Monday, February 28, 2011
The final decision isn't made until the Full Council Meeting on 10th March - but you can see the recommendations for each Nursery here and here. Both are recommended for closure sadly.
There's an inglorious history to all of this - as far as I'm concerned - and we're still not getting absolute honesty about the position of the third Nursery School that is almost certain to close: Westfield Court. A written Council question last month merely elicited a response that a further announcement would be made in June 2011 - conveniently AFTER the Holyrood elections :-(
What really gets me is that the 2010/11 budget, which was set way back in February 2010, made it abundantly clear to anyone that 3 Nursery Schools were set to close ... and yet, some 12-months later, those in charge still haven't had the decency just to be up-front about that undeniable fact.
Indeed, we'll be into the 2011/12 budget year before the parents of Westfield Court finally find out the future of their Nursery School ... but frankly, they already know it's shut for good and not to tell them that now is treating them like fools :-((
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I often go down to watch the Scottish home internationals - too busy campaigning this year, but did catch the very end of the Scotland V Ireland match on the TV, in between various election activities ...
... should have stayed out to do a bit more canvassing :-((
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Anyhow, the Gathering saga rumbles on and - I have to say - I'm increasingly amazed at the incredulity of some of those involved: check out this story from today's Evening News ...
... now, as hopefully most readers will know, I try really hard never to personalise issues on the blog and do my utmost to keep my ramblings about the politics involved and not the personalities. I do actually believe that the vast, vast majority of Local Councillors are doing the job they do because they want to help improve things for their local community and the wider city --- and I hold that belief for all the political parties represented on the Council. And in my humble opinion, it's rarely sensible to 'play the man' rather than 'play the ball'.
But, sometimes it's hard to avoid the personal and the Gathering issue is quickly becoming such a case-in-point and I hope those involved - whom I am referring to below - start to 'get it' and take the appropriate action ...
... first off, just read today's article again - please do - and then take some time (especially if you've been personally involved in this saga) to FULLY READ these links:
- Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee transcript from 3rd November 2010 (click on 'Section 23 Reports', then 'The Gathering 2009')
- Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee written evidence from 1st December 2010
- Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee 'Gathering Report' of 24th February 2011
I know that's a lot of text - but if you are involved in this saga you really should read the lot; but as a minimum you might like to focus (in particular) on the second document from 1st December 2010 and specifically the written evidence (written NOT oral) from the Council's Media Manager and the Council's ex-Head of Communications ... read pages 12 through to 29 ... PLEASE read them in full.
When you're finished reading those pages, ask yourself once again why you think the Scottish Parliament Audit Committee (a cross-Party Committee of 8 MSPs) unanimously agreed that the ORAL evidence of two senior officers and two senior politicians - none of whom could remember the key details of the meeting on Wednesday 14th October 2009 - wasn't credible?
And after you've had some time to reflect on that - maybe you should consider whether an apology is required to certain Officers of the Council ...
... and you might even consider whether it is indeed appropriate for the Council's own Audit Committee to look at this issue, so that the Council can ensure proper procedures are in place to stop this type of damaging episode happening again.
But, frankly, I've come to the conclusion - as I have read all of the documents above (very carefully indeed) - that the most pressing matter now is for an apology to be issued as soon as possible.
It is the least that certain Officers of the Council now deserve.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Think about it.
It's clearly a pretty outrageous thing to say.
But that is exactly what has been said today by the Leadership of the City of Edinburgh Council - see paragraph 11 here.
I've always thought the truth was the truth, no matter who voiced it.
And as for all the nonsense about the supposed political bias of the Committee - I'd encourage a quick glance here, which confirms that the Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee has 8 MSP Members - 3 Labour, 3 SNP, 1 Conservative and 1 Lib-Dem.
And, yes you guessed it, the 3 SNP and 1 Lib-Dem MSPs all supported the findings of the Public Audit Committee report on 'The Gathering' - there was no division on the final report.
As I said yesterday - and as we attempted to have implemented back in September 2010 (see page 12) - the Council's own Audit Committee should now urgently undertake an investigation to ensure that the appropriate lessons are learned from this whole fiasco and that proper procedures are in place to prevent such a situation from ever occurring again.
Anything less will now - rightly - be seen as a complete whitewash.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
... I've mentioned this ongoing saga on a couple of occasions before; in August 2010 here and in October 2010 here.
Well, today it took a whole new twist that is really nothing to do with the previous issue of the single debt repayment, but more to do with the very integrity of the political leadership of the City of Edinburgh Council.
The Scottish Parliament Public Audit Committee report into the whole fiasco (published today - here) raises some very serious questions about just how the City of Edinburgh Council is currently being led.
Detailed written evidence, now publicly available, from both the Council's former Head of Communications and also from the Council's current Media Manager, directly contradicts oral evidence provided by the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council. Both sets of evidence simply cannot be accurate (see notes below) and this led the Scottish Parliament Committee to conclude that they had "serious concerns regarding the quality of the oral evidence from the Council witnesses and does not consider their evidence to be credible."
This is a damning indictment of the current Council Leadership and the oral evidence they presented, especially when one considers that the Parliamentary Committee that approved this report, did so on an all-Party basis with no division of opinion.
I believe it is now essential that the Council's own Audit Committee is allowed to undertake an investigation, as basically requested by the Parliament, to ensure that the appropriate lessons are learned from this damaging episode and that proper procedures are in place to prevent such a situation from ever occurring again.
The full Scottish Parliament report can be accessed here
(1) Paragraph 188 of the PAC report states: The Committee also considers the Council handling of the clearing and issuing of the press release to be unacceptable. The Committee hopes that the Council will undertake an investigation into the circumstances leading to the contradictory evidence it provided. The Council may also wish to clarify its lines of accountability and procedures for clearing press releases.
(2) Paragraphs 160-163 of the PAC report outline the Council Leader and Deputy Leader's oral evidence about the approval of the 15th October 2009 Press Release; paragraphs 169-173 outline the entirely contradictory written evidence of Council Officers on the very same issue.
(3) Paragraph 187 of the PAC report states: The Committee has serious concerns regarding the quality of the oral evidence from the Council witnesses and does not consider their evidence to be credible.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
... now that the AV-referendum is definite (well, it was always certain of course!) the pace of electoral reform activity has noticeably moved up a gear or two!
With the upcoming Holyrood elections, and the UK-referendum, the next 10-weeks (and it is only 10-weeks tomorrow) are not going to be dull :-)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Tragically, I need to be in London all day tomorrow and will miss it :-(
Anyhow, if you're interested, please do go along!
Edinbuzz are holding a free Social Media Surgery in Fountainbridge Library on Wednesday the 23rd of February at 6:30pm. And we want you to come along!
The session is a free, informal chance to learn how to use social media tools like flickr, twitter, blogging, you-tube and Facebook.
The surgery, which is one of twelve being held across the city, is particularly aimed at community groups and active citizens with an interest in their local communities.
You'll find more information about the project at www.edinbuzz.net
Both workers and service users from community groups in Fountainbridge are very welcome to come along - and please do feel free to pass this message on to other community groups you think may be interested!
It was thus duly agreed - on an all-Party basis - that such consultation will take place before any final approvals.
A rare outbreak of common sense ;-)
Didn't pervade the debate about the extra public holiday mind you - and many good republicans voted in favour of spending £320,000 worth of tax-payers money to fund a day-off for Council Staff on the 29th April. The vote was carried overwhelmingly; against our moves to try and have the day treated as a 'normal working day'.
And, of course, we were all assured the cost could be 'contained' within existing budgets?
Amazing the things you can find money for when you don't need to :-(
Monday, February 21, 2011
I reckon most debate may well be generated by the report on the 'City Centre and Princes Street Public Realm' issues - detail here. I'm supportive of much of what's in this report, but to ask for it to be 'approved' without any further public consultation seems to be asking-for-trouble? In particular, the removal of ALL buses from Princes Street would have very, very significant consequences (and I'm not sure it's even feasible?) and it does appear to me that the public should be asked for their views before this is taken anywhere near the 'approval' stage.
Could also be a bit of debate about the proposed 'additional Council holiday' (details here) to coincide with a particular wedding on Friday 29th April? Such a move comes with a price-tag of some £320,000 and, you guessed it, wasn't contained in the approved Council Budget just a few week's ago!
I'll be sure to report back on any outcomes following the meeting.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
... and Scottish Parliament elections aside, spotted some very confusing poll developments in the (now confirmed) AV-referendum arena?
Appears that YouGov still haven't asked the 'actual' referendum question, but even so their latest effort appears to put the Yes-side slightly ahead (34/30) by asking this specific question:
“In May this year there will be a referendum on changing the way Britain votes in general elections from the current system, known as “First Past the Post”, to a different electoral system called the “Alternative Vote”. In PRINCIPLE, do you support or oppose changing the electoral system from First Past the Post to the Alternative Vote?”
Very difficult to draw direct comparisons with the other polling companies who are asking the exact referendum question, but the figures above (34/30) are quite a 'move' from earlier YouGov results (32/41).
Still - a very high percentage of "Don't Knows" means the next few months do indeed leave everything to play for.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
... the Anton&Erin 'puttin on the ritz' show was the cause of my downfall :-(
Dragged along, by several other family members, totally against my will :-((
... hard to believe that it's just over three years now since my 'better-half' was allocated the plot!
Well, not looking too bad after all the winter snow and we quickly managed to get several of the beds into shape (as you can see!).
Even managed to plant the broad beans - 9 stands of four plants, which should hopefully produce a good crop ;-)
And, back home, the seed potatoes are all purchased and are busy 'chitting' away :-))
Friday, February 18, 2011
1. AV will force MPs to work harder to earn - and keep - our support
2. AV will give us a bigger say on who our local MP is
Forget tactical voting - just pick the candidate you really want to win. But if your favourite doesn't win you can still have a say.
3. AV will tackle the ‘jobs for life’ culture in Parliament
Too many MPs have 'safe' seats for life. We saw that in the expenses crisis. The AV system will change this.
4. AV is an upgrade on our current voting system
AV builds on the current system, eliminating many of its weaknesses, retaining its strengths and strengthening the link between MPs and their communities. Voters still have just one vote.
5. AV will keep extremists out of politics
AV is the anti-extremist system because candidates have to secure a real majority to be sure of winning. First Past the post enables candidates to win with a very small percentage of the vote, which means extremist parties such as the British National Party have more chance of being elected despite most people in an area opposing them. This is one of the reasons why the BNP is opposing AV.
6. AV lets you vote for who you really want
Forget tactical voting- just pick the candidate you really want to win. With AV you can back just one candidate (like now), or if you'd like to, state a second choice, or even a third choice. Voters can vote for what they really want so there is no need to vote tactically.
7. AV gives control to more voters
Less than 2% of voters decided the last election. To be sure of winning a seat with AV, candidates will have to get over 50% of the votes in that area. They will have to work harder and not just take us for granted.
8. AV will force candidates to positively engage with the wider community
First Past the Post has created a culture of complacency whereby most MPs know they can just rely on their core vote. AV rewards politicians who can reach out to a widest range of voters. Politicians will need to engage more constructively with more people if they want to be sure of winning.
9. AV is already used by 14m people in the UK
Alternative Vote (AV) is a widely used and trusted system in Britain outside public elections, because it is used by businesses, charities, trade unions and membership organisations
10. This referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us to have our say on the current system
MPs have been deciding their own rules for far too long. This is the first time that voters are being given a say on the system we should use to elect MPs. This is our chance to have a public debate and to demand more from our democracy.
... what I hadn't realised (until I read the damned letter!) was that the Tory Government Budget back in June 2010 raised the rate of any 'fair market valuation' (at which you can purchase back the bike at the end of the lease period) from 5% up to 21% :-(
But - all is not lost, as it appears you can just stay in the scheme and allow the bike to drop in market value ... and in another 4-years it will be negligible: assuming of course no future Tory budget makes any further retrospective changes!
Managed a few days down in the Lake District - firstly near Ambleside, where a large group of us gathered in 4 Yurts! Yes - those Mongolian tents ;-)
Excellent accommodation, despite the pretty wet weather.
Then a spell in a village called Caldbeck, which I'd never been to before, in the Northern Lakes ... I'd highly recommend it. Off the well-beaten Lake District track, but all the better for it --- and it has a good local village pub :-)
Anyhow, back in town now and very much looking forward to the next few months of political campaigning.
All to play for :-))
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Felt a little 'stunned' for the first 15-minutes ... very strange leaving a 9-hour Council Meeting where a dreadful set of budgetary decisions have been made, to go straight to the theatre!
But - the production was really, really excellent.
Regular readers will know I'm a bit of an Arthur Miller fan, but this was the first time I'd seen "A View from the Bridge" and it didn't disappoint this Miller-fan :-))
It did all come down to the casting vote of the Lord Provost though - with the Conservatives and the Greens backing the Labour Amendment ... with further minor amendments of their own.
I very much welcome the approach taken by the other two Opposition Groups in the run-up to, and during, the Budget debate.
So,29/29 was the split :-((
Main differences between the Lib-Dem/SNP Administration Budget, and the Labour Group Budget, are undoubtedly the very significant reduction to Education funding in the approved budget; and also the significant reduction to voluntary sector funding in the approved budget. Neither of these two reductions (at all) was contained within the joint-Opposition position, with very different political choices being made.
All the Labour Group budget details are as published earlier - follow the links here - and the Administration budget details can now be found on the Council's main web-site.
Don't hesitate to contact me if you need any further information.
Going to be a pretty busy morning/afternoon - and possibly evening! - for me, so I doubt very much if there will be much more blogging today :-(
I will try and get some feedback posted up as soon as possible ...
... don't despair too much, as I do understand there will be plenty of Tweeting and Facebooking from the Chamber ;-)
Not from my 'phone of course :-((
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
All the details can be found here ... and some further blog posts about the poll results are here and here.
Come on YouGov; surely time to ask that actual question:
“At present, the UK uses the first past the post system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the Alternative Vote System be used instead?”
... on Tuesday we're told that no one knows for certain what the Lib-Dem/SNP Budget looks like? - believable??
Not if you look at this News Release, whose title clearly indicates that it was approved on the 8th February (Tuesday!).
One has to assume that the most senior Members of the Administration actually saw this News Release before it was given to numerous press outlets - I know it's embargoed until tomorrow (Thursday) but look at the title --- it was clearly approved on Tuesday :-(
Taken alongside the unbelievably positive spin that makes up the content - is it any wonder that politicians have got such a bad name?
How can we believe a word of this, when the people who have approved it's content aren't prepared to treat the citizens of Edinburgh like adults?
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
... as regular readers will know, we decided to publish our draft amendment last week (in a bit of a break with tradition!) and I'm thus inclined to simply put a couple of links up to the finalised Amendment here (Word text) and here (Excel figures) ...
... pity the Council Leader hasn't decided to do the same: apparently (just today!) she still doesn't know for certain what the Lib-Dem/SNP Budget will look like??
It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious :-((
... rather than opine on the issue further, I've simply looked back at the 2 posts I put up about the Megrahi release back in 2009: here (in August 2009) and here (in September 2009).
Personally, I think those views have stood the test of the last 18-months ... I do believe this was the wrong decision, badly handled by all involved, with absolutely no one emerging with much credit :-(
Monday, February 07, 2011
... I won't be there for the next couple of weeks now: half-term next week and the school will be closed; and Monday 21st is an in-service day and there are no evening-lets.
So, not back again (at Craiglockhart) until Monday 28th February! Other surgery details, as ever, can be found here.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
... of course, I couldn't join them but instead spent several hours in those tenemental stairs that I just love so much ;-)
This evening managed to attend a bit of an event for Paul Godzik's campaign, down in Dalry at the (relatively new) "Kebabish Original" ... excellent dhal for us vegetarians; if not a little on the hot-side!
Back to work for a rest tomorrow.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
... had five children with us, in all, and they thoroughly enjoyed the event :-)
All part of the City's "Let's Get Lyrical" campaign.
Friday, February 04, 2011
Out canvassing this afternoon - very, very wet.
Thank goodness we were in a tenemental area - my favourite.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
And, rather bizarrely, the local Lib-Dem/SNP Administration changed its position somewhat from that which it earlier backed at the December Health and Social Care Committee ... I say bizarrely, as the whole report was only at this Full Council Meeting because Labour/Greens called it there under Standing Order 53?
And, despite claims to the contrary, I just don't envisage these changes 'widening access' to these vital services :-(
... was interested to see details of some local 'Social Media Surgeries' over the coming weeks.
Appears that local volunteers are offering to show people from charities and community groups how to make best use of social media - completely free of charge :-)
Seems like a great offer to me!
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
... this year though, we've decided to put them into the public domain a full week prior to the relevant meeting, which takes place at 10am on Thursday 10th February.
Clearly, there's a bit of a political risk in all of this - all the other Groups will know what we're going to move next week! ... but, frankly, we're all pretty sick-and-tired of (and this criticism includes previous Labour Administrations of which I was part) the way that the Council's annual budget round is being managed.
Each year, we get ourselves into the ludicrous situation of each Party Group not knowing what the other is proposing until we walk into the Council Chamber at 10am on the local Budget Day. And we're not talking a Westminster or Holyrood budget here, but the budget of a medium-sized city ... it just makes no sense to continue like this, especially given the financial constraints currently pressing down on all Local Authorities.
... so, I'm just going to re-produce below (with a couple of links to the actual DRAFT Amendment and DRAFT Summary Sheet) the e-mail message that's just been sent out to all those who have been in touch with us about the 2011/12 Council Budget.
I may well regret this :-(
Many of you have been in touch throughout recent months about the budgetary position facing the Council - and I'm very grateful that several of you managed to attend our recent 'Open-Budget Event' and were able to ensure we heard your views first hand. And, as you know, the Council will now set its 2011/12 Budget at the Full Council Meeting on Thursday 10th February 2011.
As the main Opposition Party on the Council, the Labour Group has listened carefully to the input we've received (from a wide variety of sources) and we have constructed an 'alternative budget' (as per previous years) and are now in a position - as promised - to share the headlines of that process with you.
To that end, I'm attaching a DRAFT version of our actual Budget Amendment (which we may still slightly amend) and which we will table for debate at the Council Meeting on the 10th. I'm also attaching an excel spreadsheet (again a DRAFT which may alter slightly) which summarises the figures behind our budget. This all illustrates we are putting forward a 2-year, balanced budget with the following key components:
- every effort has been made to rationalise back-office functions
- the following specific areas have been identified to deliver significant savings:
a. Rationalisation of Council Training functions
b. Reduction in the use of all external Consultants
c. Reduction in the use of Temporary Contracts and Agency Staff
d. Fully merging the Finance and Corporate Services departments
e. Partially merging the City Development and Services for Communities departments
f. Removal of several (SfC) Heads of Service posts
g. Reduction in the Q.I.O. Teams
h. Reducing the Policy Development function within the Council
i. Reducing the Communications function within the Council
j. Removal of various Council Publications
- thereafter, the prioritisation of available expenditure has been focused on essential front line public services
- the following specific areas of continued investment have been identified:
a. Nursery, Primary, Secondary and Special Schools (esp. devolved school budgets)
b. Health and Social Care Services for the Old and Vulnerable
c. Voluntary Sector, and third-party, grant support (inc. Fairer Scotland Fund projects)
d. Sport and Physical Activity services (Edinburgh Leisure)
e. Neighbourhood Services (inc. school crossing patrols and public conveniences)
- one-year's funding will also remain in place for the Capital City Partnership’s (CCP) employability programmes, thus ensuring continuation of this vitally important area of work during the current economic downturn.
- and one, significant element of new investment has also been identified:
a. A ‘Living Wage’ of £7.15 per hour, for all Council Staff, to be implemented from October 2012.
We will now do our utmost to promote this approach - and the detail therein - as we move towards the actual budget-setting meeting on Thursday 10th February.
Many thanks again for your input to date, and please don't hesitate to get back in touch if you want to discuss anything further.
You can see the full text of the report here and the more summarised Press Release here ...
... one point I'm bound to highlight from the Press Release is the third 'Notes to Editors' which reads:
3. In June 2007 an Auditor General for Scotland report reviewed the arrangements in place for estimating the costs and managing the Edinburgh trams project and the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link. At that time both projects were still at an early stage. In the case of the Edinburgh trams project some utility diversion works had commenced but major contracts for the construction of infrastructure and tram vehicles, including the contract with Bilfinger Berger, had yet to be awarded and the composition of the Trams Project Board was different. The report concluded that, at that time, the arrangements in place to manage the project appeared sound but added that unless work progressed to plan, cost and time targets may not be met. The report provided no guarantees over the future health of the project.
Some four years later, targets have clearly NOT been met.
And, if you return to the main report, and check out the 'Governance Arrangements' box (at the top of page 5) you'll see the key point highlighted by Audit Scotland reads thus:
Elected members of the current administration at CEC hold differing views of the Edinburgh trams project, and considerable debate is generated at council meetings when the subject is discussed. This has made it more difficult for CEC as a whole to present a unified commitment to the project.
You bet it has.
Indeed, the Council Leader herself admitted this during December's Full Council meeting.
Little wonder that Audit Scotland's News Release is entitled: "A clear way ahead and review of key player involvement needed for Edinburgh trams".
That title just about sums up all there is to say:
- Council divided
- project in a mess
- new leadership required
Don't hold your breath.
... well, as per usual, appears that all-things tram-related have simply no prospect at all of staying confidential - Evening News had the first glimmer of spinning/leaking last week; and this morning the BBC Scotland website seems to have a further leak?
Not really that helpful to have the report coming out piecemeal - but, as I've said before, I generally welcome Audit Scotland looking at all of this again - last time the project was assessed by them (back in June 2007 ) the conclusions were pretty clear. Paragraph 14 sums up the position, whilst paragraph 15 warns of potential future dangers (see the top of page 4).
I look forward to reading the whole report (out tomorrow I believe?) to see how Audit Scotland assess just what has happened between then and now ...
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
... consequently, the agenda for this Thursday is fairly light: you can see the details here.
Main item of contention will undoubtedly be item 7.2 on that agenda - "The Final Report of the Joint Review of Independent Advocacy Services in Edinburgh", the full report on which you can access here.
Unless I'm missing something - despite this being 'carried-over' from the December 2010 Full Council Meeting, there appears to be no change in the Administration's stance from that which they took when the report was originally at Committee way back in early December 2010??
Which - in essence - means they appear prepared to plough ahead and put these advocacy services out to competitive tender ... it is repeating all of the same mistakes made during the 'Care and Support Services' tender process and I can see nothing but grief coming from it.
So much for lessons having been learned :-(
As per previous years, I do intend to post as much detail of our budget, up on the blog, in advance of actual budget-day which is Thursday 10th February ...
... and, as always, please don't hesitate to continue getting in touch if there are specific issues you want to raise with the Labour Group?
Obviously, the chances of our complete budget being 'passed' are not that high :-(
... but, as previous years have shown, pressure can be brought to bear on important policy areas that may just result in a change-of-direction by the current Administration.