Friday, September 30, 2011

COSLA, bins and high-speed

Mentioned the impending, financial-doom for Local Government a couple of days ago ... well, I went along to the monthly COSLA Leaders meeting this morning, and pleased to report that there was (at last) a bit of a fightback against the (what I consider) appallingly bad finance settlement that is on the horizon ...

... Labour Group Leaders moved an amendment which opened with the words: "Opposes in principle the threat of financial sanctions which fundamentally undermines Local Government".

I couldn't agree more!

In other news, never-mind the economy as all is well in the world with
weekly bin collections returning to a street near you, and the ability for all of us to drive at 80mph on motorways looking imminent ...

... anyone would think it was political-conference season :-(

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Audit Committee confusion?

Audit Committee meeting earlier this morning ... main agenda here and all the reports on CPOL here.

Discussion was totally dominated by Agenda Item 5 - full report here - which might seem a bit dry on first read, but basically contains a whole welter of last-minute changes to the Council's Audited Accounts.

What I couldn't quite get to the bottom of, was why there are so many changes in relation to the tram-funding allocations (see pages 4-5 of the actual Audit Scotland report - scroll down) ... Officers kept repeating the 'late' decision of the Council on 2nd September as a reason, but as we all now know the "real" decision was actually made back in March at mediation and I just cannot fathom out why the Council Accounts weren't better prepared given mediation was over 6-months ago?

Something just doesn't seem quite right about it all.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The strange silence of Local Government

Rather than me, as a Labour Councillor, argue that the Scottish Government spending review is appallingly bad news for Scottish Local Government ...

... you could do worse than have a quick glance at the CPPR (Centre for Public Policy for Regions) two subsequent briefing notes following that initial 21st September announcement:
Taken together, these two papers make pretty devastating reading for Local Government in Scotland.

And, for Edinburgh in particular, where we've just racked up another £231million worth of debt ... taking our overall debt levels to well over £1.5billion (yes, BILLION) which now requires over £110million of revenue payments every year to service that debt (over 11% of our revenue budget, every year, being spent on servicing debt) ... we simply cannot afford to borrow more to help bail-out the Government's failing Capital programme.

Well, we could (and probably foolishly will) borrow more --- but I remain astounded that there's not an outcry about 11% of our revenue budget already being thrown into debt repayments - and not public services :-(

Over 10pence in every pound that the Council has, goes on servicing current debt, which is about to get worse if we do indeed bail-out the Government's Capital programme --- and if non-domestic rates collapse (highly probable given the state of the economy) we're now going to be in even deeper trouble.

Why are Scottish Local Government Leaders - even SNP ones - so silent on this?

Local Government in Scotland is suffering the worst attack on its general powers and fiscal position since devolution began in 1999 - and Council Leaders seem happy to be complicit with these actions.

Shame on them, I say.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Craiglockhart Community Council and Craighouse

Craiglockhart Community Council meeting this evening (agenda here) ... meeting dominated by debate surrounding the proposed Craighouse planning development.

New, local "friends of Craighouse ..." group has already been formed and they are on facebook here and web here. They presented to the Community Council and are clearly well organised and passionate about their local area.

I do sense a long planning-process ahead for this potential development! Very similar echoes to the process (still ongoing after 2-years) at the Flower Colonies :-(

Monday, September 26, 2011

Neighbourhood Partnership meeting

Neighbourhood Partnership 'community safety' meeting this evening - managed to get there, just in time, after my Craiglockhart Surgery ...

... and there followed a very healthy debate on the next 3-months' priorities for the Police 'Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs)'.

And pleased to report that the parking issues, that have generated significant debate locally, are to be given such priority for the rest of this year.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Single-parenting beckons

Well - as friends and family already know, my better-half is about to go off to America for most of the month of October ... having (fantastically!) won an Education-Scholarship Award :-)

Obviously, whilst this is wonderful, it means I'm going to be a single-parent to junior for most of next month (poor sod!) and it will result in all sorts of work-related activities having to take a lower profile than normal ... blogging in October may therefore be slightly lighter than usual :-(

Still just over a week to go though, before junior and myself resort to a month of pizza and beer ;-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Allotment update

Managed to get a bit of time at the Allotment this afternoon ...

... that might be the last grass-cutting, and still a fair few things growing:
  • brussel sprouts
  • broccoli
  • celery
  • a few pumpkins
Apples and pears now all harvested ... and, I have to say, the pears (all now consumed) were totally delicious :-)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Labour Group Away-Day

One of our periodic Labour Group Away-Days (or afternoon to be more precise) today ...

... used the Quaker Meeting House, at Victoria Terrace, for our venue.

Plans for the 2012 Local Election campaign obviously being the main topic of discussion --- just less than 32-weeks to go to Polling Day now!

Good debate - which included many of our newly, selected candidates ;-)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Short Council-meeting shock!

Council meeting finished around 1pm this afternoon ... thankfully, my prediction didn't jinx the event ;-)

Only item with any deputations was for the report at item 8.1, on the new Portobello High School - full report text here. I think all Parties had hoped for 'no division' on the issue, but the Greens did raise a short addendum, which no one else felt able to support and a slightly intemperate debate ensued :-(

Anyhow - I continue to hope the court action will fall and the new School-build will commence as soon as feasible ...

... its been a long time coming.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ABM or PSC ?

Some important three-letter acronyms there!

I'm referring, of course, to whether the Local Authority opts for the Alternative Business Model (ABM - privatisation to you and me!) or the Public Sector Comparator (PSC) when the Council meets in October - Thursday 27th to be precise.

Over the last few days, both Private Sector bidders and PSC Officers have presented their case to the Opposition Groups on the Council --- I wasn't able to make the former, but did make the latter, and made sure that Labour Group colleagues attended both sessions.

The information gleaned has all been very useful, especially set against the context of today's Spending Announcements ...

... but, I'm still left seriously wondering about the advisability of forcing through a decision on potential 7 to 12-year contracts less than 7-months before the next Local Elections?

It just doesn't make any sense - other than as a means to avoid serious scrutiny during the forthcoming Local Election campaign :-(

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Votes at 16?

I mentioned just the other day I was supportive of extending the franchise to 16-year olds ...

... I've always considered it a bit of a nonsense that you can leave home, marry, have children, go to work, pay tax but not vote at 16.

And the fact that many young people have left school for several years before they actually get to vote (happened to me) appears even more of a  nonsense - being able to vote, whilst still within full-time education, can surely only push up turnout levels and engage young folk before they might conclude the political system has nothing to offer them?

So - I'm frankly pleased to see that the SNP may be about to extend the franchise for any upcoming referendum to all 16 and 17 year olds. How those teenagers may vote seems an entirely separate question/debate to me.

Apart from anything else - assuming the referendum doesn't take place for a couple of years - it means that my own son (nearly 14 just now) will get the vote ... I think that's to be whole-heartedly welcomed :-)

What about Local Government elections in Scotland next ... that franchise could surely also be extended prior to  the next-but-one set of elections in 2017?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Full Council this week

Full Council Meeting this week ... on Thursday 22nd.

Main agenda can be found here - and all the papers, as usual, on Committee Papers on Line (CPOL) here.

Looks like it could be a relatively straightforward meeting, especially compared to the last, two such events, but probably tempting fate to suggest so :-(

Sunday, September 18, 2011

ERS Officers for 2011/12

Since that last blogpost, a few folk have been in touch asking for clarification on the full set of ERS Officers for the next year --- so here is the complete list:

Chair --- John Ault
Vice Chair-Management --- Jonathan Bartley
Deputy Chair-Campaigns --- Amy Dodd
Deputy Chair-Group Relations --- Keith Sharp
Treasurer - Chris Carrigan

Apologies if I haven't used the most appropriate web-links here!

If anyone wants further details, then please just e-mail me or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter ...

Back to the backbenches

Now, my local political opponents shouldn’t get too excited as I’m not talking about the City of Edinburgh Council ;-)

No, I’m referring to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) ... as regular readers will know, the ERS AGM was held a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t report on events then as the election of Officers (of the ERS Council) was postponed for a couple of weeks due to a few absences from the meeting in London on the 3rd.

So, this Saturday’s Council Meeting had the task of electing the Officers for the next 12-months.

And yesterday, I stood to remain Chair and lost the vote by the narrowest of margins – 1.

And I should start these reflections by congratulating the new Chair – John Ault – and wishing him all the best in the role for the coming 12-months. He’ll have my 100% support.

I’d taken the decision before the meeting, not to contest any other Officer post if I didn’t get the Chair’s position – as the title of this blogpost indicates, I’d concluded it was either Chair or ‘back to the backbenches’.

And that’s where I’ll now be for the next while on the ERS Council. Less trips to London, a lot less e-mails and possibly a bit more time to spend on that allotment ;-)

Inevitably the events of Saturday have led me to reflect on the state of the democratic reform movement as we move on from last May’s referendum defeat and into a new phase of campaigning. I’ve not engaged in the endless post-mortems about last May and that deeply disappointing result ... and I don’t intend to dwell on it here, given the acres of print already expended on the subject. Suffice to say, all of us involved in that campaign have to accept a degree of responsibility for what went wrong.

But I do want to reflect on wider issues and put May’s defeat into some sort of context.

If I had a pound for every time (since May) I’d heard someone argue that the democratic reform movement was dysfunctional and had achieved nothing, I’d be a rich man :-(

Of course, the ERS – and all the other non-Party Groups – have their problems ... as do all the major and minor political Parties in this country. Stick a bunch of disparate activists together in a campaign (non-Party or Party) and an element of dysfunctionality is beyond certain ;-)

Democracy, properly practiced, with real people, is messy, difficult and bloody frustrating.

And thank goodness for it.

But it’s the claims of ‘just what has the democratic reform movement ever achieved’ that have become just a tad annoying for my liking. I want to explain just why I think that.

I guess I first became involved in the wider movement back in late-1990 when I joined Charter88 (as it was then) when I lived and worked in Stoke-on-Trent, and shortly thereafter attended the Charter88 Manchester Convention in November 1991. It was a complete turning-point in my political awareness and a period of a few months for which I will be forever grateful. If anyone involved in organising that Convention is listening – you changed my political life.

Shortly after, during late 1991/early 1992 I think it was, I joined the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), and in 1993 I moved back to Scotland (Edinburgh to be precise) and went completely native within the devolution-movement and the imminent 1997 referendum campaign, first being elected to the ERS Council in the mid-1990s and eventually being elected as a Local Government Councillor in Edinburgh for the first time in 1999.

Back then, in the early 1990’s, many of the newly elected Members of this year’s ERS Council would still have been at Primary School and here’s what didn’t exist:
  • A Scottish Parliament
  • The use of proportional representation (AMS) to elect that Scottish Parliament
  • A Welsh Assembly
  • The use of proportional representation (AMS) to elect that Welsh Assembly
  • A Northern Ireland Assembly
  • The use of proportional representation (STV) to elect that Northern Ireland Assembly
  • A Greater London Authority (GLA)
  • The use of proportional representation (MMP) to elect that Greater London Authority
  • The use of proportional representation (Regional List System) to elect the European Parliament
  • A House of Lords free from hereditary peers
  • The Freedom of Information Act (England and Wales)
  • The Freedom of Information Act (Scotland)
  • The incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into British Law
  • The use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect Scottish Local Government
  • I’m one of 1,222 Councillors in Scotland now elected by STV :-)
It’s not a bad list of achievements within a 20-year timeframe ... and we all too readily forget it.

If you never experienced it, I can understand it’s probably hard to imagine what the UK looked and felt like prior to these reforms – what can I say ... politically, it was a pretty dispiriting state of affairs for any genuine democrat.

But these hard won reforms are not enough for me, and come 2031, I’d like to see the list above added to by the following:
  • The implementation of fixed term Parliaments at Westminster
  • The use of proportional representation to elect English Local Government
  • The use of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) to elect the House of Lords
  • and yes, the use of proportional representation to elect the House of Commons
  • Votes for those of 16-years of age, for all levels of Government
  • The formation of Regional Assemblies in England
  • All as part of a federal-settlement for the United Kingdom
  • All contained within a Written Constitution
Do I really think these things can be achieved in the next 20-years?

Yes I do. The evidence of the previous two decades proves that these seismic constitutional changes can be won, with hard work, determination, and a willingness to learn lessons and keep going in the hardest of moments.

Just ask those involved in that first 1979 Scottish Referendum how they felt in the months after defeat?

But, many of those very same people were still involved in the later-1997 Referendum Campaign that led directly to the formal establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

Regular readers will know that I'm not really one for heroes - but looking back, if I do have any 'political heroes' it’s those people – some of whom I was lucky enough to work with in that 1997 campaign – the ones who kept the flame of constitutional reform alive after the darkest of days. And, eventually they did indeed achieve what they aspired for.

And I’ve no doubt whatsoever that the new Members of the ERS Council – and the many others who are working tirelessly for meaningful democratic reform – will see further achievements in the next two decades.

It may not seem likely right at this minute, but history tells me it will indeed happen.

But not if we spend any more time feeling sorry for ourselves or asking ‘just what has the democratic reform movement ever achieved’.

It’s achieved an enormous amount - literally having transformed this country’s politics.

But there’s some unfinished business and, for me, we simply now need to get on and complete the job.

Just like those 'political heroes' of 1979 did.

Friday, September 16, 2011


London this weekend - off down on the train later this afternoon ...

... ERS Council Meeting tomorrow and some time with the in-laws on Sunday!

Blogging may well be light until Monday :-(

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Edinburgh South West General Meeting

With July and August behind us, our local Constituency Party (Edinburgh South West) met this evening for the first time in a few months ...

... good to see a respectable turnout and a very healthy debate ensued around Trams / ABM (Privatisation) / and next year's Local Government manifesto!

And - believe it or not - many of those earlier Saturday events are now feeding into a very, draft manifesto (for further discussion and wider consultation!) that should be ready in the not-too-distant future.

After all ... only 33-weeks from today and the 2012 local elections will all be over ;-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Transport Scotland to the rescue?

Alex Neil (on behalf of the Scottish Government) has just announced that Transport Scotland are to take a lead in delivering the Tram Project ...

... that'll be the same Scottish Government that removed Transport Scotland from the Tram Project Board back in June 2007 :-(

It really was a catastrophic error - Audit Scotland picked up on it in February of this year, and I blogged about it at the time.

All that said, I do welcome this last-minute intervention and the tacit acknowledgement that it was a mistake to remove Transport Scotland over 4-years ago ... not to mention what this announcement says about the Government's confidence in their Councillor-colleagues, who do - after all - run the Capital City?

Now we need that Public Inquiry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tram Funding gap?

More speculation in the Scotsman this morning about the potential tram funding gap - see here ...

... the 'real' difficulty won't be whether the Scottish Government (via Transport Scotland) re-instate that last payment of £72million: it will be whether the projected cost for completion to St. Andrew Square can be met: currently at some £776million?

Given recent history, I suspect the final figure could be much higher ... especially when you double-check the wording of paragraph 3.14 of August's Council Report: here :-(

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hutchison Community Council this evening ...

Second Monday of the month, so it must be Hutchison Community Council this evening ;-)

... been a bit of a break in some of the Community Councils for July and August, but all seem to be back in full-swing from this month onwards - I'm expecting a very, very busy 9-months worth of local-business now!

And, of course, I'll be at Craiglockhart Primary School - as usual - between 6pm and 6.30pm, first-thing this evening, for one of my weekly surgeries.

Start of another busy week I suspect!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday cycle!

Cycle trip from Glasgow through to Edinburgh went well earlier today ... weather wasn't nearly as bad as predicted thankfully ;-)

Sadly though, I did notice something this year that didn't appear so prevalent in previous years - and that was the high number of apparently fairly bad accidents :-(

I saw an ambulance having to attend cyclists on at least 3 separate occassions in the 50-mile stretch, and got the distinct impression that many of the tumbles were simply people being bunched up too close and clipping wheels of those in front of them. I'm not sure the numbers (of cyclists generally) were vastly greater than last year, but the rate of falls certainly did seem much higher.

None of that should detract though from (once again) how well organised the day was - all credit to those behind this year's event for overseeing what must be a mammoth operation.

One more year now and that will indeed be ten-in-a-row ... having completed the ride every year since 2003!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Local Food Fair and cycling weather?

Local Shandon Food Fair this morning/afternoon - all the details can be found here and here ...

... another very good turnout of visitors this year, with (I think?) a much increased variety of stalls and activities over previous occasions.

All helped by the weather staying reasonable - just hoping it continues that way for another 36-hours, but its not looking great for the cycling tomorrow :-(

I may just have to stay at the back of our small group ;-)

Friday, September 09, 2011

Amazon best seller!

Alistair Darling's book (published earlier this week) is apparently number 2 on the Amazon best sellers list this afternoon!?

... in some ways it's a surprise, but having watched the unfolding drama of those tumultuous 3-years I'm not surprised there is such interest in the detail of what happened.

I'm looking forward to reading it properly myself over the next few weeks - if I can find some time to do so!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Shandon parking ...

The travails of parking in Shandon (in the Colonies to be specific) have made it into the local paper  again today - article here ...

... there's no doubt that last week's fire has focused residents minds on this issue: I just hope that an agreed set of actions can be reached and implemented within a reasonable time frame.

I know there's no such, "single" solution but do feel that a series of different measures now need to be properly debated and considered.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Glasgow-Edinburgh cycle ride this Sunday

Its the annual 'Pedal for Scotland' cycle ride this coming Sunday ... thus been trying to ensure that my commute to work is made by bike every day just now, in preparation for Sunday's challenge!

The finish-point (here in Edinburgh) has been changed this year --- now to be at Murrayfield --- which, I have to say, will be much easier for those of us on the West of the City ;-)

This will - all being well - be the 9th year in a row I've completed the route: one more year (September 2012) and I think I may hang-up my 'Pedal for Scotland' obsession and move on to something else ... believe it or not, I did run a few marathons in my youth and once made a rash bet with my Dad that I'd run one when I reached 50-years of age :-(

Well, by the time we get to the 2014 Edinburgh Marathon I'll have reached that landmark, so maybe that will have to be the next challenge :-)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Shandon Colonies fire

As local residents will know only too well, there was a really serious fire in the Shandon Colonies last week - it attracted some coverage in the Evening News here and here ...

... I've had a significant amount of correspondence about the incident - with particular emphasis on the parking problems.

I now have a definite update on these local parking issues, which have been brought into sharp focus by the recent fire - and I'll just repeat the main points here, for those who may not have been in contact with me directly ...

... I'd welcome any views, but - most importantly - no matter if you agree with me or not, I'd really welcome all viewpoints being expressed in the upcoming 'formal consultation' as its the only way we'll get a proper picture of the overall thoughts of the area:


Many Colonies’ residents have indeed been in touch, following the fire, expressing significant concern about the parking situation in the immediate local area. I was pretty shocked myself by the fire in Hazelbank Terrace: as many of you know, I used to live in the street; still live just a few hundred yards away in Cowan Road; and one of my son's Tynecastle friends' house was involved last week and was totally destroyed.

I thus completely share the frustration at the lack of a long-term parking solution being progressed thus far ... and again, as many of you know, there was an ‘informal consultation’ on extending the Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) to the local area some time ago. The result of that ‘informal’ consultation was that the ‘Ashley Area’ and ‘Ogilvie Terrace/Harrison Gardens/Place’ were in support of inclusion within any new CPZ but the Shandon Colonies were not. As reported at the time, this was to be taken forward with a ‘formal’ Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to advertise this intention and seek local views before actually progressing to any implementation.

Following feedback, at the time, I (along with other Council colleagues) successfully lobbied the current Council Coalition to ensure that the Shandon Colonies – and the rest of the Shandon Conservation area (Shandon Crescent/Street/Road) – would also receive the formal letters announcing the CPZ consultation. This means that Colonies’ residents will get a chance to have their say on the ‘formal’ proposals and to argue – if they wish – to be included in any extension of the CPZ.

I have now had it confirmed from senior Transport Officers that this ‘formal consultation’ will commence in the first week of October 2011 and that everyone in the streets mentioned above will receive a letter from the Council asking for their views.

I have to say that, on balance – and particularly following the devastating impact of the fire last week – I personally believe that the Shandon Colonies should be included in any CPZ extension. I’m all too aware this may not be everyone’s preference, but I feel it important to be clear about my own view prior to the start of the ‘formal consultation' and I would urge everyone ... no matter what your views ... to please make sure you respond to the consultation when it commences in October.

Frankly - I don’t think the prospect of the rest of the surrounding area being included in any CPZ extension, whilst the Colonies remained outwith, is a positive one - it could well simply exacerbate current problems in the Colonies. I really do therefore urge everyone to please make sure you take part in the ‘formal consultation’. I’ve now made my own preference clear, as above.

I hope this update is helpful - as ever, don't hesitate to get in touch if you need any further clarification.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Survived the weekend ...

Well, survived the ERS AGM and the 50th Birthday Party in Liverpool - just ...

... talking about the latter of course ;-)

Joking aside - back to reality this morning and a pretty large volume of work to catch up on given all the focus (rightly so) on trams over the last couple of weeks.

And, of course, the joys of Policy & Strategy Committee await tomorrow ...

... I can hardly contain my excitement.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Off to London & Liverpool ...

Right, I really am off to London now - on the sleeper tonight - for the Electoral Reform Society AGM tomorrow ...

... and then up to Liverpool tomorrow evening, for our friends 50th Birthday celebrations :-)

Will be back in Edinburgh on Sunday evening and normal posting will resume by Monday latest ... you can still get me on the mobile for anything urgent :-(

Today's vote in detail

I know the mainstream press is full of the Edinburgh Tram story today ---

--- but I did promise to try and post up all the Political Groups' Amendments from the Council Meeting - and I do have them all scanned into a single PDF now and you can see them here ...

... voting followed a similar pattern to last week, but - quite clearly, that announcement via Transport Scotland (on Tuesday) was deemed a 'material change of circumstance' and affected the positions taken.

For those interested in the actual detail I'll try and outline the complete process as I did previously:
  • Lib-Dems had a 'Motion' to support the St. Andrew Square option - known as Motion
  • Labour had an 'Amendment' requesting further funding from the Scottish Government - known as Amendment 1
  • SNP had an 'Amendment' outlining their general position on trams and supporting the St. Andrew Square option - known as Amendment 2
  • Tories had an 'Amendment' seeking withdrawal from the current contract - known as Amendment 3
  • Greens had an 'Amendment' seeking some clarification and supporting the St. Andrew Square option - known as Amendment 4

  • Motion gets 15 votes (Lib-Dems - one absent)
  • Amendment 1 gets 15 votes (Labour)
  • Amendment 2 gets 13 votes (SNP)
  • Amendment 3 gets 9 votes (Tories - two absent)
  • Amendment 4 gets 3 votes (Greens)

ROUND 2 (Amendment 4 has fallen)
  • Motion gets 15 votes (Lib-Dems)
  • Amendment 1 gets 15 votes (Labour)
  • Amendment 2 gets 13 votes (SNP)
  • Amendment 3 gets 9 votes (Tories)
  • 3 Councillors Abstain (Greens)

ROUND 3 (Amendment 3 has now fallen)
  • Motion gets 15 votes (Lib-Dems)
  • Amendment 1 gets 15 votes (Labour)
  • Amendment 2 gets 13 votes (SNP)
  • 12 Councillors Abstain (Greens + Tories)

ROUND 4 (Amendment 2 has now fallen)
  • Motion gets 28 votes (Lib-Dems + SNP)
  • Amendment 1 gets 15 votes (Labour)
  • 12 Councillors Abstain (Greens + Tories)

So the 'Motion' was passed - and remember, you can see the text of all the Groups' positions here.

Hope the above is helpful in explaining exactly what happened.

ERS AGM in London, then 50th in Liverpool

Council Meeting today - expect there will be significant ongoing press interest.

I'm then off down to London tonight, for tomorrow's Electoral Reform Society AGM. Looking forward to meeting all the new faces on the elected-Council :-)

Then, early Saturday night, northwards to Liverpool for a long-standing friends' 50th Birthday Party --- blogging may thus be light (if not non-existent!) for a few days now :-(

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Special Council Meeting tomorrow

The actual 'Tram Report' for tomorrow's Special Council Meeting is now out - agenda here, and the main Report is here ...

... I promised to put our Amendment up on the blog, in advance of the meeting tomorrow, and the text now follows below. I've not seen any other Groups' draft (or suggested) Amendment.

Clearly, St Andrew Square is going to happen tomorrow, and the additionally required debt to make that so will now need to be met directly by the Edinburgh Tax Payer --- unless the Scottish Government intervenes further - whether tomorrow (highly unlikely) or during the upcoming Spending Review?

So we're calling for that additional support to be forthcoming, so that Council services - and those of Lothian Buses - can be protected. And Transport Scotland should now remain involved, and make sure the tram is delivered - but it can't be at 'any cost' to the local Tax Payer.


City of Edinburgh Council
Labour Amendment

Full Council Meeting
2nd September 2011

Item 3.1 Edinburgh Tram Project

1. Council agrees that the report presented for decision today contains a material change of circumstances since the 25th August Tram Report.

2. Council notes that following the 2007 vote in the Scottish Parliament, in support of the Tram Project, the SNP Government instructed Transport Scotland to cease involvement with the then Tram Project Board. A project which at that point had incurred expenditure of just £44m and had received the backing of Audit Scotland, who described the project as having “clearly defined project management and organisation” with “sound financial management and reporting”.

3. Council therefore expresses surprise but welcomes the SNP Scottish Government’s apparent belated commitment – via Transport Scotland - to support Edinburgh’s Tram project.

4. Council further notes however the Scottish Government’s decision to withhold the final project grant payment, and regards this as a belated and aggressive tactic which forces the Council into an intolerable level of risk and financial commitment.

5. Council does though accept that to reject this thinly veiled ultimatum, to take the trams to St Andrew Square, would be likely to lead to the cancellation of the project.

6. Council also notes that to agree to the SNP Scottish Government’s thinly veiled ultimatum, to take the trams to St Andrew Square, means the Council will need to borrow at least £231million. This will increase current Council debt to an unprecedented level of some £1.5billion, with a specific cost to the revenue budget of at least £15.3million every year for 30 years.

7. The Council further notes that the report to the last Council meeting stated that the final cost of building the tram line from Airport to St Andrew Square cannot be guaranteed, and that there is therefore considerable concern about the potential impact on Lothian Buses’ budgetary position and their ability to maintain existing service levels.

8. Council thus remains greatly concerned that the actions proposed by the SNP Government would be likely to further increase the Council’s overall debt and lead to an ongoing reduction in services.

9. Council therefore agrees:
• That the Scottish Government needs to meet any additional cost for the completion of the tram line from the Airport to St Andrew Square
• to also investigate alternative funding models, which could alleviate the pressure on the Council budget, and report such back to the Council before the completion of the initial Airport to Haymarket section
• to request that the Council officers responsible for overseeing the delivery of the trams, along with representatives of the contractors, routinely attend the “All Parties Oversight Group” and the “Audit Committee” to report on overall project progress (thus accepting recommendation [x] on Page 4 of today’s report)

10. Council finally notes that there are ongoing and significant concerns within Edinburgh’s business community about the specific issues of: rates relief; general business support; and potential compensation.

11. Council thus finally instructs the Chief Executive to bring a separate report on the issues referred to in paragraph 10 above to the next meeting of the Policy and Strategy Committee on 4th October 2011.

Proposed __________________________________

Seconded __________________________________

Policy and Strategy Committee next Tuesday

Normal Council Business does roll on ...

... at Tuesday's Finance and Resources Committee (agenda here), the 'Framework Agreements' and 'Block Contracts' were all approved - we did manage to get a clause inserted recommending some additional monitoring, but for several organisations today was literally the end-of-the-road :-(

And next Tuesday, its the Policy and Strategy Committee - main agenda here, with all the papers up on CPOL as usual here. The report on the "treatment of ’don’t know’ and neutral responses" is an absolute classic ;-)

SAS here we come ...

St. Andrew Square that is!

Fairly dramatic turn of events yesterday, following that Transport Scotland letter of Tuesday, which makes it look to me as if the project is going to St. Andrew Square almost no-matter what the cost will be.

My primary worry still remains just who is going to pick up the bill - and for all the developments of the last few days, it appears it could yet be Edinburgh Council that shoulders the whole of the remaining burden?