Chamber yesterday. Seriously!

Says it all really :-((

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Full Council

Well, I might have thought the meeting last night was a bit of a shambles, but Full Council today was even worse :-((

Difficult to know where to start, but the potential closure of Blindcraft did feature strongly and led to a fairly passionate debate and political division - a Labour/Green Amendment to try and widen out the scrutiny of the available options was heavily defeated by the SNP/Lib local coalition along with Tory support.

Tragically, I now think that closure is looking highly likely - which would be a sad day indeed for the 200-year old facility and all who work within it :-(

But as well as Blindcraft, the budget report sparked a pretty heated debate - was all a bit surreal really when every Amendment that was tabled was basically agreeing to well over 90% of the proposals before the Council?

A fair bit of personal vitriol (and truly grown-up shouting) was directed at me - apparently I made some outrageously political comments at last night's meeting which exposes me as the devil-incarnate and has so upset the hard-skinned coalition politicians in charge of the Council that they can no longer trust a word I say ...

... yes, it was all petty, puerile and pathetic.

A great advert for local democracy - not.

Things can only get worse :-((

Local budget consultation meeting

Forgot to mention a local budget consultation meeting I attended last night - as part of the Council's attempt to engage with the wider community about the financial challenges they are now facing ... specific details of the meetings here, and more general details here.

I've very much welcomed the moves that the local SNP/Lib-Dem coalition have made in attempting to change the way the Council budget is set ... but, unfortunately, the meeting last night was a bit of a shambles: there's really no kinder way to put it :-(

Only 40 members of the public turned up, that was across 4-Wards of the Council - so something like 0.05% of the population!

There was clearly significant annoyance at the way the whole meeting was managed and many of those 40 members of the public simply refused to participate in the 'voting' that took place as they obviously felt that the questions were frankly 'loaded'.

It was not a good advertisement for how to get local involvement - most people will have left the hall dispirited, of that I'm sure :-(

Worse than all of that really, was the complete lack of any leadership shown by the Administration politicians present ... apart from a few words of introduction, the Officials were left to handle the evening and all of the questions? Bizarre.

I know what will now happen - the Officials will be blamed for botching the process, despite the fact that they were obviously given no proper lead on how to manage the event.

Excuse my language; but p*ss up and brewery come to mind :-((

Blindcraft closure?

At today's Council Meeting, I think its safe to predict that the potential closure of 'Blindcraft' (the full report is here) will be the most politically contentious issue ...

... there's no doubt the Council is facing a challenging financial settlement this year, but that doesn't make it any better - or worse - a time to potentially close such a facility.

Any final decision has to be based on the long-term prospects, and not taken with just the next couple of years in mind ... and surely we must remember that the true mark of any City is how it relates to those who are most vulnerable and in most need of assistance?

Full Council meeting & the Pope!

Full Council meeting today - main agenda can be found here, with all the individual papers on CPOL as usual ...

... the meeting starts at 2pm, not the usual 10am start, due to the Pope arriving in Edinburgh this morning!

As an atheist, his visit doesn't have any personal religious significance for me, but I do believe that much larger crowds than are being expected will come to Edinburgh today to mark his presence here?

And the mere fact that the whole affair is a full 'State Visit' (unlike the last Papal visit in 1982), with the Queen welcoming the Pope at Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile here in Edinburgh, has huge historical significance - indeed, its the first time such a visit has been given this status.

I do think central Edinburgh will be exceptionally busy all day!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maggie's Kitchen Menus!

To anyone who has campaigned during a General (or Scottish) election in Edinburgh South West or Edinburgh Central ... Maggie Darling's food is legendary!

... so, its great to read that she has started up a food blog, which you can find here!

Now you don't have to wait until election time to sample Maggie's fantastic food :-))

New Council Web-site

New Council web-site up and running this afternoon ... of course, it inevitably means that almost none of my previous links to the old CEC site will now work :-(

... frankly, I reckon it's all a sinister plot to secretly try and hide the last three-and-a-half years from public view ;-)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Labour won by a thundering mile

You really should have a quick glance at paragraph 2 of this article --- you have to admire John's honesty!

But frivolity aside, he does raise some serious points about the lack of awareness of the scale of the devastation which is about to hit the public sector ... evidenced at a local level by coverage in today's local paper :-(

And whilst I appreciate that these local proposals are for consultation and no final decision will be made until next February, it does appear to me that the brunt of the suggested cuts will hit the weakest and most vulnerable in Edinburgh the hardest.

That just can't be right and we'll certainly be developing alternative local savings that have less impact on those who need front-line services the most.

One would have hoped the Lib-Dems down south (now part of the UK-Government) would be thinking along the same lines - but it certainly doesn't appear so from where I'm sitting :-((

Monday, September 13, 2010

All eyes on next May

From last Friday afternoon --- the winning Liberton/ Gilmerton candidate is third from the right ...

... we're smiling broadly as the result has just been formally announced and Bill Cook is now a Labour Councillor for Ward 16 in Edinburgh ;-)

Onwards to next May now!

Pedalled for Scotland ...

Pedal for Scotland event yesterday was a great success for our team of six ...

... weather was absolutely perfect all the way across from Glasgow to Edinburgh and, despite over 9,000 cyclists taking part, all the feeding stations seemed to flow quickly and efficiently.

It was my eighth-in-a-row Pedal for Scotland event but the first for my new(ish) Ridgeback Panorama --- it rode perfectly all the way and is considerably faster over 50-miles than the old bike ;-)

Of course, maybe I'm just getting a little bit fitter with all that daily commuting to work?

Anyhow - two more to go and it'll be ten-in-a-row :-)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Candidate Information and Training Day

Speaking at an Edinburgh Labour 'candidate information and training day' earlier this morning ... well attended event, perfectly timed to be the day after a rather healthy by-election result for the local Party :-))

... I'm certain today's meeting will lead to many new applicants, and eventually new Councillors come 2012.

Off to the second annual 'bring and share' event, organised by the Shandon Local Food Group, early this evening - taking along lots of allotment-inspired dishes of course!

And an early night definitely in order, before a 5.45am rise tomorrow; for our 8th-in-a-row Pedal for Scotland cycle ride event ... I can hardly wait ;-)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Congratulations to Bill Cook

My obvious congratulations go to Bill Cook this afternoon - the result of the Ward 16 by-election was declared just after 1.30pm and is a ringing endorsement of the huge effort Bill put into the campaign on behalf of Edinburgh Labour ...

... I'm really looking forward to having his energy and focus as part of our team in the City Chambers ;-)

Bill took 2,974 1st preferences (45%) with the SNP nearly 1,600 behind and the Liberals in 4th place. Overall there was an 8% swing from the SNP to Labour, with a collapse in the Liberal vote - a terrible indictment of the current Lib-Dem/SNP Council Administration.

So - congratulations to Bill and many, many thanks to all the Edinburgh Labour activists who put in a sterling effort to ensure such a stunning result.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Polls Open - Vote COOK 1 :-)

Polls now open in the Liberton/Gilmerton by-election ... and it's not actually raining!

Going to be a very busy day, with the polls open until 10pm as usual - but no result until tomorrow :-(

Count starts at around 9.30am Friday, so hope to post the final result confirming Ward 16's new Councillor before midday.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Family time?

Mother-in-law staying in Edinburgh for a few days; from this afternoon through to next Monday morning ...

... needless to say, the chance of some family time coincides with:

Family time indeed :-(

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Neighbourhood Partnership meeting

Local South West Neighbourhood Partnership meeting this evening ... main agenda can be found here.

Very informative presentations (under item 6) about the development plans for parks, allotments and the canal ... all subjects close to my heart: being a frequent user of Harrison Park; looking after an allotment at Saughton; and a daily user of the canal towpath!

Appears to be a bit of local controversy around the path-plans in Harrison Park, but I did establish that the proposals will have to go through due-and-proper planning processes, so everyone will be able to have their 'formal' say in due course.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Lothian Valuation Joint Board

Lothian Valuation Joint Board meeting this morning - for those interested, the main agenda can be found here ...

... later, I've got a local surgery at 6pm up at Craiglockhart Primary School; then some more, many and various, by-election activities for the rest of the evening!

Already looking forward to Friday ;-)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Campaigning Sunday

Back in Edinburgh on Saturday evening, and all day today spent campaigning ...

... out in Ward 9 this morning and then up at the Liberton/Gilmerton by-election for the afternoon. Really good turnout of activists and the weather was perfect for the afternoon's activities ;-)

Just a few days to go now until Polling-Day and the local team seem in very good spirits ... still numerous jobs to complete before Thursday mind you, so if you've any spare time between now and then --- ;-))

Friday, September 03, 2010

London for a few days

Off down to London first-thing this morning ... couple of days of ERS events and meetings to attend.

Back on the train ;-)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ricky Henderson for Edinburgh Pentlands

Well, a few weeks ago it was "Paul Godzik for Edinburgh Southern" ... and after tonight, its now Ricky Henderson for Edinburgh Pentlands!

An extremely close-fought contest between Ricky and Eric (Milligan), saw Ricky selected as the Labour Candidate for next May's Holyrood elections.

Four of my colleagues from the Edinburgh Labour Group are now selected to fight next year's elections ... in the nicest possible way, I'd love to lose them all to Holyrood ;-))

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

ACAS to the rescue?

Received notification late yesterday that ACAS have been brought in to try and find a resolution to the refuse dispute ... not before time I say!

I very much welcome this move - I'll try not to feel too sore about the fact that the Labour and Green Groups on the Council suggested this move about 9-months ago and were told that it wouldn't help resolve the situation :-(

Suppose we should be grateful for small mercies and, more seriously, hope that ACAS can bring the dispute to a resolution which is acceptable to both sides.