Friday, 30 March 2012

Granville, f-f-f-fetch your cloth !

Attended a cross party, round table discussion this afternoon hosted by the Scottish Grocers Federation. It covered a wide range of topics such as alcohol licensing and fees, minimum pricing, business rates, the economy, planning rules and retail crime. A lot of the smaller "convenience" stores face huge challenges ; competition from the big supermarket chains, bureaucracy (sometimes necessary), increased utility costs, increased rates, low income shoppers having less to spend. It all adds up to a very difficult environment. Yet, I know from my own experience that the "corner shops" are much loved and needed by local communities. Perhaps we need to love them a little bit more, or we might lose them.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Ratho Fire

This fire at Craigpark Quarry in Ratho, in a pile of tyres, started last Sunday morning and has caused considerable concern and inconvenience to the residents of the village. Being immediately to the west of the village, with a westerly breeze and dry conditions for the last few days hasn't helped either, with sooty deposits left on everything; cars, gardens, clothes, pets and children. Just managed to get my hands on the basic facts yesterday and slightly disappointed at the lack of proactive communications from the formal agencies. It would seem that there is no threat to health, which is reassuring but I suspect local people will demand a few answers about site storage and security at the quarry so that we can be confident of no repetition. Answers will be sought.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Bad Week for Grannies and Gideons

It takes a certain unusual mix of skills for a politician to be able to unite all the varied wings of the British media in condemnation. George Osborne managed it this week. There's so much time and energy obviously expended in preparing the spin and hype surrounding the Budget these days that you really don't expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to f**k it up on the day. Didn't manage to catch much of the news coverage on budget day itself but the newspaper headlines the following morning said it all. Mugging Grannies to pay for lower taxes for millionaires probably wasn't what Gideon was trying to achieve but it does give the rest of us an intriguing insight into the priorities of the ConDem Cabinet.

Rest of the week was pretty busy and is summarised as follows - 
Sunday - Balerno Church followed by opening of refurbished St Joseph's Centre, joyous occasion. Tynecastle, another derby victory, also a joyous occasion.
Monday - City Chambers, Surgeries, Ratho Community Council, fractious.
Tuesday - Finance and Resources Committee. Not exactly riveting.
Wednesday - Hearts progress to semi finals of the Scottish Cup. Pleasing.
Thursday - Door knocking in Balerno followed by Neighbourhood Partnership Funding Panel meeting. Business like.
Friday - City Chambers followed by Drumbrae Gala fundraising quiz. Clueless.
Saturday - Juniper Green Farmers Market followed by door knocking in Currie. Productive.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Leaflets, St Joseph and Righteous Indignation

Balerno Parish Church
Excellent leafleting session in Ratho this morning. Thanks to the local Labour team and good to see former local Labour Cllr John Longstaff in fine form. A bite of lunch in the Bridge Inn brought proceedings to a satisfactory conclusion.  

Was delighted to accept an invitation to the opening of the refurbished St Joseph's Centre tomorrow, part of Balerno Parish Church's community facilities. The opening ceremony will be preceded by a service in the church, to be addressed by the Rt Rev David Arnott, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (longest job title in the world !). Okay, not my usual Sunday morning routine, but looking forward to it. This will be followed by a hasty dash to Tynecastle for the third (and possibly last?) derby of the season. Ridiculous kick off time of 1200 but that's what happens when you sell your soul to TV.

An amusing postscript to the Pentland Hills parking charges debacle covered below. At Leader's question time during full Council on Thursday, SNP Group Leader Steve Cardownie launched into a tirade condemning the incompetence of the PHRP and demanding an investigation. His righteous indignation was brought to a shuddering halt when reminded that the chair of the PHRP is none other than his SNP colleague Cllr Colin Keir, now an MSP.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Council Debt - Easy Answers

The practice of submitting questions to Council meetings to be answered by Convenors has been around for a while. We introduced it in 2003, I think. Normally opposition members seek to elicit information that they hope will be useful in debate or is pertinent to a local issue. When an Administration Councillor asks a question it can be assumed that it has been "planted" to give the Convenor the opportunity to showboat or prove a point. Therefore I was intrigued to see a question submitted to today's Council meeting from Cllr Tim McKay, LibDem colleague of Phil Wheeler, Convenor of Finance, about Council debt. the question and answer are as follows -
What assurance can the Convener give that the Council’s current level of
indebtedness is reasonable and manageable?

Council sets its capital expenditure plans in accordance with the prudential 
code, a framework introduced by CIPFA in 2004-05. The objectives of the 
prudential code are to provide a framework for local authority capital finance 
that will ensure for individual local authorities that:
  1. capital expenditure plans are affordable;
  2. all external borrowing and other long-term liabilities are within prudent and 
    sustainable levels; and
  3. treasury management decisions are taken in accordance with professional
    good practice.
Oh well, that's okay then. £1.5bn of debt, which costs £110m / year (every year) to service, and growing by the day. That's £3000 of debt for every man, woman and child in Edinburgh, the highest in Scotland, dealt with by 3 bullet points. No figures (perhaps for obvious reasons) no analysis or projections, just "Trust us, we know what we're doing".

Why am I not reassured ?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

VAT Blunder kills car park charges

Oh dear ! A "clerical oversight" (not to mention PR disaster) omitting VAT from the calculations looks to have killed off the initiative to charge for parking in the car parks around the Pentland Hills Regional Park (PHRP). Red faces all round methinks and comprehensively covered here by the Evening News.

Okay, there were some mixed views locally on the charges, which were, after all, to cover for cuts elsewhere in the PHRP budget, but I think this will be welcomed by most who were worried about parking displacement into access roads and of course the added expense to a walk in the hills. Is it any wonder the Council gets a bad reputation ?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Manifesto Launch

After many months of consultation and development and many hundreds of comments from the public and various organisations we finally launched the Edinburgh Labour Manifesto for the local elections on 3rd May this morning. The launch event went very well, ably chaired by Lesley Hinds and a couple of fine contributions from Labour Group Leader Andrew Burns and Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont. Well attended too by the media and associated photographers (the photo outside with us all holding manifestos in the air felt a bit naff, but hey, these guys know what they're doing. Don't they ?) Well ahead of the other parties, once again we're leading from the front and hopefully the manifesto, which can be read on this link, will create much debate and examination of the ideas that we've brought forward, in the final few weeks of the campaign.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Tattie Day, Farmers Market and Scottish Cup frustration

Balerno's Tattie Day was going like a fair and the Farmers Market was the busiest I've seen it for a while. Very encouraging. The Scout Hall was bursting at the seams with stalls selling seed potatoes and offering advice on planting, maintenance and harvesting as well as a table where potato art was testing the boundaries of cultural innovation. 

One or two additional stalls at the market, one selling the tastiest burgers I've had in a long time. Washed it down with a half pint in the Grey Horse and a chat with Paul. Also bumped into one of the Conservative candidates, Sheila Low, who was accompanied by a rather ingenious campaigning vehicle, her dog, which was adorned with a coat bearing the legend "Aim High Vote Low". Very good. Obviously, I want to emulate this idea. Does anyone know how to make a "Vote Labour" coat for a budgie ? 

Then jumped on a 44 down to Tynecastle to endure a frustrating Scottish Cup Quarter final tie against St Mirren. Entertaining for the TV viewers perhaps but a 2-2 draw means a midweek replay in Paisley when really we should have booked our trip to Hampden yesterday.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Gorgie / Sighthill Campaign Launch

One of the more unusual campaign launches last night but you can't say Donald Wilson and Eric Milligan don't do things in style. They launched their Gorgie / Sighthill election campaign at the Longstone Prison Officers Club and invited the Diamonigue Twirlers majorette troupe to kick off the proceedings. From tots to teenagers (all from the local area) they strutted their stuff and set a fun tone for the rest of the proceedings. Eric even had Sister Aildridge along to endorse the campaign. With a start like this, they can't lose !

Right, off to the Balerno Tattie Day and Farmers Market, then on to Tynecastle for the Scottish Cup quarter final tie. Serious campaigning will resume tomorrow....

Friday, 9 March 2012

Public Entertainment Licences

As expected, the impending changes to PELs has created a lot of email traffic and media debate. Still not clear what the intention of the changes actually are but the Council is obliged to comply with legislation handed on by the Scottish Government. This seems to have led to the ridiculous situation where a Scottish Council was going to licence (with a charge) for a children's Easter egg hunt !!

This mornings Regulatory Committee passed the following motion -

" That the Committee :-

1.   Adopt option a) as set out in paragraphs 2.6 to 2.8 of the report with the proviso that the minimum fee detailed in paragraph 2.7 is to be nil.

2.    Determine subject to statutory consultation to vary the City of Edinburgh Public Entertainment Resolution 1994 to exclude from the scope of the Resolution, the following places where members of the public are admitted or may use any facilities for the purposes of entertainment or recreation without payment of money or moneys’ worth and the capacity does not exceed 200 persons:-
Premises used for functions held by charitable, religious, youth, sporting, community, political or similar organisations;
Premises used for exhibitions of art work;
Premises in which live music is being provided incidentally to the main purpose or use of the premises where that main purpose or use is not as a place of public entertainment; and,
Premises used for oral recitals including poetry reading and story telling.

3.   Direct that the statutory procedure for making a variation to the City of Edinburgh Public Entertainment Resolution 1994 be commenced immediately with a view to the Committee considering any representations made about the proposed variation at its meeting on  20 April 2012.

4.   Note that in the interim period the Council will prioritise licensing of those free to enter events which are large scale.

5.   Discharge the outstanding remit relating to the impact of changes to legislation governing public entertainment licensing following the meeting on 27 January 2012 "

Which, if I've understood it properly, means we will conduct a consultation exercise on the proposals above (other categories may emerge through the consultation) in order to avoid the effects of the legislation that is about to be enacted. Yes.... I think I've got that right. Confused ??? You will be. The bureaucratic maze could be endless.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Hare and Heads

As it turned out I managed to make a bit of progress on the issues outlined below at the Neighbourhood Partnership. Was particularly pleased to get agreement that we should argue for an allocation for the Pentlands NP and that local communities should decide what priorities it should be used for. Reported this to Balerno Community Council on Thursday and it was generally well received. The BCC meeting was very busy as usual and didn't finish until 10pm.

Just returned from a couple of nights in Strathblane, just north of Glasgow in the Kirkhouse Inn. Lovely little village, very quiet and a good base for the Trossachs but also only 20mins or so drive into central Glasgow, so managed to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the first time. Beautiful building and impressive exhibitions. The Floating Heads, above, particularly caught my eye and myself and my companion, below, managed to grab a refreshing cuppa. Then we went to the Peoples Palace and Winter Garden. Glasgow's social history on display, similar to the excellent Peoples Story in Edinburgh. Winter Gardens tearoom obviously a popular place to take young children on a Saturday afternoon.

I confidently predict this week's big issue will be the new licensing regime being introduced for public entertainment arts events. More later.....