Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday - just :-(

Well - it's Thursday (just) and the Council Meeting has finished --- at around 11.30pm :-(

There's been endless coverage of the tram issue (which did dominate the day) in the local press, so I won't rehearse all the main arguments here - but, it does have to be said, that the general way that business was managed today (in my humble opinion) was a bit of a shambles ...

... hours (and I do mean, hours!) of questions to Officers on the tram report led absolutely nowhere; and I've little idea why many of the questions were asked in public when they could have been asked in the endless, private briefing sessions we've all had?

To be discussing (and voting) on such an important issue for the city at close to midnight seemed sadly symptomatic of the whole project :-((

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Locked in a room

Apologies for the lack of posting in the last few days ... no excuse other than general pressure of work I'm afraid :-(

Spent most of Monday locked in a room with the voluminous 'background papers' to the Tram Report - having signed my 'confidentiality clause' of course!

Needless to say, there's not much I can say ... but, I'm convinced that much of the background detail will eventually see the proper light of day in some form of inquiry.

And it won't make for a pleasant tale.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Allotment update!

At last - managed some time down at the allotment late this afternoon :-)

The fruit-crop is really good this year: berries; strawberries, raspberries; all looking great ...

... and pears on the pear-tree for the first time in 4-years :-))

A small glitch?

Back in Edinburgh - and who could have missed this item on the BBC website :-(

Dear oh dear.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

London today

Down in London today for an Electoral Reform Society Council meeting ...

... whilst there's been plenty of debate about the result - this was actually the first, Full Council Meeting since the referendum.

Was a lively meeting!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Full Council reports

All the Full Council reports now available --- you can see the lot via CPOL in the usual fashion.

Looking at that agenda, it really does feel like it could be a VERY lengthy meeting!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tram Report now out

Tram Report out a day early (rest of the Council Papers should be out at 10am tomorrow) ...

... you can see the full text here.

Well, except you can't actually, as many of the really important figures have been deemed 'commerically confidential' and only Elected Members can see them; and only once we've signed a 'confidentiality clause' saying we won't discuss any of the data with anyone who hasn't also signed said 'confidentiality clause' ...

... welcome to 1984 :-(

The biggest issue in the city?

The biggest issue in the city at the moment?

... of course, its the tram project.

Council Leaders' monthly report out today - you can read it here - try searching for the word tram?

Not a single mention in eleven pages??

All must be well then.

Council debt stands at £1.3billion and growing

Audit Committee earlier today did actually throw up one important clarification about current Council debt levels - its all buried within the Unaudited Financial Statement for 2010/11 ...

... City of Edinburgh Council currently has almost £1.3billion of debt - yes, that's billion
... which is eating up over £100million EVERY year to service
... that's some 10% of the existing revenue budget servicing Council debt

That's right - 10% of the day-to-day budget of the City of Edinburgh Council is being spent on servicing debt and not directly on delivering services.

Pretty shocking really - I'm frankly amazed more attention isn't being paid to this issue?

Audit Committee this morning

Councils' "Audit Committee" meeting this morning - the main agenda can be found here, and the individual reports can be accessed via here ...

... despite some interesting reports, there's really only one subject that's on everyones mind today and the sooner a full-and-proper Audit is conducted on that the better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Edinburgh Labour call for Trams Public Inquiry

Financial figures from the Tram Report for the 30th June Council Meeting (which is not supposed to be public until tomorrow?) appeared all over the internet this afternoon (twitter has a lot to answer for!) ...

... so we felt there was no other option but to respond by releasing (earlier than initially planned) our own view on the situation that every Media Operation in Edinburgh/Scotland seemed fully appraised of --- I'll just re-produce our News Release below:


Edinburgh Labour call for Trams Public Inquiry

Draft tram project figures, to be debated at a Full Council Meeting on 30th June, indicate that completion from Airport to Haymarket could cost up to £700million, and completion from Airport to St. Andrew Square up to £773million.

Commenting on these latest figures Labour Leader, Cllr Andrew Burns, said:

“This is a project which Audit Scotland gave a clean bill of health in June 2007. Since then it has totally unravelled.

“The figures revealed today show the complete and utter failure of the current Lib-Dem/SNP Administration to get to grips with the project. They are divided, incompetent and lack the necessary leadership to take the city forward.

“I believe it would be wrong to commit further public money to trams. We have supported this project since inception, we have attempted to provide positive input while in Opposition, yet we feel that the project must be completed within the current funding arrangement. Labour will not support additional Council funding being provided to the tram project.”

Lesley Hinds, Labour Transport Spokesperson added:

“I have real concerns over the figure of £773 million for completion to St Andrew Square. It seems incredible that a scheme originally designed and costed between the Airport and Newhaven could have been allowed to spiral out of control.

“The 2007 Audit Scotland report presented a picture of a project not without problems, but one which was robust and deliverable. Yet, quite clearly, since May 2007 the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration have failed to deliver the project. There are many unanswered questions over how this has unravelled, especially in relation to the leadership of the project and the quality of advice provided to Councillors.

“I now do feel that we need some sort of public inquiry into this whole project, as many Edinburgh residents want answers.”



Education Committee yesterday ...

Must briefly report on the Education Committee yesterday - wasn't present myself, but appears to have been a bit of a shambles!

Main debate centred around the hastily arranged money-saving (as that's what they are) changes to the way Secondary Schools in Edinburgh are to be run ... changes that were opposed by all the Opposition Groups on Budget Day back in February, but the local SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition decided to press ahead with them regardless --- and at a speed that most sane people believe is entirely counter-productive :-(

So, all the Opposition Groups (at the Education Committee) attempt to get the local Coalition to see some sense and pause for some thought on the changes --- see my colleagues Motion at 6.1(a) on the Agenda here ...

... needless to say, this was rashly opposed - but the Teacher and Religious Representatives on the Education Committee decided to back the combined Opposition Groups position.

Rather tragically, one religious rep. had to leave the meeting early and missed the vote; and rather pathetically, one teacher rep. was summarily excluded from the meeting for having a (supposed) pecuniary interest!

Result - tied vote and Convener uses her casting-vote to push the changes (in the report here) through to implementation ...

... another master-stroke of political management.

Stand aside and await the professional-backlash --- it is most certainly coming :-(

Bavarian visitors departed :-(

Bavarian friends now departed - had a very enjoyable few days with them and short blogging break now over ;-)

... very busy week now ahead, with Full Council Papers coming out on Friday and the usual insane-rush to cram far too much business into this last Full Meeting prior to the July recess.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Short blogging break

Going to have a few days off from the blog --- no, not away on holiday or any other such luxury ...

... but have some friends from Germany coming to stay with us (who we first met on an Explorer Belt Scouting expedition back in 1983!) for a few days and I'm inclined to think that any free-time may well be spent with them in nearby hostelries and not at the keyboard ;-)

Will post again mid-week.

Friday, June 17, 2011

WHEC allotment!

Brief visit out to the Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) this afternoon ... they've developed an allotment on the school site in the last year or so, and today was their official opening-party!

Some of the staff, and students, had been out to visit our own allotment some time ago and I was delighted to be asked along to their own allotment-opening.

They've all done a great job - so much so, that I'm incredibly jealous of their carrots (at the back of the picture here) which are in far better health than my own scrawny efforts :-(

Well done them all :-))

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Edinburgh Partnership Meeting

Edinburgh Partnership Meeting this afternoon - I sit on the Committee as Opposition Group Leader from the Council ... more background details can be found here and here.

The meeting was held in the Lothian and Borders Fire Service Headquarters on Lauriston Place, which also houses their 'Museum of Fire', and we managed to have a brief look around after the formal business was completed ...

... over the years I must have passed that building literally thousands of times on the Number 27 Bus, but never realised it had such fascinating contents!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nursery Schools closure confirmed

Edinburgh Council doing its bit to help newly qualified teachers today by announcing that the two Nursery Schools it wanted to close (remember the closures were 'called in' by the Scottish Government) are indeed to shut their doors in a few days time :-(

No mention though of Westfield Court Nursery School, even though there was an earlier promise of clarification regarding its status ...

... technically, Westfield Court is just shut on a temporary basis at the moment - and parents who had kids there before that temporary closure, don't yet know (formally) if it will open again at the start of the new term in August? Pretty disgraceful, if you ask me.

I know full well it won't open again in August - but someone, somewhere needs to have the moral courage to formally confirm its closed for good --- after all, the "informal decision" was taken well over a year ago in the local SNP/Lib-Dem 2010 Budget :-((

1 in 6 new teachers unemployed

Some truly shocking (I think) statistics out today about the number of newly qualified teachers gaining full-time, permanent employment --- only 20.5% are doing so.

The even more shocking figure though, has to be the 16.2% who are completely unemployed ...

... that's 1 in 6 newly qualified teachers without any job whatsoever!

I wonder what the comparative figure for Doctors is ... I have a sneaking suspicion that if 1 in 6 Doctors were completely unemployed after qualifying, then there would be much more public disquiet?

I'm willing to accept that, of course, there will always be some professionals who qualify and then don't pursue that profession - but over 16%!  :-(

1 in 6 teachers being unable to find a job (of any description) after qualification is a sign of significant failure in the system, as far as I'm concerned. Not good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Blog design?

Since refreshing the blog design, I've had pretty good feedback - with the few exceptions of those for whom the 'outer background' is missing and subsequently the side-bar text is difficult to read :-(

... I'm almost certain this is due to the use of old versions of 'explorer' - but please do let me know if upgrading explorer doesn't solve the problem?


7th most congested city in Europe

Pretty depressing stuff in the Scotsman (and elsewhere) today ... Edinburgh now the 7th most congested city in Europe :-(

Okay - we can all quibble about the reliability of the data, and whether we're 6th, 7th or 8th ... but, either way, it's not good.

Almost as depressing as the congestion (with all its negative impacts) is the undeniable fact that precious little transport infrastructure has been built recently to try and help alleviate the problem: trams at a standstill (literally!); no more park+rides; no more suburban rail stations; no more bus corridors ... just when was the last time a ribbon was cut on any such a completed project?

... seems to me, the real problem is no more political will.

As I said, pretty depressing stuff :-((

Commissioning Strategy update

The Commissioning Strategy consultation report did take up a significant bit of time this morning, but pleased to report that rather than take the actual 'Strategy' (which wasn't in today's papers!) straight to the 30th June Council Meeting, there was agreement to send it first to the next meeting of the Policy and Strategy Committee on 9th August before it's ultimately approved at the Full Council Meeting on 25th August ...

... it is an important, and welcome, delay - as it now means the actual 'Strategy' will be able to be debated at the Committee-level, as opposed to it being subject only to the political-theatre that is often Full Council :-(

A good decision.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Policy and Strategy Committee and GME developments

Policy and Strategy Committee meeting tomorrow morning - main agenda here, and all the papers can be found here on CPOL as usual.

I suspect items 7 and 8, on the Commissioning Strategy and the Sustainable Development Framework respectively, will generate the most debate.

Of course, I should also mention that the much-awaited report on the future development of Gaelic Medium Education (GME), for Nursery and Primary levels, is also now published - you can see it in full here - but won't be formally debated until the Full Council Meeting on Thursday 30th June.

... personally, I do hope to see the launch of a consultation on the future development of GME, for Secondary Schools, at the same Council Meeting? All the papers (for that meeting) should be up on CPOL by the morning of Friday 24th June at the latest.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blog refresh?

I haven't changed the format (or many of the side-bar links) on the blog for ages ...

... so, I've taken the plunge (this relatively quiet Sunday morning!) and refreshed the look and layout.

All constructive feedback most welcome ;-)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

By-election candidates lining up!

Well, that local by-election could indeed be only a few weeks away - strong rumour is that it's likely to be Thursday 18th August, which is the week prior to the next, but one, Council Meeting on 25th August.

I do though foresee a few practical problems with such a hasty timetable ... which ultimately, the local SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition can dictate:

... a lot of people could still be on holiday; the dispatch of postal votes etc. will need to be organised literally in a few weeks time; and thus printing of ballot material will also need to be organised literally in a couple of weeks time - straight after the 30th June Council Meeting; and several polling stations in the Ward are 'fringe' venues and may already be booked!

Might be wiser to wait until September?

Anyhow, none of this has prevented candidates being lined up already, with news this afternoon that an Independent anti-tram candidate (John Carson) is going to throw his hat into the ring ...

... looks like it could indeed be a very interesting contest!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Group Away Day

One of our periodic Group Away Days this afternoon - used a couple of the rooms at Riddles Court as the venue ...

... set the right historic atmosphere for the challenges facing us in the next 11 months ;-)

More seriously, very healthy and open debate about political priorities for the next year - with an imminent by-election coming first, of course!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

August by-election it is!

Appears that the rumours were indeed true and David Beckett is off to the States ... he has secured a place at Havard ... at a personal level, many congratulations to him and I do wish him all the best in his move.

Politically, this will be a very interesting contest :-)

I mentioned yesterday that, in 2007, only 200 1st-preference votes separated the top 4 Parties with the Greens close behind --- but equally as significant is that fact that everyone was at least 360 1st-preference votes short of the electoral quota, and that was on a 50% turnout.

With a much lower turnout in August (apparently, that's the time-frame?) then this will be a pretty open contest.

I sense an exceptionally busy, couple of months of campaigning coming up :-))

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Edinburgh by-election soon?

The rumour-mill in the City Chambers has been on overdrive today --- I've had this confirmed from numerous good sources, so here goes ...

... a certain SNP Councillor from the City Centre Ward is apparently off to the States (employment driven), and is about to trigger a local by-election!

You can see the 2007 Ward results here and you'll no doubt notice that, whilst we were 4th on 1st preferences, there were less than 200 such 1st preferences between the top four Parties - with the Greens close behind. All that on a 50% turnout, which would undoubtedly drop considerably in any by-election.

Now - I don't need to spell it out I'm sure, but if the SNP lose that seat to Labour (or the Tories, or the Greens) then their local Coalition Majority with the Lib-Dems would be over :-)

Further dark rumours circulating the Chambers are, of the variety, that they are desperate to lose the by-election so they can extricate themselves from the shambles that has been the last 4-years of the SNP/Lib-Dem stewardship of Edinburgh :-(

Whatever the local SNP's intentions ... if there is to be a by-election ... one thing is for certain: Edinburgh Labour will be in it, to win it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Finance Committee discussing housing

Finance Committee this morning - main agenda can be found here ...

... discussions were dominated by items 7 and 8 on housing issues (respective reports can be found here and here).

Both of these reports were ultimately approved on an all-Party basis, but what became abundantly clear under questioning was that, whilst welcome, the 800 or so homes (that both reports amount to) are but a drop in the ocean of what's required in the Capital --- and the much-trumpeted Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) isn't providing one-single extra penny towards their construction.

And when contrasted to the recent reductions in Housing Grant from the Scottish Government, the net overall result is entirely negative (as regards Housing Units) and all the spin in the world won't hide that depressing fact.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Yes, No --- Yes, No

Huge fuss created (literally!) this evening by the Scottish Secretary arguing that 2 referendums will be required before any approval of Scottish Independence ...

... whilst (a few weeks ago) I was arguing that certain Parties might want to quickly get their constitutional ducks-in-a-row, this wasn't the type of response I had in mind :-(

Really - a bit of calm reflection, before coming forward with a coherent position is what's required ... not another muddle that is simply an open-goal for the SNP: they must be loving it :-((

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bienvenue chez toi

Junior back from Normandy early this morning ... appears to have been a very successful trip with a great time had by all present :-)

Made the best of our freedom last night and went to see Dunsinane (at The Lyceum) ...

... very good production with Siobhan Redmond and Jonny Phillips being a powerful (and entirely fatalistic) 'Gruach and Siward'.

Would highly recommend it - last production tonight, if there are any tickets left?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Canal solar lights!

I mentioned some months ago that, at a meeting of Craiglockhart Community Council, I'd picked up that ground-based solar-lights, de-marking either edge of the canal towpath, were to be fitted along the canal ...

... well, on my way home last night, British Waterways are obviously now starting to put them in place!

They now line the canal from the Lochrin Basin, westwards, for a mile or so.

Wasn't dark, so I can't speak for their efficacy yet ;-)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

"Too posh to poster"

Well, the Full Council Meeting did indeed have only one really significant debate - and it was, as predicted, on the Alternative Business Model (ABM) report.

Sadly, the report was pushed through by the local SNP, despite the best efforts of the Labour and Green Groups to simply concentrate on the Public Sector Comparator work :-(

On a more light-hearted note, the funniest moment of the whole Council Meeting came when Councillor Alison Johnstone accused the Tories of being "too posh to poster" as they tragically managed to win majority support for their call to ban lamp-post posters :-))

Now, regular readers will know, I'm not exactly a fan of the dreaded lamp-post posters, but to ban them in the year of the first stand-alone Council elections - when turnout will likely go through the floor - seems crazy to me ...

... and worse than that, we spent longer debating the bloody lamp-post poster ban than discussing the possible privatisation of huge swathes of Council services :-(

Edinburgh Labour AGM this week

Was the Edinburgh Labour AGM on Tuesday evening just past --- with the positions being confirmed at today's Council Meeting --- for those sad political anoraks out there (I know you're reading this!) I'll just paste the News Release and full list of Spokespeople below ...


Edinburgh Labour re-elects Burns in crucial election year

The Edinburgh Labour Group has unanimously re-elected Councillor Andrew Burns as Labour Group Leader at its Annual General Meeting.

Burns commented:

“I will be completely focused on the May 2012 elections and exposing the failure of the local SNP-led Council over the last 4-years. The most basic Council services are in chaos – a 2-year long bin dispute rumbles on; many Primary 1 classes have over 40 children in them; and 1 in 6 of our school leavers are not finding work, training or further education. Not to mention the complete mismanagement of the tram project. Frankly, the local SNP have let Edinburgh down.”

The full list of Labour Spokespersons, as confirmed unanimously at the AGM, is attached (follows below) for reference.

With the tram project moving to a new phase, and with a crucial decision coming up on the 30th June, Councillor Lesley Hinds has taken on the Transport Brief --- Councillor Ian Perry has moved to Environment --- and Councillor Maureen Child will focus on Health & Social Care. In addition, Councillor Bill Cook (elected in September 2010) will focus on Community Safety issues.

Burns further commented:

“It’s quite clear the local SNP-led Council has failed to manage the tram project over the last 4-years. With a major decision coming up at the end of this month, it’s appropriate to have a change of Opposition Spokesperson which will bring a re-invigorated scrutiny to the tram project at this crucial time.”


List of Group Executive and Responsibilities (2011/12)


Andrew Burns - Group Leader
Ricky Henderson - Deputy Leader

Lesley Hinds - Chair
Ian Perry - Vice Chair

Angela Blacklock - Secretary
Paul Godzik - Assistant Secretary

Gordon Munro - Whip
Cammy Day - Vice Whip


Ricky Henderson - Finance & Corporate Resources

Maureen Child - Health & Social Care
Cammy Day - Housing & Local Services
Bill Cook - Community Safety
Ewan Aitken - Voluntary Sector

Paul Godzik - Education, Children & Families
Angela Blacklock - Early Years & Equalities

Gordon Munro - Culture, Sport & Leisure

Lesley Hinds - Transport & Infrastructure
Ian Perry - Environment & Sustainability

Norma Hart - Economy & Regeneration

Eric Milligan - Planning / Police
Eric Barry - Fire / Licensing

Donald Wilson - Governance, Democracy & Smart City


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Elections Consultative Group

Elections Consultative Group meeting earlier this morning ...

... most of the meeting spent reflecting on the recent polling events and no major issues raised by any of the Parties present - which is quite a credit to all the staff who organised and ran what was a huge, complex operation.

Results were bloody awful mind you, but don't think that was their fault :-(