Monday, November 30, 2009

Independence! (except for Councils)

Oh, how rich ...

... the irony

... of St. Andrew's Day 2009 :-((

Damp squib?

I've now read through (sad I know) the Scottish Government's White Paper - "Your Scotland, Your Voice" that was launched earlier this morning ...

... personally, I do think that unless there is a huge improvement in clarity about what is actually being proposed between now and the publication of the promised 'referendum bill', then this whole process will indeed be consigned to the proverbial dustbin by Holyrood.

As things stand today - it is simply not clear to me: exactly how many options will be on any ballot paper; what those options will actually consist of as regards specific powers; and indeed how any eventual multi-option referendum votes would be counted --- all fairly fundamental stuff that is simply missing?

Damp squib is the polite summary, the SNP have - unfortunately for them - made the 'White Paper: White Elephant' jibe most likely to stick.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Campaigning day

Believe it or not, only around 25 weekends (maximum) left until the General Election next year ...

... campaigning activity now seriously gearing up, and all day today thus given up!

I do sense a rather busy 25-weekends ahead of me ;-)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Leaving Tynecastle ...

Junior about to finish his second-term at Tynecastle High School (just 3-weeks to go!) ... all still seems to be going well. And come next January, they'll all move over to the new building on the other side of McLeod Street.

Well, tonight, there was a bit of a 'leaving-the-school bash'; come celebration of the multi-cultural nature of the High School (which has 20 - yes, 20 - nationalities represented amongst its pupils and teachers!) ...

... excellent evening, and all-credit to the staff and pupils who put on the event/s. A very fitting way to mark the move from the old to the new I thought :-)

Defeat from the jaws of victory

Just what can you say - a classic example of snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory ...

... dear oh dear :-(

Thankfully, I wasn't actually present at Murrayfield this weekend.

No autonomy here please

The Scottish Government wouldn't be blaming Local Authorities for their appalling policy failures would it? Surely not??

And here was me thinking that the mythical 'concordat' was all about parity-of-esteem, and equal partnership ...

... well, frankly, as far as I'm concerned this whole damned episode in Scottish Local Government history is a disgrace: COSLA did indeed sign the pathetic concordat; thus accepting we would be a delivery-arm of National Government; and why should anyone now listen to their crocodile tears?

Our independence is about to be diminished by the very Party of Independence :-(

... you couldn't make it up :-((

Friday, November 27, 2009

Higher than inflation revenue settlement - confirmed!

Interesting take on the Scottish Government funding settlement in today's local paper ... strip away the headline and front-page picture, and you eventually get confirmation that revenue funding is going up by an inflation-busting 1.76%.

Yes, more revenue funding in real-terms than last year.

And okay - capital funding is down ... but that is primarily because of the 'capital acceleration' into last year's budget. You know, the 'capital acceleration' that the Scottish Government wanted, and then used to concoct a mythical reduction in the overall block grant applied to Scotland.

And, as I've indicated before, I'd be willing to take a bet that when the Pre-Budget Report is published on the 9th December (in a couple of weeks) that 'capital acceleration' will be forthcoming again for this year ... despite the puerile way the Nats have used it politically this year.

So - revenue up; and final capital settlement still to be decided.

Who would have thought it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Many congratulations to the Edinburgh South West neighbourhood 'Right-First-Time' team, who won a Guardian Public Services Award this week ...

... I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with every word of Councillor Aldridge ;-)

Anyone for TIF?

I sense some more robust questioning next Tuesday ... have a read at this report for next week's Policy and Strategy Committee meeting.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) suddenly appears to be the potential saviour of all-things 'Leith/Waterfront'?

Indeed, the report boldly states (bottom of paragraph 3.2) that: "The concept ... is to create a real sense of place which will encourage early construction of both commercial and residential development."

Funny that - I remember exactly the same thing being said about a certain tram line to the North of the city.

It was a huge mistake (as far as I'm concerned) that TIF wasn't properly considered for Line 1b - that just might have helped the 'Leith/Waterfront' area somewhat :-(

Local Government finance ...

Well, well, well - finance settlement for Councils out this afternoon ...

... and Local Government revenue funding for the City of Edinburgh Council, for the year 2010/11, is up.

Yes - UP.

Who would have predicted that ;-)

... I'll just repeat what I've been saying for months:

There is a huge difference between the problem being one of expenditure - which it primarily is - and the way the whole situation is being portrayed by many who insinuate that everything is down to falling income. Income is not falling - income is rising.

It comes down to this --- you can't blame someone else if the problem is primarily about the rate of your own expenditure ... much easier to accuse others of reducing your income, even if it's just not true.

Well - the truth is now out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Policy and Strategy papers ...

Policy and Strategy Committee Meeting next Tuesday (1st December - main agenda here) and the papers are out this morning ... and for once, there are quite a few interesting reports!

One that jumps out at me straight away is the paper on the Composition of the Board of Transport Edinburgh Limited (TEL) - you can find it here. Not so much for what it says, but for what it doesn't ...

... if my memory serves me correctly, this was the deadline for the report on the potential combining of 'bus and tram' operations under one Board structure? No sign of it??

Now, I'm not opposed to the principle of combining operations under one Board ... but, as ever, the devil will be in the detail - and it strikes me that all is not well with the detail, as there is none before us for decision :-(

I sense some robust questioning being required next Tuesday morning ...

In place of cuts?

Not sure I agree with 'every' one of the 9 key measures in the Executive Summary (see page 5) of this report just released by compass ...

... but it certainly marks out a stark contrast to the 'no option but to cut back services' rhetoric that seems to be pervading (at least) Scottish Local Government at the moment.

Thinking about the chances of at least some of these measures being adopted --- you could well argue that it might just be a bit rash to set any serious (local) budget plans in stone until after that Pre-Budget Report on 9th December?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trouble and strife ...

No that's not cockney slang ... but real trouble and strife I'm afraid ...

... attended the 'Joint Consultative Group' (for the Council) this afternoon - whose papers don't seem to appear on CPOL? - which is the main consultative body between the Trade Unions and local politicians on the Council.

To say the atmosphere was strained would be the understatement of the decade.

I sense really difficult 'industrial-relation' times ahead, and I'd humbly suggest to the Council Administration that they'd better start paying a bit more attention to their workforce (I'm not suggesting at the exclusion of their customers) if they want to avoid some really serious problems in the not-too-distant future.

Just drop it ...

I know I've said it before - and I do believe it - that the Nationalists best route out of the obvious 'referendum-conundrum' they've got themselves into, would simply be to 'park' their demand for outright Independence ...

... the First Minister, instead of launching a White Paper on a referendum vote next week, should stand up and say that the National Conversation (and very recent polls maybe?) have convinced him that the vast majority of Scots do not want Independence at this time and he's therefore dropping plans for a referendum and getting on with the job of Governing Scotland through the current recession?

I'm convinced the SNP would thereafter do significantly better, in terms of seats won, at both the next Westminster and Holyrood elections?

I've got a nagging feeling it ain't going to happen that way though - and I'm sure the SNP vote will suffer next May, as a consequence of pressing ahead with these referendum plans.

They should just drop it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do the right thing ...

It's just not a good sign to see the city of Edinburgh being held up for ridicule in yesterday's Sunday Observer (see paragraph's 3 and 4) ...

... I really, really hope that the current local Administration are now listening and don't have their fingers firmly in their ears?

It would be a huge mistake not to respond constructively to what happened last Thursday - following such a course of action will only lead to more ridicule in the near future. Of that I'm certain.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


No, not in the Care and Support Services tendering saga ...

... but at the rugby last night :-)

I was at the game with a crowd of family and friends, and the atmosphere in the last 20-minutes was completely electrifying!

It wasn't the most exciting of games, for the majority of the match, to be honest - but when it dawned on everyone that Scotland could actually win the game, the 50,000 people in Murrayfield appeared to go completely ballistic.

Excellent result - I was 18-years old the last time that happened :-))

... but you do have to feel sorry for Matt Giteau - what a miss.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sanity prevails

A little bit of sanity prevailed in the City Chambers yesterday, and thankfully my earlier prediction was wrong :-)

Council Meeting went on until pretty close to 8pm, and the whole day was totally dominated by the Care and Support Services tender. I've rarely heard such powerful deputations from members of the public ...

... and, after the formal debate, it all led to the Labour/Green Joint Amendment (supported by the Conservatives) defeating the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration Motion by 29 votes to 28. One of the Lib-Dem Councillors declared a pecuniary interest (employed by one of the tenderer's) and left the Chamber.

The Administration now need to swallow a bit of political-pride and acknowledge (even privately, if not publicly) that they've got this whole process very badly wrong. As endless people yesterday said, this isn't a tender for electricity, water-supply or road-maintenance ... it's a tender for personal support services for the most vulnerable people in our city.

A bit of reflection on how those people have been treated over recent weeks, and a serious attempt to apply a bit more dignity to the whole process, could really make all the difference - and the Joint Amendment provides a short period of time to start to put that into practice.

We intend to work very hard over the next couple of weeks to ensure just that happens.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2010-11 Budget

'Budget packs' were published today for the City Council's 2010/11 budget ... pretty weighty documents, and it will take a bit of time for myself and colleagues in the Labour Group to digest the detail.

Numerous previous posts have dealt with the wider picture - most lately this post, and the links therein ...

... but as the main Opposition Group, our primary concern for 2010/11 is going to be pretty clear: to put up the strongest defence possible of front-line public services. Many of these services in Edinburgh have already suffered over the last few years, and I certainly do not feel they should bear the brunt of any further financial-savings required. Quite the opposite.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Full Council week

I know I've concentrated on the 'Care and Support Services' issue (for good reason) over the last few days ... but there are several other reports at the Council Meeting this coming Thursday!

The complete agenda can be found here ... and the individual papers can be located by searching via Committee Papers on Line (CPOL) here.

For sheer comedy value you should have a look at item 8.1 on the main agenda ... I'll give £100 to anyone's charity of choice if you can spot either of the words 'manifesto' or 'promise' anywhere in that 35-page long report??

... I wouldn't waste too-much time looking :-(

Monday, November 16, 2009

Care and Support Services update ...

As predicted last Thursday, late this afternoon a supplementary paper was released for Thursday's Council Meeting concerning the issue of Direct Payments - you can find it here - which does indeed contain a partial climbdown.

But - by no stretch of the imagination - does it go far enough :-(

  • the level of Direct Payment being offered will NOT give any users real choice (see paragraph 3.7) ... those figures are nowhere near what is currently paid for (by the Council) for the delivery of these services and the reassurances in the following paragraph are worthless in that context.
  • Paragraph 3.9 makes it clear that all those applications currently frozen will NOT get the old rate but move straight to the new rate ... that simply doesn't see equitable to me as many of the applications have been on-hold for some considerable weeks.
  • and paragraph 3.11 gives the whole game away and is just NOT acceptable. It basically says that if the level of Direct Payment applications leads to some of the contracts (laid out in earlier reports) not going ahead, then that will be fine and us Officers won't bother telling you Elected Members any more.

Frankly, the whole process is now unravelling in front of our eyes. This just confirms what we were arguing at the Finance Committee a few weeks ago:

'Direct Payments' have been suspended for one reason - and one reason only - because if they hadn't been, then the contracts which are about to be awarded (if the Administration get their way on the 19th?) would not be viable in terms of scale and/or financially?

And now, this is just what is about to happen:

  • the 'contract process' will be pushed through by the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration on the 19th
  • they will though back off (to some extent) on the un-freezing of Direct Payment applications
  • applications for Direct Payments will thereafter go through the proverbial roof
  • most of the contracts will subsequently not be let, because they simply will not stack up financially
  • there will be no need to report any of this back to Council
  • all the angst, worry and stress for hundreds of service-users will have been entirely avoidable

And, I have to say, I think Officers have known this 'could' happen all along and were praying that the contracts would have been quietly approved at the Finance Committee a few weeks ago ...

... and, they would have been, if it wasn't for "our weird 25% rule" and the "student stunt" inflicted on the poor Finance and Resources Committee on the 27th October :-(

How different it all could have been - instead of pressing for a massive (potential) saving of some 21%, the Council could probably have achieved a respectable 10% saving via open dialogue with current providers and good consultation with present users.

But no - it's become yet another exemplar of "knowing the cost of everything and the true value of nothing" :-((

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What a weekend!

Well, if that by-election result wasn't good enough news ...

... what about the story running across the media today that a panel of scientists have suggested that the recommended daily intake of calories for adults could be too low?

As a self-confessed 'gannet', this is just music to my ears - I'll need to start eating even more on a daily basis ;-)

... I just hope Alan Johnson doesn't go and sack them all :-))

Friday, November 13, 2009

Allotment afternoon

Had a group of students from Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) come and visit the allotment this afternoon!

They're thinking of setting up their own allotment out at the school - thankfully the sun was shining, and I think they found the tour of the site useful ...

... everything looking very autumnal now, but still plenty of veg growing :-)

Pot calling the kettle black

I've just read this BBC report on yesterday's by-election ...

... is it just me, or does anyone else find it hypocrisy of the highest order for the Deputy First Minister to accuse Labour of campaigning on "grudge and grievance"?


Congratulations due to Willie Bain

Well done Willie Bain - what a contrast eighteen months can make ...

... some analysis here on just how radically the two contests differed in both campaigning style and techniques - some important lessons for next year, one would hope!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The importance of decent scrutiny

Rumour around the City Chambers today is that the Administration are about to back down on the freezing of existing applications for Direct Payments ... not that anyone has had the decency to inform the Opposition Groups of this formally :-(

... it would be a welcome move, if true - but by no means would it go far enough.

What about all those who were told to wait until the tender was awarded to see if their existing provider had kept the contract? They haven't yet (or have only just) applied for a Direct Payment - are they to remain frozen? And - the rate of the Direct Payment will be all important ... if it's to be at the new contract rate, then that's going to be very, very different from the current rate (see paragraph 2.6 here).

And one very important point needs to be remembered - if it wasn't for "our weird 25% rule" and the "student stunt" inflicted on the poor Finance and Resources Committee on the 27th October, this whole policy would have been approved there and then. Current Direct Payment applications would now be frozen - full stop.

The whole sorry episode, and the appalling way its been politically managed, just underlines how crucial decent scrutiny is for any local democracy ...

... and that democratic process needs to be defended, as its obvious to a blind-man that the current crop of politicians in charge would diminish - even further - the Opposition's ability to scrutinise their decisions at the slightest opportunity :-((

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Interviews and roundabouts

Spent the day over in Glasgow, helping with interviews for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland office ... very good calibre of candidates for the vacant post in question.

Back to Edinburgh late afternoon for local surgery and Tollcross Community Council meeting this evening - quite a bit of debate about that junction re-configuration at Fountainbridge!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

YouTube infamy

The whole 'Care and Support' saga is now even featuring on YouTube ...

... worse than that - you can even watch it from within the Council whilst sitting at your desk ;-)

What goes around, comes around ...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Care and Support tendering

I know I've mentioned the tendering of 'Care and Support' packages on a couple of occasions recently - here and here ...

... but it is worth emphasising that I don't recall seeing as much constituent mail crossing my desk on any issue since the proposed closure of "6 Nursery Schools, 13 primary Schools, 3 Secondary Schools and 4 Community Centres" (all in one go!) back in August 2007 :-(

It really is that bad - people are very, very angry and I'm not at all convinced that the SNP/Lib-Dem Administration have yet realised just what a full-scale public revolt they have on their hands?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

To boldly go ...

I thought this story from the weekend was all a bit of 'significant speculation' ... until I clicked on the link to the 'Virgin Galactic' site ...

... you can even pre-book your space flight, right now, for a small deposit of some $20,000 :-(

Even better, looks like these space missions may well take off from right here in Northern Scotland?

... just waiting for the Holyrood Parliamentary motions to be tabled any day now - or have I already missed them? ;-)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Allotment day

Late morning spent down at the allotment today - in glorious sunshine, believe it or not!

Still a fair crop of stuff growing: brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, swedes, spinach and swiss chard!

Not to mention those 'soon-to-be-planted' late cropping potatoes ;-)

And, as you can see from the picture, still plenty of 'flowering-colour' even though we're now into November.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fountainbridge Junction Improvements

Pretty significant changes proposed for the road junction at 'Fountainbridge/Gardner's Crescent' ... currently a roundabout, soon to be a traffic signalled controlled junction?

All the details can be found here (including maps of 'before' and potentially 'after') and the Council are looking for comments/feedback on the plans prior to Friday 27th November.

I think it's important to stress that as well as the obvious vehicular traffic changes, these alterations will link up all the cycling routes from the canal (and the residential areas alongside!) to the West End, Lothian Road and the financial area of the city.

One can only hope that it all goes a bit more smoothly than the works at the Kings Road Roundabout last year :-(

... surely?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Poor communications

I mentioned the recent report on the award of contracts for the provision of Care and Support Services just last week ...

... well, since that meeting last week myself, and many of my colleagues, are completely awash with correspondence from concerned service-users who are very, very vocally expressing serious worries about just what is taking place.

Obviously yet another classic example of significant changes being poorly communicated ... I sense a lot of angry people may be present at the Full Council Meeting in a couple of weeks time :-(

Transport spending

I know this story from today's Scotsman is trying to get over a different message ...

... but, it has reminded me about the cost of the mere 5-miles of that M74 extension ... some £700million!

Mind you, that's not nearly as high as that 'much-needed' additional Forth Road Bridge, which will cost somewhere between £3billion and £4billion ... yes, that's billion :-(

Amazing what a bit of Government support can make happen ...

Priorities, priorities ...

Talking about 'balancing the books' earlier ... nearly forgot to mention the other "priorities" being promoted by the SNP/Lib-Dem Council at this morning's Committee Meeting:

Not to mention their recently reported use of 'recorded delivery' mail :-(

That should all help balance the books this coming (difficult) year?

Balancing the books

That report on the Scottish Budget (for 2010/11) was duly approved at today's Policy and Strategy Meeting --- at last a recognition that monies are increasing, in both cash and real terms, for next year!

As I've repeatedly argued over recent weeks, this is not to deny there are serious and difficult financial challenges facing this Local Authority - but declining income next year IS NOT one of them.

As I've already said - for the last 10-years, the rate of 'expenditure-increase' has been covered by an equally sizeable rate of 'income-increase' - for the next 10-years a similar (and continuing) rate of 'expenditure-increase' isn't being matched by an equivalent rate of 'income-increase' ... but income is still rising.

Solution: levels of local expenditure need to be controlled by those locally in power - it was ever-thus ...

... and despite all the puerile political posturing about financial control under previous local Administrations, the fact remains that for the whole 23-years of 1984-2007 there was NEVER ONCE a qualification on the accounts of the City of Edinburgh Council. They were signed off by the relevant Director of Finance internally, and approved by Audit Scotland (or the equivalent body) externally - EVERY YEAR for 23-years.

The current local SNP/Lib-Dem Administration have now accomplished that for 2-years and, despite the admitted difficulties, need to get on with achieving the same outcome for the 2010/11 budget and stop insinuating whilst doing so that 'income is falling'. It is not.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Blogging goes mainstream?

City Council homepage is not only finally promoting all those useful 'social networking' sites ...

...but today (bottom-right), it appears to even feature a promotion of a Council-blog!

... I wonder if its worth e-mailing the webmaster to see if they'll consider promoting Councillor's blogs??

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A little Sunday cheer

It might be a pretty wet day, but the Sunday Herald (for once!) has cheered me up a little this morning ...

... do I sense a trend here? ;-)