Thursday, November 30, 2006

Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel

Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel this morning ... interesting discussion about funding for social work and child protection services. There was almost universal political agreement that the baseline revenue budget for these issues needs to be radically increased ... I'm not holding my breath for ALL of the political budgets responding to this on February 8th when we set the 2007/08 spend ;-((

It is, no matter what actually happens in February, a real change in attitude from a few years ago when these services were just not considered an absolute priority - by any of the political groups.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Captain's Road Social Work Centre ...

Captain's Road Social Work Centre today ... one of the larger Social Work centres in the city and I sensed a real change in atmosphere in the air. I'm not for a minute claiming all was perfect - I'm sure the staff would be the first to agree! - but there was a palpable sense of purpose and pride in the place that you simply didn't detect in Social Work centres several years ago.

I've got nothing but admiration for the vast, vast majority of social workers (and teachers!) who clearly work in extremely pressured environments, dealing with very challenging circumstances on a daily basis ... sadly, they get precious little public praise for the work they do; even more tragically it's often the reverse with totally unjustified attacks on their professionalism.

Anyone who doubts a social worker's (or teacher's) public worth should just go and spend a day with them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Carrickvale Community Centre and Juniper Green Primary School

Council Executive meeting this morning at Carrickvale Community Centre ... just on the edge of my current Ward. Was only able to stay for the first half-hour, but did manage to catch the local presentations before having to rush off quickly out to Juniper Green Primary School ... Hugh Henry, the new Minister for Education and Young People, was visiting to launch the Scottish Teaching Awards.

Juniper Green was chosen, I guess, due to the presence of Susan Ward who recently won the Scottish and UK Probationer of the Year ... spent a brief spell in her classroom, and despite a dozen or so strange adults invading the room the children were still clearly completely engrossed in what they were doing and got right on with doing it.

No wonder she won the Probationer of the Year award!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Oban and 2 Edinburgh Community Centres

Spent all of Saturday up in Oban ... now I'm politically biased obviously, but do have a read at Jack McConnell's speech and then contrast it to the bit of the SNP website that actually mentions policy ...

Go on ... have a quick look and make up your own mind about who is proposing a serious programme of policy development to change people's lives??

Anyhow, enough of the political advert - Oban was looking great during the Saturday morning; great journey up and stunning scenery, then late afternoon and the heavens opened up big-style and the whole area was completely drenched. The drive back down to Edinburgh was pretty grim and unenjoyable.

Monday spent visiting two Community Centres in Edinburgh - Bingham and Royston/Wardieburn ... both very different, Bingham pretty small but with an active local programme; and Royston/Wardieburn a very big centre with a huge programme and focus on children and young people. Seemed to be really good work being undertaken at both centres.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oaklands School

Visited Oaklands School today - not the existing one, but the new-build which is about to open in a few weeks time! Building not quite finished - but just about, with the staff and pupils moving in just before Christmas. It's clearly been a huge investment for the city and is certainly going to be a showcase for special needs provision. Really impressed by the relationship that was evident between the staff (practictioners) and the architects/builders ... it does seem to have been very fruitful and has led to a specialist facility of great quality.

All got me thinking, especially on top of the visit to Macdonald Road on Wednesday, about just how good the specialist educational services that City of Edinburgh Council provides are ... I know you'll be thinking 'he would say that' but it is actually true.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Full Council meeting today

Full Council meeting today - with a huge number of deputations attending, so looks like it could be a long meeting!

In fact, it did go on right through to nearly 3.30pm ... but again, mostly dominated by transport and other areas, with Children and Families issues only really coming up through one of the reports. It will though be very different next month, with the outcome (and recommendations) from the Portobello Schools consultation coming back for a final decision.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Children and Families Central Support Services and FanFare Concert

Spent the whole morning at the Central Support Services offices for the Children and Families Department down at Macdonald Road ... a really wide variety of central services are based here (within the old Broughton High School building I think?) and I'm more convinced than ever that very few realise the scale and quality of provision that is provided:
  • Psychological Services
  • Visiting Teaching and Support Services (VTSS)
  • Hospital and Outreach Teaching Services (HOTS) ... I know ;-((
  • English as an Additional Language (EAL)
  • Neighbourhood Support Coordinators
  • Education Welfare Service
  • The e-Team
  • Information and Learning Resources

It's near-impossible to get across, in a few paragraphs, the breadth and depth of these services that are provided to all schools across the city. They all seemed to be providing really excellent back-up to schools - I'm not going to contest there aren't issues: most significant of which is currently the sheer pressure of demand on some of the services; in particular EAL and the Neighbourhood Support Coordinators. But, I was hugely impressed by the staff I met and the brief glimpse I got of the work they are doing.

I can't help but share a little moment of excitement (not that I knew it at the time!) that happened when I was talking to the Neighbourhood Support Coordinators ---- all of whom are female, and one of whose number was obviously quite pregnant ... you've probably guessed it, yes she left the room in a bit of a hurry and I discovered much later that the baby was born not long afterwards (some 2 months early and only weighing in at 4lbs 2oz!). I'm relieved to say that both are apparently doing well and the jokes about my effect on women haven't stopped since word got out ;-))

And the day only got better - really - as I had the real pleasure of going to my first FanFare Concert this evening, at the Usher Hall. It's an annual event where the best of Edinburgh School music is showcased. I was really, really impressed - especially by the rendition of my favourite Killers' track "All These Things That I've Done"!

There was a real eclectic mix of music; from classic to rock to gospel, with much more in between! I went, briefly, backstage at the end of the event and the pure excitement of the young people was completely uplifting ... they knew, as I did, that the event had been a huge success.

Great evening ... especially for a certain Neighbourhood Support Coordinator ;-))

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Long Service Awards ...

Long Service Awards this afternoon; for all Children and Families staff who have 25+ years council employment ... they must all be mad ;-))

Really enjoyed presenting the awards - to around 40 people who could attend, but there were also around another 40 who couldn't ... now maths isn't my strongest point [I actually only managed a C at Higher Grade ;-(( ] but I make that about 2,000 years of public service to the City of Edinburgh. That's pretty remarkable.

I do worry that all of this completely invaluable service will come to an end in the not too distant future and I'm not at all convinced that people are staying as long in one career (or even with one employer) these days. I'm an example of that very fact myself ;-((

Monday, November 20, 2006

Weekly Surgery this evening ...

Weekly surgery this evening ... don't think I've mentioned this weekly event much in my earlier posts to date! Well, every week (except bank holiday Mondays) I do have a local surgery - this week, like most weeks, several constituents do turn up with a variety of local issues/problems to raise with me. The vast majority of these problems are housing-related and/or anti-social behaviour related.

The first main category - housing-related problems - can now be very hard to solve. Edinburgh, like most Scottish local authorities, has had most of its good housing stock privately purchased under the 1980's right-to-buy legislation. The housing stock under our direct control is now half what it was a few years ago, and is diminishing on a yearly basis. Many of the requests for help in this area are for larger houses, with more bedrooms, and these are just the type of properties that have in the main been privately purchased. Often, some are available but 'not often' in the areas that my current constituents are keen to move to ... many do have to compromise, if they want a larger Council house, by widening their search areas.

Second main category is equally as difficult - there are many more powers available to local authorities now, but often tenants are pretty reluctant to pursue some avenues. Although, I can only praise my own local Community Council who have been incredibly pragmatic about some fairly serious anti-social behaviour issues in the local estate. As opposed to just complaining, they've actually enlisted support from various Council Departments to put on a series of Summer Activities over the last few years; and this year that is now turning into a permanent programme of youth activities in the local Community Huts. I've helped were I can, but the main effort has definitely come from the local community - pretty impressive when you think about it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weekend visit to Auchterarder

Visited my brother's new house in Auchterarder this weekend ... lovely spot. Had a really good lunch there on Saturday, followed by plenty of good wine, whisky later, and even the odd cigar on his balcony overlooking some local hills.

Dreadful day all round ;-))

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy this morning ;-))

Reading "Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy" to a group of children at Forthview Primary School this morning - certainly hope my reading skills are up to the job ;-))

Actually looking forward to it, as my own son (now nearly 9 and moved on from Hairy Maclary!) used to really love Lynley Dodd's books when he was little ... a little known fact I was able to pass on to the children (and staff!) is that Hairy Maclary isn't actually Scottish ;-(( Everyone assumes so, but if you follow the Lynley Dodd link, you'll see she is actually a New Zealander - the giveaway in the books are all the antipodean plants and trees in the wonderful pictures. Not a Scottish plant or tree to be found!

Another Headteacher appointment committee this afternoon. They seem to come thick and fast.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

St. Cuthbert's Primary School this morning ...

Visit to St. Cuthbert's Primary School this morning, with my 'Children and Families' hat on ... very much looking forward to it, as the only Primary that is wholly contained within my own electoral Ward!

Very calm atmosphere in all the classes I went into - even the children going into the main hall to watch a slide presentation were remarkably quiet? And the entrance hall, public corridors etc. all looked great with really colourful and informative displays on every inch of the wall-space!

There's a languauge unit within the grounds - housed within a pretty old Temporary Unit (T.U.), which is clearly getting passed it's best, but despite that the work inside seemed really impressive. The 'grounds' themselves could also do with a bit of investment and I'll need to tread carefully (sorry about the pun) looking for such investment in a school that happpens to be within my ward ;-))

Met with some officers from the Council's Sustainable Development unit later this afternoon ... some issues brewing about just how much 'sustainability' can be built into the second-round of school buildings programme. It's the usual panic to clarify costs and terms in the last few weeks of negotiation before the final contract is signed, hopefully in January. I do sense that the tension will continue until the last few hours before contract closure!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Edinburgh Leisure briefing ...

Breifing on "Edinburgh Leisure" this morning ... first Board meeting coming up in a couple of weeks, so went in to see the Chief Executive who took me through the paces as regards history of the company and current issues, challenges and successes!

Very much looking forward to playing a positive role on the Board in a few weeks time - as someone who uses Craiglockhart Sports Centre and Dalry Swimming Baths I do appreciate the facilities provided at a local level here in Edinburgh.

Later this afternoon, a further meeting on The Learning Hubs project that is being developed for the City ... does seem to have huge potential and really keen to see it trialled (at least) in a specific geographic area - best way to test it before any much wider roll-out.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Council Executive meeting today - education business

Council Education Executive meeting today ... main focus were the budget reports for Month 6. Several of the Council Departments are showing pretty adverse variances at this half-year stage - needless to say the Department with the most challenging situation is 'Children and Families'.

I really do think some of the problems are a direct result of success - you may think I would say that, but I do believe it to be true. There's been a huge transformation in the vacancy rate for Social Workers; and now appears to be many more referrals, partly as a result of this but probably more as a result of an increasing awareness of child protection requirements generally ... I do have to note though that the increase in Social Workers - although to the good obviously - has led to a big spike in the numbers of probationers and all the training requirements that go with that. So great progress, but big costs, more workload and more training - seems to be the perennial local government 'two steps forward, one step back'.

There were several other reports which merited quite a bit of discussion; Closing the Gap; 2020 Vision; Go 4 It; Play 4 It; Duke of Edinburgh scheme; to mention but a few - they can all be seen through Council Papers on Line by following this link and the actual agenda is here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Prestonfield Primarty School visit ... after very busy weekend! ... and local CC this evening

Visit to Prestonfield Primary School this morning ... bit of therapy for me, having looked after the family all weekend with partner abandoning me for a visit to London! Was actually quite enjoyable and on Saturday went along to watch a second-team Primary football match expecting my son's team to get thrashed (in the pouring rain) only to witness them winning 7-5. Not an experience I had much of when at Primary myself ... there were only 11 boys in the class, so NOT playing for the football team just wasn't an option; and we were so bad that any defeat kept in single figures was considered an heroic victory of persistence over talent. No wonder I don't particularly like football ;-((

Anyhow, back to Prestonfield ... really interesting school design (75 years old), with all the classes in a 'courtyard effect' around a central garden. All the classes seemed very settled and there was a very welcoming atmosphere to the whole establishment. I'll bet they even have a successful football team ;-))

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council (CC) meeting this evening ...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Director's Meeting

Director's weekly meeting this morning ... main topics under discussion continue to be the budget for 2007/08 and the financial closure (or not, to date) of the second-round of the school building programme.

Budget looking particularly tight, with no easy answers I'm afraid. I would say this wouldn't I ... but it really does appear to me that the 'services' for children and families are just in greater and greater demand - despite falling 'school' numbers - and this is leading to some systemic pressures for the future that are just not going to be easily addressed.

Frying pan and fire definitely come to mind ;-((

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Greendykes Children and Families Centre and LDC yesterday!

Local Development Committee (LDC) meeting for Edinburgh Central yesterday evening - was so busy all day long that I failed to have any time to make a blog entry - desperate state of affairs ;-((

LDC was enjoyable - honestly! A few presentations on planning issues and how the Council deals with developer contributions (section 75 planning gain); which were followed up by small discussion workshops. There was a good level of debate and some robust views aired about how aggressively (or not) the Council was pursuing developers for additional infrastructure contributions.

Also a paper on the small grant awards that have been given to date, and Central LDC still has a fair bit of a budget left - so any Central Groups out there with a good project idea; get it into the system quick ... if you're not sure how it all works, have a look at this LINK The stalwarts from Hutchison and Chesser Community Council were there of course, and I'm hoping they'll get an application in quickly!!

Greendykes Children and Families Centre visit this afternoon ... was my first Children's Centre visit since taking on the new post and it was a real eye-opener. Management and staff I met were absolutely first-class and the service/s being provided were obviously being fully utilised by the wider local community. There were some really challenging children (from very challenging families) in the centre but there was an unquestionably positive atmosphere and approach being followed. Great to see.

Did prompt a question in my mind though - all the children there are 'referred' through social work and/or other avenues and by its very nature the centre is providing completely first-class services ... but it's not including the children in mainstream provision of these services (or vice-versa for that matter) and it's certainly a different approach than if these children were more general special needs, where they would be included in mainstream provision if at all possible as that's widely seen as a much more powerful route to improve their (and others) experiences and life-chances. Would genuinely welcome any thoughts on this??

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Primary School Heads meeting ... and CCWP this evening

Primary School Heads meeting this afternoon ... by far the biggest number at any of the 'Heads' meetings I've been to so far.

I've now done most of the 'Heads' group meetings, and all have been remarkably civilised - teachers are obviously just far too polite ;-))

Joking aside, I've had small pre-meetings for all of the groups (where 3 or 4 group office bearers have turned up) and these have been much more informative and useful to me - just goes to prove that it really is pretty difficult to get a good two-way dialogue with fairly large audiences.

Consultative Committee with Parents (CCWP) this evening - not a great turnout compared to a few weeks ago, and again I found the meeting quite difficult to chair in that it still is a fairly large group and I'm not convinced that a large round-table meeting is the very best way to handle all of this committee's business ... I'll need to give some thought to possible alternative formats??

Monday, November 06, 2006

Visit to Northfield Young People's Centre (YPC) today ... and selection meeting this evening

Visiting Northfield Young People's Centre today (YPC) ... will be the first YPC I've visited since I took on the 'Children and Families' role - although I do remember visiting several YPC's back in 1999/2000 when I was 'Vice-Convener of Social Work' for my first year on the Council! Haven't visited Northfield before though, so very much looking forward to it ... had some difficulty in finding it actually, which ironically is probably a good thing in that the building does blend in with the surrounding estate and isn't in any obvious way a Young People's Centre.

The young people at the Centre made me very welcome, gave me a comprehensive tour of the facilities, thrashed me at pool unfortunately, and even allowed me to join them for their evening meal. There are only 7 places at Northfield, lots of staff on a constant rota, and quite obviously pretty high paper-costs for running such a facility. But ... just looking at those costs doesn't portray the intensive, and necessary, care the young people at Northfield are obviously receiving and which is clearly a positive investment in all our futures, not just theirs.

I was impressed with Northfield.

On to the internal Labour Party selection meeting this evening ... I really didn't enjoy the process, but managed to get through it successfully and am now the Labour Party candidate for the new "Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart" multi-member ward. 39 Branch Members present for the vote, biggest turnout so far for the 17 new wards, and only goes to underline the stiff competition there was ;-((

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Alternative to Edinburgh Zoo?

18-month old relative staying with us over this weekend ... house feeling a bit chaotic ... two young kids, hamster, cat, tank full of fish, stick insects everywhere (literally) ... don't feel I ever need to visit Edinburgh Zoo ever again ;-))

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Council Away Day" ... all day today

Full Council 'Away Day' all day today ... all the parties involved, which is a healthy sign given the change in voting system and thus the absolute certainty of coalition next year.

Around lunchtime, rushed up to St. John Vianney Primary School, which was celebrating its 50th Anniversary - they had an absolutely fantastic display of the past 50 years all along the hall corridors. It really was first-class and must have taken pupils/staff/parents a lot of work to pull together. An excellent event all round. Oh, and the buffet-lunch provided was rather good also ;-) ... confusion does now though abound in the 'worst sausage roll in Scotland' debate ...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Local Ward meeting & Head Teacher appointment

Meeting this morning with some relevant officers about better coordination of activities at a local level - activities aimed at preventing and combating anti-social behaviour ... there is a lot of good work going on but, as the local meeting a few weeks ago showed, its not always visible to all members of the community. There has been discussion on numerous occasions about producing a "local map" showing all accessible facilities, bus routes etc. etc. and including key contact numbers for all types of events that arise ... more hopeful that this may now actually be produced for the Moat, Chesser and Hutchison area.

Later this afternoon, involved in a Head Teacher appointment process ... some very noisy pavement works going on out in the Quadrangle of the City Chambers, which thankfully we were able to suspend for a couple of hours. I fear the contractors may charge us downtime ;-((

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Learning Hubs" & Achievement Awards ceremony this evening

Meeting this morning about "Learning Hubs" - basic concept being the use of a 'school' as a central 'hub' or 'portal' for the wider community to have access to the internet and a rich variety of content relevant to that local area ... all sounded very feasible and I feel a pilot coming on! Apparently not that unusual to have this type of set-up in many parts of the U.S.

Standard Life Achievement Awards ceremony this evening ... very enjoyable event. Literally dozens of innovative projects up for the six main categories of award, and all of a really excellent standard. The ceremony itself was up at The Hub at the top of the Royal Mile, and made for a great venue and atmosphere.

So refreshing to be part of something so positive and celebratory - but will it generate the press coverage it so obviously deserves ... I'm not holding my breath fortunately ;-)