Sunday, March 31, 2013

Back from a snowbound Coniston Village

Back in Edinburgh now, after a very enjoyable week located within a snowbound Coniston Village (down in the Lake District). We were staying in a cottage right next to one of Coniston's better local pubs - a total tragedy :-(

This first picture is the view from Brantwood House, John Ruskin's last residence, looking across Lake Coniston to the Old Man of Coniston ... stunning, to say the least! Brantwood House is well worth a visit.

We also managed a fair bit of walking on the Old Man of Coniston itself - the conditions were perfect for some winter-training: here's Junior getting some practice in ;-)

Unbelievable weather for the last few days of March??

Thankfully, all the travelling went smoothly (if not slightly more slowly than usual) and we got back to Edinburgh safely for the Easter Weekend and some traditional, Sunday egg-rolling on Arthur's Seat :-)

Back to work - and some semblance of reality - on Tuesday :-(

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Half-term is here :-)

Hooray! Half-term is here ... and for the first time since 2009, I'm managing to properly escape for a few days over the Easter-period.

It's just so disappointing there's no election-campaign to stop me spending time with the family ;-)

We're off down to the The Lake District for a few days (hope the weather picks up!); and then will be back in Edinburgh for the actual Easter weekend.

So, no 'blog/facebook/twitter' activity over the next week ... normal service will be resumed around Tuesday 2nd April.

My work e-mails are being read by staff, so if you need to get in touch urgently then that's the best way to do so. I am also available on the mobile if its a real emergency ...

... Happy Easter to one and all :-)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Earth Hour approaching!

Earth Hour is approaching - 8.30pm tonight ...

... the Council is again supporting this initiative (some information here) and I'll be doing my (admittedly) small bit by switching off absolutely everything in the flat for an hour. Junior is in a state-of-panic about how life can continue without at least one gadget being in operation ;-)

If you don't know about Earth Hour ... its now the single, largest, symbolic mass participation event in the world.  Born out of a hope that we could mobilize people to take action on climate change, Earth Hour inspires a global community of millions of people in 7,001 cities and towns across 152 countries and territories to switch lights off for an hour as a massive show of concern for the environment.

I know that switching off everything tonight (for an hour) will not stop climate change by itself, but it sends out a signal that I accept that something needs to be done and am willing to continue to act.

Please consider showing your own support for this event later this evening.

- more on Castlebrae ...

I promised to post a bit more on the Castlebrae Community High School decision ...

... to hear both my own contribution to the debate on the 14th March, and Councillor Cardownie's, then just follow these two links:

The video should be available for a few more weeks yet, and hopefully both contributions make the decision to keep the school open absolutely clear.

To paraphrase my own brief speech:

I really hope that's clear.

As ever, please don't hesitate to e-mail me directly at if you want any further information ... but I will blog about progress with the 'Education Commission' as it develops over coming weeks.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Harlaw Hydro co-op launches next month

Regular readers will know that moving Edinburgh towards being a cooperative capital has been a key theme of the new Council Coalition since it signed its coalition agreement back in May last year - the full text of the agreement is here, and further information on the Cooperative Capital approach can be found here ...

... and as well as our commitment (from last September) to establish:

·            a new Energy co-operative
·            a Housing co-operative
·            a Childcare co-operative
·            & a Social Care co-operative

- its worth highlighting the many, existing cooperative initiatives that are ongoing across the city: the map on page 12 of this report gives an indication of what's currently ongoing.

And in a few weeks time, another new energy coop will launch its share offer - details below, just in case you want to invest ;-)

HH - YipeeWide
Harlaw Hydro Share Launch!
On Tuesday 9th of April at 7:30pm in St Joseph's, Balerno, the Harlaw Hydro team will be launching its share prospectus. The hope is that lots of people will be interested in finding out more about this exciting renewable energy project and will come along. Over a glass and a nibble there will be the chance to find out more and to put any questions to the Harlaw Hydro team.
Harlaw Hydro Ltd is an IPS (Industrial and Provident Society), a co-op in which investors become members of the society (Harlaw Hydro Ltd). As an IPS Harlaw Hydro Ltd can issue shares and offer interest on those shares to our investors. The interest will be around 4% and with a minimum investment of £250 we hope this will allow lots of people to be able to buy in.
The preparatory work is largely completed and the project is now ready to ‘go public’ and become a community owned renewable energy project.
The scheme will generate money from selling renewable energy to The Grid; enough electricity to power 56 UK average homes and could generate as much as £50,000 per year. Those invested in the project will be delighted to see the rain. We ought to be very happy people!
The money will be spent through the Balerno Village Trust (BVT) for the benefit of the community. BVT already have exciting plans supported by local people; the Victorian Walled Garden, Balerno Bees, more sustainable and renewable energy projects.
This is a project that should be of interest to all in the Water of Leith as well as to anyone interested in sustainable green energy. We hope to see you on April 9th.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Poetry Day

Its World Poetry Day; some details here and here ... and here's one of my all-time favourites:

Between mountain and sea

Honey and salt - land smell and sea smell,
as in the long ago, as in forever.

The days pick me up and carry me off,
half-child, half prisoner,

on their journey that I'll share
for a while.

                                          They wound me and they bless me
                                                 with strange gifts:

                                                 the salt of absence,
                                                 the honey of memory.

       Norman MacCaig, 1984

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Spirit of 45, by Ken Loach ...

Ken Loach has a new film/documentary out, entitled "The Spirit of 45" ... it was screened at the weekend in the Cameo and Filmhouse, but due to the family-celebrations I couldn't get along.

I have heard good reviews of the film, which combines archive footage and interviews to explore the political philosophy behind the creation and development of welfare institutions by the then Labour Government after the Second World War.

More details below, for those interested:

The Spirit of '45 Q&A screenings a tremendous success
Image Last Sunday, more than 40 cinemas around the country took part in a very special event. All these cinemas screened The Spirit of '45 simultaneously and once the film had finished, switched over to a live satellite broadcast of a Q&A with Director Ken Loach, Dot Gibson, Owen Jones and Jeremy Hardy.
Check out the photos.
We were thrilled to see so many people attending and texting & tweeting their questions and comments to the panel. The event would not have been the success that it was without your help in spreading the word - THANK YOU!!!
You can host a screening in your area
Image Keen to organise a screening of The Spirit of '45? Know some people who might like to get together to watch it? You can book a screening license from Once a booking is made, we'll send a DVD in time for your screening and (if you wish), help you promote the event online.
Should you have any questions about hosting a screening - don't hesitate to give us a bell on 020 7831 7252.
Join in the discussion & check out 'My '45'
Image The Spirit of '45 is a call-to-arms to defend the venerable social institutions that have improved the lives of millions. The film has been instumental in promoting public discussion about cuts, worker's rights and equitable public policies. You can join in the discussion on Twitter and FacebookAlso if you haven't already, be sure to check out the amazing Timelines and take the 'My '45' quiz to find out what your life would have been like back in 1945.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Venture Scotland ... 25-years on!

Keeping the 'anniversary theme' going ... close friends and family know that many moons ago, I was a 'Venturer' on (what was then) Operation Raleigh: back in 1986!

On my return, I was based/worked in England for a couple of years, then was then back in Scotland for a spell in 1988 and into early 1989. During that time, I became quite involved with the early establishment of an organisation called Venture Scotland ---

--- it was, in essence, an attempt to share experiences gained on Operation Raleigh back home, and to set up a development programme for young people in Scotland from less advantaged backgrounds.

Remarkably, 25-years later, it's still going strong :-)

And this evening, at the Assembly Rooms, they held the first 25th-annivesary event of 2013 ... it was a really lovely evening, catching up with several people from those 1988-days, some of whom I literally hadn't seen for over 2-decades :-))

Sunday, March 17, 2013

60-years :-)

Well, after an extremely busy week, I've had a very pleasant weekend ... celebrating my Mum and Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary, with a large group of family and friends :-)

Hard to put into perspective being together for 60-years ... I've actually been living with my own better-half for 24-years in a few weeks time; my folks have been together for double that time, plus another 12-years on top!

Quite remarkable.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Castlebrae Community High School decision

Council Meeting was, unsurprisingly, totally dominated by the debate on Castlebrae Community High School. I'll blog more on the decision in a few days time ...

... but for now, here is the actual agreed motion:
  1. Council acknowledges the strong arguments presented in favour of, and against, closing Castlebrae Community High School; and the concerns expressed by the local community and the ‘Save the Brae’ campaign.
  2. Council rejects officials’ recommendations in the report. 
  3. Council instructs the Director of Children and Families to report to the Education, Children and Families Committee within three months with future options for Castlebrae Community High School including the potential to retain the Castlebrae Community High School building as an Annex of Portobello High School until a new Secondary School in Craigmillar is delivered. 
  4. Council instructs officers to submit a report regarding the potential establishment of a Commission with appropriate external experts to look at viable options for the use of the proposed Annex.

 ... and the relevant News Blog, from the Council's website:

Statement on Castlebrae Community High School

At today's meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council it was decided Castlebrae Community High School will remain open. Councillors have asked for further investigations into a range of future options for the school.

The Council has set aside funding to kick start the design stages for a new school in the Craigmillar area by 2020, when it is believed the new school will be required.

Education, Children and Families Convener, Paul Godzik, said: "We have gone through a thorough consultation process and we have listened and responded to the community.  We are determined to work in co-operation with the community to deliver a better education for pupils, and will now look at further options to do this. In addition, we have today, yet again, reaffirmed our commitment to the new school and we will work towards delivery as quickly as possible."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March 2013 Leader's Report

March Leader's Report now available online - for this Thursday's Council Meeting - you can access it on CPOL here and/or watch me speak to it, on Thursday, here ...

... and the full text (with various links) follows below:

 March 2013

Castlebrae High School

Deciding whether or not to close a school is one of the most challenging decisions that most of us will have to face in our role as Councillors.

Following an extensive consultation, officers of the Council are recommending that we close Castlebrae High School in June this year, primarily because the quality of the education. This is absolutely no reflection on the school staff, as I saw myself on a recent visit to the school. There is no doubting the huge commitment and effort from them individually and as a group. 

We will have to thoroughly consider the 200 page report to carefully weigh up and decide what is best for the educational needs of the children as well as the longer term future of the area. 

The Capital Coalition is taking time to consider the detailed contents of this lengthy report and discuss with interested parties, including those campaigning to keep the school open, before making a decision at the Council meeting on 14 March.

Whatever the outcome, we are absolutely committed to building a new school in the Craigmillar area (predicted completion in autumn 2020) - and have already allocated £618k of early funding for the start of the design stage in 2017. We realise that the successful regeneration of Craigmillar relies in part on the commitment to a new school and the creation of a safe, family-friendly environment.


Another step closer to Zero Waste

We have just agreed a long-term contract with Alauna Renewable Energy (ARE) to build and operate a state-of-the-art food waste recycling facility on behalf of the Council, through its successful Zero Waste partnership with Midlothian Council.

I think this is a major achievement as it enables us to provide a local, long-term solution for recycling food waste at a competitive price. It will also help us continue to increase recycling levels, reduce the amount of waste buried at landfill sites, meet greenhouse gas targets and continue to attract new investment to Edinburgh. 

This is the first collaborative waste project of its kind in Scotland and will be based near Millerhill in Midlothian. Together with Midlothian Council, we are leading the way with a partnership that will see food waste collected in both areas recycled to produce renewable electricity, as well as a fertiliser for local farms. 

The Zero Waste Project is also midway through procurement for a facility to recycle all the black bag waste that can’t be sorted at the kerbside.

This new facility will add value to all the extra effort from staff to improve the city’s recycling rates. Even though there have been some problems during the major service changes, your work is not going unnoticed and is hugely appreciated.


Tram Update

The tram project continues to progress well, in line with the revised schedule and budget. The first completed section of the track has now been officially handed over to the Council after successful testing by the contractor, marking an important milestone for the project. The 2.8km stretch of track between the Gogar depot and Edinburgh International Airport has been subject to extensive testing and commissioning which began in November 2012 and will now be used for driver training. 

The latest picture update highlighting the progress made is now available.


Fresh Start - Shared Repairs Service

In response to public consultation, a newly designed Shared Repair Service will be phased in from 2 April to provide guidance to help home owners in shared buildings maintain their properties. This will replace the Property Conservation Service that has been the subject of significant financial and service concerns. The investigations and remedial action into historical problems will continue, but going forward, we want to offer a more customer focused service.

I’d like to acknowledge that this has been a very difficult time for some staff as the service is transformed and I’m aware we are placing a lot of demand on staff to get the new service up and running on time. We must provide the best quality service possible to the public and I thank all of you for keeping this goal firmly in focus. 

The new service will continue to provide an all year round, much-valued emergency response service to help owners make their properties safe if they pose a danger to public safety. 

There will also be a new advice and information service providing guidance to support owners to make the right choices and take responsibility for maintaining their own properties. Information will be available on the services provided by property factors, property management agencies and also how to organise shared repairs using the Tenement Management Scheme. 

The Council’s statutory powers to compel building repairs will remain but will only be used as a last resort.


Partnership in action

The Council recently agreed to the distribution of around £22.9m to over 220 third sector and cultural and sporting organisations in the city. This is a significant amount and shows that partnership working is at the core of the Capital Coalition’s contract with the capital. 

This funding is a central component to meeting the operational costs of these important sectors which contribute to the city's economic and social wellbeing. I appreciate how much the Third Sector contributes to the quality of life in Edinburgh as well as their overall economic contribution of around £101m bringing in over £8.00 for every Council pound invested. 

As well as that, volunteers provide over 730 thousand hours of unpaid service. Based on the average Edinburgh wage of around £13 per hour, this provides an annual economic equivalent impact of around £9.5m to the city. I can’t say enough about our appreciation of the role of volunteers. The recipients of funds they raise and the people they help directly are of course the first to express their appreciation, but often the contribution from volunteers is quietly provided and therefore not visible to most of us. 

It is in this spirit that we have decided to review the process for grants to third parties during 2013/14, in partnership with the third sector and other stakeholders, to ensure financial stability for organisations and value for money for the Council.


Be in the picture

Keep yourself in the picture with our news section online. Watch live full Council and some committee meetings on our webcast.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Full Council papers now available

The Full Council Papers for this Thursday's (14th March) meeting are now available - all accessible via this link ...

... and the main Agenda can be accessed directly here.

No doubt about the main items for debate: Castlebrae Community High School, Portobello High School and the new Shared Repairs Service.

I'm fully expecting a very lengthy meeting ...

... and rightly so, they're all very important topics up for decision.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Lambeth visit

Just spent a couple of days down in London, visiting Lambeth Council and - specifically - focusing on their development(s) as a Cooperative Council.

Some of Lambeth's background information can be found here - and Edinburgh's here, of course :-)

Visited several, really interesting projects - pictured here is the "Max Roach" parent-led, pre-school centre on a very wet Friday afternoon!

Huge thanks to all the Council Officers, and local politicians, who gave up their time to host us :-)

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The McLean Lecture

I posted some brief reflections on Bob McLean (following his untimely death) last July ...

... and,as many readers will know, the first "McLean Lecture" took place last Friday: some details are here - and rather than post a long analysis of the event, you may just be interested in the video of the talk that Trevor Phillips gave, which was preceded by a brief piece in the Scotsman the day before.

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, and meeting up with many old friends who all shared a link with Bob.