Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Independence coming soon?

Very interesting results in a '10th-year of devolution' poll out today ...

... now, you can't deny there are many positives in the wider poll-material for the Nats, but the last few paragraphs here must be extraordinarily frustrating for them?

Longer-game required; and that fact being more openly espoused may - I suspect - actually help them?

The end of an era

Junior had his end-Primary-School dance at Craiglockhart this evening - high excitement indeed ;-)

... the most enormous pink limousine caused traffic-chaos on Ashley Terrace at the end of the event: 'nothing new there' do I hear the wags mutter?

Anyhow - a great time appeared to be had by all.

Edinburgh Award 2009

Went to the presentation for the Edinburgh Award this afternoon ... Chris Hoy was the recipient this year; following in the footsteps of Ian Rankin (2007) and J.K. Rowling (2008).

Thoroughly enjoyable event - and, it has to be said, that Chris Hoy seems remarkably unaffected by his whirlwind of a year ... he gave a very gracious, and down-to-earth acceptance speech and by the number of people who queued to have him sign their programme, I'd say he struck just the right note :-)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Edinburgh-bound ;-)

On my way back from that ERS AGM now - Notebook seems to be working fine ;-)

... pleased to say that I've been re-elected Chair, and indeed the whole 'Officer Group' has remained unchanged. Given that, only in December, there was a wholesale upheaval then I do think it will be of some benefit to have a bit of stability now.

Looking forward to getting home :

I definitely need a politics-free day tomorrow!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Off to London

Off to London this evening (on the sleeper) for the Electoral Reform Society AGM ...

... I'll take that new Notebook, and let you know my fate when I'm travelling back up tomorrow night!

More important than Party Politics

Obviously been reflecting a bit about getting 'chucked out' of the Council yesterday - not a pleasant experience. Especially not on the casting vote :-(

Anyhow - on the issue of substance, I have no intention whatsoever of letting things drop.

Irony is, given the Party Political nature of my eviction, the whole episode was nothing to do with Party Politics - it's about all Politicians following due-and-proper process; respecting local democracy; and not riding roughshod over basic good practice.

I'll continue to asks questions about those issues - whether inside or outside the Chamber.

COSLA meeting in Clydebank

Had the unbridled-joy of attending a COSLA Convention meeting over in Clydebank today ...

... all the main agenda details can be found here.

Scintillating stuff; every second ;-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Evicted from Full Council :-(

No - that headline isn't a joke ... I really have just been evicted from the Full Council meeting (around 1pm) for apparently behaving offensively?

Even my most ardent political opponents have been texting to say they're stunned. Seriously.

Here's what happened:

The whole episode occurred during 'Council Leader's Report/question time', when Cllr. Jenny Dawe (the Council Leader) answered a question from Cllr. Ian Perry (one of my Group colleagues) about EDI, and I responded with a further question. She thereafter accused me of calling her a liar.

Frankly, there is simply no question that I used the word 'lie' or 'liar' in my comments to the Council Leader.

The Council Leader had said, in response to an earlier question, that there was no written/signed letter relating to Councillor Gordon Mackenzie's resignation from the Board of EDI. There is such a signed document - I have it in my possession - and I responded to the Council Leader that she was being less than truthful in her response.

I stand by that.

The signed-document in question is a public document, as it was given to me as a background paper for the report that went to Policy and Strategy on the 9th June, you can see that main report here. I have the 'background paper' signed-document as a PDF.

The real issue here is the conduct of the (supposed?) Chair of EDI - Gordon Mackenzie.

As I indicated yesterday, Gordon Mackenzie resigned from the Board of EDI on the 9th June at a meeting of the Policy and Strategy Committee, a decision which was formerly recorded at the time and was backed up by a signed document indicating that he would leave the EDI Board with effect from the 23rd June.

On the 24th June, Cllr. Mackenzie chaired a Board Meeting of EDI which summarily removed the Acting Chief Executive from post. There was no attempt beforehand to inform elected Councillors on the Policy and Strategy Committee, or Councillors on the Board of EDI, about the circumstances surrounding Cllr. Mackenzie remaining in post.

There is clearly a blatant disregard for 'due and proper process' being displayed by this Administration and they are simply playing fast-and-loose with local democracy. It's not acceptable, and I will not stand by and watch it happening without speaking truth to those currently in power within the City Chambers.

I may have been kicked out of the Chamber - on the casting vote of the Lord Provost it has to be added - but it won't stop me doing what I should be doing as Leader of the main Opposition Group in the City Chambers: asking difficult questions of those who are running our city.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1st day at Tynecastle!

Junior's first full day at Tynecastle High School today!

... he's visiting this Wednesday/Thursday/Friday, before starting-proper in August. Pleased to say all appears to have gone well.

... both parents were clearly far more nervous than he was :-(

Abject confusion at EDI

Strange goings-on at EDI today --- literally a few months ago, we were being told all was well and the Chair publicly stated:

“The last period of trading has demonstrated EDI's resolve and ability to seek out new opportunities, ensuring that we're well placed to weather current market conditions.

"Looking forward - and despite those difficult market conditions, we can be reasonably optimistic. A recent review of EDI by our shareholder, The City of Edinburgh Council, has reaffirmed the view that we remain a key vehicle for developing the city's assets.

"We expect that the relationship with the Council will provide EDI with further opportunities for development in the year ahead."

Well, today, I hear the Acting Chief Executive has (in effect) been summarily removed from post, and a new 'private consultant' is being parachuted in to take over.

At their Board Meeting this afternoon, three elected Members (2 Labour and 1 Conservative) all resigned over these actions.

The whole situation is further muddied by the fact that the Chair of EDI resigned from his post at a meeting of the Policy and Strategy Committee on the 9th June (decision to be effective from the 23rd June), yet today - the 24th June - he chaired the Board?

Serious questions do need to be asked about just what-on-earth is going on here??


Tram-TV is here!

Really, it is: you can check out some of the videos from here ...

... surprisingly, there is no sign of our local 'Tram Champion' :-))

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ERS Council 2009-20011

Found out this afternoon that I've successfully managed to get re-elected onto the 'Council' of the Electoral Reform Society --- whose elections are held using STV, I should hasten to add ;-)

Each 'Council-term' runs for two years; so now duly elected for June 2009 through to June 2011 ... a lot of electoral change is about to happen in that two year period: of that I'm certain!

The organisation's AGM is this coming Saturday, and new 'Office Bearers' will be elected then. I'll report my fate in due course ...

Full Council this week ...

Full Council meeting this week in Edinburgh ... the main agenda can be found here, and all the papers are up on CPOL: you can search for them here.

I'll regret saying this - but, surprisingly for a June meeting, the main agenda seems remarkably light and perhaps it may be a quicker gathering than I'd first anticipated?

That's probably the 'kiss if death' and we'll be stuck in the Chamber until 10pm now :-(

Monday, June 22, 2009

No change in Aberdeen?

I see that the Lib-Dem Leader of the Aberdeen Administration has been forced out of office this evening ... not certain that it will really make that much difference?

I suspect that any 'real' difference will actually be made in 2012 when the next Local Government Elections come around ...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Allotment and 'running for life'!

Managed to get over to the allotment late this afternoon ... it really is a blaze of colour at the moment: as you can see!

Click on the photo for a close up --- and you may even see a newt: we now have two in the pond ;-)

- and, as part of the 'race for life' training (with my better-half) we ran back along the Water of Leith and the canal; with junior setting the pace on his bike.

... needless to say, he beat us back to the flat by quite some considerable time :-(

West-coast weekend

Stayed over on the West-coast Friday/Saturday, and went to a 'Scottish Association of Labour Councillors' (SALC) event in Glasgow during Saturday ...

... main topic was 'Local Government finance', and was again refreshing to hear debate about future plans, as opposed to looking backwards/navel-gazing :-(

Returned to civilisation late Saturday afternoon ;-)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ten years of devolution ...

Over in Glasgow this evening to hear Iain Gray give a 'tenth anniversary of devolution' speech ... thoroughly enjoyed the event, and very refreshing to listen to a bit of serious thought being given to the achievements (and frustrations) of the first ten years of devolution ... better still, was to hear equally serious thought being given to the next ten years of devolution.

... needless to say, the speech will get zero press coverage :-(

If I can find a link to the text, I'll put it up on the blog in due course ...

UPDATE - speech text can now be found here

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No new schools for Edinburgh?

Sad I know, but I've just listened to the statement from the Education Secretary --- pretty thin gruel; but much, much worse was her response (in questions thereafter) to Ken Macintosh wherein she said that now new money was being made available (a point that is questionable in itself?) then it would be up to Local Authorities to deliver the schools.

Astounding --- not only has she failed to name ANY (Local Authorities or) schools to be built today (that will apparently have to wait until September 2009) she clearly plans to blame Local Authorities for the subsequent failure to build any new schools prior to 2011.

An acceptance indeed 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

But sadly proof, if ever it were needed, that:
  • P1 to P3 class sizes being over 18
  • Nursery provision being less than 600 hours a year
  • and no new schools being built prior to 2011

- will all be the fault of Local Authorities, and nothing whatsoever to do with the Scottish Government.

Historic Concordat - don't make me laugh :-((

As I've repeatedly said over the last few years; Local Government in Scotland HAS been emasculated and will subsequently be blamed for all the 'political ills of Scotland' come late 2010/early 2011.

And how ironic that the Political Party of "Independence" has removed that very same thing from the tier of Government they control.

Scottish democracy is the weaker for it.

2-years of dithering = £1billion of lost public investment

The Education Secretary is due to make a Parliamentary statement on school buildings this afternoon ... rumour has it that 'said-statement' will contain the first schools to be built under the SFT banner.

Now, before all you Nationalists out there get too ecstatic ... apparently they will be built using the NPD model, which is basically a variant of PPP that was pioneered by Argyll & Bute Council several years ago. And the chances of any of these buildings being complete by mid-2011 are frankly ZERO ... so, it's now looking certain 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. A truly shocking failure.

Just maybe all of this is why Sir Angus Grossart (Chair of the multi-million pound SFT Board) said at Holyrood yesterday that "Our approach will be ecumenical."

That's code for, 'this bloody job I was given to make SFT work is a nightmare and I'm just going back to previous models of funding school buildings.'

In likely, further bad news for Edinburgh it appears the schools to be announced today will be in Midlothian, West Dunbartonshire and Angus.

I do hope I'm wrong - but if not, then Portobello (and the other Wave3 schools) will have a very long wait for any construction to be completed.

All that would mean: 34 new schools in Edinburgh between 1999 and 2006 compared to NO new schools between 2007 and 2014.

Brick-for-brick eh?


And just a factual note on what this completely pointless, two-year hiatus has meant:

2. Public Investment Projects

The value of new public investment projects reaching the stage where they can start construction has fallen by more than £1 billion since the SNP came to power, according to the Infrastructure Investment Unit.

Year --- Value reaching Financial Close
2006 --- £1128.1m actual
2007 --- £1308.9m actual
2008 --- £ 303.0m actual
2009 --- £ 465.0m expected

(Source: Scottish Parliament Information Centre)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Class size promise really was a con-trick

Class sizes of '18 pupils or less for Primary 1 to Primary 3' are not going to happen prior to 2011.

I know you've heard me say it before - but it really is time the SNP faced up to that blunt truth ...

... today's BBC coverage on this issue surely makes it plain to everyone that the promise was, frankly, nothing short of a con-trick.

Without legislation, it isn't going to happen - and it's no good banging on about class sizes being lower this year than last ... that's not the point: the point is that the 'promise' was:

"we will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to eighteen pupils or less."


Monday, June 15, 2009

'PR here to stay' shocker ;-)

One other uplifting point about the Calman recommendations - you simply must read the conclusion of paragraph 6.18 on page 219:

"We certainly recognise that proportionality is now so integral to public understanding of the Parliament that any move to elect all MSPs by first-past-the-post is inconceivable."

How things can change in a mere decade :-))

Westminster could well be next ...

Serving Scotland Better?

Went to the launch of the final Calman Commission report this morning - all the relevant documents can be found here ...

... don't intend to give a "recommendation-by-recommendation" account of the report - you'll be relieved to hear! The Scottish Press will be completely awash with analysis over the coming days, I'm sure :-(

I would note though that at the launch event, Calman himself said this was "an important start to the process of change" and stressed the title of the document on several occasions during his opening contribution - "Serving Scotland Better".

Putting whether you think the report goes 'far enough' to one side, I defy anyone to disagree (Nationalists included) that this report's recommendations will 'serve Scotland better' and that they do indeed form part of 'the process of change'?

Wouldn't it be refreshing if the SNP just acknowledged these points and welcomed the report for what it is?

Meat-free Monday?

I generally don't go on about my vegetarianism ... I did, though, mention some time ago the principal reason I gave up meat back in June 1993.

After that blog entry, I got a few incredulous e-mails asking how I could possibly link a vegetarian diet to land(mis)use ... they clearly hadn't read the article I linked to in that April 2008 post :-(

Well - good to see that, what appears like, a major campaign has been launched in The Independent today making much the same point.

As I said before - in terms of achieving a positive, collective environmental (not to mention a positive, personal health!) impact, its probably the single biggest step most of us can make ... and, its easy to do.

Why not at least try it?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Voluntary Sector conference

Fifth (I think, from memory?) policy event this afternoon for Edinburgh Labour since the 2007 election --- topic this time was the 'Voluntary Sector'.

Another enjoyable few hours spent debating future policy options, as opposed to looking backwards!

Although, it has to said, there was a considerable amount of disquiet about current Scottish Government policy in this area - even more so than in the Education-arena, I would say ... and that takes some doing :-(

Managed a quick (and very wet) early evening visit to the allotment - the Queen has a bit of catching up to do ;-)

... how about those brussel sprouts!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Queen follows 'Really Bad Blog' example

As a committed republican, the Queen doesn't really get mentioned much on the 'Really Bad Blog' ...

... but, it appears that some common sense is even pervading Buckingham Palace these days :-)

Doesn't change my overall views on the real worth (or lack of it) of Monarchy mind you!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lib-Dems in a panic

Lib-Dems in a panic - surely not?

Well, I've just spotted this rather odd story in the local paper today, and it appears they have indeed got a little agitated over some local political rumour. Imagine that!

... mind you - can't help but wonder if Katie Moffat would kindly consider speaking to Joanna Coleman ;-)

Never mind all that 'Independent' nonsense Joanna!

Mobile blogging??

Off down to London this morning (by train of course!) for an Electoral Reform Society meeting ...

... I've actually invested in a new 'Notebook' (don't quite know what possessed me!) - so blogging from the train is now an optional possibility ;-)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the turn?

Spent most of today as part of an 'Interview Panel' helping to select a couple of candidates for senior posts within Services for Communities --- interesting day ...

... have been so distracted I nearly missed this (bit more detail here)!

... appears ALL of the British Press missed it as well :-((

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lack of courtesy ...

2.30pm on Wednesday and the schools closure report has just appeared on CPOL ... you can now find it here.

Over a day after initial Press Coverage and the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration have finally released the report publicly.

If you ask me, this all shows a complete and total lack of basic courtesy to the local communities involved in these proposed closures ... it's all about 'news management' instead of trying to involve those who matter most.

Lets hope the communities affected don't forget about how they've been treated - as eventually they will be able to have their say on the current crowd running the city.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

No scrutiny here

I thought it bad enough that most Elected Members first found out about the possible privatisation of 20 Council Services by email, but things just got worse today :-(

Not only was said-report on outsourcing huge swathes of local services approved at the Policy and Strategy Committee this morning - despite our efforts to have it stopped - but inclusion of Elected Members in decision-making took further massive strides 'backwards' when the proposals to close another 4 Primary Schools were given to the Local Press (published circa 10.30am this morning) without Elected Members being given ANY written report on the subject :-((

There was an 8.30am briefing via the Cross-Party Group (which I mentioned before) but no report was handed out and no report is yet up on Committee Papers on-line (CPOL) and it's now very late Tuesday evening?

Summary - Elected Members find out about 4-school closures in the Local Paper and a day after (practically) they still have no written report on the topic?

Worse still, Council Press Officers (that's staff paid from your local taxes) have put out a general News Release on the whole subject.

I'll tell you - openness and transparency have gone down-the-tubes under this Administration --- it's a tragedy that we appear to have a more aggressive "winner-takes-all and to hell with the rest of you" mentality under a proportional electoral system than we had under the previous majoritarian system of election.

The irony is not lost on me :-((

Monday, June 08, 2009

One more Euro-result ...

I mentioned in the last entry that all the Euro-results were now in --- not quite correct :-(

... I'd forgotten that Northern Ireland was still to declare. They, rather sensibly, use STV-PR and not the 'closed-list' system that the rest of the UK operates for the European Elections. And, believe it or not, the whole country-wide vote is counted by hand, thus the results are just coming out now.

Anyhow, amongst the many other 'firsts' from last night - there is now the 'first' of Sinn Fein topping the poll in Northern Ireland.

What a set of elections!

Euro-election results

Euro election results now all in - full details for the UK can be found here and Scottish result here.

No doubt that it is a disappointing set of results for Labour - particularly down in Wales :-(

In Scotland, despite the overall popular vote being won by the SNP (and credit to them for that victory) the number of MEPs for Scotland (basically) stays the same SNP-2; Lab-2; Tory-1; Lib-Dem-1. Tories have lost 1 compared to 2004, but that's really just down to the overall reduction for Scotland from 7 to 6 MEPs.

Here in Edinburgh, the SNP also did reasonably well and won the overall popular vote ... the city-wide breakdown can be found here. Before they get too carried away by their Edinburgh result though, it is worth pointing out that in 1999 the SNP got 22.2% of the popular vote, as compared to 21.4% last night. 10-years of devolution, and 2-years of being in power in Edinburgh, and their vote-percentage in the Capital has dropped.

And it is disappointing to see Edinburgh Labour lose out to the Tories who took second-place city-wide ... but the Lib-Dems who were telling anyone who would listen last night that Labour were 5th in the city must be feeling a little foolish this morning?

And - what about those 1,724 votes that went to the 'very recently' formed Socialist Labour Party who were just above Labour on the ballot paper...

c'est la vie :-(

Anyhow, personally delighted to see David Martin and Catherine Stihler returned to the European Parliament: they're both excellent MEPs.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Heading for a hung-Parliament?

Here's just a little distraction from all the Cabinet resignations :-(( ...

... now that the 'national projections' are out (based on the English Local Government results to date) here's an intriguing thought:

  • Labour were on 26% nationally after the 2004 Local Election results - Tories were on 38%
  • 12-months later for the 2005 UK General Election - Labour took 35% and the Tories 32%
  • over the year, that was a 9% increase for Labour, and a 6% decrease for the Tories

  • Labour now appear to be on 23% nationally at these 2009 Local Elections - Tories on 38% (again)
  • in 12-months time (at the very most) there must be a (2010) UK General Election
  • if that '2004 to 2005' percentage movement is replicated in the next year ('2009 to 2010'), guess what happens?

Hung-Parliament anyone??

Election victory for Labour ;-)

Sadly, I have a feeling this headline news may not be repeated when we see the majority of the English Local Election results, due out later this afternoon :-(

... not to mention the European Election results, due out first-thing Monday morning :-((

Thursday, June 04, 2009

European Election Day

Don't forget to cast your vote sometime between 7am and 10pm ;-)

... I sense it could be a pretty low turnout :-(

Very busy few days ahead - blogging may well be completely non-existent until the weekend!

UPDATE - actually, three-quarters of the way through the day, and I now reckon the turnout could be slightly up on the 2004 European Elections ... was 30.9% (for Scotland) back then, could possibly be in the mid to high thirties this time; though doubt very much it will make 40% --- we'll know soon enough ??

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mass privatisation?

Local Newspaper has been given the story about 20 - yes, 20 - Local Authority services being potentially privatised by the current Council Administration ...

... all relates to a Report now going to the Policy and Strategy Committee next Tuesday - main Agenda here, and the specific Report here.

Here's the full list of services to be potentially privatised:
  1. IT
  2. Cultural Facilities
  3. HR
  4. Refuse Collection
  5. Payroll
  6. Street Cleansing
  7. Legal Services
  8. Ground Maintenance
  9. Customer Services (Contact Centre, Front Offices)
  10. Road Maintenance
  11. Operational Property and Facilities Management
  12. Fleet Management
  13. Procure to Pay Process
  14. Transport Services
  15. Revenues & Benefits Administration
  16. Building Maintenance
  17. Financial Administration
  18. Catering
  19. Elements of Administrative Support
  20. Cleaning
The announcement of this list today, astonishingly sent by e-mail to all staff, could thus basically lead to the privatisation of these 20 areas of service provision which are currently delivered directly by the Local Authority.

Such a mass-privatisation of Council services would - for me - be wholly unacceptable and would undoubtedly lead to a real diminution in the level (and probably the quality) of services provided by the Local Authority to Edinburgh citizens.

This is all about saving money - nothing else - and senior Administration politicians need to have the honesty to simply admit that.

Trying to spin it as an 'improvement programme' will fool no one.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Local school closures?

Seems earlier rumours of the "end of local school closures" were unfounded - the Cross-Party Working Group on Estate Rationalisation (not now disbanded!) is due to meet a week today and will almost certainly start looking afresh at these issues ...

... as I mentioned in that earlier post, my reading of the Administration Budget (from February 09) indicates several Primary Schools, and a possible Secondary School, as being ear-marked for closure within this financial year?

We'll know in the next few days if I'm right or not ...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Referendum campaign gathering pace ...

More information on the growing campaign for a referendum on the voting system now up on the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) web-site - here ...

... and you'll see here, that ERS has had a particularly busy few days on the Press-front!