Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Local Accountability ?

What was I saying about misplaced optimism ?..........
Anyway, attended the Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership (NP) meeting last night. Nothing unusual or earth shattering about that, however, they briefly discussed an update on how Fairer Scotland Funding will be dealt with in future. In summary, FSF is used to target specific priorities, ususally in areas of deprivation, such as access to jobs, health inequalities, Early Intervention etc and until now this has been handled and monitored through the NPs, thereby creating a local view and a line of accountability for what local priorities are set, how money is spent and what services are delivered and how successfully.
Apparently, FSF is to be reduced (by the Scottish Government) by 30% next year, will no longer be ring fenced and will be absorbed into Council departments who will also be given the responsibility to deliver on the priorities.
I am not impressed with this change at all, for numerous reasons. Lack of local accountability, reduced ability for local areas to set their own priorties and finally a reluctance by some Council departments to be accountable to the NPs. I understand the proposals are being re-examined but if they press ahead with anything like what I've outlined above I shall be reporting further and in more detail.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Juniper Green Farmers Market

The inaugural Juniper Green Farmers Market this morning was a great success. Eight stalls, plenty of people, a piper, a fiddler and a splash of sunshine all combined to ensure that this venture has got off to the best possible start. Still a lot of work to do of course but the initial signs are very positive. Hopefully it will become a regular fixture. The Kinleith Arms also seemed to be doing a roaring trade in coffee and bacon rolls. My hi-vis jacket might look official but I could probably have made a better contribution by emptying the bins rather than standing about drinking coffee ! Off to Tynecastle now and hope that Hearts can continue their relatively good start to the season and that my eternal optimism is not misplaced....

Friday, 24 September 2010

WHEC & Columba 1400

Was delighted to accept an invitation last night to attend a presentation at Wester Hailes Education Centre by students who had attended the Columba 1400 Leadership Academy on Skye. Brilliant to see and hear young people who had obviously benefited greatly from an experience that builds self confidence and team working skills. The object of the exercise, apart from expanding the horizons and aspirations of the youngsters involved, is to make WHEC stronger as a school through the leadership and confidence of its own students. We also heard about some fantastic other projects supported by WHEC including their South African connection. Sometimes this great school doesn't receive the recognition it deserves but hopefully initiatives like Columba 1400 will challenge some outdated perceptions.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Audit Committee

Just spent 4 hours in the Council's Audit Committee, hearing evidence from various senior officers / Directors regarding the collapse of the Council's tendering exercise for Care and Support Services and the subsequent reviews and "Lessons Learned" reports. This morning's experience shows that proper, robust scrutiny by elected members can be a very effective way to add value to the Council's business and possibly even policy development. Wouldn't be appropriate to come to any consclusions yet as we've still to hear from more officials and Councillors before considering what recommendations should be progressed.

What are they for ?

Didn't manage to catch much of the Lib Dem conference apart from the analysis and interviews on Newsnight etc. An interesting spectacle with Clegg and cabinent colleagues seemingly pulling one way and Cable and conference pulling the other. I'm sure their confusion will be cured once Nick gives them a sharp tug to the right. Best pre conference comment I read was Iain MacWhirter's piece in the Sunday Herald and the photo, left, apparently adorning a former LD member in Liverpool .....

Monday, 20 September 2010

Curry and dough for 2 good causes !

Abdul and me at Kebabish last night
 My idea of a perfect night ; a good curry in good company and a charitable contribution into the bargain. Brilliant night to celebrate Eid, hosted at Kebabish in Dalry Rd, included wonderfully diverse entertainment and a meal with proceeds going to Children First and the Pakistan Flood Appeal. Was delighted to share a table and chat with Labour stalwarts Cllr Angela Blacklock, Amer Masood, Abdul Quadar, George Foulkes MSP and Sarah Boyack MSP. A good night was had by all.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A Poor Result

Sad to report that, after a long and fraught Council meeting today our amendment calling for the Council not to use compulsory redundancy to save money was defeated. As the post below explained we were prepared to accept almost £16m of savings on condition that there would be no compulsory redundancies. I think we won the debate but lost the vote, as usual. The LibDem/SNP Administration have missed an opportunity to reassure hundreds of Council workers who are feeling very vulnerable right now.

Cuts, Cuts and Consultation

Was at the first budget public consultation meeting last night at St Bride's. Public meeting but attendance was by invite only ! :-/  Members of the public (40) were probably outnumbered by Councillors and Council Officials. The event was meant to be "led" by senior Administration (LibDem/SNP) Cllrs but this actually meant a brief intro by the Convenor of Finance who promptly left the stage to a solitary official and volunteer facilitator ! Very quickly became apparent that the set questions to be asked had been simplified to the point of being slightly patronising. The intelligence of the audience had clearly been underestimated and the ensuing contributions would appear to confirm this. Subsequent votes (by electronic keypad) went directly against current Council proposals. Indeed, many chose not to vote and voiced their view that the exercise was loaded.

There are further severe cuts on the way although the initial Phase 1 "back office" / "management delayering" proposals can be read in this report which will be debated at today's full Council meeing. We (the Labour Group) intend moving that the majority of the savings are achievable with minimal impact on services but that a commitment should be given not to use compulsory redundancy. I'll try to post the outcome later today.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Manic Monday

Spent yesterday in Glasgow at Employment Tribunal training on discrimination legislation. Fascinating subject the more you learn about it although it does become more and more complex. Pouring down in Glasgow all day, very wet journey home on the train.
Managed to get to both Ratho and Currie Community Council meetings last night but had to submit apologies to two other Parent Council meetings. Can't be in four places at once ! CCC have agreed to hold a public meeting in November to discuss the proposals for the Curriehill site and to invite the developer to make a presentation. Good idea, we need much more detail on what they are planning.

Elected Members of the Future

Cllrs Norma Hart, Lesley Hinds, Andrew
Burns and myself get some advice from
David Hop of the LGC
Labour's Local Government Committee held an event on Saturday morning to inform and advise members interested in standing for election to the Council in 2012. Really good turn out and a good discussion on what's involved in becoming a Councillor, the various duties and responsibilities, and our own internal selection procedures. While our event was taking place a rather noisy Orange march paraded down George IV Bridge, which created a sightly surreal atmosphere.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Was at Carrickvale Community Centre in Stenhouse (brilliant facility) last night for a CLD (Community Learning & Development) Service Redesign Workshop (No, I don't know what it means either !) but I do hope "Service Redesign" doesn't mean "Service Reduction" and that my cynicism is unfounded.

Then off to Juniper Green Community Council who have only been in existence for around 9 months but get through a phenominal amount of work and are already planning their first Farmers Market which will be held on Saturday morning 25th September in the Kinleith Arms car park. Hope its a great success, I'll certainly be there.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sarah Boyack's campaign launch on Saturday morning. Couple of fine contributions from Sarah and Iain Gray to get the campaign off to a flyer. The activists then hit the streets brimming with enthusiasm. Must confess I had other business to take care of then the afternoon involved helping my eldest move into a student flat in Morningside. Great adventure for him, mixed feelings for us. Sure he'll be fine. Leafletting in Liberton/Gilmerton by-election yesterday. They say that "the sun shines on the righteous" and it did ! Campaigning is so much more enjoyable in fine weather !
Both surgeries tonight, at Clovenstone and Currie, then a couple of local meetings in Ratho.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Pentlands selection

After a very nervous and tense selection meeting last night, and an extremely close result, I'm delighted to report that I was selected as the Labour candidate for the Pentlands seat for next year's Scottish Parliament elections. I'm extremely chuffed and quite humbled that so many folk have supported me throughout and have faith in my ability to run a good campaign and hopefully deliver a significant victory next May. Looking forward to the campaign ahead and hoping to have a bit of fun along the way.