Sunday, October 31, 2010

6-months on Friday ...

Well, I did manage to catch both of the main speeches ... and I know I probably shouldn't say it, but Iain Gray somewhat stole-the-show from Ed Miliband.

Not that there was anything wrong with Ed Miliband's speech - but Iain's was simply the superior in terms of hard, policy content ... and I guess that simply reflects where both men are in their respective electoral cycles!

I've heard Iain give numerous set-piece speeches now; and I reckon this was by far the strongest set of policy announcements I've heard from him, and it was all delivered in a heart-felt and impassioned style - and some of the press do appear to agree this morning?

Scottish Labour, and Iain, will leave Oban in good heart I'm sure ... and yet, I was also pleased to pick up, right across the conference weekend, a steely determination not to get carried-away with any current polling position and to simply keep working flat out right up until the polls close at 10pm on Thursday 5th May 2011.

6-months on Friday and counting ;-)

Friday, October 29, 2010


Off to Oban this morning for the Scottish Labour Party conference ... yes, my excitement knows no bounds ;-)

Planning to attend as many of the numerous fringe events as possible, as well as trying to catch the main set-piece speeches from Ed Miliband and Iain Gray.

Not planning to be on-line much, but will report back at the start of next week ... I know; you just can't wait?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More openness - yes please

More tram-saga in the local paper today ... with long-overdue calls for more openness as regards the Tram Business Case.

Personally, I believe the Council Leader is quite right to be demanding (at last) more openness on this issue ... I just can't fathom out, therefore, why she voted against our Amendment a couple of weeks ago?

Must have been because we're the Labour Party :-((

Good old tribalism at its best.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TIF monies for trams?

Council Leader in the local press this afternoon calling for TIF (Tax Increment Finance)monies to be used for the tram project ...

... it's a real pity she didn't think of that possibility BEFORE submitting the TIF application to the Scottish Government - an application which has now been approved and which makes no mention of trams :-(

Mind you, worse still is the fact that nearly a year ago we suggested using TIF to potentially keep Tram Line 1B in construction (follow the links therein) - a suggestion which was rejected out-of-hand by the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration at the time.

Maybe - just maybe - the current Administration should listen a bit more to the Opposition Groups?

... mind you, I'm conscious that very much depends (on this issue) on your view on trams!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Finance Committee; electricity and gas!

Finance and Resources Committee this morning - generally constructive debates around most of the agenda items ... with a couple of amendments from the Labour Group actually being accepted! Amazing I know ;-)

Negativity only raised its head when I queried the levels of renewable energy that were part of the Term Contracts for electricity and gas being proposed (see items 6 and 7 on the agenda)

Nobody seemed to believe me that there was any way of contributing towards a renewable gas source :-(

What can I say ... several moths ago I did post about my meagre carbon reduction actions, which do include our switching to Good Energy as an electricity supplier and latterly they also supply Good Energy Gas to the flat as well. More details can be found on this Gas information sheet ;-)

... now, I'm not saying these supplies could necessarily be used for a whole Local Authority --- but there did appear to be precious little willingness to even consider the issues amongst most of my colleagues this morning?

And no - I'm not on commission!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mail, mail, mail

Bit of a huge backlog of e-mail (and mail generally) following the week-long break. Haven't seen much daylight today!

Schools still off (in-service day) so no surgery at Craiglockhart tonight --- but do have another meeting at 7pm to attend.

Holiday already feeling like a long time ago :-(

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Allotment update!

Spent a bit of time at the Allotment this afternoon - catching up on a small backlog of jobs ...

... got all three potato-beds mulched with good quality leaf compost; cropped a few brussel sprouts (many more to come!); also cropped some spinach (lots more of that to come also!); and you may even be able to spot the newly sprouting garlic in the right-hand side of this bed?

Weather was really bright and clear, which made all the work a pleasure ;-)

Back in Edinburgh

Back in Edinburgh after a week spent up in Glen Orchy --- no mobile signal at all: total bliss ;-)

The weeks' weather was definitely a game of two-halves; with the first few days being really very good (as you can see here!); but the latter part of the week being very reminiscent of the time we spent there a couple of years ago :-(

Anyhow, great time had by all and ready to throw myself back into the fray from tomorrow morning ... only just over 6-months until that next set of elections!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Temporary break in transmission

School half-term week from today - and both junior and my better-half are off for the week ...

... so, I'm afraid, there will be a temporary break in transmission whilst I try to reacquaint myself with the family!

I will resume normal blogging service as soon as possible ...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Quiz Champions :-)

Well, attended the newly established Gavin Strang Trophy quiz contest tonight ...

... first of five rounds, leading to a Grand Final some time next year.

Needless to say, Edinburgh South West won the first round last night, with Edinburgh North & Leith a long way behind in second place, and the rest as also-rans :-))

Not that it was, in any way, competitive between Edinburgh's 5 constituency Parties!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Council Meeting and trams ...

Full Council Meeting earlier today was, as expected, totally dominated by the tram report ...

... sadly, the Labour Amendment wasn't passed, and the eventual Lib-Dem/Green Motion that was is, in my mind at least, considerably weaker on the two key issues of 'Business Case transparency' and the 'primacy of the Council in decisions about TEL structures' :-(

Here's the full text of what was actually approved:

8.1 Edinburgh Tram Update Report – Decision of City of Edinburgh Council of 14.10.10

1) To note the position regarding the Business Case and discharge the motion of 24 June 2010.

2) To note the disappointing lack of progress in relation to the negotiations and progress of physical works.

3) To endorse rigorous application of the contract by tie.

4) To note that in the absence of robust remediation plans from the consortium and a change of behaviour in relation to progressing the works, serious consideration will need to be given to termination of the contract and re-procurement.

5) To note the recent governance developments and future work streams.

6) To note that a report would be prepared for the December Council (or possibly an earlier special meeting) on the next steps.

7) To agree that the provision of commercially sensitive information on the current and future patronage and profits of Lothian Buses would represent an unnecessary risk to the company irrespective of whether or not there was a combined bus and tram operation in future.

8) To agree that a more detailed account of the updated Business Case, including further options as requested, will be made available to all members for the Council meeting in December (or earlier if there is a Special Meeting) while protecting the commercial interests of Lothian Buses but that members of each political group would be provided with access to the full update for scrutiny, subject to written undertakings by those individuals that they will not disclose commercially sensitive detail to any other individual or organisation.

9) To note that the report(s) to Council on 17th December 2009 referred specifically (Item 7.3a - para 2.20) to 'remuneration matters for TEL and all other arms-length Council owned companies' and that the decision that day (8) was to report '(on the remuneration matters for TEL and all arms length Council owned companies)'.

10) To further note that the report before the Council today did not recommend any changes in remuneration.

11) To reaffirm the undertaking given in the report, detailed above, that a report will be provided on remuneration matters for Council owned arms length companies and to instruct the Chief Executive to ensure that a report was provided to Council on remuneration matters at TEL before there was any change to remuneration for the Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer positions at TEL.

12) To agree that the updated Business Case and the report on governance issues would also include detailed information not considered to be commercially sensitive about the impacts, specifically on Lothian Buses, of the different options for moving forward with the Tram Project.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

London today

Down in London today for some Electoral Reform Society (ERS) meetings ... perfect timing, given all the pressure of the rest of the week :-(

Anyhow, all the trains have been on time so far - just hoping the sleeper isn't late or I'll miss tomorrow's Full Council Meeting :-((

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Audit Committee decision

As promised yesterday, here's that full wording from the Audit Committee decision:

Care and Support Services – “Lessons Learned” Review


1) To note the decisions of the Policy and Strategy Committee of 8 June and 31 August 2010 and the reports by the Chief Executive (no PS/3/10-11/CE) and the Director of Corporate Services (no PS/37/10-11/CS) on the outcome of the review of the Care and Support Services procurement process.

2) To recommend to the Policy and Strategy Committee:

(a) That the management guidance for major projects be amended to include:

• all projects which have a high impact on service users;

• a suitable method of engagement with stakeholders affected by projects, including the provision of timely constructive feedback to those consulted;

• an appropriate reporting schedule to elected members;

• the provision of summaries of progress on each project to the appropriate Committee; and

• a defined sign-off procedure for the invitation to tender (ITT) documentation, including legal advice at gateway reviews.

(b) That the Council Management Team reviews the need for a “project administration office” and the resources for major projects (to ensure time, cost and process targets were met) and that any need for additional resources be sought from the Spend to Save Fund with appropriate payback timescales and that consideration of this be reported to the Policy and Strategy Committee.

(c) That the “Cross-Party Working Group” be reconvened urgently to undertake a thorough review of the Council’s scrutiny function.

(d) That the scrutiny function review be completed and findings presented back to the Policy and Strategy Committee by its January 2011 meeting at the very latest.

(e) That the list of outstanding remits from Committees be submitted to the Policy and Strategy Committee on a yearly basis.

(f) That the Commissioning Strategy be referred to Shulah Allan, Consultant and author of the final report on consultation and engagement, for comment.

3) To request that the Commissioning Strategy be referred to the Audit Committee to ensure that the issues raised by members and the other stakeholders were covered.

4) To request that an update on the progress being made in implementing the recommendations of the “lessons learned” review be submitted to the Audit Committee.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Hutchison and Chesser Community Council

Ended the evening at a Hutchison and Chesser Community Council meeting tonight --- a remarkably short meeting, with business conducted so promptly that it was over by 8.30pm!

Felt like I had a whole free evening thereafter - rest of the week is bound to make up for it: Group Meeting tomorrow; London on Wednesday; Full Council on Thursday; and a pretty packed Friday as well :-(

Thank goodness it's "Autumn half-term week" from this Saturday :-)

Nursery closures

I've been getting a bit of stick from colleagues about my earlier post on the issue of the three Nursery closures coming up to Committee tomorrow ...

... isn't one of the reports about a 'decant' and not a closure??

Well, if anyone wants to wager with me that Westfield Court Nursery School will be absolutely closed in the very near future, then please do get in touch and we can discuss some odds!

It's a bet I'd love to lose, but I'm not expecting any of those complaining bitterly that this is 'only a decant' to take me up on my offer ... more depressing still, I'm not expecting to lose any such bet, from any quarter, in the near future either :-(

Needless to say, no real people (parents!) have any doubts about what the report tomorrow actually means ... and, as several of them have pointed out, it does seem bizarre that health and safety concerns have all of a sudden become so urgent ---

--- especially when they can find no note of these issues ever having been raised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education; indeed the last integrated inspection was positively glowing in its general praise of every aspect of the school.

Audit Committee

Reconvened meeting of the Audit Committee this morning - posted about the first meeting a couple of weeks ago here ...

... on balance, I thought the Committee did come up with some constructive recommendations today (I'll post up the full, agreed wording as soon as I have it) - and I was pleased that there was finally all-Party support to at least properly consider a serious review of the Council's scrutiny processes. I sincerely hope that some constructive changes now come out of that.

I do worry though that the general focus on 'process' by the Audit Committee - as regards the Care and Support Services tender - will have left some of those affected disappointed ...

... I think this simply has to be acknowledged, and that the eventual consultation on the 'Commissioning Strategy' for the Council (now going to the 2nd November Policy and Strategy Committee I believe?) is the vehicle for ensuring that some positive recognition is finally given to the human-hurt caused by this tender exercise.

The best outcome could surely be a 'Commissioning Strategy' that ensures this type of fiasco could never happen again?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Campaigning Sunday

Almost the whole of Sunday spent out campaigning today ...

... having all these overly-keen Council candidates is certainly keeping me on my toes ;-)

Both of today's campaigning slots were in tenemental stair areas ...

... I just love it really :-(

Saturday, October 09, 2010

AV or not to AV?

Out in East Edinburgh today for an Alternative Vote (AV), "yes or no", debate ... my sparring partner was George Foulkes who sneaked a narrow victory from me in the final vote ...

... the Chairperson clearly used the wrong electoral system to count the votes which were cast ;-)

Joking aside, an enjoyable afternoon (I know, it's terribly sad!) with some interesting points being made by proponents and opponents alike.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Full Council next Thursday

Full Council meeting next Thursday ... main agenda is now out and can be found here, and all the individual reports are up on CPOL as usual.

Undoubtedly, the most contentious issue on the agenda is the Tram Update Report --- which can be found here (please do read the complete report if you're interested in this important issue).

Most of the recommendations appear to be simply 'to note' but, that aside, there's no doubt that the whole project is at a pivotal point ... I'll be sure to blog in more detail on this topic in the early part of next week; and certainly before the meeting on Thursday.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Third Nursery School to close!

As predicted, a third Nursery School has been announced for closure today --- the proposed decision was communicated to Elected Members by e-mail at 2.29pm this afternoon.

The smokescreen for the closure is 'health and safety' and for completeness I'll re-produce the text of the e-mail attachment we received below --- and for decant you should read CLOSURE! --- but frankly, I simply don't accept the reasons being given for closure.

It's being closed because the Lib-Dem/SNP Budget in February 2010 took £302,000 out of Nursery Education - NOT BECAUSE of 'health and safety'.

In my last post on this, I forlornly asked for some honesty about this third Nursery closure - all three of which had been pre-configured in the February 2010 Lib-Dem/SNP budget - and today all we get is an e-mail which grasps at any straw available to justify a closure that was frankly decided upon over 7-months ago.

It's disgraceful, cowardly and an insult of epic proportions to the parents and children affected.


(text of e-mail attachment)


This briefing aims to update Elected Members on a report that will go the Education Children and Families Committee on Tuesday 12 October which will outline safety concerns at Westfield Court Nursery School and recommends that children are moved to alternative accommodation.


Westfield Court Nursery School is a purpose built nursery school on the top floor of Westfield Court. It is on the seventh floor of a multi-storey block of flats managed by Services for Communities in the Gorgie area of the city. The nursery currently has 25 pupils, four children with additional support needs, four full time children and 17 part time children (attending morning or afternoon).

Health and Safety Inspections

In the last two years the nursery has been visited on a number of occasions by staff from the Council’s Health and Safety Team. On two occasions they have been accompanied by staff from Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service. During these visits issues relating to fire safety have been addressed including those relating to the arrangements for an emergency evacuation of the children.

During the last Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service visit, a number of fire related improvements were agreed. These included the introduction of smoke detectors in the common stairwells, a regular inspection regime of the building and a written Fire Risk Assessment and Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Nursery. These improvements have been in place for some time now and have allowed the nursery to remain operational.

The latest inspection was carried out by the Council’s Health and Safety Team in September 2010. The Council’s Health and Safety Officer has continued to raise concerns, particularly over the high level of supervision and daily inspection required to ensure that the evacuation routes remain clear and the very high child/staff ratio required during an evacuation. In addition, flammable material is occasionally stored in the stairwells by residents.

Having regard to best practice guidance for fire safety in a nursery outlined by Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, the Health and Safety Officer’s recommendation is ‘while the nursery can continue to operate in the short term, increased efforts should be made to identify suitable alternative accommodation for the children’.

Next Steps

In the light of these concerns, the Director of Children and Families asked officers to explore whether or not alternative accommodation could be found for the children currently attending the nursery.

It has now been confirmed that places are available that would allow the nursery to move to Tynecastle Nursery School with additional places at Calderglen Nursery School for those with additional support needs.

This would allow the children to remain together as a group and they would move with their own nursery staff. The Acting Head Teacher would return to her own school, Calderglen Nursery.

The Director is taking a report to the EC&F Committee on Tuesday 12 October asking the committee to endorse her recommendations to move the nursery by the end of November and to call for a further report by officers on the longer term options for Westfield Court Nursery School.

All parents at the nursery will receive a letter today outlining the health and safety concerns and will be offered an opportunity to meet with senior officers from the Children and Families Department to reassure them about the situation and inform them about the relocation proposal.
Local councillors are being offered a face-to-face briefing on this issue.

Residents Safety

This issue does not affect the safety of residents living in the flats as the Health and Safety officer recognises that the situation for an individual or family is very different to that which faces the nursery school, where staff would have to ensure a large number of small children could be evacuated at the one time from the top floor of the block.


National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day today --- theme this year is 'home' and like twelve months ago, I'm minded to choose a poem to reflect that theme ...

... as friends know, I'm a bit of a Norman MacCaig fan, and his poem Rich Day encapsulates Northern Scotland for me - might not be my physical home, but is probably my spiritual one:


All day we fished
the loch clasped in the throat
of Canisp, that scrawny mountain,
and caught trout and
invisible treasures.

We walked home, ragged millionaires,
our minds jingling, our fingers
rustling the air.

And now, lying on the warm sand,
we see
the rim of the full moon
rest on a formal corrugation of water
at the feet of
a Britannia cloud:
sea and sky, one golden sovereign
that will never be spent.


I'll be staying near Canisp this New Year, and hoping to climb it ... this poem will surely be in my mind that day too.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Undeserving Poor?

I could so easily have been what Jeremy Hunt basically categorised as the 'undeserving poor' on Newsnight earlier this evening - check the interview 10-minutes into this clip ...

... I come from a pretty large, nuclear family and in the 1980's (like many working class males) my dad lost his job and money was very tight for a while. Other work was found, but it could have so easily been different - and much, much worse.

Under Hunt's --- and apparently, the new Tory philosophy --- if work hadn't been found, then any state-help for my family at the time would have been 'capped' because of the number of kids my parents had.

As David Cameron clearly said in his speech this afternoon:

"Fairness means giving people what they deserve - and what people deserve can depend on how they behave."

Obvious problem is that how people behave is often dictated to them by external events - like losing their job.

It's a truly shocking return of a Victorian-value I thought we'd left behind long ago ...

... and we are talking here, absolutely exclusively, about this notion having an impact on children.

Couples without children, who find themselves on benefit, will never break the suggested 'overall cap on benefits'.

Only families with several children will do so.

Welcome to Britain in 2010.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Spending review strategy?

Dear oh dear ... hardly was the ink dry on that 'tough but fair' Child Benefit proposal and an actual Government Minister stumbled into saying it might need to be revised ...

... now, many of us may well have been there - but these are the folk now running the country :-(

And today, matters only seem to have become more complicated by the rushed announcement of a tax-break for married couples - not, in any way, as an off-set for the earlier announcement of course!

... problem is, I'm not at all clear this second announcement can even be delivered given the Coalition Agreement clause (see page 30) that categorically states:

"We will also ensure that provision is made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples without prejudice to the coalition agreement."

For all our sakes, I really hope this isn't a foretaste of the strategic planning that's gone into the events that are about to unfold on the 20th October :-((

Monday, October 04, 2010

Tough but fair ??

Almost this very day last year, at the 2009 Tory Party conference, the then Shadow Chancellor said:

"We will preserve child benefit, winter fuel payments and free TV licenses. They are valued by millions."

OK - we can all change our minds ... but to claim that its tough but fair that:

- a family with one worker earning £45,000 with one parent staying at home to care for their three children will lose the grand total of £2,400 per year

- compared to a couple with two people earning £42,000 each (£84,000 earnings in total!) who will lose absolutely nothing

... just seems to underline how badly thought-out today's Child Benefit changes have been.

I just don't see the above scenario as being fair at all - but that scenario is exactly what's going to happen come 2013 :-(

And that's before you consider all the arguments about the ending of universality?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

WASPS open day

Managed to get along, for a short while, to one of the WASPS Studios open-days this afternoon ... down, off Dalry Road.

Very impressive range of art on display, and the whole event seemed pretty busy by late afternoon.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Quiet night out?

Managed a rare night out with just my better-half as company this evening ...

... went to David Banns for the first time in ages: really excellent meal and proof, if ever it were needed, that vegetarian food is simply miles better than all that carnivorous stuff ;-)

... not to mention the wider benefits!

But, the quiet night out ended when we retired to a local hostelry only - by pure chance - to bump into a crowd of old friends!

Actually, was rather nice to see them all :-)

Friday, October 01, 2010

All the Council's fault?

The political saga that the 'Gathering' has become, just seems to rumble on and on ...

... I blogged about it briefly in August and remain willing to accept - that on the issue of the single debt payment - that the Council Leader didn't actually know about the payment.

But yesterday, at FMQs, the First Minister basically blamed the Council Leader for the whole event collapsing - and to add insult to injury, he couldn't even get her name right :-(

Whilst the name-slip may be funny, the issue of blame for this whole fiasco being landed on the Council by the Scottish Government really does need a robust response ... one can but hope??