Saturday, 31 December 2011

Hogmanay, here we go

Well, Hogmanay has arrived, whatever happened to 2011 ? Call me an old sentimentalist but I still like the symbolism of New Year ; out with the old, in with the new, reflecting on the year past and looking forward to the year ahead. All that stuff. Brief recollections of 2011 ? The highlights - Billy Bragg at the Queens Hall, Bombskare and From the Jam at Wickerman, Man City winning the FA Cup. Oh, and the family managed to remain healthy and happy throughout, which I suppose is something of an achievement. Low lights - the Scottish Parliament election, obviously. An enjoyable but ultimately fruitless campaign. Continuing problems at Hearts, will we see some stability in 2012 ? 

Looking ahead, the 2012 Local Government elections loom ever larger on the horizon and most time and energy will be focussed on that in the months ahead. No doubt the independence referendum will continue to be the subject of much media speculation. Perhaps the FM will just get on with it. Some chance. If I get some time in the summer it would be nice to get my handicap down.

Heading up to the street party tonight to catch a couple of the bands and soak up the atmosphere. In true wimp fashion I'm planning to back in the house before the bells, with a large dram, the feet up, watching Still Game, which I'm going to record. Good to know that some fine Scottish traditions live on !

All the best to all for Hogmanay 2011 and a peaceful, healthy and successful 2012.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Sheba, Regrets & Christmas Wishes

Superb 2-0 victory yesterday over Motherwell, possibly the best performance of the season so far and a great atmosphere. All credit to the Hearts players who are enduring a difficult time just now. Unity and determination in the face of adversity.

On the way home on a number 3 bus I encountered this lad and his dog, Sheba, the most placid, laid back dog you've ever met. So enchanted was I with Sheba I felt a photo was in order. The chap told me he was homeless, but to be honest I didn't pay much attention. And then it was my stop, and offski.

I hope Sheba and her owner have good day today, who knows what tomorrow, or the future will bring for them ? I also hope the next time I meet another Sheba and homeless owner I have the good grace to ask his name and try to have a brief chat and understand his situation. 

Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year to all.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Covering the Cuts

Yesterday's Council meeting covered a fair spread of issues, from Leith Waterworld to Statutory Repair Notices to Parking in the Pentlands. Talking of which, the SNP/LibDem administration pushed through a plan to charge people for car parking on the edge of the Pentland Hills Regional Park. Okay, £2 a day doesn't seem much but its an idea that hasn't been properly thought through and is merely a substitution for budget cuts. That much is admitted within the report . But there's also numerous practical issues not properly dealt with. The income target (approx £30k) is based on 40% compliance with the new charges. Either they are not intending to enforce the regime or they just accept that most will ignore it. In addition the report recognises there will be "displacement" which will inevitably lead to problems for local working farms who sometimes have difficulty manouvering machinery due to cars parked on access roads.

Talking of budgets, the Administration, in their wisdom, decided to brief the press about a package of budget cuts before sharing that information with all elected members. Evening News  readers knew more about the detail than Finance Spokespeople (like me) who, belatedly, had an 80 page document emailed while we were sitting in full Council. Is it any wonder we sometimes find it difficult to engage in a constructive fashion ?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

DofE Awards at Currie High

Was delighted to accept an invitation to present the certificates for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme at Currie High School. A wonderful "feel good" occasion where literally dozens (as can be seen from the photo) of young people filed up to accept a variety of certificates in recognition of their achievements through the scheme. The event was accompanied by an impressive array of personal and group reports recording expeditions in detail, from planning right through to what they had to eat each day, and some wonderful photographs to bring the reports to life. All made possible by the commitment and energy of Gail Cousins, PE teacher, and her band of volunteers who arrange the expeditions, equipment, registration etc etc. Excellent effort all round and confirms yet again that our young people are capable of much more than they are sometimes given credit for.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Turkey, Goals and Hot Cherry Beer

Having just about survived the Labour Group Christmas party on Friday night I headed for Juniper Green Farmers Market on Saturday, bright eyed and bushy tailed. One of the stalls had a large organic, free range turkey for sale for £65 ! It'll be sliced sausage for christmas dinner then.....

Then off to Tynie for a convincing 4-0 victory over Dunfermline. Good morale booster for us, considering current problems, but I do fear for the Pars if they continue to defend like they did against us.

Followed by a wee, pre christmas jaunt up town starting in the German market where several hot cherry beers were consumed to stoke up the festive spirit. The market was heaving, great atmosphere.

Back to reality today, surgeries tonight in Ratho and Balerno, followed by a local Labour Party branch meeting in Currie. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

£57k for Suntrap

I was delighted to hear that Save Our Suntrap have been awarded £57k by an obscure Council Committee, the Pensions and Trusts Cttee which, among other things administers a number of trust funds including the George Boyd Anderson Trust. GBA of course bequeathed his house and magnificent garden at Suntrap to the people but over the years it has ended up in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland and Oatridge College, both of whom want to flog the place now. The money is to help towards repair and maintenance of the house and garden and is another important step towards persuading the current owners to allow the Friends of Suntrap to continue to run the facility in the way that was intended. Still a long way to go but I sense that the campaign is gathering a head of steam.

Leafleting yesterday went much better. The snowmen melted away into the background as expected but we still completed Juniper Green before darkness fell. Currie Community Council tonight, expecting it to be busy.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Three Wise Men ?

Only 3 volunteers turned up to help with leafleting this morning. Very disappointing. And they weren't particularly mobile either. Hope they turn up for tomorrow's session though.

So instead I headed for Balerno Farmers Market which was very busy and appropriately festive. Had a good chat with various local people and visited the Christmas Tree festival in the Scout Hall and Bowling Club. Very impressive. Bought a snow shovel too. Hope I don't have to use the bl***dy thing ! Even with a generous covering of snow this morning all the main routes were clear and pavements along the main roads had been cleared and gritted too. Different story in the side streets.

Big Fat Panda and Bombskare were Skatastic last night but it was a nightmare trying to get home from Prestonpans at the back of midnight. Two buses and about an hour and half in total. I was a tired wee bunny this morning.

Dodgy Geezer

Dodgy geezer seen loitering in Balerno this morning

Saturday, 3 December 2011

What Is The Fuss All About ?

The Pandas on walkabout in the High Street yesterday
They look a bit scrawny and threadbare to me, but I suppose the Zoo know what they're doing. Can't see what all the fuss is about personally.

Many thanks to the small but perfectly formed team who turned up to help with newsletter and leaflet delivery this morning in Baberton Mains. It was cold but bright and we got a lot done.

Tonight, after the football, I'm off to the Juniper Green Senior Citizens Christmas Dinner at the Village Hall. I kid you not.

Friday, 2 December 2011

New World Record

Balerno Community Council last night, didn't finish til after 10pm ! Good to see new SNP candidate Bill Henderson (no relation) in attendance and taking an interest in local issues. Covered subjects as diverse as contentious planning applications, farmers market, hydro power schemes, control of mink (see below) and double yellow lines. Talking of which I was tasked last month to submit a request for a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) to have yellow lines applied at the junction of Johnsburn Road and the roundabout to facilitate safer crossing for older people in the area. Turns out there's already a TRO in place but the lines "are not evident" i.e. they haven't been done. But they will be now. How good is that ? The request had been granted before we'd even asked. A new world record. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

From Panda to Mink

Never in my wildest dreams when I got elected as a Labour Councillor almost 13 years ago did I think I would be lobbying colleagues about the control of Mink. Well I am now, today's meeting of the Council's TIE Committee will consider a report on this very issue. It's an interesting read and can be found on this link . As it turns out, I have received a few reports of Mink taking hens and other animals in and around the Water of Leith / Bavelaw Burn at Balerno. In short, the report says "It's a big problem, it would be very expensive to solve it, note the report and move on." 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Big Fat Panda

Ska, fitba', campaigning, lost my twitter virginity, and a few beers into the bargain, all in one day ! Just about got blown away in Ratho delivering newspapers and new survey forms but got a good bit done. Then on to Tynecastle to see Hearts record a deserved if unexpected (by me anyway) victory. Good goals from Rudi and Eggert. Then to the UAF Ska night at the Wee Red Bar at the Art College. Wasn't sure if I fancied it but glad I went. Highlight for me definitely Big Fat Panda. There's something compelling about Scottish Ska bands and I think I'll check out BFP again. Sax player wore a tee shirt that bore the legend "Nick Griffin is a Wanker", 'nuff said. And.... finally taken the plunge into tweetland. Time will tell....

Friday, 25 November 2011

Local Libraries Hit

More cuts reported by the Evening News this week. No great surprise but very sad to see the Library service bear the brunt of such reductions. Until recently Libraries in Edinburgh were developing more as community hubs with a few even winning awards for their work with young people. Add to that, internet access, printing / photocopying services, free access to newspapers, magazines and reference books, childrens reading clubs and homework sessions, story times, community news and meetings etc and you can see how libraries could become more of a community resource. However, almost by definition, wider access and use has to be enabled by longer opening hours. Clearly that's now being reversed, which is a mistake, in my view.

And another thing.... it might just be how the story is reported in the article but on the one hand we are told users are to be consulted and on the other we are told exactly which Libraries will be affected and how their opening times are to be reduced. Looks like the consultation might be a pointless exercise.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Another Step Towards Moving Edinburgh Forward

We held the first of many consultation events on Saturday to discuss the consultation document which as previously reported can be found in full at It was a good meeting with plenty of constructive input, and a few challenges, which was good as it opened the sort of debates we need to have if we want to take some of these ideas forward. In the afternoon Margaret Curran MP joined us having been at the Co-op party local government manifesto launch earlier. Again plenty of debate about the sate of the Labour Party and ideas to take us forward and learn from recent past experiences.

The serious business out of the way it was time to repair to Bannermans in the Cowgate and catch Rab Howat's band doing their usual Saturday afternoon slot. If you like Stones, Who and Primal Scream covers get yourself along to Bannermans on a Saturday about 4.30pm. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Paying Off The Debt

Council's Audit Committee met this morning. Most of the discussion was in connection with Audit Scoptlands report on the Council's Finances (2010/11). You can read the report here . It covers virtually every aspect of Council activity so there was plently of scope for debate. It confirmed that the Council's debt currently stands at an eye watering £1,300,000,000 ! The bad news is that its due to increase by a further £231m once the tram borrowing requirement is secured and in the system. That will take the city's total debt to more than £1.5bn. Of course we won't get a bail out by the European Central Bank or any other such body. Edinburgh tax payers will be paying it off for decades to come, currently at the rate of atround £100m a year (that's £100,000,000 every year. That's about 10% of the Council's Revenue budget. If, as looks likely, the Council's grant from the Scottish Government continues to decline then the proportion of our budget required to service the debt will increase thereby putting more pressure on already stretched front line services. Don't mean to be unnecessarily alarmist about this but if the scenario above was played out within your own household budget you'd be pretty worried. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Billy Bragg

Went to see Billy Bragg last night at the Queens Hall. Brilliant. Just Billy, a guitar and a cup of tea and banter with the crowd and a great collection of songs, old and new. "Never Buy the Sun" was a particular highlight.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


The somewhat nomadic Haymarket Remembrance Day service took place this morning in Grosvenor Street. An big turn out, helped by the fine conditions no doubt. The service was excellent as usual but its clearly not satisfactory to hold a Remembrance service in the middle of a street where poppy wreaths are laid against a Heras fence with a small banner with a picture of the Haymarket clock on it. The people at Macrae's Trust and the Haymarket Memorial Committee have shown remarkable patience over the last couple of years by putting up with various ad hoc arrangements. Not sure why the club felt that the event had to moved away from the stadium where it had worked particularly well in the last two years.


Retro 70s Bingo night was a hoot. Sausages on sticks, Skol lager, crap prizes and cheesy music. Brilliant night ! Brought to you courtesy of the wodenrful people at Edinburgh North & Leith Labour Party. I think it might just catch on.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Moving Forward Right Enough

Attended a mandatory candidates briefing this morning. Heaps of information to digest and its a sobering thought to realise how much work lies ahead. Immediately. This afternoon was spent in Currie delivering the first batch of the Edinburgh Labour newspaper and a local leaflet. Went well and it was a nice afternoon for it. Tonight, its off to the Bingo. No..... really.

Follow The Money

First of numerous budget consultation meetings the other night, co-hosted by the Pentlands and South West Neighbourhood Partnerships at the Gorgie Parish church, next to Tynecastle. Went reasonably well with a brief introduction by Gillian Tee, Director of Children and Families at the Council followed by a comprehensive but not impenetrable presentation by Chief Financial Officer Karen Kelly, before breaking into groups to come up with ideas for maintaining and improving Council services, taking into account the current financial climate. Certainly a bit more inclusive than the loaded question, electronic voting effort last year. Karen's presentation did clarify one thing for me. The current / ongoing Council Tax "freeze" is no longer fully funded by the SNP Government. Instead its included within our "flat cash settlement" i.e. no extra funding but the freeze remains. For Edinburgh this equates to about £7m shortfall year on year. That means, bluntly, by clever sleight of hand, services face more cuts in order to deliver a SNP election promise. Frankly, I'm surprised this hasn't come under greater scrutiny. People seem distracted by the one question, two question, Devo Max vs Indie Lite argument and the real current issues seem to have been left behind.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Clovie and Balerno

The Clovie LS Twirlers
Clovenstone Community Centre AGM the other night followed by the Clovie LS Twirlers who were in fine form and then the traditional Clovie Fireworks, which went with a bang. Then off to the November meeting of Balerno Community Council. Busy, as usual, and a lovely tribute from Tom McColl's daughter who I don't think had been to BCC before but wanted to acknowledge how much his involvement with the Council and planning matters had meant to Tom who passed away peacefully in his sleep, aged 91, after the October meeting.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Consultation Launched

Team Labour with our brand new consultation document
It's now just less than 6 months until next year's Council elections and we got our campaign underway yesterday with the launch of our consultation document which will eventually produce our 2012 Election Manifesto. Much hard work lies ahead but all our 23 candidates are now in place and keen to get on with the campaign. The launch event was very well attended with most of our candidates present, MPs, MSPs, several party members and more press and photographers than I had expected. Good speech from Andrew Burns followed by a fairly in depth question and answer session and then some photos outside in St Columba's by the Castle sun drenched garden. Aah, they say the sun shines on the righteous ! Andrew's speech, the consultation document and more candidate details can be found at our new website and some comprehensive coverage of the proceedings by STV Local here . We genuinely want as much feedback as possible so will welcome comments over the next few weeks on the website and at the facebook page as well as a series of meetings with stakeholder groups around the city.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Suntrap Campaign takes another small step forward

I was delighted to get my motion on the Suntrap campaign unanimously agreed at Thursday's Council meeting. A small deputation from Save Our Suntrap attended as a deputation and it was good to be able to get the message over to all Councillors and agree for a report to look into the wider ownership issues and options for future management arrangements.

The Best Lyrics Ever ?

John Prine, "Grandpa was a Carpenter"

" Grandpa was a carpenter, he built houses, stores and banks,
He chain smoked Camel cigarettes and hammered nails in planks."
Aye, they don't write them like that anymore. Superb. Check out John's other stuff at YouTube.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Group Meeting

Labour Group meeting last night, 6.30 - 9.30pm, main issues, as expected, the ABM debate, Gaelic Medium Education and the ongoing Property Services investigation, all of which will dominate the business at tomorrow's full Council meeting. And of course my motion on the Suntrap Garden at Gogar ! Pleased to see it on the agenda and I believe it will be dealt with at the Council meeting rather than being referred to a committe. Expecting a deputation too which will be a good chance for all elected members to understand the issues, even if they may be distracted by some of the other business. Some interesting comments being attributed to the SNP group today about preferring to support the in house option rather than the ABM contract with Enterprise. Can they really support this process every step of the way, spending millions on the ABM propcess only to perform a U turn at the eleventh hour ? We shall see.... Juniper Green Community Council meeting tonight, hope its not a late one.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Where were they ?

Went along to the Unison hosted public meeting last night at Appleton Tower to discuss the Council's ABM process ahead of Thursday's Council decision on whether or not to privatise Environmental Services (refuse collection etc). It was firmly but fairly chaired by Evening News columnist Martin Hannan whose good humour helped to keep the contributions on track. It was well attended (200 ?) and there were a lot of good points made and arguments thrashed out. It could have been a much more informative event though if the Council Administration had turned up. My understanding is that the SNP and LibDems had agreed to attend, along with a senior Council official but all cancelled at short notice for various reasons. Very disappointing, and the audience, most of whom were Council workers I think, will draw their own conclusions. The panel of Peter Hunter from Unison, Andrew Burns (Labour) and Jeremy Balfour (Conservative) more than filled the void left by others and had a good debate with each other and the audience about the merits or otherwise of the process and the decisions that lie ahead. It would be fair to say that I don't think Jeremy won over many people to his pro-ABM stance but at least he was there to make his points and listen to others.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Hardest Hit

I went along to the "Hardest Hit" rally (covered in the scotland on sunday ) at the Ross Bandstand in Prince's Street Gardens. I've never seen so many guide dogs and wheelchairs in one place before. It just shows how strongly people with disabilities feel about the impending changes to be imposed by the Welfare Reform Bill and that they are prepared to mobilise and make their voices heard. There were some very moving testimonies from the rostrum about the challenges faced by people with physical and mental health problems and the fairly self obvious fact that a little bit of support from us all, via the state, can make a huge difference. The speeches were rounded off with a excellent contribution from Iain Gray. It does seem an injustice that the Condem coalition's efforts to revitalise the economy requires an attack on the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Sir Harry Burns
Last night was the Edinburgh South West Labour Party AGM. Good attendance and good to see many of the main officerial roles and responsibilities taken on by women. I was replaced as Political Education Officer which is obviously a bit of a set back to my career but I'll just have to get over it ....

This morning, as requested, we got a briefing on the Property Services investigation, which is to be reported to the Council meeting next Thursday. As has now been covered in the media, what the report doesn't say is probably more significant than what it does say. Essentially, investigations are ongoing, including the police inquiry so there's an understandable reluctance to reveal too much information until several strands of work are complete. Not terribly satisfactory but at the least the report does provide some options for re-establishing a property services / statutory repair function.

Then it was off to the CoSLA Convention meeting at their new offices (hadn't realised they'd moved) at Haymarket. It was started by a brief presentation from Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns. He was characteristically direct in his assertion that the country's collective efforts at tackling health inequalities, or inadequacies as he referred to them, are failing miserably. Compared to other European countries and indeed some English regions we are simply not seeing positive results from the various public health campaigns. In particular he targeted adverse events in a child's first three years as having a significant effect on their future health, well being and ultimately life expectancy. Sobering stuff indeed and while many delegates agreed with his analysis there wasn't much in the way of incisive ideas to shake us out of the current malaise. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Alternative or just old fashioned privatisation ?

Myself and Sheila Gilmore MP sign
Unison's call for more consultation
Alternative Business Models have dominated the last week and look set to do so for the next 3 months. Decisions are now due on Facilities Management and CATS (Corporate & Transactional Services) - don't worry about what they are, I'll explain later - have been postponed until November and December respectively. The most imminent issue is a recommendation, to be published tomorrow, that the Council "privatises" its Environmental Services division. That's refuse collection, grass cutting, litter picking etc, and the workers affected be Tupe'd to a new employer under a service contract that will last for a minimum of 7 years. Now, using private sector companies to deliver public services is nothing new and sometimes its necessary to secure specialist expertise that may not easily be provided from within the Council. Not necessarily an argument that applies to this service, but you get my drift.

Among numerous other concerns, one issue stands out as the Council prepares to make far reaching and irreversible decisions about public services in the city. And that is - do the public actually agree with this approach ? Well, we don't know, because they haven't been asked. However, there is a perfect opportunity to test this question with the public and that's next year's Council elections. Those parties who advocate the ABM approach can put it clearly in their manifestos and those who disagree and can make that position equally clear. Simples.

Sadly, life's never that straight forward and instead it is likely that decision will be imposed on the next Council regardless of the political make up of the Administration or views of individual councillors or members of the public. Pretty scandalous and undemocratic in this day and age.

Karaoke has never sounded so good !

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Big Plans

Full Council meeting tomorrow. The Agenda doesn't look that heavy so we stand a good chance of getting finished in daylight. One report that hasn't attracted a great deal of attention but is the first step in significant plans for the city and the rest of South East Scotland is the SESplan Strategic Development Plan which is due to be endorsed by all six councils that make up the SESplan area. The report can be read on this link . Amongst other things its driven by the Scottish Government's instruction to Councils to identify land for more housing. The plan will cover the next 25 - 30 years so will, by necessity, be high level, strategic and subject to change. With the knowledge that various developers have been floating ideas about development on greenfield sites I was a bit concerned that endorsing the plan tomorrow would allocate specific sites for development. Thankfully that's not the case and a further "Plan" (the Local Development Plan) will be submitted to Planning Committee in early October then be subject to public consultation on sites identfied in the report. That's when the fun will start....

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Suntrap Garden

Went to visit the Suntrap Garden at Gogarbank yesterday to meet with a couple of representatives from the Friends of Suntrap group who are campaigning to keep the garden and associated facilities open to the public and the various groups who benefit from the opportunities to learn gardening skills in a fabulous environment. Many of the activities are focussed towards people with learning difficulties who particulalry seem to thrive in this setting. Due to a historical twist, the garden, which was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland and the old Edinburgh Corporation in 1972 by philanthropist George Boyd Anderson, appears to have ended up in the ownership of Oatridge College and they and the NTS have decided that they can no longer afford to support the facility and wish to sell the site. They may have the legal right to sell but the morality of this move is highly questionable. I feel the Council could play a more active part in this situation and it might be time to rattle some cages.

Happy Birthday Ricky

My namesake celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday. Surrounded by friends and admirers at Edinburgh Zoo, the birthday boy seems to have had a grand time and in the process attracted the interest of the world's media. 
Hope I look that good when I turn 50.....

Thursday, 15 September 2011

"Scorchio"..... not

Having enjoyed wall to wall "scorchio" on a week's golfing break in Portugal it was back to work on Monday and a return to the good old Scottish Autumnal climate of sunshine, showers, gales, frost, mist and cloud. Couple of visits to constituents in Balerno followed by Currie Comunity Council on Monday night. CEC Holdings board meeting yesterday followed by the Regulatory Committee (Taxi Licensing) (does tend to give one a very jaundiced, if unjustified, view of people in and around the taxi trade). Also a visit to meet some residents in Juniper Green who will be affected by a new housing development that will replace / refurbish the old Juniper Green Primary School which has been lying in a rather neglected and derelict state for some time. The developers were there and they promised to take way all the points raised about overlooking of neighbours and the height of the proposed new houses. I wait with bated breath to see if the plans are amended prior to a planning decision being made.

Friday, 2 September 2011


A momentous decision at the Special Council meeting today. The tram, after all, will be completed to St Andrew's Square, but at a significant cost. An additional £231m to be precise, although there are no guarantees that it won't increase further. That level of borrowing, as voted through by the SNP/LibDems, will cost the city £15.3m per year to pay back, for the next thirty years ! We backed the St Andrew's Square option but only if the SNP Government provided the additional financial support. It was their intervention after all, via Transport Scotland, that had created the circumstances for the decision to be revisited. The local SNP Group duly voted in favour of the tram to be completed to SAS with the Edinburgh Council Tax payer picking up the tab. The Council's SNP Group have now had more positions on this than the Kama Sutra ! More seriously it was actually a decent debate, in recognition of the seriousness of the situation, I suspect, with contributions a bit more measured than in the past. If anyone wants to dig through the detail of today's events and the background papers I recommend Andrew Burns blog on this link.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Two Down

Managed to spend a bit of time "Festivaling" this week, or "Fringing" to be more accurate, mostly comedy so not particualry high brow I must confess but good fun nonetheless and great to enjoy the city centre when all the festivities are in full swing. As well as the momentous trams decision taken at today's Council meeting which is being adequately and extensively reported elsewhere, I also learned that the two Conservative candidates selected to stand in the Pentland Hills ward at next year's Council elections have both withdrawn from the process, due to health problems and work commitments, apparently. As Oscar Wilde might have said ; To lose one candidate may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. I did meet one of them, a very pleasant young man, recently, and he seemed set for the challenges ahead. I do hope the prospect of being elected to the demanding role of a local councillor didn't cause second thoughts and I look forward to the identity of the next pairing of selected Tory candidates being revealed.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


Least said about Thursday night the better. Busy day yesterday though, spent all day in the Regulatory Committee which rejected the SDL application to march in Edinburgh, amongst a great deal of other business. The right decision in my view, but not an easy one. It doesn't come naturally to restrict people's ability to express their views no matter how much I find them abhorrent, but the threat to safety and order in the city on a Saturday was just too great. Meeting finished around 4.30 and just had time for a drink with Karen Doran's beaten, but not downhearted, campaign team. They're looking forward to next May already. Then went to the Unison offices at Belford Road last night for a festival session as part of their Mobilise against the cuts campaign ; stand up, music, a bit of banter and all in an office converted into an intimate comedy club type venue. Very enjoyable and quite nostalgic, mixing entertainment and politics. Takes you back to the Thatcher era so it does ......

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Sell Out ?

Regulatory Committee ran on past 6pm last night which meant I didn't get to the Wester Hailes Community Council meeting as promised, which I was a bit p***ed off about. Also attended an ABM briefing earlier in the afternoon. Lots of detailed work being progressed, all with a view to achieving "best value" for the Council I'm sure, but the fact remains that it could lead to privatisation of large parts of Council services and efficiencies / savings being achieved by eroding the terms and conditions of people who work in these services, most of whom are not particualry well rewarded in the first place. Trying hard to remain objective about the process and the decsions that lie ahead, but its a struggle. Out to help in the by-election this afternoon then hoping to grab a well deserved pint before the big Euro match tonight at Tynecastle, all tickets sold out days ago. Really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Election Hustings

Was delighted to step in as a substitute last night for our indisposed City Centre by-election candidate Karen Doran (nursing a broken ankle) at the Unison sponsored election hustings in the City Chambers. Not far to travel, my office is on the floor below the main chamber ! Well attended (approx 100?) so I expect the organisers will be pleased. Not for me to comment on the performance of the other speakers but anyone present must have felt that the SNP and Lib Dem reps made a complete hash of trying to justify the Alternative Business Model programme (privatisation of in house services to you and me) which could shortly see £1bn worth of council services and 4,000 council workers transferred to the private sector under contracts that could last between 7 and 12 years in duration. Don't go looking for any reference to this in SNP or Lib Dem local manifestos because its not there. Surely the only honest thing to do is suspend the process now and have a public debate in the next 8 months or so ahead of the May 2012 Council elections and let the people decide if they want this to happen. ABM aside, the ubiquitous trams questions were raised and we again had to deal with the ridiculous myth that the SNP are anti-tram when in fact all 12 SNP Councillors voted to sign up to the original contract in May 2008. To the best of my knowledge they have now supported, opposed and called for a referendum on the project. A contortionist would struggle to hold that many positions !

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Army Base Backlash ??

"Flitting" went well last night, all done and dusted in a few hours. Two more mouths to feed for a couple of weeks ! Out early delivering leaflets for Karen Doran by-election campaign this morning in Royal / Calton Terrace / Greenside areas. Nice morning but was very careful on the wet steps following Karen's dreadful fall earlier this week. Interesting story in this morning's Hootsman, "Army Base Backlash" - it would appear that not everyone in the Army / MoD are particularly supportive of the idea of building a new 6000 personnel army base outside Balerno and one or two are even revolting, even a LibDem MP ! I await further developments with great interest.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Moving on...

Successfully reselected last night as the Labour candidate for the Pentland Hills ward for next May's Council elections. Bit of a formality really but good to get it out of the way and start concentrating on the campaign ahead. Very grateful too to the small but select band of activists who turned out to ensure that all the procedural boxes were duly ticked. Before that election though there's the small matter of the City Centre by-election next week and for once I've managed to free up some time this weekend to make a contribution. Had bad dreams last night featuring city centre tenement stairs ! As a warm up, tonight I'm helping my eldest move back home temporarily from his student flat while him and his mates sort out the arrangements for the next place they're moving to. I see my role as being mainly supervisory, although that may change......

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Redford Barracks - to be closed
While everyone was waiting with bated breath to hear the fate of Leuchars and Lossiemouth the government dropped another bombshell by announcing that three army bases in Edinburgh, Redford and Dreghorn Barracks and the HQ at Craigiehall are to close and be replaced by a new "super" base at Kirknewton Airfield which, wouldn't you just know it, lies just within the Pentland Hills ward adjacent to the Edinburgh/West Lothian boundary, although the village of Kirknewton itself is firmly within the West Lothian Council area. Naturally local people, particularly in Balerno having been asking lots of questions. Trouble is, the government have provided bu**er all more detail than the announcement made to the House of Commons. No - "we've got some proposals we'd like to consult you on" or "we need to have look at army sites in Edinburgh" - just wam, bam, decision taken, now you get on with it. I don't think they even need to comply with planning regulations. Should be some interesting times ahead. By the way, found this on the Secret Scotland website which tells us a bit more of the history of the airfield.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Mersey Beat

I found myself in Liverpool this week for an Institute of Employment Rights seminar on TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) at the Adelphi Hotel. A bit of a dry subject perhaps but interesting nonetheless particularly in the current climate of "Public Sector Reform" and a growing tendency among private companies to transfer work and workers from employer to employer. Intriguing city Liverpool, with a strong personality and identity. Having visited the world famous Cavern (ridiculously commercialised into a glorified tourist outlet) to see the resident duo perform Lennon and McCartney with no more than pass marks, I headed to the Jacaranda in Slater Street which although quiet (it was a Tuesday) it has some magnificent old Beatles photos adorning the walls, such as the one above with band en-route to/from Hamburg in the early 60s. Heading back into town I stumbled across an Orange Parade (it was 12th July) a reminder that Liverpool, like many cities, is full of quirks and contradictions. The usual ingredients of flute bands, strange costumes, Rangers tops and alcohol were much in evidence.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Freedom of the Press ?

Conference and campaigning went well on Saturday afternoon. Now confirmed that the City Centre ward by-election will be 18th August. Last couple of days has probably cemented everyone's worst fears about tabloid journalism. I'm sure the world of PIs, journos, bent coppers, politicians (national of course) and mindless celebs is murky at the best of times and best avoided by normal folk but there's obviously going to be a "drains up" on the phone hacking question and the stench will hang around for a long time to come I suspect.

On a more positive note, looks like we've got a constructive way forward in resolving the future of the Balerno After School Club. The service, properly registered and regulated, will probably now migrate to an alternative provider in the next few months (there have been 3 local notes of interest, so far) under the oversight of a parents group. School management, Council Dept and Community all moving in the same direction. Yippee ! Can't say that happens too often eh ?...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Endless Campaign

Heading up town today for the Edinburgh Labour conference continuing the build up and planning for next year's Council elections. And then campaigning in the City Centre ward ahead of the impending by election which we now think will be 18 August. It never ends. Better get moving, I'm running late already !.....

Friday, 1 July 2011

Balerno Childcare

The Balerno After School Club issue that I reported a couple of weeks ago took an extraordinary turn yesterday. Following the intervention and "helpful advice" from Council officials Balerno High School decided to cease the operation of the ASC completely and advised parents in writing with no warning or consultation. As you can imagine this caused a great deal of upset, anger and frustration, not to mention causing my inbox to explode and phone to melt ! Spent the day making calls to and fro with parents, the school and the Council's Children and Families Dept. Hoping to find a way forward early next week.

Late Trams

Council meeting finished late last night. The vote took place after 11pm, with the meeting having started at 10am (with several unnecessary breaks built in). I'm not convinced that the best decisions are made at the end of a such a long session. Also, unusually, none of the five political parties combined their amendments and this resulted in the Lib Dem position being carried. Therefore, the Council are now committed to take the tram line to St Andrew's Square and need to find more than £200m in the next 2 months to pay for it. Big ask, eh ? To be fair, the Council can't afford any of the three options presented in the report ; cancellation, Haymarket or St Andrew's Square. The Labour Group proposal was to commit to Haymarket (from within existing funding) and an incremental approach thereafter as and when more funding becomes available. We were finally defeated 16 - 15 by the Lib Dems. Nobody knows where the additional money is to come from but I suspect the Council's debt levels and repayment commitments are about to get another hammering.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


I hear that the First Minister has performed a U turn on his plans to introduce anti sectarian legislation before the start of the football season (mid July) and has agreed, probably wisely, to allow for some much needed consultation. I've never previously felt the need to sing God Save The Queen agressively but I suppose if I want to I'd better take the chance in the few months if I want to avoid prosecution. 

Meeting of the Council's Audit Committee this morning. The agenda and reports can be accessed here if you're interested. A lot of really important issues, Council accounts, pensions, scrutiny arrangements, service inspection regimes etc etc and lots of good detail provided but incredibly dry. Either that or I've got the attention span of a gold fish. Which is not impossible.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Start of the Working Week

Visited a constituent who is unhappy at the quality of the grass cutting in Clovenstone last night. She's got a point, sadly, and there's other examples elsewhere in the ward. I'll report it anyway and see what happens. Followed by surgeries at Ratho and Balerno, both quiet, as usual, however did manage to have a chat with a couple of folk about local issues which made the trips worthwhile. Then it was off to Ratho for the regular meeting of Ratho and District Community Council. Quite a few issues raised in connection with the ongoing construction works on the Freelands Road site. Agreed to dig out the original planning permission to check which of the more beneficial elements of the development, the care home, affordable housing and canal basin are locked into the plans and how and when they should be delivered. Also got my car back last night following a failed MOT and subsequent repairs. I'm now £310 lighter than I was at the start of day ! 

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Childcare in Balerno

Been contacted by some very upset Balerno parents this week. Due to SNP/LibDem Council budget cuts Balerno After School Club is having to make changes that will result in the service no longer being registered or regulated by the Care Commission's successor Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWIS). While this will mean little practical change to the service itself it also means that parents who are currently able to use the childcare element of the  Working Family Tax Credit or Childcare Vouchers to contribute to the costs will now be excluded from doing so. Once again working families and single parents get hit hardest by ill thought out budget cuts imposed on our schools by the current Administration. In addition, compliance with the SCSWIS regulation standards is difficult and expensive and effectively make the best the enemy of the good taking a perfectly acceptable service outwith the regulatory framework that is intended to maintain high standards. It doesn't seem to make sense. I've met with the parents and the school management and while sympathetic to the plight of some families the school's hands are tied by continuing financial pressure from the centre. All the rhetoric about supporting hard working families is meaningless if the implications of these ham fisted cuts are not fully thought through.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Trams and Tracks

Much awaited Special Council meeting yesterday to discuss the Tram Project, only to find the most important decisions won't be made until the next meeting on 30th June. This reflects how the project has been run to be honest, the crucial information and decisions always seem to be one step further on than we are with nobody really in control of the situation. Perhaps surprisingly there was unanimity from all parties, ultimately agreeing to note the report and calling for the new SNP government to make its position on the project's remaining budget clear and seeking more information on what it could cost to cancel the whole thing.

Last night saw a mad dash for me to attend both surgeries at Ratho and Balerno and manage to make an appearance at Ratho Community Council and Dean Park and Balerno High Parent Councils as well. Main issue to arise was concerns about road safety on Bavelaw / Mansfield Road in Balerno particularly for children going to and from school. I've raised this already and received a pretty negative response from the department so will need to come at it from a different angle.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Monday 9 May

Ratho Primary Garden takes shape
Meeting of the Council's Audit Committee yesterday. One of the reports provided detail of the consultation exercise on the Commissioning Strategy for Care and Support Services. Might sound a bit dry but its an excellent piece of work and can be accessed here . Last night I headed for the AGM of the Ratho Primary School Parent Council which included a tour of their garden project. A reclaimed piece of unused grassland in the corner of the school grounds, its now been converted into a herb and vegetable garden, raised planters and work top areas for the children, a stage and seating and all manner of other things that make a fantastic addition to the school's resources. All delivered by a dedicated band of volunteers supported by some modest external funding. Had to leave just as they were serving the cheese and wine to make the last few minutes of Currie Community Council before heading home. Dedication or what ?....