Friday, May 30, 2008

London weekend ...

Off to London this evening - on the sleeper ... nearly at a year-and-a-half now without stepping on a plane ;-)

Heading South for the quarterly 'Council meeting' of the Electoral Reform Society ... one can only hope its a little more enjoyable than yesterday's 'Edinburgh Council meeting'??

Not back up in Edinburgh until pretty late on Saturday evening, so blogging could well be light this weekend ...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On a lighter note ...

On a much lighter note than the interminable Council Meeting ...

... when I finally got home after the days' travails, my better-half had harvested our first crop from the Allotment!

So, no schools may have been initiated and built for the last year (which isn't funny) but at least our new Allotment has produced some radishes ;-)

And, given the amount of stuff we've planted, there are lots more vegetables to come over the next few months!

Another very long Council meeting

Another very, very long Council meeting today (8.30pm finish) - would have been several hours (literally) shorter if the Administration had organised its business better ... and I don't mean by the ludicrous use (or not!) of traffic-lights :-((

From my point of view, the most significant debate of the day was on Wave 3 schools - during which the Libs/Nats moved a completely pointless Amendment to the Motion that was on the Order Paper in my name (see item 11.6 on the Agenda - here).

No one explained in the ensuing debate exactly why even considering the use of Local School Building Trusts was not acceptable? ... which means only one thing - it wasn't acceptable because it was suggested by a Labour politician.

Truly pathetic.

And the drivel we had to endure about the evils of previous school building programmes and the supposed wonders of the Scottish Futures Trust was equally - if not more - pathetic.

As I outlined in the debate, here's a list of the schools built (or being built) since 2002 - all initiated by Council Administrations I was part of:

New Build Schools - completed

Braidburn Special School
Rowanfield Special School
Oaklands Special School
Gorgie Mills SEBD School
Woodlands Special School
Oxgangs Primary School
St Peter’s Primary School
Forthview Primary School
Castleview Primary School
Craigour Park Primary School
Craigroyston Primary School
Broomhouse Primary School
St Joseph’s RC Primary School
Pirniehall Primary School
St David’s RC Primary School
Gracemount High School
Craigmount High School
St Thomas of Aquins High School

Refurbished Schools - completed

The Royal High School
Firrhill High School
Drummond Community High School

New Build Schools - ongoing

Bonaly Primary School
Juniper Green Primary School
Niddrie Mill Primary School
St Francis Primary School
Broughton High School
Forrester High School
Holy Rood High School
St. Augustine's High School
Tynecastle High School
Craigroyston Community High School

Refurbished Schools - ongoing

Canal View Primary School
Pentland Primary School
Curries Primary School

Just in case you haven't got that total number - it's 34 SCHOOLS.

How many so far for the new Council? (or Scottish Govt.) - ZERO.

It is a truly shocking failure.

P.S. and as I've said before, I am willing to take bets that not ONE SINGLE new school contract will be initiated, and then that school built and actually opened all within this term (May 2007-May 2011) of the current Scottish Government, or the current Edinburgh Council (May 2007-May 2012).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Council code

Can I encourage you to have a quick look at one of today's Council News Releases?

Its entitled, "Councils' Continued Cooperation on Waste - 28 May 2008" and can currently be found via the Council homepage at:

... now, personally I think this Release is brilliant 'Council code' for:

"we think the Scottish Government has really screwed up on this issue, but we can't quite say that."

Excellent - best Council News Release I've read in months :-))

Will it be a YouTube record-breaker?

Edinburgh Labour goes all modern (??):

... unfortunately, if you're reading this blog at the Council ... though I do know very few Council employees have time for such nonsense ;-) ... then you won't be able to see this high-tech video production as YouTube is blocked :-((

Its certain to be a "views" record-breaker ;-))


There's farcical ...

... and then there's comical ...

... and then there's just the sheer bloody inability to make a decision and stick with it :-(

I can't quite believe it, but apparently the powers that be have now decided to 'shelve' the idea of the traffic-lights until at least after the Summer recess :-)

Damn it - I'll need to re-write all my speeches for tomorrow now ;-))

Fantasy Land ...

I've already outlined what I think of the main 'school-based', education commitments from the SNP May 2007 election manifesto ... after only 1-year, they're already - frankly - a busted-flush :-(

... so, it comes as no surprise to see that BBC Scotland are leading on a class-size story today. Have a quick look at the detail in the story:

  • Scotland needs an additional 2,173 teachers to deliver P1/2/3 class-sizes of 18 or less
  • that will cost an additional (and recurring) £62million per year
  • in order to accommodate these classes, Scotland needs 900 additional classrooms
  • that will cost an additional (one-off) amount of £360million

... but, don't worry, everything is okay because (go on, read the article):

  • the Scottish Government gave Councils an extra £40million (this year only!)
  • that was just to keep teacher numbers static - NOT to increase them
  • there are falling school-roles, so its easy to achieve smaller class-sizes with the same number of teachers, isn't it?
  • no mention of very recent local SNP reaction/s to such an assumption??

  • so, £40million this year when the Scottish Government claims the settlement to Local Government rose by 5%
  • but, hold on, that £40million hasn't recruited one new teacher - just kept numbers static at 53,000 across Scotland
  • and the Local Government settlement (revenue), as acknowledged by the Scottish Government, shows a decreasing rate of growth in the next 2-years ... 4.1% and 3.4%

  • so, can we be certain of £40million next year?
  • what about the minimum requirement of £62million, will that ever be given??
  • what about the capital requirements of £360million???
  • and what about local "SNP reality" as opposed to this educational 'fantasy land' we're being fed by the Scottish Government ...

Lower class sizes - yes please ... but its not free, in fact its very, very expensive; and when Local Government fails to deliver P1/2/3 class-sizes of 18 or less by May 2011, I can but hope-in-vain that someone, somewhere, will remember who is responsible?

I don't see any sign yet that the relevant Scottish Ministers will be honest about their failure ...

... "historic concordat" anyone? :-((

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Overwhelming majority?

Edinburgh's Business Improvement District (BID) proposals were approved in a ballot of local businesses today - on balance, I very much welcome the outcome. The whole process is part of a wider series of BIDs across Scotland - further details can be found here.

Slightly surprised not to have seen any substantial press coverage of the local outcome here in Edinburgh? - the Council has put a News release out ... you can see it here.

... mind you, the Release claims "Edinburgh's city centre businesses have voted overwhelmingly in favour to create a Business Improvement District" when the detail reveals only some 25.9% of those eligible to vote have actually approved the plans :-(

All that said, I do welcome the result and am only too aware that successful BIDs in other international, Capital cities have resulted in very significant city-centre improvements - lets hope Edinburgh can now follow that lead ...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stop at the red light :-((

Just as you thought things couldn't get any more farcical in the City Chambers ...

... internal rumour (and remember, that's usually as good as true!) is suggesting that at the Full Council Meeting this Thursday we're all going to have the length of our speeches controlled by some form of "traffic-light" system :-(

Now, standing orders do have 'guidelines' on the maximum length for contributions, but in the +9 years I've been on the Council I've never witnessed any serious attempt at curtailing Elected members' contributions to debates. Polite cajoling from various Lord Provosts; yes ... but enforcing rigid time-limits; never.

It has to be admitted, that I may on occasion be personally guilty of transgressing the 'guidelines' when it comes to my speeches - but really, a system of "traffic-lights" to enforce adherence to time-limits ...

... and you can just imagine the outrage that would have erupted from the Liberal-Democrats, in particular, if we had tried such a stunt when in power?

Why; anyone would think the current people in charge just don't like what they hear in the Council Chamber?

Sunday, May 25, 2008


As well as the garden-clearance at the local Community Centre this morning; yet another construction project commenced down at the allotment later in the afternoon ...

... and here was me thinking that once all the beds were properly edged with wood, I could sit back and relax :-(

Well, not a bit of it, as junior - and myself, it has to be admitted! - are pretty keen to have a small pond on-site. So, with old bath very kindly donated by a fellow 'allotmenteer', the digging of a bloody huge hole took place and bath is now in position :-(

I hasten to add that the plants have not grown, as per the photo, quite yet ... purely for illustrative purposes only :-)

... back to work for a rest tomorrow.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

'Activity Weekend'

After a couple of weekends away, I'm actually in Edinburgh this weekend ;-)

... so, this morning, off on a bit of a canal walk (part of a local 'walking programme'). Apparently, someone still thinks I'm a VIP ;-))

... then, this evening, going to a 'Kuk Sool Won' (Korean for "National Martial Arts Association"!) Tournament at Meadowbank - organised by the North Merchiston Club, which is located within Fountainbridge.

... then, tomorrow, helping clear the garden at the rear of the local Community Centre as part of their ongoing and impressive efforts to get more events up-and-running at the Centre.

No rest for the wicked.

Friday, May 23, 2008

School-Meals Saga rumbles on ...

Locally, here in Edinburgh, the school-meals saga continues to rumble on and on and on ...

As you will recall, I posted just yesterday about the plans to shut a whole raft of Nursery and Primary school kitchens ...

... well, this morning, it appears that some of the closures won't be happening after all?

Its tempting to bang on about the inconsistency of this particular 'decision-making trail', but actually, in one truly depressing way the whole process has been entirely consistent - none of it has EVER been near ANY Committee of the Council.

Indeed, if the good parents of Kirkliston Primary (and others!) hadn't kicked up such an effective fuss; then I don't doubt for a second this would all just have gone ahead regardless.

Well done them!

It has to be mentioned :-((

What can I say about that result in Crewe this morning ... not good :-(

You should never read 'too much' into one by-election result ... I remember doing just that during 1987-1992 when Labour won several spectacular by-election victories :-(

- but the result today in Crewe has to be set alongside the recent results in the English and Welsh local government elections; and the even more recent set of UK polling results, the latest of which was published on Tuesday.

Taken together, as I said above, it really is 'not good' :-((

But, just about the worst possible reaction would be for the Labour Party to turn inwards on itself ... just ask William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith or Michael Howard if they would recommend such a course of action?

No, some calm - after the storm of the last six-months - is now required ... and it may be just as well that Westminster's Whitsun Recess started yesterday ...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Secret Society

The whole issue of the cost and quality of school meals (or lack of them), which I've mentioned on several other occasions in earlier posts (going back as far as February this year), appears to be getting worse and worse by the minute ... it even features today on the main BBC Scotland website.

And, as if the subject-matter itself wasn't bad enough, I am still unable to find any clear reference to these cost-cutting measures in ANY paper that has gone before ANY Committee of the Council and/or find direct reference to it in ANY of the Budget Papers that were before the Council on 21st February?

It is absolutely typical of the 'secrecy' and 'lack-of-consultation' that is now epitomising this Lib/Nat Administration in Edinburgh ... I find it all (and I don't mean to demean the seriousness of the impact of these cuts) richly ironic, especially coming from Liberals who used to berate us daily - and I do not exaggerate - about our 'supposed' lack of openness and transparency during our last period of being in Administration from 2003-2007.

Well, what has subsequently happened from 2007-2008 makes previous regimes seem like paragons of democratic-virtue ... significant decisions, that will impact on the quality-of-life of literally thousands of people, are now simply being taken OUT of the democratic process.

It is an appalling state of affairs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Real-Time" revelation

Avid blog-readers will recall that back in June last year, I filled in one of those carbon-footprint calculators ... we didn't score too badly as a family unit - but I did subsequently switch to a green energy supplier (as I promised!), namely Good Energy.

I've still to upgrade the gas boiler to a condensing model ... just can't afford it at the moment, and the old boiler does appear to have a bit of life left in it yet. We will upgrade eventually - honest.

Anyhow, the purpose of the post is to let you know about a gadget that Good Energy had on offer for only £29.99 (not the £49.99 as per the eco-eye website) which I've installed in the flat today ... and I'm totally sold on it! In essence, its a "real-time" monitor of your electricity consumption, it was simple to install (only took minutes), and is a real revelation.

I've been wondering round the flat this evening trying a variety of electrical appliances (I know, short-term affliction of 'defeating-the-purpose') and watching the "real-time" consumption duly fluctuate. As a consequence:

  • I have already ordered a 'hob-kettle' for the gas cooker, as the consumption of the electric kettle is shocking compared to almost any other daily appliance
  • the last few (there aren't many) 'non' long-life light bulbs are getting replaced as soon as possible
  • the video-recorder is being switched off every night (we've been switching off the TV for years, but not the VCR!)
  • there will be a strict ban on leaving the fridge door open - there is a distinct surge in power consumption when you do this
  • the washing machine use will definitely have to be rationalised
  • and computer printers (we've got two I'm afraid) are certainly being switched off whenever not in use

All simple stuff I appreciate but actually SEEING IN REAL-TIME the effects of not doing these things is, I would contest, a real incentive to actually take concerted action. And there are bound to be other potential actions that I haven't yet had drawn to my notice by the monitor.

I'll get that £29.99 back within weeks - of that I'm certain - but the longer term consequences of having such a monitor in the flat will undoubtedly be pretty significant.

Why haven't I bought one of these before? - and there is surely a case that they are equally as important as smoke-alarms, which many Local Authorities are now fitting free of charge??

P.S. I am not on commission to Good Energy or eco-eye :-))

"War of Words"

Just for once, I don't think the Evening News have used too much artistic license when constructing a headline for this story in today's paper!

I've never read anything like it - okay, they are in different political Parties, but MacLaren and the Liberals are in COALITION with MacAskill's SNP within the City Chambers :-(

My views on all of this are clear, but I would have thought this now makes the Council's current position on "Wave 3" schools totally, totally unsustainable ... you can decide about the 'sustainability' of the politicians involved :-((


There's no denying the self-congratulatory tone around from the SNP as they mark their first-year in power at Holyrood ...

... but, as principal Opposition Spokesperson on Education in Edinburgh's City Chambers - I feel duty-bound to highlight that none of the main school-based, education commitments from their May 2007 manifesto feature in the current round of propaganda?

Here's a reminder of what was promised (and I'm quoting):
  1. "we will match the current school building programme brick for brick."
  2. "we will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less."
  3. "we will increase the provision of free nursery education for 3 and 4 year olds by 50 per cent. That means increasing the entitlement from 400 hours a year to 600 hours a year".

... and a reminder of what is actually happening:

  1. just have a look here, and follow some of the links therein. NOT ONE SINGLE NEW SCHOOL CONTRACT has been initiated by the SNP Government. With only 35 months to go before the May 2011 election, I just can't see how ONE SINGLE new school contract will be initiated, and then that school built and actually opened, within the lifetime of this Government?
  2. just have a look at Page 27 of the Draft Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) between the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council here. Its abundantly clear that Edinburgh currently only has 13% of P1/2/3 classes under 20 children (never mind under 18!) and that £16million of Capital and a recurring £7.45million of revenue is required to deliver this pledge. None of that money is on offer, and I just can't see how its humanly possible for Edinburgh to have all P1/2/3 classes at 18 pupils or less by May 2011?
  3. just have a look at Page 26 of the Draft SOA between the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council here. Its obvious that currently Edinburgh provides 475 annual hours of free Nursery education - well short of the promised 600. Yet there is no further funding on offer to enable that target to be met, and I just can't see how its feasible for Edinburgh to provide 600 annual hours of free Nursery education by May 2011?

So, how would any fair-minded person score the progress to date on these three main school-based, education commitments from the SNP May 2007 manifesto?

  1. PASS / FAIL ?
  2. PASS / FAIL ?
  3. PASS / FAIL ?

I leave that for you to decide ... I know what I think about the whole SOA process and I also know, without a shadow-of-a-doubt, who will get the blame in late 2010/early 2011 when these national commitments aren't delivered - and they won't be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Merchiston Community Council

Merchiston Community Council meeting this evening - 5 elected Councillors present! ... nothing to do with the free bubbly at the end of the meeting (to celebrate the launch of the Community Council's new website) of course ;-)

... actually, for a Merchiston Community Council meeting I thought the evening was generally lacking in any real rancour from the serried ranks - one noticeable (and pretty deplorable, as far as I'm concerned) departure from the generally constructive debate was the appallingly negative criticism being meted-out to Planning officers ("weak") and Transport officers ("ineffective"), in their complete absence, by a senior elected Councillor.

Totally unacceptable ... but, sadly, not totally unexpected from those who have spent years trying to take responsibility for nothing - problem is, their still doing it even after being in power for a full year :-(

... on a more positive note - the new website is excellent and currently has a very handsome chap, third-from-right on one of the front-page photographs :-))


This morning saw the launch of the Scottish Futures Trust' (SFT) Strategic Business Case (SBC) ... you won't be surprised to hear that I think its more a basket-case than a business-case.

It really is a poor piece of work.

After 8-years in Opposition and a year in Government, what's on offer here from the SNP is a very weak model of financing public infrastructure ... its not particularly innovative and it still seems like 'work-in-progress'.

Do have a look at the very last line of the document on Page 56 ... says it all really :-(

... and worse still, PLEASE do have a look at the top few lines of the table on Page 55 - NO MORE NEW CAPITAL MONIES for schools until 2011/2012, then only minuscule sums thereafter when contrasted to the +£1.1billion of schools construction currently underway (all initiated prior to May 2007) over the next three years :-((

I am now willing to take bets that not ONE SINGLE new school contract will be initiated, and then that school built and actually opened all within this term (May 2007-May 2011) of the current Scottish Government ... I'll happily take any offers of a wager on this?

Its a truly shocking failure.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Down at the allotment ...

Local holiday-Monday today in Edinburgh, so managed to stay out of the office ...

... and guess what - yes, bit of time spent 'down at the allotment' and things are really starting to shoot up now!

Planting continues apace, with most of the borders filling up - controlling the growth on those paths (see picture here!) is proving to be a bit of a challenge :-(

Think I might see if I can beg, steal or borrow a cheap 'petrol strimmer' from somewhere to help relieve my knee-joints ;-))

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from the sea!

Back in Edinburgh early this evening.

Very good weekend; fairly decent weather; super campsite; and an excellent day (yesterday) spent on one of the many boat trips from Seahouses to the Farne Islands ... evidence of such pictured here!

Not too much reminiscing about the last year ... too busy enjoying ourselves I'm afraid ;-)

Bit of continuing respite (hopefully!) tomorrow, with a local holiday-Monday in Edinburgh ...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Northumberland bound ...

Off to Northumberland (from late this afternoon) for a few days - one of our "bi-annual camping weekends", and a return visit to a site we've used many times before ... hoping for a decent spell of weather?

Taking the car, so also hoping that new clutch-cable behaves itself :-(

Blogging may well be light for the next few days, but I will report on any late-night, camp-fire reflections on the last year upon our return to civilisation :-)

The last laugh?

If you've ever been to one of those infamous "McGonagall Supper" events ... this story on the BBC site today will surely raise a wry smile :-)

... for those that unfortunately don't know - a "McGonagall Supper" is akin to the absolute antithesis of a very traditional "Burns Supper" evening.

... everything is 'conducted backwards' and a general sense of chaos ensues - not to mention the bizarre experience of the whole event starting with coffee, then sweet, then main course etc. :-))

Some details can be found here.

A well-constructed "McGonagall Supper" can be extremely funny - so if you ever see one advertised, I'd definitely encourage attendance!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A slight sense of shock ...

I'm in a slight sense of shock this evening - I see that Scottish house prices are rising, and thus bucking the rest of the UK-trend ...

... and no Scottish Government news release claiming credit has been seen anywhere??

I fear that someone in the Press Office may well be in serious trouble tomorrow :-))

Neighbourhood Partnership 'review group'

Substituted for Ewan this morning at a meeting of the Neighbourhood Partnership 'review group' ... there was a good, cross-Party debate about progress-to-date and some degree of acceptance that there is a slight feeling of NPs 'treading water' at the moment ...

... but, it has to be said, there appeared to be a genuine willingness to address that challenge over the coming few months. It appears the actual 'NP Review' will be completed by the end of June and thereafter make its way through the formal decision-making processes of the Council by August at the very latest.

Okay - its still a few months away: but if that timetable is now actually adhered to, and new powers (and money!) are eventually added as a result of the Review ... then I'll be the first to applaud progress at last!

We'll see?


... just by way of note: why-on-earth the current Coalition won't use cross-party working groups (like today's) more frequently is simply beyond me? Such arrangements always end up in a much better shot at some sort of consensus, and even if differences are irresolvable then the subsequent debates at Full Council are always more 'civilised' as everyone knows they have at least been listened to. But, in true 'old politics' fashion, current Opposition Groups are frozen out of as much as possible - c'est la vie, but its not conducive to good, long-term decision-making.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Be careful what you wish for ...

I found myself agreeing somewhat with "Vicious Vince" this afternoon, when I heard him arguing (on Radio 4 I think it was?) that 'legalisation isn't the answer to everything' ... of course, he was referring to the PM's statement on the forthcoming Autumn Queen's Speech at Westminster.

And he does have a general point - I wouldn't necessarily agree with his assessment of the current Westminster proposals, but I certainly did feel on occasion, during the period of 1999-2007, that a huge number of Bills were passing through the Holyrood Parliament.

It was understandable, especially given that devolution was new and there was a real desire to 'make-up' for the lack of legislative progress on many purely Scottish issues within the pre-devolution Westminster Parliament. But at times, the number of Bills passing through Holyrood was pretty breathtaking ...

... well, talk about 'be careful what you wish for' :-(

Here in Scotland today, we had a similar type of pre-legislative statement at Holyrood from the FM ... and we appear to now have the extraordinary situation of more purely Scottish Bills passing through Westminster than are proposed for passage at Holyrood.

Legislation may well indeed 'not' be the answer to everything, but anyone predicting what has happened today back in 1999 would have been ridiculed ... and rightly so.

It does appear faintly ridiculous, that after 9-years of devolution more Scottish Bills are now passing through the Westminster Parliament than the Holyrood Parliament. And its happening under a Nationalist Government in Edinburgh.

Quite bizarre.

Parents' Evening

It's juniors Parents' Evening tonight - so need to miss my weekly Fountainbridge Surgery ... also a 'Tollcross Primary School Parent Council' meeting :-(

... but, I do need to keep some sense of priority about family life - so Parents' Evening at Craiglockhart Primary School it is!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tollcross Community Council

Attended Tollcross Community Council meeting this evening ... had to unfortunately submit my apologies to Craiglockhart CC, which was meeting at exactly the same time :-(

Fairly lengthy discussions on:

Interestingly, given my comments last month, although planning-issues were discussed they didn't dominate the meeting for once.

P.S. for those concerned (??), car safely recovered from the garage and once more in full working order ... for now anyhow!

"Healthier School Dinners" - really?

I'd love someone to explain to me how this Scottish Government announcement on "Healthier School Dinners" squares up with what's currently happening here in Edinburgh?

Its just yet another example of 'national rhetoric' giving voice to some policy idyll whilst 'local reality' is totally, totally different.

... never mind, it will all be okay when we sign up to the Single Outcome Agreement at the Full Council meeting on the 29th May - money will flow from the Scottish Government for all our needs and national politicians will never again blame local government for failing to deliver their agenda :-(

It 'would' be laughable if it wasn't so serious ... just you wait until January 2011, in the run-up to the next Holyrood election, and see who gets the blame for not delivering class sizes of 18-or-under for all Primary 1, 2 and 3 school children :-((

Political leadership at its best?

Aberdeen Council appears to be featuring prominently in the press again today - for all the wrong reasons.

... the Council Leader there appears to be showing exemplary leadership qualities yet again ...

Personally, I find it really distasteful to see senior officers left out-in-the-cold in such a fashion. Not good at all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council meeting this evening - including a brief presentation by officers on the proposals for a Skateboard-Park within Saughton Park.

Despite some concern about the 'exact' location of the Skateboard-Park, I felt there was general support for the principal of locating the facility within Saughton Park.

Various issues rightly raised as a prerequisite for any final implementation: CCTV needs to be installed; crossing on Balgreen Road needs to be finalised; toilet facilities need to be available (and adequate!). Hopefully, they can all be delivered as part of any overall package ...

... watch this space for when the detailed planning application is finally submitted in a few weeks time.

Separately, there was also some discussion about the ongoing success of the Estate walkabouts ... I can't resist publishing this picture - I should say that this is NOT a caption contest :-((

Clutch-cable saga

Spent most of this morning attending to a broken clutch-cable :-(

- thankfully, we took the train to Sheffield, but on Sunday evening took a quick trip to the allotment (by car!) to do some watering, and on the approach up Chesser Loan, the clutch-cable evidently snapped leaving us completely stranded :-((

Even more frustratingly, was the fact that the whole trip appears to have been unnecessary as we were told by one gleeful allotment-holder that very heavy thunderstorms emptied out of the Edinburgh skies on Saturday night ... there was certainly no rain in sunny Sheffield ;-)

Oh well ... car should be ready for collection tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Back from Sheffield

Well, the Sheffield visit was a real success ... the canal boat was a definite change from the usual 'B&B/Hotel' accommodation, and junior loved it!

... and we managed not to sink it ;-)

We also enjoyed Sheffield itself - particularly the very impressive-looking trams :-)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Stiff drink required

I just knew Boris Johnson, within days of being elected, would be a disaster as London Mayor ...

... proof-positive, of just such a terrible start, now being reported in the Daily Mash ;-)

The Sun appears to be reporting an equally outrageous story this Friday morning :-((

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Off to sunny Sheffield ...

Off to sunny (hopefully) Sheffield this weekend on the 2.05pm train tomorrow - bit of a weekend escape for the family - and we're staying in a 'houseboat hotel' ... really, we are :-)

It will be a definite first - and I don't even own a waterproof laptop! - thus blogging may be somewhat light over the next few days ... but I'll report back later on whether we sink or swim?

... I suspect many Party colleagues will be contemplating such issues over the weekend :-(

Switch the power on?

South West Neighbourhood Partnership (NP) meeting this evening - it has to be said, nearly one-year on and all the hope for any form of serious devolution to NP's has pretty much come to nothing.

It is fairly startling - although depressingly 'true-to-form' - that despite several years of putting significant sums of money into Local Development Committees (LDC's being NP's predecessors!) whilst framing their Opposition budgets, the Liberals this year (now in power) put completely 'zero' new money into their Administration budget for NP's :-(

... of course, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they don't hold the 'majority' on all of the 12 NP's across the city ... no, no, no, of course not.

We were told tonight it was because 'officers' were finding it terribly difficult to devolve power away from the centre; they have been 'asked' to speed things up; and everyone is really trying hard to sort things out; but these things are very complicated you know ...

Truly depressing stuff.

... but, it's all part of Edinburgh's 'Bright New Future', so that's okay really.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Some 'local' political drama too ...

Enough of all this national and international, political drama ... here, in Edinburgh itself, local political drama continues with the snail-like progress of a funding solution for any new school buildings in the Capital City ...

... might not be 'quite' as dramatic as events elsewhere, but for hundreds of parents and families across Edinburgh its a very real issue - Evening News ran a short piece from me on this topic today, which can be found here.

As I say in the article, the Lib-Dem/SNP Council has frankly made little or no progress in filling the funding vacuum of the last 12-months. And progress can indeed be made – several Councils across Scotland have developed alternative, local funding-mechanisms since mid-2007, and are now close to initiating building contracts.

... and before I hear the howls of 'what would you have done' - well, we did have an alternative model in our budget proposals. It acknowledged that the pre-2007 methods of funding were gone, and put forward a local solution for all 5-schools that would have kept progress alive until the mythical Scottish Futures Trust (or some other, viable financing-option) could be delivered by the Scottish Government.

Of course, it wasn't passed (text is below, for reference) - but just like our earlier pleas of June 2007 about schools rationalisation, I think the local Libs/Nats may well have to face up to some such 'Local Trust' solution fairly soon.


School Building Local Trusts

Council agrees to set up local School Building Trusts for the following schools in the ‘third wave’ of the school building programme:

  • Portobello High School
  • St Crispin’s Special School
  • James Gillespies High School
  • Boroughmuir High School
  • St Johns Primary School
Each School Building Trust will be allocated £75,000, in 2008/09, to develop plans for the rebuilding, or refurbishment, of their school building.

This specific £0.375million, to be part of a wider £8.75million allocated to the development of all 5 ‘third wave’ schools to ‘Stage D Design Level’ by the end of 2010/11; subject to additional funding being provided by the Scottish Government.

The required £8.75million to be funded from:

  • additional receipts identified by the ‘Capital Receipts’ review
  • with the immediate £0.375m being funded from the review of departmental management structures across the Council


Boring, boring, boring ...

Hard to say which political story is more gripping just at the moment: this or this?

... and they say modern-politics is boring??

The End

The BBC has finally got it ;-)

... he is now the Democratic candidate - there may be 6-more contests through until 3rd June, but the final result can surely no longer be in any doubt.

Next stop - the 'real' Super-Tuesday: 4th November 2008.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

No school meals here

Well, despite my earlier predictions of 'lots more to come' ... I wasn't expecting this - I see in my favourite local paper today that on-site, cooked school meals are to be axed from several Primary Schools ... and Nurseries :-(

I'm not aware that this move has been sanctioned by any Committee of the Council, and I'm also not aware that it was contained in the SNP/Lib Coalition Budget passed in February ...

... mind you, the current Coalition do have a bit of a track-record, when it comes to making decisions on-the-hoof about schools meals - see this story and blog entry from last December; all about an idea which was quickly shelved after the unsurprising parental outcry.

Now, surely they wouldn't be stupid enough to resurrect that would they??

Monday, May 05, 2008

For Scotland, read Quebec?

I've watched the developing 'bring it on' story over the last couple of days with an ever-so-slight sense of 'deja-vu' ...

... not only do the increasingly potential parallels with Quebec, Canada (and Catalonia, Spain) become ever-more real ... but to 'some' extent we have been here before as a nation ...

... although I do obviously accept (see this post and comments thereafter) that there has not yet been a referendum with the distinct option of 'Independence' on the ballot paper; I sense that even a substantial 'No-vote' in 2009/10 (or whenever any referendum 'might' happen) would NOT be the end of the matter.

Devolutionists, and even Federalists, should expect nothing else ...

... only one-thing in life is constant - change.

Politics is not so different.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Therapeutic day

The sun has shone brightly all day long, down at the allotment, and current political travails were thankfully banished to the deeper recesses of my mind ... at least for a good few hours this afternoon anyhow ;-)

Last bed now edged (10 in total, including the fruit-cage which you can see here on the left) and most of them planted up ...

... you should also be able to see what's become known as "The Rocket" - a 'living-willow' frame, that was given to my better-half as a very generous Birthday present ;-))

So - vegetable-wise ... we now have potatoes; onions; spinach; carrots, beetroot, radishes all planted up! More to go over the next few weeks, but most of the beds are now sown.

And - plant-wise ... a huge variety of flowers, bulbs and herbs all planted - including sweet-peas which will hopefully cover "The Rocket" in the not-too-distant future :-)

... all good therapy after the trauma of the last few days :-(

Wonderful Slough

Okay - self-pity over ... its a Bank Holiday weekend and we're off to the allotment today to finish edging the very last bed :-)

... a huge amount of planting is also to take place - various, impressive photographs may follow later :-))

P.S. does anyone know why Slough is so bloody wonderful?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Desperately seeking solace ...

Well, no more 'Labour gains', and congratulations do have to go to Mayor Johnson - no matter what I may think about his politics, his team clearly ran a good campaign and he won the popular vote ... that's democracy!

Livingstone's percentage of the first preferences is the only 'crumb-of-comfort' from what's been a pretty dismal couple of days for Labour - he managed 36% of the first preferences (details here) compared to Labour's 24% of the popular vote across the rest of the country ...

... mind you, that's a small 'crumb' - but there are undoubtedly lessons behind those starkly differing statistics.

Friday, May 02, 2008

LAB gain ??

In a vain attempt to cheer myself up, I thought I would have a quick look at the BBC "Election results in detail" section - here - and do a search for any 'LAB gain' ...

... only two hits :-(
  • Slough - details here
  • Durham - details here
Now, before you rush off and relocate to Durham, it is a new unitary authority so not sure if that really counts as a 'gain' :-((

... but Slough is a definite Labour gain from 'no overall control'.

Given it looks like Johnson is going to take London, it seems a move to Slough could well be on the cards ...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Full Council meeting (part 2)

So, as promised, a whole post on the Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) - you're beside yourself with excitement I can tell ...

... I know its not necessarily a headline-grabbing topic, but what we're potentially about to do in the next few weeks (as a Local Authority) will, I believe, lead to a serious diminution of local democracy - I have mentioned this in several previous posts: for example, here.

And in the debate at Full Council, when the SOA paper was being discussed, we had a truly astonishing moment when the Council Leader claimed that there was 'no connection between signing the SOA and freezing Council Tax' ...

... errrr, with respect, I think she should first look here, and then more crucially read the Concordat between COSLA and the Scottish Government here - in particular, she might like to look at the "Specified set of commitments" on page 4, particularly the bit that says:

"for the entire package to remain intact, and as part of their contribution to the new relationship, the Scottish Government and local government will each do what is required to ensure delivery of key government policies and programmes including: Freezing council tax rates in each local authority at 2007-08 levels."

The rest of the "specified set of commitments", and the fact that they are practically all unfunded, make very, very worrying reading financially...

... but what's much more worrying is that the Council Leader of the Capital city of Scotland clearly doesn't know what she's signing up to - 'no connection between signing the SOA and freezing the Council Tax'


Full Council meeting (part 1)

Full Council meeting was, amazingly, not quite as lengthy as I'd expected ... finishing before 5pm!

Most significant debate of the day (I believe) was on the Single Outcome Agreement - it deserves a whole post of its own, especially given what was said by our Council Leader, so I'll come back to that in a minute.

Meantime, other highlights (or should it be lowlights?) of the day:
  • two items were approved, by the Nat/Lib Coalition, on the casting vote of the Lord Provost (LP) ...
  1. choosing to vote down a Motion (see item 10.5) to lobby the Scottish Government concerning the recent 10p price rise in Lothian Bus fares. Instead, not only did the LP use his casting vote, our Convener of Transport actually said "in the greater scheme of things this is not a substantial increase". 10% - not substantial??
  2. choosing to vote down another Motion (see item 10.8) asking for a report outlining how the 'outreach' work of Scottish Ballet and Opera could potentially continue. Instead the LP, who is Chair of Edinburgh International Festival, voted down this request with his casting vote. Not clever.
  • The Lord Provost (he had a busy day) ruling that during 'questions' (see item 4) the Opposition Councillors could only have 1 supplementary question, and not the usual 2 or more ... in the 9-years I've been a Councillor, I've never seen a Lord Provost resort to such tactics ... and he has the cheek to call himself a (Liberal) Democrat :-(

  • The Convener of Education telling me that she need not reflect on answers given to me about Wave 3 schools because negotiations are ongoing with the Scottish Government ... this despite me quoting a letter from the relevant Minister saying that all the capital allocations for the next 3-years are settled and there is no more money :-((

And, of course, lets not overlook that in answer to another one of my questions the 2007/08 revenue budget (Nat/Lib Coalition in charge) appears to be heading towards an overspend that may be not far removed from the 2006/07 (Labour in charge) final overspend - which was £5.53million, or 0.69% of the overall revenue budget ... see the bottom of Page 5 here.

The bright new future is here ...

Thoughts elsewhere ...

Full Council meeting today; but in large part my thoughts are elsewhere ...

... can't help but think back to this time last year and just how frantically busy we all were - exactly the same will be the case for numerous colleagues down South today, especially in London.

... are Londoners really about to put Boris Johnson in City Hall? - even my Scottish Tory friends (yes, I do have some!) can't quite believe it will come to pass??

We'll know tomorrow ...