Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Craiglockhart Community Council

Craiglockhart Community Council meeting tonight ...

... amongst the usual list of subjects discussed on the agenda, the three Public Art proposals for the Happy Valley area were also on display.

The Community Council website now has more links up to the actual presentations from a few weeks ago, along with various slides and further background information ...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Neighbourhood Partnership event

Edinburgh South West 'Neighbourhood Partnership (NP)' event this evening ... informal seminar looking at the future of NP operations.

I've blogged before about my frustration over the development (or lack of) NP powers ... and now, nearly two-years into their existence, we've gone through yet another budget were no new significant monies or powers were further devolved to them :-(

I've got no doubt whatsoever about senior staffs' sincerity in wanting to make them work - so do I - but unless the current Administration start showing some positive, political leadership and devolve real powers and money to them, then I fear they will simply stumble along without making the impact they potentially could.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Great Escape?

Regular readers will know I'm not a huge TV-fan ... but have to admit to having rather enjoyed the "Monty Halls' Great Escape" series, which has just finished this evening on BBC2.

I know that North West corner of Scotland pretty well, and can certainly understand why Monty seemed to be so smitten by the area ...

... would be interesting to know how he gets on once back in Bristol for a while - was it all just for TV or has it had a really lasting impact?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy 88th Birthday!

Our cat's birthday today ...

... and he's the grand old age of 18-years.

And believe it or not, that equates to the very significant total of 88 human years - that's even older than my dad :-)

Junior took this special picture for the occasion :-))

Friday, March 27, 2009

The night the Government fell ...

Some wag has just pointed out to me - given my last post - that it's entirely appropriate to switch all the lights out on the evening of 28th March 2009 ...

... they've reminded me it's not only Earth Hour 2009, but the 30th Anniversary of the lost confidence vote in 1979 that led directly to the fall of the Callaghan government and everything that followed thereafter :-(

Believe it or not, I was only 15 at the time - thus wasn't able to vote in the ensuing election - but did know it was a pivotal moment in British politics.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lights to go out in Edinburgh ...

No, no - nothing to do with the Liberal-Democrats here in Edinburgh .. check out the penultimate bullet-point at the bottom of Page 18 of their local manifesto ;-)

... well actually, to be serious, it is partly to do with them --- but for a wholly laudable reason: Earth Hour 2009. City Council news release can be found here.

Of course, I like to think I've been on this case for some time ... but will indeed be making the effort to switch everything off this coming Saturday evening.

Blogging will therefore cease temporarily :-((

Labour and SNP to work together?

Speaking personally, I absolutely welcome the news of some SNP-Labour co-operation being reported on the BBC Scotland politics website this morning ... assuming it's true?

I've mentioned before that you can hardly deny the truly shocking statistics around alcohol and health for the UK - and they are slightly worse here in Scotland :-(

On such a significant issue, it would (for me) be good to see both senior Political Parties in Holyrood trying to come up with an 'agreed programme of legislation' on all of this ...

... after all, Welsh Labour have even gone into coalition with Nationalists - surely a bit of cooperation on this issue in Scotland is not beyond the wit of our MSP's?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

CEMVO Edinburgh Office opened

Briefly attended the opening of the 'Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations' (CEMVO) new Edinburgh office (at 100 Constitution Street in Leith) this afternoon - very good to see the organisation having a permanent base over in the Capital City to complement its head office in Glasgow.

Unfortunately had to leave slightly early to make my 6pm surgery on the other-side of town, so missed the relevant Minister's opening speech :-(

... mind you, good job I got to Dundee Street on time (nearly!) as the surgery was pretty busy again.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teacher numbers down again ...

Some truly worrying figures published today in relation to teacher numbers in Scotland ...

... I never cease to be amazed at the endless debate about Police numbers, yet the total (and almost unquestionable) failure of the Scottish Government on teacher numbers generates precious little attention in comparison?

I posted about this way back in November 2007 ... you could argue around in circles (and many SNP and Labour politicians do just that!) about whether any "1,000 police officers" are new police officers, or additional police officers, or replacement police officers etc. etc. ad nauseam ...

... contrast that with what the SNP 2007 Manifesto ACTUALLY DID SAY about Teacher numbers (check out Page 52 here):

"We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes and place greater emphasis on teacher recruitment for the early years, languages and science."

A very clear commitment. Teacher numbers will be maintained.

Yet, that is not the picture emerging today from the published statistics, which can be found by looking here (Table 6.1 on Page 34 has the overall numbers). In essence, there are 975 fewer teachers across Scotland this year than last.

I'm tempted to suggest they must all have applied to be police officers ... but bad jokes aside, its an appalling failure and the relevant Scottish Government Minister should urgently explain how she intends to (at least) reverse this trend?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Can this really be true?

BBC Scotland are reporting today (haven't seen it elsewhere?) that the tram works on Princes Street are only 'one week behind'?

... whilst I would very much welcome this, if true, I do find it optimistic (even by my standards!) to believe that 'everything' will now be fine and the original timeline will easily be adhered to??

Actually, if you read between-the-lines of the Council Leaders very guarded comments, I suspect those in charge know the reality of the situation.

I'd humbly suggest coming clean with the revised timetable, as soon as possible, would be eminently sensible - as otherwise, the whole media-saga of the last few weeks is going to be played out over-and-over again during the next couple of years.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

London and a quiet Sunday

Down in London yesterday, for several ERS meetings ... all seemed to go smoothly, and actually enjoying my first few months as Chair ;-)

Still managing to stick to that 'no-flying regime' - haven't been on a plane now since early December 2006. Indeed, this coming summer, its our 20th Anniversary of living-together and we're off (for the first time in years) on a holiday abroad ... to Rome ... and I've even managed to plan the whole thing by train!

Now, before you scoff, it is relatively straightforward - train to London, Eurostar to Paris, overnight sleeper to Rome; then reverse on the way back. And the sleeper even has three-bed carriages that will accommodate the whole family :-)

'The Man in Seat Sixty-One' website is just fantastic for planning this type of travel.

Anyhow, a quiet Sunday had by all - after such a frantic Saturday ...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Common-sense prevails!

Well, I'm genuinely delighted to have been wrong in my assessment earlier this morning ...

... as it does appear some common-sense has prevailed this evening!

Very good news.

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox today with the official start of Spring being at 11.44am this morning ... and the sun was even shining here in Edinburgh - even some of the allotment daffodils are now out :-)

Tram deadline today?

Even the BBC are leading on the ongoing tram-saga this morning - here ...

... but is the dispute deadline today (as the BBC seems to think) or has it been extended over the weekend (as yesterday's Herald seemed to think)? Frankly, its just another example of the vacuum being filled by seemingly never-ending speculation.

Whenever the actual deadline is, would like to think that a bit of common-sense might prevail, but can't say I'm overly optimistic :-(

Would actually welcome being wrong in my assessment ...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No jargon here?

This story from yesterday has just caught my eye ... some 200 words banned from Councils' use South of the Border!

I wonder if anyone will pay attention in Scotland ... not that City of Edinburgh Council reports ever contain this type of jargon ;-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wednesday night surgery

Wednesday night surgery at Fountainbridge Library pretty busy tonight.

At least this evening appears to be safe from 'service-reduction' ...

... unless there was some deeply hidden text in the budget about a reduction in Library hours?

I probably shouldn't joke :-(

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Merchiston Community Council

Merchiston Community Council meeting tonight ... some further details can be found here.

Evening dominated by Transport issues - 'traffic calming' and 'Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ)' being the main topics for discussion.

The informal consultation on the local CPZ proposals now coming to an end, and will be reported back to the Transport Committee at 10am on Tuesday 5th May ... time and date now firmly in my diary!

sherry baby

No, not the famous song, but the 2006 film of the near-same name ...

... managed to catch it on Film4 last night and, if you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Definitely not a film to cheer you up - it's essentially a story of a recovering addict (Maggie Gyllenhaal), just out of prison, who is looking to be reunited with her young daughter - but things don't quite go to plan ...

... its a gripping portrayal of the ensuing personal turmoil for all concerned.

Second-time lucky?

Interesting development (if you're a political anorak!) over in Glasgow East today ...

... as regular readers know, I spent a fair amount of time over in my home city last July; only to see John Mason win the by-election :-(

Without wanting to tempt fate, I suspect he should now make the very best of the next 15-months because it wouldn't have been at all easy to retain a majority of 365 under any circumstances ... but having to face such an opponent again will certainly make it all the more difficult.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shandon Mince

Shandon's second-most famous web-site has moved!

I'm told there was near mass-unrest within Harrison Park over the weekend as the hysteria of regular readers boiled over into anger ...

... all has now though been cleared-up?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Confidence and well-being?

Back from Grassington - good weekend had by all - and Sunday night spent catching up on the news from elsewhere ...

... one (essentially English) education story from the weekend has really caught my eye - the BBC have initially reported it here; and you can read much more background detail at the website of the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being here; and some specific comment from the author of the speech at her blog here.

I'm intuitively drawn to the potential, positive benefits of promoting general well-being and have blogged on aspects of all of this before - here and here - but something about Carol Craig's critique rings very true?

But, personally, I'm left feeling slightly unsure about such a verdict - if you read her blog entry, you'll see that she mentions John Kay’s concept of 'obliquity' which argues for an indirect approach to achieving goals (as opposed to a direct approach). And what I fear in all of this is a real danger of the good being thrown out in the search for the perfect ... and, in some ways, isn't that part of what 'obliquity' tries to warn us about??

... anyhow, this is indeed a topic pertinent to Scotland/Edinburgh (as well as to the development of SEAL in England) due to the increasing attention being paid to emotional literacy both in national policy and local practice.

More reading required ;-)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Grassington bound

Off to Grassington, in North Yorkshire, for the weekend to visit some friends ...

... this Saturday and Sunday will thus involve no political meetings or discussions on the future of Local Government whatsoever!

As you can imagine - I'm totally gutted.

No bricks and no bets yet taken ...

I've just noticed a veritable flurry of news coverage over the total failure of the Scottish Futures Trust to build a school, or the likelihood that it will build 'any' school now in this Parliamentary term ...

... David Maddox and Iain Gray clearly need to pay just a little more attention to this blog ;-)

Thursday nights are now cancelled!

Well, Full Council finished slightly earlier than I anticipated - 5pm - so I was even able to make my Thursday night surgery at Craiglockhart Primary School ...

... that said, it transpires that all 'Thursday lets' at schools are being summarily cancelled from August, under the guise that this was agreed as part of the budget process. I've even seen a letter from a Council Officer stating this in black-and-white?

I'll buy the first person to find confirmation of this 'claimed fact' in the February budget papers a drink - because I'm damned if I can find it referenced anywhere? There's certainly mention of the increase in 'charges for lets' - but that's a whole separate issue causing numerous problems of its own.

It's just yet another example of the politicians in charge not really knowing (or understanding) what they are approving. Indeed, we had the farcical situation, at yesterday's meeting, of the Convener of Education (when questioned on this via the Leader's Report slot) saying that every reasonable effort will be made to find an alternative night??

Try telling that to local clubs who need to operate on a Thursday night, and have been doing so for years and years ...

... surely someone could have come up with a more imaginative way of saving the money that this draconian-effort will deliver??

P.S. I'll keep blog readers informed of what I eventually end up having to do re- my Thursday surgeries at Craiglockhart and St. Cuthberts ..

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Full Council today

Full Council meeting today - main agenda can be found here ...

... I sense it could be a longer meeting than the agenda at first suggests - there are at least 5 points of political division within the days' proceedings, and at least 3 deputations (I understand?) coming along to the City Chambers.

Early evening finish I reckon ...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

London for the day

Down in London for the day - series of ERS meetings all afternoon/evening long ...

... blogging may be pretty light :-(

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

more on Trams ...

Trams are featured prominently, yet again, in the local Press today ... you can see the article here.

I really do think that this constant flow of stories about potential budget problems is underlining the urgent need for some clear political leadership of the project from the current Administration.

Nature does abhor a vacuum - and the press abhors 'official silence' in much the same fashion ... and opponents of the tram scheme are not being slow in filling the empty space :-(

Third Party Grants

I promised to post further on the third-party grants issues that are up at this Thursday's Full Council meeting - the overview report can be found here ...

... paragraph 6 is the real issue:

"The Council considered the Comprehensive Review of 3rd Party Funding at the meeting on 16th October 2008. This proposed that funding from the Council should be streamlined and developed to reflect the national and local outcomes in the Single Outcome Agreement (SOA)."

We opposed those recommendations at the time due to our well-documented disdain at the whole SOA process and the headlong-rush to 'commissioning' at the expense of local grant-giving.

The whole of paragraph 6 above is (not very good) code for serious funding cuts and service reductions - from next year's (2010/11) round of Grant Awards.

We simply won't support such an agenda.

50th Anniversary of Tibetan uprising

It's the 50th anniversary (today) of the initial Tibetan uprising against Chinese troops entering their country.

I managed to visit Tibet in the summer of 1988 when it was 'relatively' straightforward to gain access to the country ... this was all prior to the demonstrations focused around Tiananmen Square in Beijing, after which internal travel became a lot more difficult.

I've got nothing but wonderful memories of that visit and my thoughts are very much with the many, many Tibetans who showed us such warmth and kindness during the time we spent in their country.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Think you know about democracy?

This essay competition may be of interest to my more youthful-readership ;-)

There's a £1000 prize at stake and the chance to appear in print in the inaugural Thomas Hare Essay Competition. It’s an opportunity to write on topics ranging from the future of local democracy, gender and diversity, to the case for elections in policing.

The competition is open to anyone in full-time education. It closes on 30 March 2009 .

You can find out more here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Northern Ireland

I lived in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1984 - it was a very troubled time, and today's news from North of Belfast has brought back lots of memories of that period for me.

Having been back on several occasions since 1984, I have always thought the relative peace in the country is one of the really unsung achievements of the Major (and subsequently Blair) government/s.

The last time I was in Northern Ireland, in Belfast itself to be precise, was in July 2005 when London was so horrifically bombed ... there was something quite surreal about sitting in a such a vibrant and safe Belfast (which it was not between 1981 and 1984) when London was under severe threat of further bombing.

Personally, I don't think today's actions indicate a return to the 1980's Belfast that I originally knew, but they certainly provide a terrible reminder that many still do not accept the current settlement in Northern Ireland.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Back from St. Andrews/Dundee

Back (extremely late) from the couple of days up in St. Andrews and Dundee to an extremely wet Edinburgh!

Highlights of the two events:

In St. Andrews - the 'COSLA Excellence Awards' were ... well ... really excellent. Great to see front-line workers being recognised for their efforts - and so obviously enjoying the moment.

Well done them all.

In Dundee - no doubt about it ... Iain Gray's speech. Bias admitted, I thought it was simply a triumph ... delivering your first conference address as Leader must be a daunting experience, and I thought Iain coped admirably and delivered a deeply thoughtful and, at the same time, inspiring speech. Well done him.

I now sense a quiet Sunday on the immediate horizon!

Friday, March 06, 2009

March Full Council papers out today

Full Council papers for the 12th March meeting are out later today - should all be up on 'Committee Papers on-Line' (CPOL) by 10am this morning ...

... the majority of third-party grants (for 2009/10) will be decided upon at this meeting - and I suspect some seriously bad surprises on this general issue will be buried in the detailed text of the relevant reports :-(

I'll certainly be looking at these reports in great detail over the weekend and will try and give an update by the end of Sunday ... watch this space.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Conference mania

Off to St. Andrews later this morning for the second-day of the Annual COSLA Conference, to be followed by a Convention Meeting on Friday morning ...

... then over to Dundee on Friday afternoon for the Scottish Labour Conference, hoping to get there in time to hear Gordon Brown speak!

Never a dull moment ;-)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Stolen sandals scandal

I know I really shouldn't ...

... but one of my Local Authority colleagues' comments about "stolen sandals" contained in a short story in todays Evening News - you can read it here - just about had me falling off my chair with laughter :-))

... I hope the local Lib-Dems see the funny side of it??

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


Off to Waverley Station to catch a train to sunny Milton Keynes this morning ...

... probably out of e-mail contact for most of the day, so if anyone needs to track me down urgently then the mobile would be the best solution - unless I'm in a tunnel of course ;-)

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Reader

Managed to go and see 'The Reader' late this evening ... can't recommend it highly enough.

It really does raise very significant issues about the challenge to later generations in comprehending the magnitude of the Holocaust.

Go and see it ...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Allotment spring-update

Brief visit to the allotment this morning in a vain attempt to try and clear our heads after last night's celebrations :-(

... did though manage a little bit of tidying up - and here's what's growing and/or been planted (veg-wise) to date:

- those leeks are still going strong
- garlic is coming through now
- broad beans planted for the first time (just in)
- potatoes now being 'chitted' in preparation for planting (probably 2-beds this year)

On the 'non-veg' front ... a whole host of old and new herbaceous plants are now starting to sprout; and just about all the bulbs that we planted are coming through - I've a feeling that particular bed is going to be stunning ;-)

And the work done to the shed appears to have been 99% successful - still one small, and annoying, drip ... but I'm determined to track down the source and resolve the problem soon!

Much more planting coming up in the next few weeks ... but what an overall contrast to the situation on the 1st March last year :-))