Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Co-operative New Year ?

Enjoyed a very productive visit to CASA Knowsley (on the edge of Liverpool) just before Christmas. Part of the Care And Share Associates (CASA) Group, based in Newcastle, CASA Knowsley are one of a handful of care co-operatives in the north of England. Basically, a workers owned and run company they recruit locally, often from the ranks of the long term unemployed, and deliver local domiciliary care services in and around their own community. A true co-operative, their strength appears to lie literally in the sense of ownership felt by their workers which leads to a real commitment to the task, much lower turn over of staff and therefore lower recruitment and re-training costs. They still have to compete for Council contracts against private sector businesses and third sector organsations but where they have successfully secured contracts the evidence is that high quality services are delivered and people enjoy being part of the organisation. Don't know if the concept can be transplanted to Edinburgh but given our commitment to creating the Co-operative Council it's an idea whose time may have arrived. Needless to say talks are continuing and if we do set up something similar, remember where you heard it first !

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Santa's Little Helper

Crap photo, but you get the idea...
Had a great time last night helping the Currie and Balerno Round Table on one of their famous Santa Runs. Santa and Rudolph manned the brightly lit and very noisy (all the Christmas classics, Cliff, Slade, the Pogues et al) Santa Buggy with myself and about another 6 or 7 elfs knocking doors, collecting money and making sure any children that wanted to meet Santa got their chance. He seemed to go down well with children of all ages actually with an excitement and expectation that the Round Table and Santa would perform their customary pre Christmas rounds. We covered all the Riccartons, Bryces, Weavers Knowe and then had time head up to Kirkbrae and Blinkbonny. A three hour stint in all and then back to the recently refurbished Riccarton Arms for a well earned pint and count the night's proceeds. £727.75 was the grand total and testament to the generosity of the good folks of Currie. The money raised from this run and the other 11 in other parts of the community goes to local charities and good causes throughout the rest of the year so a very worthwhile exercise all round.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Not Caring

Very productive and informative meeting with Seb and his colleagues at Vocal (Voice Of Carers Across Lothian) this week. If Health and Social Care Integration and Self Directed Support are to work and we achieve our ambition of more community based care services and less unnecessary time spent in hospital then the role of carers, often close family members, is crucially important. And not just because of the important work they do, but because they have vital experience that should inform our policy making and preparation for the two initiatives mentioned above. I think we have come a long way in recognising the voice of carers, the recent appointment of our Carers Champion for example, but we need to continue the joint work going forward. I was keen to reiterate that if we do make mistakes (not unheard of) that Vocal and other carer organisations need to tell us so that we can get things back on track quickly. I look forward to working with Vocal and others in the months and years ahead.

Wester Hailes Community Council on Wednesday evening where we had a lengthy discussion about the underpass/link from the new Healthy Living Centre to the Shopping Centre. We've run into problems again and I share the CC's disappointment and frustration that we keep running into issues and can't make the progress we need. Further thought is required. On a positive note the HLC itself is progressing well and looks very impressive.

On Friday I attended my first meeting of the Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty at the CoSLA offices in Edinburgh. We discussed a paper that analyses the impact of the Chancellor's Autumn statement (issued in mid December!) Among other things Gideon Osborne announced that various benefits will be capped at 1% increase each year rather than the rate of inflation (RPI or CPI). You wouldn't think the difference between 1% and 2.2% would make that much difference but you'd be surprised, I was. Shocked actually, based on a basket of only 5 benefits (tax credit calculations are still to be added) Edinburgh will lose over £3.1m each year with the overall figure for Scotland £35m. That's £35m directly out of the pockets of the poorest people in Scotland. 'Tis the season of goodwill to all ? Aye, right.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Big Build Up

Santa and Carols
Having attended a couple of the Council group Christmas parties on Friday night, the Tories plied us with mulled wine and mince pies, while the SNP was more Karaoke and lager, I made my way to Balerno's Christmas Farmers Market yesterday morning full of festive cheer and a fuzzy head. It was going like a fair though, as they say, the market was the busiest I've seen it with Christmas Carols in full swing and Balerno (Ravelrig) Riding for the Disabled providing pony rides up the Main Street. Official duties to perform though and myself and Alistair Darling were duly escorted to the three different locations hosting decorated Christmas trees as part of the annual competition. About 40 in all and they were all excellent, so we debated and agonised before announcing that the winner was the Balerno Baby and Toddlers Group, see below. Second was the 3rd Balerno Brownies and 3rd was the local Fair Trade group. Nice community spread of honours I'd say. 

And the winner is ....
Managed a half pint with Paul and a few regulars in the Grey Horse before drawing the raffle for the ubiquitous Christmas Hamper. In a nice twist they had already decided to donate the proceeds evenly to the Syrian Humanitarian Aid stall and the Cyrenians whose stalls were side by side. What a coincidence. Nice touch a very much the embodiment of the modern Christmas message, in my humble opinion.

Then off to Tynecastle for a satisfying 2-0 victory over Aberdeen. Last week's cup disappointment already a distant memory.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Just Another Saturday

Or not, as the case may be. Managed to haul myself out of my kip at a decent time this morning to head for Craigroyston High School in Muirhouse for the North Edinburgh / STUC Anti Poverty conference. A very healthy turn out was addressed by Terry Anderson from the STUC, local activist Willie Black, Kez Dugdale MSP and Independent columnist and author Owen Jones. A very stirring contribution from Owen in which he advocated a house building programme, jobs creation and better pay for low paid workers, all of which would contribute to rebuilding the economy. Difficult to disagree with the logic of his strategy. Might be a bit optimistic to expect this message to be heard or understood at Downing Street.

Unfortunately I couldn't hang around for the interesting looking workshop sessions as I'd already agreed to visit the Scottish Women's Aid Open Day. It was pleasure to meet everyone there and have a chat about the excellent work they do in Edinburgh and across Scotland, supporting women and their children who have been victims of domestic abuse.

In tackling the big issues, services and budgets often involving millions of pounds and services to hundreds or thousands of people it's sometimes easy to forget about the satisfaction that can be taken from a relatively small local success. This week I've had confirmation that we have secured the required funding to install a new set of goal posts at the pitch at Clovenstone. Very pleased to have been able to support their request and look forward to this improvement being delivered and used by local teams. Talking of which, starting to look forward to tomorrow's big cup tie at Easter Road with the usual mix of excitement and apprehension. I may be in a minority among Hearts fans but I really enjoy the trip to Easter Road, the atmosphere and tension will be intense. Here's hoping we're still in the Scottish Cup by tomorrow night.

And Finally - A Christmas Thought.....

If you REALLY loved your child, you'd prepare them for the real world by gluing all their advent doors shut and shouting "THAT'S LIFE KIDDO" 

Brought to us courtesy of October Jones on Twitter.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Keep Calm and Curry On

Was delighted to accept an invitation to be guest Chair at the Milan AGM today. Founded in 1991 as a welfare organisation serving the older members of the local Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Mauritian communities they are now very well established and important partners in delivering social welfare services. The AGM was very well attended (women outnumbering men by about 5 to 1) and the business conducted briskly but thoroughly, including elections to the board and allowing for occasional translation as we went. Also included an excellent and hard hitting presentation on how the Welfare Reform changes may impact on the BME community with advice services perhaps even more important to people of ethnic origin who don't understand our rather complex systems, never mind the changes. It was all rounded off with a rather fine curry. My very generous hosts insisted I should have seconds, and it would have been rude to decline ! By the way, Milan is an Urdu word for friendly gathering or meeting.

Then managed to pop in to the Assembly Rooms where we were hosting an event called Living Well in Later Life, a public exhibition / drop in event where numerous health and social care related organisations who deliver all sorts of services to older people were on hand to offer advice and answer questions. It had a real buzz while I was there with members of the public taking advantage of having so much expertise available in one place and professionals taking advantage of the opportunity to network with colleagues in this specialist sector. Now we need to think about making this a more regular event and taking it out into some of Edinburgh's communities. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Nil Nil and a glance towards Christmas

Saturday saw me fulfilling my stewarding slot at Juniper Green Community Market before nipping into the Kinleith Arms to catch most of the Motherwell v Hearts nil nil draw. I didn't think the game was as bad as some of the papers reported yesterday but I do have an admittedly low quality threshold, molded from years of watching Scottish football.

Sunday, we managed a very healthy 2 hours newsletter delivery session in Currie. Okay, it was a bit damp but if you kept moving the cold, steady downpour could almost be ignored. Then it was off to the first pre-Christmas community engagement, the Christmas Fayre (their spelling) at Currie High School. Never has a cup of tea and choccy biscuit been so enjoyed (and well earned). Also bought the usual quota of home baking and Fair Trade chocolate. Very satisfying afternoon's work.

Back to business today with a lengthy session at CoSLA. First the Health and Wellbeing Executive Group, followed by another seminar session on Integration.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Nurses have their say

Spent an interesting, challenging and fun afternoon at the RCN Scotland Conference on Integration at Heriot Watt earlier this week. More info at their website on this link. A two day conference just on this issue clearly demonstrates how seriously nurses are examining the Integration agenda and its implications.
My role, along with 9 other far more significant speakers, was to host a table during a World Cafe discussion, a sort of rolling debate where table hosts keep the discussion pot boiling while participants flit from table to table depending on where their interest or ideas take them. A 2  minute intro from the rostrum was followed by a 2 hour discussion session, concluded with our own personal observations at the end. It was demanding but fun and interesting.
I'm beginning to appreciate that despite the Council and NHS both being major Public sector service providers their cultures are markedly different. There was some scepticism about what Integration may achieve and even some cynicism about the motives of politicians who are advocating this approach (surely not, I hear you cry !). One of the most serious issues raised was the fear by nurses that Integration will lead to a de-skilling of the nursing profession or downgrading of the nursing role where less qualifed care workers carry out tasks that should really be done by nurses. I don't think this will happen but it's a legitmate concern and one that will have to be borne in mind as the process develops. The day was wrapped up with a speech from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and a brief drinks reception before heading off for a no.34 bus home.    

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Seeing Auntie

We arranged a briefing this week for elected members to look at Dementia and the various services offered by the Council and NHS Lothian. We were of course looking to increase awareness of the condition and highlight that this is going to be an increasing challenge in the years ahead as people live longer and more individuals and their families are affected by dementia. Rather than the usual "death by powerpoint" approach I was asked to consider using a one woman show called "Seeing Auntie" which describes the journey through dementia from the perspective a family member.

It is no exaggeration to say that the performance was absolutely stunning. Moving, funny, touching, tragic, every emotion was touched by the play which was quite superbly delivered by Naomi Breeze of Breeze Productions. The half hour performance described more vividly the emotional highs and lows and deep experiences of those affected than a thousand reports or strategy documents could ever do and it certainly left a lasting impression. I'm hoping we can consider this approach in the future as the impact on my colleagues was a clear indication that this form of communication is very powerful.

"Seeing Auntie" is one of Naomi's many productions and you can find out more at her website -

Awards Awards

The last couple of days have been dominated by awards events. On Thursday I had the dubious pleasure of attending the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards at Prestonfield House Hotel. I wasn't on the guest list originally but Andrew Burns had been nominated for the Local Politician of the Year category and couldn't attend due to a Council Staff Awards event the same evening, so came off the sub's bench.. It was a good event but slightly more "corporate" than I had expected. Andrew didn't win, by the way.

Yesterday I was given the much more pleasurable duty of handing out Long Service Awards (25 years) to Health and Social Care Staff, nearly all women incidentally. It was a short, simple event but really significant in that I think its really important to recognise the contribution of staff. A piece of crystal, cup of coffee and a scone but it was really a big thank you to people who deliver very important front line services. 

Last night saw the annual Currie & Balerno News Community Award at Balerno Bowling Club. Great event with Maureen Woodburn the worthy recipient of this year's award. Its also a great opportunity to meet activists from numerous local organisations. Very well organised by Ray Wyper and his team and a good night was had by all including yours truly.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The normal run of events

Busy, busy couple of days. Yesterday's normal run of Monday morning meetings and catch ups was followed by my first meeting as a member of the Heriot Watt University Court. Always an unnerving experience trying to familiarise oneself with the workings of an organisation for the first time. HWU is of course a massive institution with an excellent, and growing reputation in the higher education sector. They already have a campus in Dubai, are developing a new university in Malaysia and of course their more established facilities in Orkney, the Borders and here in Currie (Riccarton). Looking forward to getting to grips with the important issues.

Then it was off the Clovenstone Community Centre to present Youth Achievement Awards to a group of local youngsters who have pursued their activity based programme diligently, some for three years, to a successful conclusion. Always a warm welcome at Clovie and good to see everyone in fine form. Then a quick run up the road to Deanpark Primary Parent Council in Balerno. Much ongoing business to be discussed including the safer routes to school project whereby we're trying to improve road safety on the Mansfield / Bavelaw Road stretch for local children who are being encouraged to walk to school. Slow, but steady progress being made.

Finally, time to drop in to Currie Community Council which was better attended than it has been of late. Planning issues dominated as usual but also a growing frustration with vacant sites that need to be developed but no viable proposals have been forthcoming.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


I was honoured to be asked to lay a wreath at the Service of Remembrance at Balerno Parish Chucrh this morning. The place was full to overflowing with many people listening and watching on a video link to the adjoining hall. Excellent service, as ever, led by Rev Louise Duncan and a welcome involvement by many young people through their various groups, Scouts, Girls Brigade, Beavers, Air Training Corp and quite a few more. Louise did a great job of connecting past events, war and conflict, to the experience of young people and others in the congregation to create a shared sense of reality and remembrance. It was also a privilege to meet Gordon Winter, a former radio operator and gunner with the RAF who served in the Second World War. Gordon also laid a wreath and of course I let him take the lead given his seniority and higher rank, probably. A welcome cup of coffee in the St Joseph's Hall after sealed a pleasant, sombre but memorable and important morning.

A busy week now lies ahead but also lots of good material for the diligent blogger. If only I could find one ...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Edinburgh's Living Wage

I'm absolutely delighted that our Capital Coalition has announced that we are to pay Council workers the Living Wage, at £7.50 / hour from the beginning of 2013. There's more detail on the Edinburgh Labour web-site and Andrew Burns's Really Bad Blog but suffice to say it's great news that we will be able to fulfil one of our most important manifesto commitments so early. This won't make poor people rich of course, but then again it won't make poor people poorer as the ConDem Welfare Reform changes will, but it does bring some element of social justice and fairness to some of the poorest paid workers in the city. Having been responsible for constructing the Labour Group budget in our last two years of opposition, which prominently featured the Living Wage (only to have it rather arrogantly dismissed) I'm especially (but quietly), chuffed to bits.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Was happy to attend one of the first staff engagement events yesterday on the Integration of Health and Social Care services. A couple of hundred or so senior NHS and Council staff gathered at the Corn Exchange for a seminar and discussion forum. Tim Davison, Chief Exec of NHS Lothian gave an excellent presentation which very clearly laid out the scale of the challenge - people living longer (a good thing) but with an ever growing range of complex health conditions (not so good) that require care and health service support. And at a time of austerity, no extra cash to increase resources / services. Therefore, doing nothing is not an option. Integration is a first step to try and keep pace with increasing demand for services. Yesterday's event was a useful exercise in bringing together professionals and asking them for their views and ideas on how we face this challenge together. I was impressed by the knowledge of the people present but also struck by some comments that not all professionals are necessarily aware of all the options open to them or how to access alternatives to hospital admission when dealing with patients. Obviously better communications and information exchange will be something that we need to regard as a priority in the months ahead.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Webcam wonders and Headway

Full Council meeting this week. We debated Portobello High School and Trams. Made one feel quite nostalgic, both issues having been around for the best part of decade and neither yet complete. In Portobello's case not even started. Some decent discussion on both though and other items on the agenda and you now can relive those unforgettable moments from the Council chamber by clicking on the Webcam link here. Either watch live or gather round the PC on a Saturday night with friends and family to be entertained, enthused and enlightened. Saturday night TV's crap anyway, until Match of the Day. 

Did my regular Juniper Green Community Market duty yesterday amid some fine, crisp sunshine, then popped along to Headway, the charity which supports people who have suffered brain injuries, either through actual physical events or as a result of health conditions, strokes for example. They are celebrating their 30th birthday, magnificent cake above, which is a fantastic achievement for a charity which started from humble beginnings and has now become a vitally important service through many years of dedication and hard work by volunteers who keep the group going. Among them, founder members Bill and Jean Bryden, who are both due to retire in the next few months. They can both be very proud of their contribution. Their website, is a good source of info for anyone who needs to find out more.

Then, off to Tynecastle for another difficult afternoon. I think I might be a jinx. Turned up at halftime, Hearts were winning 1-0 at the time and promptly proceeded to go 2-1 down. Only a late John Sutton equaliser prevented me from feeling solely responsible for another defeat !

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Michael Marra

I was saddened this week to hear of the untimely death of Michael Marra, surely one of Scotland's greatest song writers. A wonderful entertainer and real old fashioned story teller, Michael's songs are all unique and individual gems. His career spanned much more than his songs of course but it was his live concerts that I remember most fondly. I was fortunate to see him perform in numerous Edinburgh venues over the years, the North Edinburgh Arts Centre, behind the Gunner in Muirhouse, being one particularly memorable experience. Thought the Scottish media were a bit muted this week when the announcement came but pleased to see a number of outlets covering MM's life and career in more depth today. The best obituary I've seen so far is in  today's Herald. If you've got time, scroll down from the article to some of the comments which are equally informative and touching and click on a couple of the You Tube links to experience some of Michael Marra's finest moments. Surely now "Hermless" must be adopted as Scotland's new national anthem ?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Staff Achievements

Was privileged to be asked to speak at the Health and Social Care Dept Staff Awards event at the Usher Hall recently. In the past year more than 240 employees have gained job related qualifications at various colleges in the area. Most of the time and effort had be their own, with support of friends and family and in many cases was the first additional qualifications gained since leaving school. A lot of determination and hard work required but I got a real sense of achievement from the people I talked to. In today's work environment, including health and social care those with the best qualifications will be more likely to succeed so the effort is likely to be rewarded in the longer term. In addition, it's reassuring to know that so many Council workers are so committed to their roles that they demonstrate added commitment to go that bit further. 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Dove of Wester Hailes

Took a trip down to Holyrood this morning for pre-arranged meetings with Sarah Boyack MSP to discuss issues various and Michael McMahon MSP who chairs the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee. Didn't come as a great surprise to me that Michael shared my concerns about the impending impact of the changes but he and his colleagues are also concerned about the lack of detail forthcoming from the DWP about implementation and how to cope with the inevitable increase in poor and vulnerable people getting into difficulties and seeking advice on the new systems. As referred to in the post below the Policy and Strategy Committee agreed the report on Tuesday and also agreed to receive further updates including what mitigating measures, if any, we can take to soften the blow when it comes. In life, most problems also offer an opportunity or push you towards a solution. This one doesn't. No matter what angle you come at it, it looks bleak.
Then, off to the Dove Centre (care and social activities for the over 50s), honoured to be asked again to carry out the duties of Guest Chair at their AGM. Always an upbeat affair and great to meet up with old activists and workers from around the Wester Hailes area. The Lord Provost even popped in and delivered an impromtu address and photo opportunity, which seemed to go down well. I'm pleased to report that the Dove Centre continues to thrive, largely due to the fantastic efforts of Caroline and her excellent staff, and amazingly deals with the numerous challenges it faces year after year. The latest of which is that new premises have to be found to house the project. The current (old Rep Council) building has been declared unfit and other options need to be explored. As ever this is a more complex and difficult process than you think it should be. I've offered to help in any way I can and fully expect to get the call.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Neglected Blog Bites Back

I know, I know, I've been neglecting my blog type duties and must mend my desultory ways. Still very busy of course, but that's no excuse. Most focus this week has been on the tragic death of John (Ian) Gibson, a pensioner who was in receipt of a Council care package, being delivered by a private company under contract. The circumstances are such that an investigation is appropriate and underway. Further actions may follow. The Deputy First Minister also got involved by answering questions at FMQ on Thursday in response to the incident. I don't know what type of life Mr Gibson had in the last few years but it would have been nice if his life could have been referred to in the Scottish Parliament because of the excellent services he was receiving rather than his name now being associated with doubts about the quality of care received by him and his sister.

The Integration evolution continues with a good debate at the NHS Lothian Board meeting on Wednesday and a report going the Council's Policy and Strategy Committee next Tuesday which outlines the governance proposals for the shadow Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership. You can read the report on this link. 

Talking of P&S there's also an interesting report on the Welfare Reform changes that are currently being implemented by the Government at Westminster. The report is on this link. In a wonderful piece of "Yes Minister" Local Government speak understatement the author of the report tells us that "The scale of the proposals is significant and there is a substantial risk that the impact on clients and the Council will be adverse in many cases." You can say that again, £2.5bn will be taken out of the Scottish Economy as a result with the majority of the burden being borne by the poorest in society.

Still, at least we're all in this together, eh ?....

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Advice and Scouting for Euro disappointment

Today's post reads like a diary excerpt again I'm afraid. Really busy just now but must learn the art of time management and post more regularly.

Monday - Usual run of Monday meetings followed by surgeries at Ratho and Balerno, followed by Ratho Community Council. One or two complaints about anti social behaviour problems in the middle of the village. Police and Council officials have been notified and prompt action is expected.

Tuesday - Very interesting visit to Citizens Advice Edinburgh's new offices in Bernard Street, Leith. I say "new" but in fact it was an old DSS office apparently. Perfect for CAE's purposes though, lots of interview rooms and meeting space. They are as concerned as we are about the impact of Welfare Reform changes and the expected increase in workload that will follow. Created a few ideas about what we could do in the future though.

Wednesday - Myself and my vice convener Cllr Cammy Day visited a group of service users at Gowrie Care's offices in Newington. Significant support is required for this group of vulnerable people who have complex needs, addiction problems and sometimes physical and mental health issues to add to the equation. Its fair to say that life didn't deal them and a particularly strong hand. However, that's not to say that they don't have opinions about the service that they need and we had a really good discussion on some of the perceived weaknesses in the current system. Food for thought for Cammy and I and we have followed up with a couple of further discussions within the Council, hopeful of bringing about some improvements. Then popped in to the open session at Access to Industry and just about managed to get out of the centre of town in time to attend three local meetings on the bounce, Wester Hailes Community Council, WEGARAH and Juniper Green Community Council. All fairly constructive.

Thursday - A relatively short full Council meeting left time to catch up on other business and look forward to the visit of Liverpool to Tynecastle. They left many of their stars at home and had clearly come to play for a draw.  Hearts played well and were extremely unlucky not to be heading south next week with something to defend.

Friday - basically a series of meetings / briefings on various current issues, from Adaptations and older peoples services to Housing and procurement legislation. No wonder my brain hurts ! 

Last night I was delighted to accept an invitation to the AGM of the 51st Pentlands Balerno Scout Group. A packed hall received reports on the year's activities and the heartening news that numbers of beavers, cubs and scouts are steadily increasing year on year. Pretty impressive these days to see local groups that rely on volunteers going from strength to strength. Doesn't happen by accident of course and there is a band of very committed people who carry out all the behind the scenes tasks that are necessary to keep things going.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Fringing and Betrayal

Yesterday's "Fringing" session was superb. Radio Scotland's Festival Cafe, hosted by the peerless Janice Forsyth featured among others, Mike McShane (Mon Droit) and Les Dennis (Jigsy), two veterans of the showbiz scene. Both were entertaining and genuinely made you want to see their shows. A couple of beers in the George Square gardens sunshine and we were ready for the cultural challenge of the festival, *drum roll and fanfare* .... the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets !!! Brilliantly funny and silly. And a bit crude.

Today, we are deserting the capital and heading west for the Piping Festival in Glasgow. Lured by the skirl of the pipes we are turning our backs on the Edinburgh Festival for a day. Courtesy of Scotrail we shall take the short hop west, where the weather forecast is slightly better incidentally. Rest assured we shall return before night fall in time for preparations for tomorrow's big derby match at Easter Road.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Ragged Trousered Philanthropist

Neil Gore & Fine Time Fontayne
Really enjoyed the "Ragged Trousered Philanthropist" at the Assembly Theatre, George Square yesterday. The classic tale of struggle against capitalist exploitation is not new, and by necessity, over simplified in a two handed 90 minute play, but it was thoroughly entertaining as well as poignant and thought provoking. It was totally absorbing and it really was easy to forget that the biggest arts festival in the world was in full swing outside in the sunshine as we were transported back to a time of grinding poverty for skilled workers in the UK. Congratulations to all involved in the production and to Unite for its backing. I recommend a visit, even if you don't lean to the left.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Policy & Strategy

In the absence of the Council Leader and Deputy Leader I was elected unnopposed to Chair yesterday's Policy and Strategy Committee. The pinnacle of my political career ! :0). All the business was relatively uncontentious but a lot of serious detailed information contained within the various reports on the agenda. From a strategy for jobs to statutory repairs and public protection arrangements there was more than enough to occupy our minds and some very worthwhile contributions were heard from all parties represented. The full committee papers can be accessed on this link

Belladrum memories

Main stage at Belladrum
Brilliant weekend at the Tartan Heart Music Festival at Belladrum. Great atmosphere, great weather and some great bands too at the various / numerous stages around the site. All very well managed and organised. The one pictured is one of the more intimate venues. Probably about 8 or 9 stages in total from the Toadstool to the Potting Shed and up to the main Garden Stage where we saw The South, Kassidy, Travis, the Dangleberries and my own favourites, Bombskare who delivered a great set in front of one of their largest crowds ever I would have thought. Other highlights were the Stagger Rats, Roddie Frame, the Buzzcocks and Johnny Cash tribute band Jericho Hill who were quite superb. Not only did they cover the expected standards but also did excellent versions of "Personal Jesus" and "Hurt". Left there on Sunday and ended up spending the night in Hopeman, a small village a couple of miles from Lossiemouth, in a caravan site overlooking the Moray Firth, dolphins and all. Beautiful spot. Ah well, back to Auld Reekie and Policy and Strategy Committee, - *sigh*.

Monday, 30 July 2012

While the cat's away.....

Council Leader Cllr Andrew Burns has been drafted to London to support the Armed Forces initiative to put bums on seats at the Olympics (otherwise known as his summer holidays). And because the Council Deputy Leader is also out of town at the moment that means yours truly is in charge ! Don't worry, there's still a few competent folk around too, so less risk that I'll mess anything up. Agenda Planning Meeting this morning for next week's Policy and Strategy meeting. Not a huge number of reports on the agenda but they are all significant in their own way. The final versions should on line later tomorrow or early Wednesday and I'll post a link to them then. We also agreed a motion that I've submitted to P&S calling for a report on the impact of the Welfare Reform changes that are in the pipeline. More of that later too.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


Excellent meeting yesterday with Florence and Sandra from the Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living. From their website Inclusive / Independent living means " disabled people of all ages having the same freedom, choice, dignity and control as other citizens at home, at work, and in the community. It does not mean living by yourself or fending for yourself. It means rights to practical assistance and support to participate in society and live an ordinary life." Still getting to grips with the main issues, this was a really useful session for me. We covered Self Directed Support, Integration of Health and Social Care and Welfare Reform, all from a service user's perspective. Not bad for a meeting that lasted just less than an hour. I have to say I've had excellent support and advice from Council officials in the last couple of months but there's no substitute for hearing the views of people who use services and need support directly from them or their representatives. Obviously the voluntary / third sector have a huge role to play in supporting people and articulating their views to the likes of me. Look forward to working with them in the future.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Dads Rock

Oh yes they do. Was delighted to belatedly attend one of Dads Rock events last night, the opening of their worldwide photographic exhibition at Eteaket in Frederick Street. All designed of course to promote their real work which is a unique playgroup specially for dads and kids. It seems to have taken off spectacularly and is testimony to the hard work and vision of Thomas and David who conceived the original idea and had the drive to build on it. In today's world where sometimes fathers are criticised for not taking their share of parental responsibility or creating positive role models its great to see an opportunity for dads to spend quality time with their children in an environment where they can also chat to other dads about dad-type issues, which has to be a good thing. Check out their link on Facebook . Good luck to the guys for the future and watch out for their name. Dads Rock have had humble beginnings but I am convinced they are heading towards global domination. Which is a typical dad-like exaggeration !

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Deep End

The recent rain has caused many flooding problems throughout the city, including the golf courses. Parkland courses simply aren't able to cope with the amount of water that has fallen in the last few weeks. Deep ponds have formed all over Kingsknowe and the water has been lying for so long it seems to have attracted some new wildlife to the course. This picture was taken on the 7th fairway yesterday. We're used to seeing rabbits and the odd deer but this is a different prospect altogether.....

Bob McLean

Massive turn out yesterday at Bob McLean's funeral at Mortonhall. Like everyone in the Scottish Labour Party I knew Bob as Secretary of Midlothian CLP and numerous other campaigning roles, particularly his commitment to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. I also had the pleasure of working with Bob when I held the Culture and Leisure portfolio and Bob was a leading figure in the Museums and Galleries marketing team. His funeral service was the longest I've attended I think, over an hour I reckon. But it did mean that we had time to fully absorb the wonderful tributes from Herbert Coutts, former Director of Culture and Leisure and Lord Jack McConnell. I couldn't hope to match any of the tributes paid to Bob's life and work throughout this week but Jack McConnell's obituary in the Scotsman says it all.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Open All Hours ?

Well, not "all hours" perhaps, but still a good excuse to use one of my favourite photos. The Co-op shop and petrol station on Lanark Road West are applying to extend their opening hours to 0500 - midnight, 7 days a week, a significant increase on current arrangements. No big deal, you might think and business is business after all. However, in this case a condition of the original planning permission was that opening hours would be restricted. To change that the planning permission condition needs to be varied. Hence, when neighbours were formally notified of the proposal the letter informed them that the Co-op were seeking to build a fence and "vary condition 6" of their planning permission. No explanation of what condition 6 refers to nor where it can be found. And even then you need to know your way around the Council's Planning Portal to find these things. Most of the Neighbours are elderly and don't have ready access to the internet. Not surprisingly no objections were submitted and the deadline is now passed. One could argue that the information provided could have been a tad more informative ? I've raised this with Planning and they've agreed to have a look. I should add that the Neighbour Notification process is carried out by the Council not the applicant so no blame is attached to the Co-op for this. It's a Council a matter and one which I'm sure we can put right.

40 days and 40 nights ?

Persistent rain is now causing real problems with reports of flooding all over Edinburgh including the Pentland Hills ward. Even though most of the local communities are physically, relatively high, surcharging drains and lower lying properties in close proximity combine to produce obvious devastating results. Visited a constituent this morning in the Cherry Tree part of Balerno whose garage and utility room have been damaged by flood water, not to mention the submerged garden. The imminent installation of a new public drain seems unlikely but I'll raise with the relevant officials and see if there are other, quicker solutions available. 

And the golf was cancelled, again......

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Healthy Debate

My first meeting of the NHS Lothian Board this morning. Always strange entering a formal business meeting as the "new boy" but I was made to feel welcome and managed to settle into the business without too much fuss. A meeting of the Health Endowment Trust at 8.30am was quickly followed by the Board meeting itself at 9.30. A packed agenda including reports on tackling waiting lists (not without its controversial elements), an update on the Legionnaires outbreak and the rather difficult decision to close the children's ward at St John's for 3 weeks in July, due to a lack of qualified staff. Not a pleasant position to be in but the clinical advice regarding patient safety seemed pretty sound even though colleagues from West Lothian were understandably less than chuffed. All the board papers can be accessed at this NHS Lothian web-site link.

An extremely short lunch break was followed by an informal afternoon session to discuss Integration. Very interesting for me to hear the views on this from the NHS side of the fence. Pretty sure everyone is united in the desire to make services as responsive, efficient and effective as possible but there are an awful lot of issues to be addressed if the process is to be successfully delivered.

Should have been golfing tonight but Mother Nature put paid to that idea. The course was flooded before I even got the clubs out of the locker.

Full Council tomorrow. Not as large an agenda as one might expect for the last meeting before the break but that doesn't necessarily equate to a quick meeting. Right, what time does the football start ?....

Thursday, 21 June 2012

New Generation

Very interesting meeting with Balerno Village Trust on Tuesday to discuss their, now very advanced, plans for a small, community owned Hydro electricity generating scheme next to Harlaw reservoir. The idea is that through a combination of commercial loans and community share investment through a co-operative structure, the plant will be built then the electricity generated by the natural flow of water will be fed into the national grid and the revenue generated from that used to pay off the loans and costs and any surplus is allocated to local community projects in and around Balerno. Clean green energy production, a community co-operative and community benefit. What's not to like ? More info on the BVT website. Still a couple of technical issues to be resolved such as planning permission and negotiating a lease for the land but these are in hand. Should be a scoosh....

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

What's Developing ?

In between the showers managed to get to Currie Library on Saturday morning to see the exhibition mounted to display new proposals for the Kinleith Mill site in Currie, which has a long and troubled history. The previous planning permission lapsed after the developer went into administration and the site is now in the hands of a major bank. They are seeking to gain new planning permission and resolve all the legal issues around roads consents etc before marketing the site/package to a house builder. May take some time and will not be without it's issues but most people are agreed the site should be developed and if we can get some affordable housing out of it then so much the better.

I suspect there may be a different response to the plans for the Muir Wood Road field site which is in the green belt but is now subject to a planning application for around 90 new houses. The green belt issue and its proximity to the Kinlieth Mill site mean there is already a lot of of local opposition. The planning process must now run its course.

Off and Running

Chaired my first meeting of the Health, Social Care and Housing Committee today. Seemed to go well. No major problems and no blood spilled. In fact, there were quite a few challenging questions and thoughtful contributions from all the parties represented which augurs well and may provoke some vigorous debate in future on the more contentious issues. Some of the more newsworthy agenda items have already featured in the newspapers and on-line media but all the reports can be read here at the Council Papers On Line service.

Managed a twenty minute break for a cup of tea and then straight into a briefing on Health and Social Care Integration which will be one of the major issues in the months ahead. Again, several thoughtful and challenging contributions from elected members. We need to turn our attention now to constructing our submission to the Scottish Government consultation on the issue.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Joint NP Meeting delivers

As requested prior to the elections, we had the long awaited joint Pentlands and South West Neighbourhood Partnership meeting on Wednesday evening at Wester Hailes library to discuss the issues around the new Healthy Living Centre at the "10 acre site". Might not sound like a particularly revolutionary event but it was the first time that the community of Wester Hailes, back by other local communities could properly get their views on record regarding the long running underpass issue and the stalled housing proposals on the rest of the site. It was a good meeting and an example of what the NPs can do when they put their mind to it. Places for People have now emerged as the likely partner to provide mixed tenure housing on the site and were reasonably well received. The underpass remains unfinished business with agreement having been reached on what we all hope will be a short term arrangement with an expectation of further talks to see if we can achieve the outcome that the community and development needs and deserves. Further consultation with the community has been promised and will delivered. More positive signs going forward I feel.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Juniper Green Celebrates

Juniper Green's Eco King and Queen and their entourage board their horse drawn carriage for the parade around the village this morning at the end of a week of events to celebrate the centenary of Bloomiehall Park becoming a local public asset. A cast of thousands, a pipe band leading the procession, followed by the "royal" party, children from Juniper Green Primary and the local scout troups made for a great spectacle and real community feel. Also timed to coincide with the school fair where stalls aplenty of everything from Fair Trade to home baking were on offer.

Managed to make the final of the Bloomiehall Cup last night in the park where local team Bloomiehall Bairns beat another local team from the Royal Bank 3-0 in a competitive contest that was not as one-sided as the score would suggest. The trophy was presented by Juniper Green native Paul Hegarty of Scotland and Dundee Utd and the man of the match award selected by Kevin Hegarty who played for Hearts in the early 70s.

Meanwhile, in other news, after another seriously busy week I'm not quite as adrift as I thought I would be in getting to grips with the new role. And manged my first public / media engagement at the Brake the Cycle launch which is an excellent project getting young offenders on Community Payback sentences to refurbish bikes that are then gifted back to local communities.

Friday, 25 May 2012


Not enough days in this week but I suspect I might be saying that for a wee while. Was successfully appointed as the new Convenor for Health, Social Care and Housing at yesterday's full Council meeting. Now getting to grips with some of the very real issues and expecting to be handed a chunky list of commitments to deliver from the recently signed coalition partnership agreement. Was also nominated yesterday as the Council's representative on NHS Lothian's board. Not a role I had anticipated up until a few days ago but given the obvious cross over between many of the Council's care services and the NHS it makes sense. Apparently my appointment has to be ratified by the Cabinet Secretary for Health so better not make any definite plans until official say so has been received.

Productive afternoon, following a constituent visit in Balerno I headed to Ratho Library for a coffee and a chat with some of the local staff and mums while youngsters played computer games and pulled long balloons into embarrassing shapes. Then on to the Bridge Inn where Cala Homes are showing an exhibition of their plans to replace the previously agreed care home with 14 houses at the Freelands Road site. There is a rationale for this but I suspect there will be a little unease locally at the loss of such an important element in the development.

Remember the blog post I did in February after planting two apple trees in the garden ? Well the photo above is the rather impressive progress being made following a somewhat mixed few months of weather. Not expecting a bumper harvest any time soon but am delighted to see that they seem to be healthy and developing well.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Getting Real

Another eventful week. Our new Administration is beginning to feel real, office moves are underway, new support staff have been allocated, our new Councillors have been provided with phones, desks, computers and email addresses so that they can get cracking. And, to cap it all at Thursday's full Council meeting Andrew Burns was appointed as Council Leader and our new Labour Lord Provost, Donald Wilson took the chain of office and made a contribution that was dignified, humourous and moving. He will be an excellent LP.

On Wednesday night I was delighted to accept an invitation to be guest chair of the Wester Hailes Community Council AGM. Pleased to report it was well attended and all four office bearer posts were successfully filled and an additional 7 people volunteered to become members of the CC. A positive start to the year ahead and its certainly time that Wester Hailes found its community voice again. Since the demise of the Rep Council WH has struggled a little to raise and pursue issues with same effectiveness as was once the case.

Now, just the small matter of the biggest ever Scottish Cup Final to deal with. I hadn't really felt very nervous this week about the game. Until now.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Big Job

The Labour Group tonight has nominated me as Convenor of Health, Social Care and Housing which is a massive responsibility (as well as a long job title !) and one that I will take extremely seriously. Covering everything from care homes to home helps, criminal justice social work, help for adults with disabilties, direct payments, adaptations, housing and all its facets and challenges, I reckon my diary will be fairly full for the foreseeable future. Also a great honour that my colleagues have the faith in me to be reasonably competent with such an important group of services. Really pleased too that the Labour Group have nominated Cllr Cammy Day as vice-Convenor. Cammy's got good skills and a significant amount of experience in these areas so I'm convinced we'll be a pretty effective team. All this of course has to be endorsed by the full Council meeting on 24th May but I'm keen to get started and can't help thinking about what lies ahead. The Partnership Agreement that underpins our Labour/SNP coalition contains no fewer than 50 commitments for the city, many of which are related to the Health, Social Care and Housing brief so we'll certainly have a clear agenda to work to. Now, off to Balerno to hopefully catch the end of the Balerno Village Trust AGM.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Longest Week

The longest week, beginning with the closing few days of the election campaign leading to Polling Day itself and then the Count, followed by three days of intense negotiation that resulted in our Labour/SNP coalition, finally concluded last night with a visit to Frank Boyle's exhibition launch at the Scottish Story Telling Centre on the High Street. Frank has moved on from the football cartoon show a few weeks back to his political work, appropriate given the timing. As said before his work is superb and you can see more of it at Live entertainment was provided by the Sensational Alex Salmond Gastric Band, (left) satirical Scottish songwriting at its best. You can get more info on facebook here .

Outwith the City Chambers Thursday night saw a visit to the management committee meeting of Juniper Green Village Hall. They're still pursuing the disabled access and toilets provision and I'm pretty sure we can see this through to a successful conclusion.

This morning the Balerno Farmers Market was in full swing, spent a small fortune on sausages and cakes ! Should have been golfing this afternoon but the course is closed after all the rain. Oh well, the garage really does need to be tidied out. Joy.....

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A New Dawn ?

20 seats
Well, an agreement has been reached to work with the SNP Group to run the Council. Andrew Burns will be an excellent Council Leader and we shall also nominate the Lord Provost.

After extensive and exhaustive talks over many hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday our attempt to create an "Administration of all the talents" as per our manifesto, failed to progress because most of the other parties were unable to commit to the proposals we put forward. To cut a long story short that left only one realistic, viable option, a Labour/SNP coalition. Unusual ? Yes, but not unique and although we are normally sworn enemies, there does a come a time after the votes have been counted and the dust settled, to work with others in the interests of the very people who put us where we are. I'm pretty confident we can do that and look forward to the hard work ahead.

One important and optimistic footnote to this tale is that at last night's meeting of the five party negotiating teams, although agreement couldn't be reached on a cross party alliance, virtually all commented that they'd welcomed the dialogue and believed there was an opportunity for more joint working and openness going forward. Don't worry, that doesn't mean an "all-party love-in" with everyone agreeing with each other all the time. Of course there will be division and robust political debate, but perhaps there was a feeling that we could and should work harder at involving each other in our policy and decision meeting process.

The picture above shows a trial set up in the Council Chambers for full Council meetings and the 20 seats that will be occupied by Labour bums on Thursday 17th May.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Count

I'm absolutely delighted and very proud to have been re-elected and able to represent the Pentland Hills ward again for another 5 years. Also chuffed to bits to increase our share of the vote by a massive 9% ! Details of the full result can be found here .

Many, many thanks are due to the small but perfectly formed and energetic band of activists who worked so hard for the last few months delivering material and knocking doors. Also thanks to the hundreds of local residents who took a few minutes to talk to me, raise issues, debate and sometimes argue about the main issues in their area. And thanks too to the 2293 who voted me as number 1 and the many others who gave me other preferences. It really is most appreciated.

A final, and most important thanks to my wonderful agent who steered us through the campaign and applied a firm hand when it was needed and coaxed and cajoled when necessary...

Looking forward to working with my new colleagues, Bill Henderson (no relation) and Dominic Heslop. I'm sure we'll work well together.

Special mention too to Mike "Professor Pongoo" Ferrigan. He polled a very respectable 444 votes and has a great deal to offer the local community. I hope his skills and commitment to the area are tapped into in some way.

We're now the biggest party on the Council with 20 seats so that obviously gives us some authority in discussing future arrangements with others but we have to be conscious that all groups have their own priorities for the future and I'm sure talks over the next few days will be conducted sensibly and maturely with any and all that have Edinburgh's best interests at heart.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Polling Day

Polling Day has arrived ! Out early this morning with the A boards and did a stint at Ratho, Balerno and Gibson Craig Halls polling stations. Not a huge turn out yet but certainly a steady trickle of people throughout. Good banter with the other parties and was pleased to bump into Mike "Professor Pongoo" Ferrigan. Disappointed that he wasn't in costume but he may be persuaded later in the day. Right, time to get back out there. 

See you at the Count !

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

SAMH Redhall Walled Garden

Managed a brief door knocking session last night and a visit to a constituent before heading for the Ratho Primary Parent Council meeting. 

This morning was a fantastic (and slightly humbling) visit to Redhall Walled Garden, run by SAMH , which helps people who are dealing with mental health problems rebuild their confidence and self esteem through working in the garden and associated IT suite. It's a wonderful facility and they undertake a vast range of tasks which help people to look forward to the future and take responsibility for their own lives after periods of illness. After an extensive tour of the garden we adjourned to the meeting room for a cuppa and a scone and a chat with several volunteers and staff members. On a very simple level SAMH support people to hopefully build a better future for themselves but lying behind each individual is often a complex history of illness and issues, sometimes homelessness, alcohol or drug porblems, dismissal from employment and woven through each tale is a constant battle to try and find the most appropriate support and advice which is often necessary before even considering taking on the tangled web that we call the Benefits System.

It was very very clear that much more needs to be done. Services have been cut just at the time when more people are likely to need them and ultimately this will be false economy as increased numbers experience more severe problems with a greater impact on the lives of themselves and their families as well as wider society. The Welfare Reform Act won't be much help either. In fact, it may make the situation much worse. 

I don't like to strike a negative note as there were so many positive personal stories but obviously there are still some major challenges ahead. If I'm still a Councillor this time next week I've offered to meet again to see if we can progress some of the more local issues.

I believe that all Councillors and candidates were invited to today's event but only myself, from the Labour Group and the Greens were represented. I'm sure the other parties do care about these services but must have been too busy today to get one person each to attend.

PS - Redhall Walled Garden's next Open Day (with plant sales and cream teas) is on Sunday 20th May (12-5pm), See you there !

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Promises, Promises.

Last Council meeting on Thursday would have been relatively uneventful if it wasn't for the (hopefully) final decision on Portobello High School. Three deputations, all of whom spoke passionately and honestly, and a debate which saw the unfortunate Greens on the wrong end of Marilyne MacLaren mauling. Marilyne doesn't take any prisoners at the best of times and she wasn't going to let the warm fuzzy feeling of the final Council meeting in a five term get in the way of a good old fashioned, full frontal, political assault.

Last night was Edinburgh Labour's fundraising Race Night and a good night was had by all. I was MC for the event and it probably prevented me from losing more than I did. Grateful for small mercies I suppose.

Juniper Green Farmers Market today, followed by campaigning in Balerno.

Interesting blog piece by Peter Maxwell about the 5 main manifestos in the Edinburgh Council elections. I don't know Peter but you have to admire someone who's prepared to read 5 political manifestos and then share his conclusions with the rest of us. Probably won't come as surprise to learn I wholeheartedly agree with his analysis.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

'Tis the Season of Hustings

Things are a bit of a blur just now. Incredibly busy over the past few days.

Last Thursday was the Active Citizenship Group's Hustings at the City Chambers, which I was happy to attend on behalf of the Labour Group. Lively debate and a good turn out.

Friday was Regulatory Committee where the most important piece of business on the Agenda, my motion on Commercial Dog Walking, was duly agreed. Then nipped out to Currie where PETRA (Pentlands Edge Tenants & Residents Association) had spent the day planting in and around the grass area at Bryce Road next to the shops and Weavers Knowe Pub. They did a grand job and there should be a nice splash of colour and heather there in the future.

Saturday - Campaigning in Currie with Alistair Darling MP and then in the evening made my debut as an after dinner speaker having been invited to address the 65th anniversary dinner of Moray House Rugby Club at the Royal Britsh. Great night, even though as a petrified first timer I had to wait as the last speaker of six and didn't get to my feet until around 11pm. Loved it though and my lame gags seemed to be well received. 

Sunday - More campaigning, this time in Balerno where the sun truly shone on the righteous, and I managed to catch some rays too ! Then in the evening the grand Edinburgh Labour Gala Dinner with Andrew Burns, Alistair Darling, Johann Lamont, Anas Sarwar and Special Guest Alastair Campbell (with his brother Donald the Piper). Excellent evening, raised a few bob for the campaign and I auctioned a couple of Hibs and Hearts tops. In return for a modest donation I'm prepared to reveal which was most valuable. AC then busked on the pipes in return for a bucket collection which boosted the night's takings even further. Good night.

Monday - Last night was our local hustings for the Pentland Hills ward at Balerno Parish Church, excellently chaired by Prof Cliff Beevers and very well attended by around 170 local souls. Good natured debate and all the candidates were on good form.