Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Meggetland opening

Official opening of Meggetland this morning, with the "plaque-unveiling" being undertaken by the Scotland Manager Alex McLeish.

Of course, the press were much more interested in covering his thoughts on the Scotland team than on the facilities at Meggetland ;-(

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Council Executive meeting

Council Executive meeting this morning ... main agenda can be found here.

And, as always, the individual reports can be accessed by searching Council Papers On-Line at:

... I do often think this is a much under-used facility.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Adult Learning Link

Later this afternoon went over to Craigmillar to visit 'Adult Learning Link' ... again, very impressive range of supports being offered to the local community from this central base.

More information about the general work of the Edinburgh East Community Learning and Development (CLD) team can be found by following this link.

Covered my two recent CLD visits in the periodic Department Newsletter - can be found here.

Full Council away-day

Another Full Council away-day this morning ... hasten to add it was only in George Street again!

I'm sure this will be the last one before the Scottish General (and local) elections in a few months time.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Theatre and Rugby

Went to see "To Kill a Mockingbird" on Friday evening. Read the book when still at school and found this performance just as powerful as I remember my original reading of the story. Very sobering tale.

On an even more depressing note, went to see Scotland play Italy at rugby yesterday afternoon - convinced of course that victory was at hand!

How wrong I was ... this summary of the match says it all really. Tried to drown our sorrows after the match, but it was all genuinely very painful ;-((

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weekly Director's meeting ...

Weekly Director's meeting and, despite the budget now being set, discussion still focused on the many practical implications of seeing through the decisions made.

Guess this is one very big difference between being in an administration and being in opposition - the 'opposition' never have to implement their budget proposals and can move on swiftly to other things once budget-day is out of the way.

If only that was the case for me ;-(

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Benmore Centre for Outdoor Education today

Up to Benmore Centre for Outdoor Education today ... bit of a drive to get there, but did promise both Benmore and Lagganlia Centre Managers that I would visit before the election-period kicked in proper!

A really enjoyable day ... was a serious side to the visit, as regards budget pressures, which I spent a considerable time discussing with the Centre Manager, and do feel reasonably confident that the main concern over timescales for long-term decisions can be resolved pretty quickly. In essence, both Managers are looking for a clear way forward by August this year ... I think this is achievable, but a challenge obviously given the intervening election!

Talking of challenges, had a go on both the indoor climbing wall ... boy, were my arms aching afterwards ... and undertook a spot of gorge walking; described on Benmore's website as "one of the most outrageous of our activities and certainly one of the wettest. You will be negotiating rocky streams, waterfalls and other obstacles trying to stay dry for as long as possible. Generally ropes are not required although sometimes they can be used as handrails or for traversing over the water."

Sadly for me ... this is an entirely accurate description

Joking aside ... very enjoyable afternoon spent doing these activities. Staff, and students present, could not have been more friendly and accommodating.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Edinburgh South Children & Youth Work team

Over to Gracemount Leisure Centre this morning to visit Edinburgh South Children & Youth Work team (part of Community Learning and Development - CLD) ... very impressed with the wide-range of support activities that are being undertaken in this part of the city. This aspect of CLD's work is, all too often, overlooked I feel ... glad I've been to visit today.

More, general information on Edinburgh South CLD can be found by following this link.

Gracemount Leisure Centre facilities pretty impressive also!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Technology and Tynecastle ...

One added benefit of modern technology, apart from the existence of this blog of course, which I really welcome is the ability to occasionally (not often it has to be said) work from home and access and work on e-mails remotely ... if only there were fewer scintillating meetings to constantly attend, I'd certainly make use of the facility a lot more ;-((

Preparatory meeting (yes, another meeting, so no more remote accessing of e-mails!) later this afternoon for the public event on Tynecastle Nursery School (mentioned earlier here), which is at 7pm tonight in Tynecastle High School.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Adult Learning Project discussion

Was asked to contribute to an Adult Learning Project (ALP) discussion on the forthcoming implementation of STV-PR this evening.

Thoroughly enjoyed the event, but was a classic reminder of how confusing the 'mechanics' of how STV-PR is counted can be ... contrasted with the absolute simplicity of its use.

But, as someone present this evening rightly remind us all, most people who drive a car wouldn't know where to start if they had to fix it but they're perfectly capable of making it 'go where they want it to' ... I've a feeling the same will be true of the Scottish electorate on May 3rd!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

quieter Sunday

Quieter Sunday ... went to see (with younger family members I hasten to add!) "Arthur and the Invisibles" ... everyone seemed to enjoy the film, with great concern being expressed about the next time I cut the grass and how do I know whether the 'MiniMoys' will be safe when I do it?? Difficult one to answer ;-(

Over to the west to see my parents later in the afternoon ... both seemed reasonably well.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Leaflets, leaflets, leaflets ...

More leaflet delivery this morning ... weather was great locally, which always makes it much more enjoyable ;-))

Friday, February 16, 2007

COSLA Education Meeting

Later this morning went to the periodic COSLA (The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities)
'Education Executive' meeting at their offices in Haymarket.

Agenda and papers all here.

Fairly prompt meeting, with the one note of disappointment being the report on 'English as an Additional Language (EAL)' provision in schools. It's a service under particular pressure here in Edinburgh - for entirely positive reasons I hasten to add - and the 'time-lag' between numbers being recorded and money coming to the service is causing some difficulty. I sense this has always been more manageable historically, due to much lower numbers being involved overall, but the large increases in Eastern European migration to the city has added a whole new dimension to the language and teaching needs that now have to be met.

I do have to add, that every single head-teacher I've spoken to concerning this, is nothing but positive about the added dimension that the actual children are bringing to their schools ... without exception its also always commented that their personal application to the work set before them is absolutely first class.

Car Key Crisis!

I know it will come as a rude shock to many ... but we do actually own a car ... a rather smart, red Citroen Saxo ;-))

Joking aside about the quality of the car, bit of a serious "car key crisis" earlier this morning ... having lost the spare key several years ago (and having never bothered to replace it - a big mistake I now realise!), the only remaining key 'snapped' right in two whilst I was attempting to shut and lock the boot.

Not a good situation to be in - no spare key, only remaining key broken in two, half of that stuck in the boot lock, no way to lock the car boot or to actually even drive the car ... not good at all.

Thankfully, discovered a whole new trade that I didn't even know existed - "Auto Locksmiths" ... and one of them in Edinburgh had the situation sorted within a few hours ... broken key extracted, two new keys subsequently cut (and electronically chipped?) and all is well.

Of course, I wasn't about to use the car to commute to work but merely extracting bloody election leaflets from the boot ;-((

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Selfish Gene

Almost finished Richard Dawkins book "The Selfish Gene" last night (or I should say very early this morning!) ... like many I suspect, know a lot 'about' his work but have never actually read any of his books cover-to-cover.

And I've really enjoyed this - both as a thoroughly captivating thesis, but also as just a really good read. A combination that is rare indeed!

It's also amazingly fresh, even though its now 31-years old ... sign of a really good piece of research and writing.

Very quiet Valentines Night ;-((

With the rest of the family having abandoned me for the sunnier climes of London, have spent a very quiet Valentines Night at home ;-((

Normal, chaotic family life resumes tomorrow with the return of the southern hordes ...

... last few days haven't been all bad mind you, with a rediscovery of just how damned good Goldfrapp sounds when played at above average volume ;-)) ... so good, its almost made up for all those instant dinners!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Local "Amenity Map"

Meeting with some 'Neighbourhood Officers' at the Council later this afternoon to discuss progress with an "Amenity Map" for the Hutchison/Chesser area (interesting memories of the area from the 1940's here!).

There are a lot of very good (but slightly, geographically disparate) local services being provided and the local Community Council is really keen to see them all 'pulled together' into one source - thus the idea for an "Amenity Map" - which we could distribute widely throughout the local area.

Great idea - and it's come mainly from local residents! - which will hopefully come to fruition very soon. I'll be sure to report further progress ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More on the budget

The main revenue and capital budgets may have been set for 2007/08; but the third-party "grants to organisations" are still to be decided.

Recommendations for these grants come to the Council Executive meeting on Tuesday 13th March (for final agreement) ... and I'm now starting to receive quite a bit of correspondence on a variety of applications.

The amount of work that voluntary organisations undertake for local authorities is often completely under-estimated - have a look at last year's report, which shows that some £20.7million was allocated in 2006/07.

Democrazy2007 and your chance to win up to £3,000 !!

I've mentioned this several times before - but here's the last, formal plug ;-))

... The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) in Scotland, working with Digital Media Cast, has formerly launched the Democrazy 2007 campaign and competition. The campaign seeks to engage young people more effectively in political debate in Scotland and to magnify the voice of young people through an innovative approach that blends music and politics. Additionally, it aims to introduce young voters to the new Single Transferable Vote (STV) system to be used in the local government elections on May 3rd 2007.

Democrazy 2007 is a music competition open to all young bands and artists in Scotland. Big cash prizes and the chance to get their music/point across are on offer to all entrants. It’s a genuine invitation to take on politics.

On the interactive Democrazy 2007 website:

young musicians in Scotland can upload their own original songs which are required to have a social or political message. Between Thursday 1st March and Thursday 19th April 2007, visitors to the site will then have the opportunity to download their favourite tracks. The campaign will culminate in the distribution of £5,000 in prize money to the top three musicians as determined by a popular vote using STV.

Aside from the music uploads section, the website hosts a flash animation about STV and in the coming weeks a short film exploring young people’s views on politics and participation in Scotland will be released on the site. Democrazy 2007 postcards and e-cards will also be distributed to raise awareness about the initiative ...

Children Services Inspection briefing this afternoon

Another briefing concerning the ongoing Children Services Inspection this afternoon.

More 'one-to-one' this time (as opposed to the earlier meeting) for those of us about to be actually interviewed by the Inspectors ;-((

There has been a huge amount of internal preparation put into this process already; and I am sure that the Inspectors will see clear evidence of very significant progress having been made over the last few years.

I do get the impression that most staff, having put in such a large amount of preparation, now just want the final inspection process to actually commence.

More on the Commuity Council last night ...

As mentioned earlier ... local Community Council meeting last night and there was indeed a focus of discussion around the organisation of 'youth work' - pleased to report that there now appears to have been several (late!) applications for the 'youth worker' posts. Recruitment crisis could be over ;-))

All-credit to Hutchison/Chesser Community Council - they've organised grant applications, programme development, equipment purchase and now (nearly) youth worker employment ... all to put on a series of youth programmes in the local area.

There has been quite a bit of input from Children and Families officers at the Council, but I'm not aware of any other Community Council in Edinburgh taking such a proactive (and constructive!) approach to the challenges of providing youth services at such a local level.

Should be a programme in place now for the Summer - at the very latest!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Praise Indeed

Now, forget the fact that I've made it to the exalted heights of actually being 'listed' on Bloggers4Labour ... something even more extraordinary has very recently happened!

The venerated "Shandon Mince" - "Shandon's most visited website" (no less!) - has recently commented that my blog is "not a bad effort at all". Now this is praise indeed ... as any blogger worth his/her salt will know ... where 'The Mince' leads, others follow.

All those worthy folk may have won Baftas last night, but it's all as nothing because ...
"Shandon's most visited website" thinks my blog is "not a bad effort at all" ;-))
... it can only be downhill from here!

Local Community Council this evening

Local Community Council meeting this evening ... main topic for discussion is bound to be the organisation of 'youth work' in the Hutchison/Chesser estate area, which appears to have run up against a bit of a recruitment crisis, as far as actual Youth Workers are concerned.

I'm sure a resolution can be found.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

London for the weekend

Down in London for the weekend ... rest of the family staying down for most of next week (due to Edinburgh half-term) but unfortunately I need to return to work on Monday ;-((

Saturday spent at Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Campaigns Committee meeting ... upcoming events in Scotland a bit of an obvious focus, but we did also spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the launch of a UK-wide campaign for the post-May 2007 period. Had the usual, "we've achieved nothing recently" doom-laden debate, which neatly forgets that from 1884-1997 ERS did indeed achieve very little that it set out to; but that since then the UK has revolutionised its electoral systems at just about every level of government except Westminster. I, for one, expect even that to happen soon enough, and certainly quicker than the 113-year period of stalemate that we wallowed in prior to 1997.

All scintillating stuff; I can assure you ;-)

Sunday; and most of the afternoon idled-away very happily in Dulwich Park, South London. Great fun had by all playing an assortment of football, cricket and basketball - also tried the 'recumbent' bikes you can hire within the park!

Back up to Edinburgh on the 5pm train ... which arrived bang on time. Amazing.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Democrazy" goes live!

I mentioned this new website a few days ago ... it does now seem to have gone live! I'd highly recommend a visit - link here, or the full web-address:

There is a really urgent need to engage more voters generally (but especially young people) in the democratic process, and this initiative by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) in Scotland looks, to me, like an excellent vehicle for helping with just that task.

Just by way of background ... for all you political-anoraks out there ;-)) ... here's what I personally think (copy of a recent short-article) of the forthcoming move to STV-PR:

"On May 3rd this year the local government elections in Scotland will be conducted using the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation (STV-PR). STV-PR will put an end to the ‘one party states’ and the ‘electoral deserts’ that have been all too typical of local government in Scotland for many years. STV will also give voters real choice among the candidates, not just among parties, and that will increase the accountability of those elected.

At the local government elections in 1999 some two million votes were cast, but over one million of those were wasted (49% of the total). The voting system left those million voters without representation on their local councils. STV-PR will put that right: the overwhelming majority of votes will count and the voters will be represented by councillors of their choice.

Examples from the 1999 elections show every political party benefits unfairly from the distortions of first-past-the-post (FPTP): Labour in Midlothian (94% seats for 46% votes), SNP in Angus (72% seats for 47% votes), Liberal Democrats in East Dunbartonshire (42% seats for 27% votes), Conservatives in Stirling (41% seats for 27% votes). STV-PR will correct these distortions no matter which party has had the unfair advantage from FPTP elections in the past. The result will be fairly-shared representation in the ward and fairly-shared representation on the council as a whole.

Some politicians, of all parties, may not want STV-PR for local government elections in Scotland - ask yourself why? All of them are out of touch with their electorate who have no vested interest in maintaining the status quo and who overwhelmingly support changing the voting system. STV-PR will indeed eliminate the democratic deficit in local government. It will put power back into the hands of the voter and take it away from the party managers - no wonder they are worried."

As I've mentioned before ... despite my own best interests (or in spite of them!) I've always been a long-term supporter of PR ... I'm a Director of both the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) and Chair/Director of Fairshare ... and am wholly supportive of the moves to STV-PR for local government elections in Scotland.

Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel

Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel this morning ... main topic for discussion being Tynescastle Nursery School.

Main agenda for the meeting can be found here ... I did mention all of this in an earlier post here. This morning's meeting now forming part of the 'consultation' on the proposed temporary move of Tynecastle Nursery School.

Also discussing the 'Learning Hubs' report, which I've referred to in several previous posts - last one being here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Budget Day!

Budget-setting day for the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) ... further details on the main CEC website - just follow the 'Council News' links from the front page ... or go straight here.

Given it was my first budget in the relatively, new role of Executive Member for Children and Families; I did put together a brief summary for the internal Departmental Newsletter ... which follows below for those who may be interested (??):

"Thursday 8th February and the city-wide budget has just been approved for 2007/08 - for the Children and Families department I believe it has been a very good settlement indeed. I want to take this opportunity to touch on some of the highlights.

The main focus has been on securing a long-term uplift in the base budgets for the "Children's Services" that the department provides. And, to this end, some £6.25million has indeed been added into the base revenue budget to go towards:

- foster parents and support to fostering families (£1.9million)
- supporting children in care and their families (£2.4million)
- social work practice team support (£440K)
- children with a learning disability (£250K)

Along with a collection of other smaller sums, the overall total of £6.25million is a recurring uplift to the ongoing base revenue budget - I feel it will make a real difference to those staff who are facing significant pressures in the department; but more importantly it's going to make a very significant difference to many, many children and families who most need help from the local authority.

Within the longer-term capital budget, there has also been an additional allocation of just over £4million to concentrate on a variety of fabric renewal projects, principally in the school estate:

- a new Granton Waterfront primary (£1.2million)
- Craigmillar Schools funding (£1million)
- refurbishment of James Gillespie's High School (£1million)
- refurbishment works at St. Crispin's Special School (£250K)
- phase 2 of the works at the Royal Mile Nursery (£250K)
- refurbishment of the Duncan Place Resource Centre (£400K)

In addition to these longer-term projects, there is an immediate (2007/08) allocation of £2million capital being provided directly to schools specifically to support energy saving investments. This will translate, for example only, to around £30,000 per average secondary school and to around £10,000 per average primary school.

These are just the highlights, but I hope they give you a flavour of the main emphasis of the budget settlement.

As hopefully many of you know, since taking on this post in late August 2006, I've tried to visit as many Children and Families establishments as possible over the past 6-months. During those visits, I've listened hard to the many constructive comments from staff about the services the department delivers - and I sincerely hope you see a reflection of some of those discussions in the priorities delivered in this budget. It does all represent a very significant uplift in the base budgets, and I'm confident it puts the Children and Families department on a sound financial footing for the future."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Briefing on Children Services Inspection

Briefing this morning, for all elected Members, on the ongoing Children Services Inspection within the City of Edinburgh Council ... which I briefly mentioned a few days ago.

HMIE Inspectors will be interviewing several elected Members in the not-too-distant future, and obviously pretty important that everyone understands what to expect in that regard.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Council Executive meeting in Balerno!

Council Executive meeting this morning held out in Balerno, at Balerno High School ... the main agenda for the meeting can be found by clicking here.

Meeting wasn't an Education Executive, but given our presence in a secondary school, educational issues were inevitably discussed!

Main presentation from the school - from students, who put there case across excellently - concerned the lack of an all-weather pitch at the High School.

The Council does have a goal of achieving such a pitch at every secondary - and has made enormous progress in this regard in recent years - but Balerno High is one of the gaps. The student's presentation has thus led to a call for an up-to-date report on a timescale for 'filling' the remaining gaps across the city.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Children and Families Management Team and links with STV-PR!

Brief slot on the Children and Families Management Team meeting agenda this afternoon; just to say a quick thank-you for all their efforts in the run-up to the setting of the 2007/08 City Council budget this coming Thursday (mentioned this before here).

No definite decisions until Thursday obviously ... but it has proven to be a very difficult balancing act this year between setting a long-term budget, and the short-term demands of an upcoming election. Add to that the inevitable fact that this budget will be 'picked up' by a new coalition Administration (because of the implementation of the Single Transferable Vote [PR] for Scottish Local Government elections on May 3rd) and you'll get some flavour of the tensions around the upcoming, final decisions.

But ... as I've mentioned several times before ... despite my own best interests (or in spite of them!) I've always been a long-term supporter of PR ... I'm a Director of both the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) and Chair/Director of Fairshare ... and am wholly supportive of the moves to STV-PR for local government elections in Scotland.

Indeed, the ERS recently opened an office in Edinburgh and they're about to launch a "Democrazy" website to help publicise the change to STV-PR for the local government elections on Thursday May 3rd.

I'll post more details on the website as soon as I get them ... meantime, lots of information on the Electoral Commission Scotland's website which can be found here.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gorgie City Farm and The Botanics

Well, the expected cerebral problems were actually not as bad as feared; thus we hurtled off to Gorgie City Farm this (Sunday) morning, in yet another effort to fully occupy the energies of our cohort of visiting (and resident) youngsters ... who all spent an inordinate amount of time playing on the old red tractor that always seems to be a favourite. Afternoon was equally as successful in keeping them all busy - went to The Botanics and let them loose to feed an assortment of unsuspecting grey squirrels and birds ;-))

Very much looking forward to going back to work tomorrow so I can recover a bit ...

Visiting Children ...

Following an extremely late night last night (due to the Burns Supper) we've now got some friends from down south staying with us for the weekend ... this in itself is fine (of course!) but add in the 3-year old and 8-year old visiting boys to our own 9-year old boy and I'm sure you can imagine the low-level chaos that ensued ;-))

Spent most of the (Saturday) afternoon skulking around the National Museum of Scotland trying to keep said youngsters happy - pleased to report that this is really easy at the Museum on Chambers Street ... it really is a great place and the children were blissfully happy there for the whole afternoon.

Continued the Burns theme somewhat on Saturday evening - once the little darlings were all asleep of course - with a spectacular range of whiskies being sampled throughout the night. Certain to pay for it tomorrow ;-((

Friday, February 02, 2007

Burns Supper tonight!

Annual local Labour Party Burns Supper tonight ... slightly late I know, but fitted the event around availability of speakers etc.

Really good evening had by all - out at South Hall, Pollock Halls - with excellent speakers, good venue and staff, and plenty of haggis (even for us veggies) ... thankfully it did look, and taste, a bit better than this picture I managed to find ;-))

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Services for Children Inspection

Lots of press coverage today of the Midlothian 'Services for Children Inspection' report ... what didn't seem to be mentioned at all was that City of Edinburgh Council is right in the middle of the very-same HMIE inspection regime at the moment.

As anyone who follows these issues will know, services for children in Edinburgh have historically been a very contentious policy area ... I'm certain that huge progress has been made in recent years.

One thing is for sure ... we'll receive our own HMIE evaluation of services for children in Edinburgh in the near future.

Eco Schools visit tomorrow ...

David Miliband MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, up in Edinburgh for the day tomorrow.

Seems to have a pretty hectic schedule, including a visit to Currie High School which has the Eco Schools Green Flag Award.

Eco Schools (I've mentioned it here before) is an international initiative designed to encourage whole-school action for the environment. It's an environmental management tool, learning resource and recognised award scheme.

There are over 2,500 schools registered with the Eco Schools programme in Scotland and over 10% of these schools have attained the highest award level - the Green Flag.

Eco Schools has really taken off across Scotland, but particularly in Edinburgh were the vast majority of the primary and secondary estate are registered with the programme. Sure that David Miliband will be impressed with Currie High School.

Noticed that the Minister even has a departmental blog ... they're all at it ;-))

Full Council meeting today

Full Council meeting today with the Youngedinburgh Youth Services Strategy being the main focus - more information and links to the agenda and report here.

Really excellent input from all the young people present - well over 70 of them viewed the proceedings from an adjoining room via a video-link! ... whole meeting being filmed ...

There was an 'open question and answer session' between 7 of the young people and the elected Councillors ... it has to be said, that the quality of the debate was pretty impressive and I'm not entirely certain who came across best ... well actually I am ;-((

Youth 1 - Councillors 0