Friday, June 27, 2008

Temporary halt in transmission

Temporary halt in transmission I'm afraid - straight after the concert, off for a bit of a break ...

... will resume normal service as soon as possible ;-))

Radiohead - Glasgow Green

Off to see Radiohead on Glasgow Green this afternoon ...

... haven't ever seen them live before and, as a bit of a fan, I have to admit to rather looking forward to it ;-)

Should be some light relief after the travails of yesterday ;-))

'Political command'

It was indeed a very, very long Council Meeting yesterday - didn't finish until slightly after 9pm :-(

... and there were actually several, pretty significant debates - all of which the Lib/Nat Coalition had to rely on the Lord Provost's casting vote to get through the Council:

I'm not going to (you'll be glad to hear!) rehearse the lengthy debates we had over these 3 reports, but for those who are interested ...

... do follow the links above to the various reports and judge for yourself what it says about the 'political command' the current Council Coalition has when it needs to resort to the use of a casting vote to get three such important reports approved in the City Chambers?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Full Council meeting today ...

As mentioned earlier in the week - Full Council meeting today ...

... first one for me as principal Opposition Group Leader obviously. Nervous, but looking forward to it! ;-))

There is a pretty lengthy agenda, so blogging may be non-existent for the rest of today :-(

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tip of the iceberg ...

I see that the Scotsman have picked up on a part of the City Council's Single Outcome Agreement (SOA) with the Scottish Government today - the final document is at Thursday's Full Council meeting for decision.

I'm not convinced about the use of the word 'illegal' in the press report (they've got to sell their paper!) but there is no doubt that this SOA commitment (on class size) is currently unattainable given the funding so far allocated to the City of Edinburgh Council.

... and frankly, this is the tip of the SOA-iceberg. I've posted before about the main, national Education-commitments - they are all in Edinburgh's SOA; they will all fail to be delivered; and that's by an SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition Council.

So why sign the document?

... on Thursday, the opposition Labour Group on the Council will not be agreeing to sign-up to such an "unfunded, wish-list" - because, as things currently stand, that's exactly what Edinburgh's SOA is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Labour Group Leader

That's it - freedom over ... from just after 6pm this evening I'm officially the Leader of the Labour Group on the City of Edinburgh Council ;-)

I'm really delighted to have received the full backing of the whole Group ... and just 5 brief points I'd like to post up:
  • many thanks to Ewan for his efforts over the last 2-years as Group Leader
  • personally, I intend to lead a Labour Group that continues to promote Edinburgh's wider interests at every possible opportunity
  • a Group that speaks up (loudly!) in defence of essential front-line public services here in the city ... many of which feel like they are currently under assault
  • a Group that professionally scrutinises every action of the current Council Administration ... I will go out of my way to praise them when they make good decisions, but have every intention of making their life very, very difficult when they do not
  • and - I'm going to make sure I enjoy the next 4-years ;-)

And, fear not, the blog will continue - the frequency of posts may though be affected :-(

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pond-fever :-(

I'm seriously worried I may have contracted some sort of pond-fever :-(

... have just rushed down to the Allotment, to check out the newly-planted pond and can't resist posting this picture :-)

Just contrast that with the 8th June - a mere 2 weeks ago!

P.S. any offers of relevant medical-help would be greatly received :-((

More trouble ...

Talking about troublesome motions for debate, here is the full text of the one mentioned at the bottom of this story in today's local paper:

"Council agrees that the recent changes (as listed below) to the provision of hot meals to Nursery, Primary and Secondary school children have been a serious mistake, which will have a negative effect on the uptake of healthy school meals:
  • The removal of a hot lunchtime meal for Nursery School children
  • The "mothballing" of several Primary School kitchens
  • The removal of a hot lunchtime meal for all Secondary School children"

All relates to the ongoing debate on school meals, which I've mentioned extensively on the blog.

Now, I just cannot see what is 'troublesome' about this motion - read that Press Article again; and note the bit right at the bottom where our esteemed Convener of Education states (correctly) that, "this comes down to take-up – the more children who eat school meals, the more revenue we will have to spend."

Solution: have the honesty to admit the actions above, which have actually lowered school meal take-up, were a serious mistake and just say sorry.

Far too troublesome ...

Apparently, Opposition Councillors in the City Chambers are being just far too troublesome ... asking officials to answer questions; raising motions for debate; and even having the temerity to call for reports on controversial subjects.

... I mean to say - just where will all this end? We could end up in the outrageous situation of elected politicians running the Council again :-((

Just have a read at the first paragraph in the Evening News story today:

"COUNCIL officials fed up with meetings dragging on into the evening want politicians to stop asking so many questions."

How dare those locally elected politicians ask so many questions - who do they think they are?

And just for good measure, have a look at paragraph 4.25 of the actual report, which says:

"The election of a third opposition group has played a part in the increase in questions and motions and this is perfectly reasonable. However, the number of questions, and their complexity, is very demanding of staff resources during a very short turn-around period. Together with the number of motions, the result has been some very long Council meetings and it is legitimate to question whether this is an efficient or effective use of the Council’s democratic processes."

Quite right ... we simply cannot have Opposition Groups holding officers and Administration Politicians to account by using the democratic process. Oh no - that's just not on!


Well, it would be if I thought the local Libs and Nats would oppose this report at Thursday's Council Meeting ... but they won't :-(

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All-Member meeting ...

Attended a 'hustings' tonight for the Group Leadership vacancy.

I know there's only been the one nomination - but, quite rightly, the wider Labour Party in Edinburgh still continued with an all-Member meeting event ... given the circumstances, was obviously more a 'question-and-answer' session!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quiet news day ...

My favourite local paper must have been struggling for copy today ....

... mind you, it is all a bit sad :-((

But I wasn't kidding about the plans for a new pet later this Autumn ... watch this space.

Friday, June 20, 2008

14-year wait to build new city schools

If you ever wanted absolute proof of the truly horrendous gap between the "National Rhetoric" at Holyrood and the "Local Reality" at Council level, then this story says it all.

It is, for me, a microcosm of all that's gone wrong since last May.

And lets just reprise how bad this all is:
  • in Edinburgh, between 2002 and 2010 (8-years) a total of 34 schools will have been rebuilt or refurbished, all initiated under a Labour Government, leading to one-third of all Edinburgh's pupils being taught in a new or refurbished building.
  • in Edinburgh, between 2007 and 2022 (15-years) a total of (possibly!) 5 schools will have been initiated and rebuilt or refurbished.
You can read the full report here and make up your own mind if you agree with me that this is a massive, and truly shocking, political failure.

"Brick for brick" eh?

The Chosen One (??)

There is really not much more one can say ... except, of course, that's nothing like the nightshirt I wear ;-))

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fractured Coalition

No, not in Edinburgh - well, not fractured enough for some of us ;-)

... Highland Council appears to have become the third Council Administration to have changed since the May 2007 elections - Stirling first, then (less dramatically) Midlothian, now Highland.

Any bets on who will be next??

Edinburgh's David Cameron?

Well, that's what one of my witty (?) Tory colleagues on the City Council reckons I now am - Leader of the Opposition!

... its actually not quite true - thankfully ;-)

Seriously, even though no one else has come forward - and there will now be no contest - it isn't agreed (or not!) until a formal Group Meeting next Tuesday evening ... so, a few days of freedom left yet :-))

All joking aside, I would very much have welcomed a contest but (believe it or not) there has been a genuine consensus amongst my Group colleagues on filling the post of Group Leader - I'm grateful to have benefited from that consensus.

There's no doubt political opponents will try and stress the negative aspects of NOT having a contest - but, lets be honest, this is the Group Leader for an Opposition Council Group of 15-Councillors - House of Commons it ain't.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Education, Children and Families Committee

Education, Children and Families Committee meeting earlier this afternoon - and there was agreement to go ahead with formal consultation on the potential closure of three primary schools ... Bonnington, Lismore and Westburn.

All the details can be found in the main report here - and, as you'll see, recommendation 5.1(iv) makes it clear that no final decision will be taken on any of this until the November 2008 Full Council Meeting.

November 2008 - that's a full 17-months (nearly one-and-a-half years!) since we first proposed the establishment of a Cross-Party Forum as a potential way forward ... and yet still there is no concrete (excuse the pun) progress on any replacement for just how any new school building programmes are to be funded?

... this is all potentially turning into a 'School Closure Programme' pure-and-simple - one thing is clear, its currently not an 'Estate Rationalisation Programme' that involves both potential closures AND potential new-build/amalgamations.

Labour Group Leader vacancy

With the big family wedding over, I have now finally been able to dedicate a bit more serious thought to the issue of the upcoming vacancy of Labour Group Leader on the City Council ...

... and I have decided, after some careful consideration, to put my name forward before the (now agreed) deadline of 5pm tomorrow.

Whether there will be a contest, no one will know for sure until then?

Either way, looks like any new Group Leader should be in post before the final Full Council Meeting, before this Summer's recess, on Thursday 26th June ...

Back in Edinburgh

Wedding-mania finally over; bank-balance a lot lower; but a great time was had by all ;-)

Not sure I mentioned it before, but as well as the various 'family and friends' events over the weekend (which were indoors) the actual wedding itself was outdoors in my brother's garden on the Monday afternoon - it was a huge risk, given the number of people invited (and the significant lack of a large Marquee!) but here's the photographic evidence that the sun shone on the newly-weds :-))

Isn't that pink bow-tie a winner :-(

And I think the best-man speech went okay - decided to keep it 'relatively' family-friendly and people did speak to me afterwards ... so couldn't have been too bad??

... back to work today - and just glad its pay-day at the end of next week!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Blogging may well be light over the next few days - possibly until Wednesday actually :-(

... "wedding-mania" is about to well-and-truly take over all else I'm afraid - even Euro2008 :-((

Remember that Stag Weekend - well, the actual wedding day itself is Monday - but there are various events (all up in sunny Auchterarder) over the weekend, before my brother actually ties the knot!

Looking forward to it all - but still struggling with the ethics of just how far I should embarrass him in my speech ;-)

Friday, June 13, 2008

King's Road Roundabout

I see that the Council are about to commence very significant roadworks to remove the Kings Road Roundabout near Portobello and replace it with a traffic-lighted junction.

I'm personally pleased to see this change finally happening.

... but, I'll guarantee there will be howls of protest over the coming weeks as the undoubted traffic problems ensue - I can only hope that some will remember why the works are being undertaken: the original report can be found here.

I certainly remember, only too well, just how dangerous a roundabout this can be. Come November, it won't be missed ...

A matter of principle?

I've a terrible confession to make - despite being a self-confessed political anorak, I simply cannot understand why David Davis has resigned as an MP?

I've never seen anything like it.

And ... surprise, surprise ... it looks like no other major Political Party will stand against him; thus clearing the way for a Sun-backed Kelvin Mackenzie to cause havoc with Davis' majority.

Maybe I'm missing something, and there really is a (as yet hidden) master-stroke of political maneuvering about to be unveiled? But, at the moment, it does just seem like madness to me.

... or do you believe he really did it as a matter of principle??

Thursday, June 12, 2008

STV - one year on ...

Spent the whole day at an ERS Scotland conference "STV - one year on". Thoroughly enjoyed the event - not that I'm biased or anything ;-)

Bruce Crawford was the headline speaker - and some of his comments, re- voting at 16 (which I'm personally wholly supportive of), seem to have attracted a fair bit of attention. His overall speech was obviously much more wide-ranging and he set a good tone for the rest of the contributions that followed.

Its always refreshing to escape the treadmill for a day, and spend some time properly exercising the old grey-matter ... what's left of it, that is :-(

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ear, ear

I hope Frank doesn't sue me for breech of copyright, but his cartoon today has caused huge hilarity in the office and surely deserves a blog entry all of its own?

... by the way - I reckon that's only about half of Ewan's collection ;-))

Edinburgh Waterfront Promenade

As someone who cycles a fair bit these days, it never ceases to amaze me just how much of Edinburgh's cycle network is relatively unknown - spend £5 and buy the Spokes City Cycle Map and you'll see what I mean ;-)

... so, its really heartening to see yet another (potential) huge expansion to the network of paths about to be developed - and good to see that cycle provision is mentioned within the Design Guide. Two points though:
  • 30-years for overall completion does seem extraordinary??
  • having watched cycle-calming measures (which I'm broadly supportive of in such circumstances) being fitted in 'retrospect' on my daily stretch of the canal - from Harrison Park into town - I do hope some proper thought will go into all this from Day 1, on any Waterfront Promenade sections that aren't wide enough to easily accommodate unrestricted shared pedestrian/cycle usage.

Overall though - surely the sooner it all becomes reality, the better.

Today's Forum on Children and Families Estate meeting

Well, it wasn't good :-((

I did though give a promise to the Convener not to make the situation worse before the Special Meeting of the Education Committee on the 18th June, so this is all I'm prepared to say:

"I left the Forum Meeting on a point of principle. There was no incontrovertible proof put forward concerning earlier allegations of leaks to the press and I felt it inappropriate to stay in the meeting in such circumstances. This whole matter should be properly investigated, and quickly. Its important to stress that I do remain supportive of the overall process the Forum is undertaking."

Judge and jury?

It just goes from the astounding;

... to the farcical;

... to the deeply serious.

Not good.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sorry - school meals again ...

Sorry - school meals again ... the local paper is reporting some movement on this at a Council Committee Meeting this morning - see here.

... all well and good, but it ain't no U-Turn - its simply a fudge to try and take some of the pressure off.

I've now got the complete text (paper copy only at the moment) of the Coalition Motion which outlines this hive of suggested activity - what it fails to mention is that the next meeting of the Policy and Strategy Committee (where a report has been requested) is not until Tuesday 5th August ... literally days before the school term recommences :-(

It is simply not good enough to ask for all of these measures to 'improve school meals uptake', when the Coalitions' own actions in the last few weeks have decimated that very same uptake. And then to request the report days before the new school term starts, and too late to take any definite action for that term-start, is rubbing salt into the wound.

People will see this for what it is.

Just for the avoidance of doubt ...

I see the Evening News are in full 'predictive-mode' today ... guess its to be expected.

But just for the avoidance of any doubt - I have no intention of making any rushed decision on this issue. Ewan standing down has indeed come as a surprise and it was not in-the-least expected.

And although that deed is now done, no contest (of any description) will be 'on' until a timetable is agreed and that is unlikely to happen anytime this side of next week.

And, as regular readers of this blog will know, despite being a full-time local politician, I do have a varied and diverse life outside of the political arena. And I do thus have every intention of taking a bit of time talking to family, friends and colleagues before reaching any final conclusion on what would be a big decision for me personally.

... and apart from anything else - remember that Stag Weekend - well, the bloody wedding is coming up over the next few days so I have other 'really' important things on my mind ;-)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council meeting this evening ... finished quite promptly - nothing to do with the first-half of the meeting being their AGM of course ;-)

Actually, was glad to get back to the flat at a reasonable hour - still suffering after taking on yet another major construction project at the weekend :-((

... who invented DIY ??

Wot - no Nats?

Steady yourself before you follow this link - here ;-))

... seriously though, political banter to one side - there is a significant point in this story.

Just what is the Council's Corporate Communications Department doing sending out CD-discs full of photographs of senior politicians from the Council Coalition - with half of the Coalition missing?


'School Campus' Police ...

'School Campus' Police officers appear to have made the front-page of the Scotsman this morning - I'm afraid I can't say I agree with the EIS on this one :-(

There was actually a report on Edinburgh's two (current) 'School Campus' Police officers at the last meeting of our Education Committee - you can read the full text here.

As you'll see from the report, the whole project has been pretty successful, and there was all-Party agreement here in the City Chambers to press ahead with the expansion of the scheme into another 4 (yet to be chosen) Edinburgh Secondary Schools.

On top of the success of the pilot ... the whole programme (including the now agreed expansion in Edinburgh) is being paid for by the Police and not by Local Authorities.

So, for me personally, I do think that as long as the implementation of the scheme into any specific Secondary School is handled sensitively, then the outcome/s can be very positive ... not just for the school but the wider community.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hard act to follow ...

Bit of a serious shock tonight - Ewan has announced he's taken a fairly senior post with the Church of Scotland ... at their George Street Head Office ... and will be standing down as Edinburgh Labour Group Leader (but not as a local Councillor).

Its clearly been a very personal decision - and I have to say congratulations and the very best of luck to him in the new post.

Politically, for me, its a real pity ... despite the undeniable travails of Labour at Holyrood and Westminster, I think most people would acknowledge that we've adjusted 'comparatively' well to Opposition in the City Chambers and are doing a reasonably decent job at what we're supposed to do - holding those in power to account for their actions (or in-actions!).

That success has been in no-small-part down to Ewan's ability to keep us all on an even-keel through some undoubtedly, turbulent political times.

He'll be a hard act to follow ...

Here it is!

Well, here it is, the 'allotment pond' now fully constructed in all its glory ;-))

I'm sure it will appear much more impressive as we plant it up over the coming weeks - he says hopefully ...

... tell you what though, that picture doesn't do justice in getting across the amount of effort that's gone into getting it even to this state!

Just have a look at how things started this morning ...

... its definitely a case of "back to work for a rest" again tomorrow ;-)

If only ...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pond preparation

Spent a lot of this morning getting everything ready for final pond construction tomorrow:
  • some large rocks collected
  • edging slabs purchased
  • various slates 'borrowed' for edging also
  • a variety of plugs (for the bath!) acquired
  • purchased some underwater (so it says on the packet?) sealant
... so, no meagre 'illustrative' photos from tomorrow evening onwards - but hopefully, an impressive picture of the real thing ;-))

Mind you, saying that is probably the absolute kiss-of-death to the whole project :-(

Friday, June 06, 2008

Time for a U-Turn

The 'School Meals saga' has been rumbling along in the local Newspaper for a full month now - here's the first mention of it on May 6th!

... but the reality of the actual implementation of these service cuts has now caused some significant outrage - as reported in the Evening News today.

It would be easy to say those in charge should have seen this coming - but that's not always as simple as it appears in hindsight ... that said, there is now no excuse for not reversing this poor set of decisions as quickly as possible.

As I said on Wednesday - I'll applaud any such move.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Shock, horror ...

Seems to have been quite a bit of (jovial) fuss caused by a Scottish Government response to a Tory Parliamentary Question today - see here ;-)

... personally, I'm not sure what all the "shock, horror ..." is about - the type of written answers we get in the Council Chamber make 'Blah' seem intellectually robust.

... and I'm not joking :-((

e-mail overload

I feel compelled to report that, after all the coverage of the ongoing school meals saga over the last few weeks ... and the events of just yesterday ... my e-mail inbox is fairly overflowing with angry comments about the whole situation from a wide variety of parents, residents and even teachers.

For what its worth, my humble judgement is that an awful lot of people are seriously unhappy about these service cuts :-((

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

School Meals (dis)service

As regular readers will know, I believe the local Lib/SNP Council Administration has made a very serious blunder over the recent changes to the School Meals service across the city.

In summary, in a matter of days, here is what they will have achieved:
  • they will have removed the hot meal service from 14 of the 18 Council Nursery Schools in the city
  • they will have removed kitchen staff (and hot-food preparation) from 6 Primary Schools
  • they will have removed the offer of a hot meal on a Friday lunchtime from all Secondary Schools

It just flies completely in the face of the £757,686 spent on 29 school kitchen upgrades, and the £140,000 spent on 26 school dining-furniture upgrades, under the "Hungry for Success" programme, right here in Edinburgh over the last few years.

That's nearly £1million of investment ... now being completely undermined.

And two separate events today have really brought home to me JUST HOW BAD this policy blunder is:

  • some Nursery campaigners delivered the 'packed lunches' (which are now being given to most Nursery School children) to the City Chambers at lunchtime today. I couldn't be present, but several of my colleagues were there and tell me the food was pretty appalling :-(
  • I visited Kirkliston Primary School this lunchtime (thus my absence above!), along with George Foulkes MSP, and had a very enjoyable hot-lunch, served on the premises, with the Primary School children. They won't be getting any such meals after Friday because the kitchen is getting 'mothballed' and meals are to be shipped in from Echline Primary :-((

What's happening is just plain stupid.

  • We're constantly being reminded (quite rightly so) about the importance of good nutrition for the very young - thus the insanity of the Nursery decision?
  • And Kirkliston Primary, which has a huge uptake of cooked meals, is about to have an extension added increasing its school-role quite substantially - thus the unintelligible decision to 'mothball' its on-site kitchen??

Someone, somewhere, in power needs to have a long-hard look at this whole sorry saga; and quickly reverse a very poor set of decisions.

If they did so, I'd welcome it unequivocally.

Crossing the pond?

After the events of last-night/this-morning, I'm having to seriously re-evaluate my no-fly policy :-(

... personally, I'm entirely convinced that Obama will win in November. I think McCain is going to be in serious trouble, very quickly, now that the Obama Campaign is going to have him (and him alone) as their sole focus for attention. I know most pundits think the opposite - I just happen to think they are quite wrong.

... spending some time in the States late October/early November is fast becoming very, very tempting :-))

P.S. any (sensible!) suggestions for crossing the Atlantic, without flying, gratefully received?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Education Committee and a history lesson

Education Committee earlier today - pretty light agenda overall ... with most discussion centred around Item 7 on the class-size issue.

If you're interested in these things, the report is well worth a read - it really is an exemplar of how to take 14-pages to say one thing ... 'this national policy is a dogs breakfast, but we'll try and deliver it locally anyhow' :-(

Very few people are arguing - categorically - that reducing class-sizes in P1/2/3 to 18-pupils or less is a bad thing, but as I've pointed out very recently (here and here) there is no legislation to back up this national 'promise' and precious little money being provided to Local Authorities to deliver on it.

Every serious educationalist I've spoken to knows its not going to be delivered, and most are very worried about the problems that will ensue in any 'implementation without legislation and proper resourcing' ... which is just what the report mentioned above outlines.

But, never fear, all is well - because during the Committee discussion our esteemed Vice-Convenor of Education said there had:

"never been a promise of immediate delivery on this commitment - only to phase it in over time"

... stunning - truly stunning - he needs to read the top of page 52 here, which unequivocally states "we will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development."

Talk about re-writing history ...

Lib-Dem defection - not in Edinburgh :-((

A colleague in Midlothian has just e-mailed me a 'Midlothian Labour Group' News Release about a sitting Lib-Dem Councillor who has defected to Labour - it reads:

"After a great deal of forethought, and a considerable amount of soul searching, Councillor Katie Moffat has decided to join the ranks of the Labour Group. This addition to their numbers means Midlothian is now a Labour-controlled authority with 10 Labour members, 6 SNP and 2 Lib Dems.

Councillor Moffat said “This is not a decision I have taken lightly and it is with difficulty and a heavy heart that I have relinquished my membership of the Liberal Democrats."

I want to know urgently if Katie Moffat knows of any like-minded colleagues on Edinburgh Council??

... one can but hope ;-))

Monday, June 02, 2008

Claim and counter-claim

Yet more Portobello High School controversy - see here - as 'claims' of vandalism, re last month's flood, appear to have been made even before any Police investigation is actually finished?

Lets hope for some better news concerning Portobello, in the promised Council report on June 26th ... even if they aren't to get a 'Local School Building Trust' :-(

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Back in Edinburgh, thinking of Montana ...

Pleased to report that the ERS Council meeting was far more enjoyable than the Edinburgh Council meeting ;-)

... sitting on the South Bank of the Thames yesterday morning, it has to be said that London was looking spectacular in a way that no other British city can.

But, thinking about Montana this morning! - last of the US Democrat Primaries (this coming Tuesday) and it does appear to me that Clinton may well now take the gracious course of action and concede defeat on Wednesday ...

... we'll find out soon enough.