Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Scorescotland's Commonwealth event and Sir Geoff Palmer

Prof (now sir) Palmer (right)
Had a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the Scorescotland Multicultural Commonwealth event on Saturday at the Corn Exchange. Primarily aimed at children and young people from different cultural and ethnic groups across Edinburgh it was an evening packed full of fun for children, music, singing, dancing and wonderful food. Great atmosphere and good to catch up with friends old and new, including Professor Geoff Palmer, renowned human rights activist (and brewing expert) who unbeknown to us at the time had been recognised in the New Year's Honours.

MC Fred & Cllrs Dixon & Henderson

Professor Palmer, who became Scotland’s first black professor in 1989, has been awarded a knighthood for services to human rights, science and charity. He was named one of Britain’s 100 “great black Britons” in a poll six years ago and is an interesting and thoughtful speaker. He made a brief contribution at the event but graciously accepted defeat to the exuberance of youth who weren't perhaps in the right frame for serious thoughts while busy enjoying themselves.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Soggy Santa Run

Made my annual outing with the Currie and Balerno Round Table  Santa Run in Baberton Mains this week. Each year C&BRT, Santa and Rudolph head out around the local community on 15 separate runs, raising money for local good causes and charities. Of course Santa needs a bit of help from his elves. That's where I come in. Myself and a dozen or so other willing volunteers knock doors and shake collecting cans while Santa and Rudulph blare out the Christmas songs from the sleigh and hand out sweets to the young and not so young and get a few photos taken along the way. It was wet and cold for this run but that wasn't going to put us off so we soldiered on for a good three and half hours and raised just over £1100. A great joint effort and it made the venture very worthwhile. Right, I'm off to roast my chestnuts over an open fire....

Friday, 20 December 2013

New Balerno Pitch Funding Welcomed

Was delighted to attend a media event earlier this week at Currie Rugby Club, Malleny Park, Balerno for the formal announcement that the Government's Cash Back scheme, which recycles money retrieved from convicted criminals, is providing £300k towards the costs of a new all weather pitch at Malleny Park. The existing pitches and land here are shared between Currie Rugby Club and Balerno High School and frankly there just isn't enough space to cope with the demand. The rugby club have a very successful youth development scheme as well as their other fixtures and the school of course needs access to decent surfaces for delivery of the curriculum. It would be fair to say that these competing demands have created a little tension over the years....

I remember lodging a Council motion on this a few years ago and the subsequent report confirmed that facilities did need to be upgraded but there wasn't any funding to do so. It's brilliant news that at long last a funding package has been secured for the new pitch which can be used for matches and training. One of the conditions of the funding is that the new pitch must be shared between Balerno High School, Currie Rugby Club and Currie Star FC. Hence the event was attended by reps from all the above plus the Council, the Scottish Government, the SRU, the SFA and the local community who all welcomed this much needed investment.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas is coming, Ho Ho Ho...

Balerno Christmas Trees
After a mega busy week which included the "Meet the Politicians" public event in Currie, a meeting of the Welfare Reform Working Group, opening a new housing development for Port of Leith Housing Association in Magdalene Drive, Full Council, a budget consultation briefing with homelessness prevention service providers and interviews for BVT, yesterday saw some light relief at the Balerno Christmas Farmers Market. Serious business had to be conducted though as myself and Alistair Darling were asked to judge the annual Balerno Christmas Tree Festival. We carefully inspected more than 40 beautifully decorated trees in the Scout Hall and the Church Hall then retired to deliberate. After much soul searching and heated debate we reached a verdict. Much to my surprise I was thrust forward with a microphone in hand to make the official announcement to the packed St Joseph's cafe that ; Jigsaw Nursery had won the second prize and the winner was - *drum roll*...... Dean Park Primary ! By pure coincidence Dean Park Primary's choir had just been entertaining the audience with a medley of their Christmas hits so our decision was greeted with broad approval. 

Santa is at home
Also managed to drop by Wester Hailes Shopping Centre where Santa has taken up residence and doing a brisk trade in " don't be naughty and you might get something nice for Christmas". Then managed to meet some mates in the Tynie Arms to watch the Man City v Arsenal game which was quite outstanding. Then on to the Hearts game where the Christmas spirit was well and truly blown away in the gail and rain and another disappointing defeat.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Harlaw Monday Group

Was delighted to accept an invite to visit the Harlaw Monday Group yesterday, who are based at the old Dean Park clinic, next to the primary school in Balerno. They support 8 older people who have Dementia or Cognitive Impairment from the local area. Providing lunch and social activities for a few hours each Monday this group gives some vulnerable people much needed social interaction and stimulation while at the same time giving carers a well deserved break which they can enjoy knowing that their loved ones are safe, secure, and going from what I witnessed, having great fun with each other. A very valuable and well run service and all delivered on a very modest Council grant which funds one member of staff with other support coming from volunteers. There are dozens of similar groups performing similar minor miracles throughout the city and they do a fantastic job.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Black Dog Campaign Launch

Angus looks out over Edinburgh
Was delighted to accept an invite today from national mental health charity SANE and Ryden Property Consultants to the launch in Edinburgh of SANE’s initiative to combat the stigma surrounding mental ill-health, and to encourage people to seek help. The Black Dog Campaign is a pioneering programme to raise awareness of depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health conditions.
Having confessed my ignorance to the origins it was explained to me that Winston Churchill suffered from depression and referred to it as his "Black Dog", hence the campaign which has been supported by many celebs including Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley. There are currently 10 other Black Dogs in England but Angus, above, is the first to visit Scotland and can be seen at different locations around Edinburgh in the next few months. It was also a pleasure to meet Marjorie Wallace CBE, SANE’s Founder and Chief Executive and David Fraser partner at Ryden and his colleagues who have done a fantastic job of fundraising to make Angus's arrival a reality. I wish the campaign every success and hope we can do as much as possible to promote it.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Balerno Fairtrade Recognition

Donald Wilson at yesterday's event
Edinburgh's Lord Provost, Donald Wilson paid a very welcome visit to Balerno yesterday. After a wander round the monthly Farmers Market, in which he showed a great deal of interest, we dropped into Balerno church's Mill Cafe for a coffee and couple of photos then on to the main event, which was the presentation by the Lord Provost of the certificate from the Fairtrade Foundation confirming Balerno's newly acquired status as a Fairtrade Village. Its taken a long time and a great deal of work from the local Fairtrade groups in the community to achieve this recognition and congratulations are due to everyone involved. The local schools too are Fairtrade conscious with Dean Park Primary having also achieved success as a Fairtrade School as well as supporting the wider community project.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Super Ska Sunday

Had a brilliant time last Sunday at the Citrus Club in Grindlay Street. The first Sunday of each month Edinburgh Ska giants Big Fat Panda invite other Ska chums to support them in a tea time stomp (from 5pm, entry only £5) and last week was a bumper treat of 3 bands, Edinburgh's Sea Bass Kid, followed by Esperanza from Glasgow and rounded off by Andy and the boys. A fantastic 4 hour Ska-fest to satisfy the needs of Ska addicts anywhere. This weekend Big Fat Panda and Esperanza have made the long trek to Dorset to participate in the latest "Specialized" project which supports the Teenage Cancer Trust. Various Ska artists perform live and have also recorded a couple of albums of classic Ska cover versions. You can buy the downloads on the Specialized website on this link. A worthy cause and pretty good value for the equivalent of 2 or 3 cd's worth of music.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Neighbourhood Watch & Derby Success

....talking of Police, I attended the AGM of Currie East Neighbourhood Watch the other night at the Gibson Craig Hall. A seriously impressive turn out of around 30 people duly ratified the accounts, constitutional changes and then elected their office bearers for the year ahead. It's good to see such interest in community activity (I suspect the glass of wine at the end may have boosted the attendance!) and this particular group, although Neighbourhood Watch and community safety are their primary purpose and concern, they also take an interest in the wider community and this is to be welcomed. Thankfully Currie East is not a high crime area but this can partly be attributable to the work of these volunteers maintaining the vital communication links locally to ensure that people take all the relevant measures to keep themselves safe. I look forward to working with them and providing whatever support may be required.

Meanwhile....., last night I headed for Easter Road more out of a sense of duty than any optimism or expectation. After 20 minutes we could have been 4-0 down and thoughts were turning to a possible return to the pub to dull the pain. However, Hearts didn't concede, held on, and clawed their way back in to the game. Ryan Stevenson scored and Hibs never looked like the same side after that. A famous 1-0 victory takes us to the semi finals and, more importantly, a confidence boost for the league games ahead.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

'ello, 'ello, 'ello...

A sign of things to come ?
The consultation on Police station public counter closures finishes later this week. Balerno, currently open 9-5, Monday - Friday, is one of those proposed for closure. I've picked up some concern from the local community who, although they agree they may not pop in to the local cop shop on a regular basis, believe its closure will add to the feeling of public services being reduced or withdrawn. Since the creation of Police Scotland there's been a bit of debate about how local priorities are set and delivered under the new force. There is a perception in some quarters that the centralisation has seen a diminution in community Policing and an imposition of Scottish wide Police policies. We've received reassurances that this isn't the case and that local priorities will prevail. I've also received reassurances that there are (currently) no plans to completely close Balerno Police Station. I await the outcome of the consultation and further developments with interest.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Revolution will be Improvised

"Old" Craigmillar
Had a very interesting visit to the new East Neighbourhood Centre office in Craigmillar this morning. A beautiful new building, it provides a base for around 400 staff from various public sector agencies including the Council, NHS, Police, Fire and Rescue, the voluntary sector and community groups. The ground floor in particular is a welcoming and well used space. The reception area leads on to a community space and also to the café which is adjacent to the library and internet access section, and on to the youth and younger children's spaces. Numerous small meeting rooms also provide a suitable environment for staff to meet local residents to discuss any service or personal issues. It also leads to an attractive outdoor garden with a concrete table tennis table !

Upstairs are two floors of fairly standard, but open and bright, modern office accommodation, where I met and talked to members of staff who are taking a pioneering approach to the Total Neighbourhood concept. Inspired by the Christie Commission report, staff here are building real partnership working across organisations and informed by community and service users views with the intention of improving outcomes for local people, particularly those who need the most help and who may not have had the most productive relationship with public services in the past.

There is a cautious optimism that this approach is beginning develop and establish trust and sound working relationships across various organisations and the community. Much of the joint working may appear to look like common sense but perhaps we've all been guilty in the past of promoting "partnership working" but not pressing forward or challenging some of the barriers that have limited progress.

The new "East office" in Craigmillar
Jim Hunter and his team at the East office are doing some great work and are, by necessity, having to be bold and experimental in testing this approach. Of course a building doesn't necessarily guarantee good services but I sense that the excellent new facility has provided an ideal springboard for a lot of good ideas to take off and flourish. Because there is no instruction manual on how Total Neighbourhood should work, or any additional funding to make it happen, they've adopted the motto "The Revolution will be Improvised". That's a refreshing attitude in my view and I look forward to seeing further positive progress and hopefully an opportunity to extend this elsewhere in the city.

Friday, 18 October 2013

"New" Currie Community Council

Having been appointed as the Returning Officer for the Currie Community Council election process I was delighted to chair the first meeting of the newly re-established CCC on Monday and oversee the confirmation of new elected members and appointment of the new office bearers. A number of long serving community activists had chosen to stand down prior to the elections, having given several decades of stalwart service to the local community, so this is something of a transformational period for community representation in Currie with new people coming forward. I was a little anxious that people may be reluctant to get involved, voluntary service isn't always an attractive option for folk who already have busy lives, but I'm pleased to say that sufficient worthy souls have come forward to re-establish the community council and represent their local area. My heartfelt congratulations go to new chair Allister McKillop and his new team, there are plenty of important issues on the horizon and I look forward to working with them now and in the years ahead.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Consulting on setting the rent

As the largest landlord and housing provider in the city it's important for the Council to consult widely before setting the rents for Council house tenants. In 2007 the previous Council agreed to a strategy of annual rent rises of inflation plus 2.7% for the five years up to 2015. The added income supported an investment programme that is delivering Scottish Housing Quality Standards, through new bathrooms and kitchens etc. It's also contributing to plans to build new Council houses. The time has come to review that strategy and investment priorities looking forward another 5 years and considering what is reasonable, and affordable, in the short to medium term for Council tenants. This report, to the HWH Committee last month, agreed to start a consultation exercise and so yesterday saw a joint Council / Edinburgh Tenants Federation conference that began the consideration of rent levels and priorities for future investment. One of the risks to future investment is the impact of Welfare Reform and the Bedroom Tax. The Council can only use income from rent to invest in Council houses and our housing service so any reduction has a knock on effect to investment and service, not to mentions jobs and regeneration. Rent arrears are increasing and this remains a serious concern. However, it was an interesting session yesterday and the consultation will continue until we get a further report with some recommendations early next year.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Weekly Update

Blog Neglect is a serious accusation and one I'd find difficult to defend so, after being a bit lazy in recent days, here's a wee update.

Last week saw a meeting with a delegation of retired Swedish trade unionists, interested in pensioners rights and care services for the elderly. A very interesting discussion, through an interpreter.... My Swedish is a bit rusty these days. Wednesday was a meeting of the NHS Lothian Board with a slightly amended way of dealing with the Agenda that allowed us to focus consideration on a few higher priority items. Thursday was the full Council meeting, a full set of papers / reports can be accessed on this link.

Capt Danny Wilson & Gary Locke
Last Friday I was delighted to accept an invitation to the unveiling of a bronze plaque outside Tynecastle that commemorates the date on which the entire Hearts first team joined the army to fight in the First World War. The Haymarket Clock and the cairn at Contalmaison are now joined by a fitting memorial to these men who were photographed on the day they signed up at the back of the new stand in 1914. Captain Danny Wilson and the 2013 team then fought out an entertaining 0-0 draw with Dundee Utd on Saturday. Frustrating to have a perfectly good goal disallowed but a draw was probably a fair result.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Back to Business

Having enjoyed a few days off in the sunshine last week it was back to business with a bang this week. The Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee met on Tuesday, you can access all the committee papers on this link. We heard a deputation from Edinburgh Tenants Federation about the Kitchen and Bathrooms programme at Prestonfield which created a little debate but most of the rest of the items were relatively un-contentious. Today was the first meeting of our new Welfare Reform Working Group. To be clear, there are many groups looking at Welfare Reform and doing some very good work but we thought that elected members should be involved in a forum that could look at issues in more detail with Council officials and partners from the voluntary and third sectors. Good turnout and an excellent discussion. Still a pretty depressing subject matter with not much good news on the horizon but it is at least encouraging us to work together and seek to understand each other's priorities and challenges. The group also agreed to supplement the membership with those who had requested this and it does mean the next meeting with be held in the Usher Hall but if people are keen to contribute I'm keen to have them at the table.

Friday, 30 August 2013

PALM Launch

Really enjoyed the launch of PALM at Balerno Parish Church this week. Hosted in St Joseph's Hall, PALM (People with Advanced Loss of Memory) is a new group created -

  • To provide a space for people with memory loss and their carers to meet others for support and social contact.
  • To use activities such as music, movement, reminiscence and craft to enhance the wellbeing of the person with advanced memory loss.
  • To provide an opportunity for informal support and information for carers.

    More details on the Balerno Church website. It was really well attended and it looks like this could be a popular monthly routine. As we know, with an ageing population and an increase in age related health conditions we need to look more to providing community based services that support people in their own homes and their own area. Not forgetting  a bit of support for carers too obviously and the PALM café aims to do this.
    Congratulations and thanks to Kay and her colleagues for staging such a successful opening event and to the church for hosting. Looks like this will grow and there's obviously a need for such initiatives.

    Monday, 26 August 2013

    51st Balerno Scouts marching on and handing over the baton

    Was delighted to accept an invite to the 51st Balerno Scouts AGM on Friday night. A significant meeting in many ways as Lawrence Mitchell, with 20 odd years of supporting the Scouts at many levels, standing down as Group Scout Leader and handing over the reigns to a worthy successor in John Henderson. As with many such organisations this scout group exists largely due to the generous support and contribution from numerous volunteers and 51st Balerno is in fact thriving and very successful due to that commitment. Several young members of the group received various certificates of achievement and then after a lovely tribute to Lawrence the meeting was adjourned and the cheese and wine got underway. Very enjoyable it was too and nice social way to end the evening. If you want more info check out their web site on this link.

    Tynecastle yesterday was rocking. If all the games are going to be like the last three (Hibs, Partick, Aberdeen) that I've been to then its going to be some season. Passion, excitement, incident some good football and late goals makes for a compelling spectacle. Okay, it's our current predicament that's produced that heady mix, but in the face of adversity its up to everyone to rise to the occasion and the fans, the players and the club are certainly doing that.

    Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    Our Glass House

    Was delighted to attend the launch of Our Glass House this afternoon. A play produced by Common Wealth Theatre Ltd as part of the Fringe deals with the issue of domestic abuse and is staged in an empty house in Westburn, Wester Hailes. Different strands of the performance telling separate stories are played out in different rooms and coincide and collide and combine to produce a very powerful experience. The audience watches on but does not intervene. The invited guests then adjourned to the Whale Arts centre for some formalities and a cuppa. Today's attendance was by professionals from various agencies ; the Council, Police, NHS, Scottish Government, Prospect Housing and the Edinburgh Violence Against Women Partnership, but I was delighted to hear that the twice daily shows are now sold out and that a  number of tickets were reserved for the local community and they too have been snapped up. Also delighted that the launch event was attended by new Police Scotland Chief Constable Steve House who has a well known commitment to tackling domestic abuse and carried out some significant work on this in his previous role in Strathclyde. A successful event and information was also provided of some good partnership working being developed. We need to build on this though and make sure that the messages of help and support for victims and confronting and changing the behaviour of perpetrators gets through to all our communities.

    Monday, 12 August 2013

    Big Hearts, Roddy Hart and back to business

    Not a bad weekend all in all. A hugely significant derby victory and Roddy Hart in concert. Hearts just about deserved the win, on commitment and desire, if nothing else and hopefully this will be a good start to what will be a long hard road to overhauling the 15 point deficit. Best wishes to Ryan Stevenson who picked up a bad injury after only 13 minutes. Next stop, Maryhill (Partick Thistle) on Friday night. Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire were awesome at the Assembly Rooms last night, uber cool and a modern day combination of Johhny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and Gerry Rafferty, can't understand why the lad isn't a huge star by now. Semi acoustic set (with the full band from what I could tell) in the ballroom which had been transformed into an intimate all seated venue that was perfect for the occasion. 

    Back to business this week though, community meetings each night in Currie, Balerno and Wester Hailes. Expecting a full house at the Balerno public meeting tomorrow to discuss Green Belt issues and the recent spate of applications by developers to build on various fields in the area. Currie Community Council tonight, Wester Hailes Community Council special meeting on Wednesday to discuss public transport links to the new Healthy Living Centre and Balerno Community Council on Thursday. Oh yeah ! the summer hols are over !

    Thursday, 8 August 2013

    Speak Up Speak Out

    Not funny and not sexy I'm afraid. Amid the fun and frolics of the largest arts festival in the world the Council has launched its public protection Speak Up Speak Out campaign. This part of the campaign focuses on older people and is designed to encourage older people themselves or family or friends to report any suspicions they may have about older people being harmed. It could be physical, psychological or financial and the message is that it must stop and there is help for people who don't know where to turn. Material will be circulated throughout the city in Council buildings and through our partners in the voluntary sector as well as newspaper and radio ads. Full details are here on the Council's Speak Up Speak Out blog page. Feel free to keep a note of numbers and hand them on to people who may wish to use them.

    Thursday, 1 August 2013

    Welfare Reform / Bedroom Tax - Edinburgh Update

    The latest Welfare Reform update report goes to the Council's Policy and Strategy Committee next Tuesday (6th August). As would be expected for a professionally written report by Council officials it is purely factual and not designed to be contentious or political, however, when one considers that there's a person, a family, and a story behind each of the statistics it does make for depressing reading.

    You can read the report in full on this link to the Council's website but the edited highlights (???) are as follows -

    The Council, in partnership with the voluntary sector has applied for more funding for advice services, so that we can tell people exactly how much financial doo doo they're in and hopefully help them climb out.

    The Benefit Cap, introduced in London boroughs in spring is likely to be rolled out in Edinburgh at the end of this month.

    Scottish Welfare Fund Grants, disbursed by the Council, are within budget and the relationship with Bethany Christian Trust who provide furniture to people on our behalf appears to be working particularly well.
    At the end of May 2013 there were 3,566 Council tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax. Prior to implementation on 1 April 2013, 969 (27%) of affected tenants were in arrears; by the end of May and this had increased to 2561 (72%). In terms of rental income it is estimated that in the eight weeks following the 1 April 2013, around £390,000 (69%) of the £560,000 of rent due, has not been collected. As I've mentioned before this money should be used to pay for Council housing staff and to finance investment in existing and new homes. 
    Next step is to prepare for the introduction of direct payment of Universal Credit (all benefits lumped together basically) and paid direct to the tenant rather than the housing element paid to the Council (or RSL) as it is now. Happy days !!!

    Discretionary Housing Payment (short term awards based on circumstances) spend is within budget (£1.348m). Up to 5 June 2013, there had been a total of 1134 DHP claims assessed, 831 ongoing awards, 19 one-off payments and 284 refusals. This equates to 75% of applications receiving an award, a rate that is markedly higher than the Scottish average of 44%. We've also received news this week that due to a DWP miscalculation we are to receive an additional £80k, one small crumb of comfort amidst the unremitting gloom.

    Now, moving on to benefits for people with severe illness or disabilities -

    the ongoing replacement of Incapacity Benefit and related benefits by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), with more stringent medical tests, greater conditionality and time-limiting of non-means tested entitlement for all but the most severely ill or disabled: the DWP intends to complete this process by 2014; and the phased replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), including more stringent and frequent medical tests, (sometimes carried out by ATOS, who you may have heard of) as the basis for financial support to help offset the additional costs faced by individuals with disabilities.

    From 7 October 2013, existing recipients of DLA will begin to be transferred to PIP and from October 2015 all the remaining claimants in receipt of a DLA award will be invited to make a claim for PIP. DWP will randomly select those recipients of DLA in receipt of an indefinite award or a fixed term award, and notify them about what they need to do to claim PIP. The intention is that this process will be completed by October 2017.

    The new benefit is expected to bring an anticipated reduction of expenditure by 20% on current levels and an anticipated 55% of current DLA recipients will receive reduced benefit or will be refused PIP when the reassessment takes place. 

    The conclusion is that more people will experience more hardship and uncertainty and as result will seek more support from Council services. This, at a time when budgets are reducing, inflation is rising and demand for services is already expected to increase due to other factors.

    I'm not normally a pessimist but it's difficult to see a bright side in all of this :o(

    Sunday, 28 July 2013

    Wickerman Highlights

    Just back from a great weekend at the Wickerman Festival, south of Dumfries. Brief highlights for me as follows - Bombskare - Scotland's Ska Juggernaut rolls on, great set guys. Chic, featuring Nile Rogers, one last chance to wear that white suit and boogie on down to disco hits of the 80s.  Primal Scream - the Scottish Rolling Stones ? Roddy Hart and the Lonesome Fire, superb, has to be the next big thing in Scottish music and a good looking laddie too, according to my missuss. Amphetameanies, Dumfries based Ska outfit. Anti Nowhere League - old fashioned, in your face, kick in the balls, punk rockers. Dexys - bit pretensious and self indulgent but at least he did versions of Gino and Come on Eileen both of which went down well with the crowd. Rezillos - headlined in the Scooter Tent, absolutely timeless and a new album out in September apparently. Loads of other stuff, acoustic, reggae, poetry, new music, and almost enough bars to satisfy demand. Met up with my youngest and her pal who were working at the festival and heading up to Belladrum for next weekend. I'm soooo jealous !!!

    Tuesday, 23 July 2013

    Visiting Time

    Corstorphine Hospital, a few years ago...
    As mentioned in the post below summer and less meetings presents an opportunity to get out and visit services and people. On Friday as part of the programme for the new Health and Social Care Partnership we visited Corstorphine Hospital which provides nursing care to frail, elderly people and then the newly opened Drumbrae Care Home. Both venues provide a good standard of care, obviously to different categories of service users, based on need, but in hugely different settings. Corstorphine is an old, traditional hospital (Florence Nightingale wards, I was told) and Drumbrae is brand new, state of art and feels quite luxurious, a sign that accommodation standards are improving and expectations, quite rightly, increasing. The challenge is to find the funding to deliver more new facilities.

    This morning saw an organised tour of three voluntary sector organisations delivering services in the city centre. First the Canongate Youth Project which works with youngsters between the ages of 5 - 25 although today we focused more on the support to school leavers who don't go into employment or further education and need to be equipped with the skills to put together a CV and handle the trauma of a job interview. More info on their excellent website.

    Then a wander up to Guthrie Street and the new home of Remade Edinburgh (website/blog link) which works to support people (all of us) to reduce waste by reusing and repairing items that all too often end up in land fill sites. Everything from toys and fabrics to computers and furniture can be repaired and reused and Remade is part of a growing international movement as people become more aware of and dissatisfied with today's consumerist and disposable society. They also gave us chocolate biscuits and strawberries !!

    Finally, another short walk to the Serenity Café and a meeting with Comas, who work with people recovering from addictions and the numerous issues confronting individuals and families who are affected. A really interesting discussion about these services and the role of the third sector in their delivery and ability to sometimes be more innovative and imaginative than is sometimes possible through traditional methods. More about them on this link. 

    Thursday, 18 July 2013

    Joys of Summer

    One of the joys of the summer season is that most formal Council committees don't meet and given that many colleagues are on holiday its a chance to shake off the dust of the City Chambers and spend more time in the local community. Monday night's Ratho Community Council meeting went ahead as scheduled and we managed to conduct the business without any undue difficulties. Tuesday, sandwiched between two constituent visits in Clovenstone and Balerno, I accepted an invite to visit the new Bridge 8 Hub at the Calders. A social enterprise initiative led by Sean Barry the idea is to create an outdoor activities centre that can be used by young and old from the surrounding communities and also tap into the commercial possibilities presented by the corporate market seeking team building opportunities. Canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, archery and a community garden are the initial offerings but Sean and his colleagues have big plans for the future and seem to have done their homework in terms of potential custom and other sources of funding. It's certainly a great idea and nothing similar exists on this side of the city so I wish them well and if you want to read more about them there's info here on their web site.

    Tuesday evening was the latest meeting of the South West Communities Forum, basically a forum for local community councils to come together to discuss a collective response to the ongoing process of the Local Development Plan and the increasing number of attempts by developers to breach the Green Belt in our area. Excellent discussion and a good chance to discuss future strategy and how we should attempt to shape policy decisions.

    Saturday, 29 June 2013

    Lost in France - Contalmaison

    Hopefully, I won't be, but many were in the First World War 1914-18. I've been honoured by being asked to represent the Council and the Lord Provost at the annual commemoration service at the memorial in the picture which is at Contalmaison, a small hamlet in northern France and was erected by the McCrae's Battalion Trust to honour the many young men who fell around this area at the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. The entire Hearts first team squad enlisted en masse into Sir George McCrae's battalion and some of them never returned. Several others were so badly injured that their football careers were prematurely ended as well their health being affected for the rest of their lives. The Contalmaison Cairn's elder sister, the Haymarket Memorial Clock will shortly be reinstalled to its rightful position and both are fitting tributes to the courage of young men who sacrificed all in one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. I'm travelling alone by train there and back but am looking forward to meeting up with the guys from the Trust on Sunday and paying my respects on Monday 1st July. 

    Monday, 24 June 2013

    Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre

    Was delighted to have a sneak preview and brief tour of the new Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre this morning (at 8am!). It was in fact a photo opportunity ahead of the formal hand over in a couple of weeks and the official opening later this summer. Its an impressive building with some great spaces taking advantage of the natural light that seems to fill every nook and cranny. Was also delighted to be able to invite representatives from the WH Community Council who have supported the project throughout. Services based here will of course serve the south west of the city but achieving this new centre in the heart of the community has been a huge issue for Wester Hailes and represents another major step forward in the regeneration of the area. The ground floor is given over to service delivery to patients and clients and upstairs is an open plan space where professionals from many disciplines across Council and NHS services will be co-located and can work together to better effect. Still some hard work ahead as about 330 staff are scheduled to move in but it does look like a great place to work or receive vital services.

    Wednesday, 19 June 2013

    Committee Business and Seeing Auntie, again

    A very busy Health Wellbeing and Housing Committee yesterday morning heard a deputation from the Prestonfield Neighbourhood Cebtre (pictured) They were asking that when the Council is carrying out modernisation works on the Kitchen and Bathroom programme we should also consult with tenants with a view to installing wet floor showers if so desired by the tenant. Prestonfield has quite an elderly population and the thinking is that when people require these adaptations to stay in their own homes its often a lengthy and expensive process and sometimes people have to reluctantly consider moving house if the adaptation can't be delivered. There was a lot of merit in their argument, though also some short term budget implications. However, in the finest traditions of cross party compromise we managed to agree to their request and called for a report into the wider Adaptations service. The complete committee papers can found on this link and part 2 of the papers on this link.

    Committee was followed by our Policy Review session during which we saw the performance of Seeing Auntie again by Naomi Breeze. It had an equally powerful impact second time round and this time we followed the play with a discussion about how Edinburgh can move towards becoming a Dementia Friendly City. Some good ideas generated and further work is being carried out.

    Hot footed it to the Corn Exchange for our third managers event to discuss Health and Social Care Integration. Really useful session with some positive feedback from Council and NHS managers. The draft bill has now been published in the Scottish Parliament so there should be some interesting debate in the months ahead.

    Then, just made it to Clovenstone Community Centre for the management committee meeting, only to find it had been cancelled, but at least there was time to draw breath before the WEGARAH meeting at Prospect HA. Excellent turn out and a good discussion about recent racially motivated incidents and the welcome news that following the horrific events in Woolwich a few weeks ago there had been no negative backlash in Edinburgh with all communities and faiths united in condemning the murder of Lee Rigby and maintaining a united, civilised front.

    Sunday, 16 June 2013

    Wester Hailes Fun Run

    3 Fun Run spectators in WH this morning
    The resurrected Wester Hailes 5k Fun Run took place this morning. Organised and supported by Prospect Housing Association, Scorescotland, WHALE, WH Health Agency and the Community Council it was building on last year's event which unfortunately was badly affected by heavy rain. No such problems today though with a mild, dry morning. The 140 or so athletes set off from Hailes Quarry Park and made their way through Wester Hailes via the Greenway and up and round Clovenstone before sprinting for the finish back at the park. One or two serious runners but the real success of this event was the community, young and old, coming out and participating or supporting. Some may not be sporty or competitive but there was good family and community spirit, enjoyed by all. Did I run ? I hear you ask.... Well, I decided my talents would be best used as a steward so I was dispatched to help at the Clovesntone water station, handing out drinks to tired and thirsty runners. It was hard work, honest....

    Currie Beer Festival

    My commitment to local community activities was on show again on Friday night as I spent a very enjoyable evening supporting the Currie Beer and Curry Festival. Well organised and run by the good people of the Currie and Balerno Round Table, this was the second annual festival, held over two nights, but it was so well organised it felt like it has been a regular fixture for years. Credit must go to the numerous volunteers who had obviously spent a great deal of time and effort and in particular to those responsible for identifying the more than 30 beers and ciders to choose from. All the ales were Scottish and mostly from the central belt. More money raised too for local charities, something the Round Table are particularly good at, what's not to like ? Looking forward to next year already...

    Saturday, 15 June 2013


    Two inspirational experiences last week. Firstly, I paid a visit to the new premises of LEAP (Lothians & Edinburgh Abstinence Project) who work with people with drug and alcohol addictions who have reached a stage where they are prepared to tackle their addiction, with support, through abstinence and on a road to recovery. Its an intensive, structured, 12 week residential (for most) programme which, if completed is followed by further support to help people move back to their home environments and continue with the good work. It's a pretty successful programme too although it is dependent on individuals being prepared to confront their circumstances and do something about it. Probably takes a great deal of personal courage. The new premises at Astley Ainslie are very impressive and ideal for this sort of work. I also met a couple of lads who are progressing through the programme and they were really positive about their LEAP experience and optimistic about their own futures for the first time in years. One even admitted that he fully expected to be dead if he hadn't found LEAP.

    Then I toddled back to the City Chambers to co host a Thank You event for Health and Social Care volunteers. Very informal with a glass of wine and light buffet but rather than the usual small talk one sometimes gets at these events I was genuinely impressed and fascinated by the volunteers I talked to. One works with the museums and galleries service to take people with disabilities on guided tours. Another gives up her time to support a group of recovering drug addicts. One guy befriends a 40 year old man with learning disabilities and has done for 15 years. He told me he wanted to make a contribution but had in fact taken more from his experience that he thought he had put in. All of these instances don't replace existing service provision but are an added extra, a very important extra that makes a great difference to a lot of people's lives. An inspiring day.

    Thursday, 30 May 2013

    Report Card

    Very successful Wester Hailes Community Council AGM last night with a few new faces and volunteers to get involved. Its been a difficult transition from the old Rep Council but the patience and determination of a small band of stalwarts is beginning to pay off and its good to see the local community developing a strong voice again. Thought their meeting was particularly well handled by the guest chair for the evening too !!!

    Today was the May Council meeting, if you missed the live webcast a full set of papers and reports are on this link. Among a lot of other business we also considered our first year report card as it were, i.e. a progress report on our Capital Coalition pledges for the city. This particular report is here but progress can also be monitored anytime on the Council's main website under the section called "Coalition Pledges". It means that we can be held to account on the promises we have made and ensures we focus on delivering what we said we would. It's an excellent example of openness and transparency - and also a bit scary too !!!....

    Saturday, 11 May 2013

    Good Advice

    Was delighted this week to be asked to officially open the Council's new Advice Shop which has been re sited from the South Bridge to a refurbished suite of offices on the ground floor of the City Chambers. Entering from the High Street a modern and professional reception area is supplemented by numerous interview rooms of various sizes and an extensive back office area where advice workers can access a wealth of information for customers. It's an impressive set up and I'm pleased for the staff who had to continue to deliver a very important service while dealing with the upheaval of an office move. They're already really busy with the workload set to increase over the months ahead due to the ongoing problems caused by the ConDem Welfare Reform changes. We recently agreed to put more than £200k additional funding into advice services across the city including the Advice Shop. Whether or not that will be enough to meet the demand remains to be seen. At least staff and customers have state of the art accommodation in which to hold their important sessions. I just hope the plaque at the front door bearing my name doesn't put anyone off coming in !

    Saturday, 4 May 2013

    Currie Riding

    The annual Currie Riding took place today. From a sunny but cool green outside the Weavers Knowe more than a hundred horses and riders set off to mark the boundaries of the Currie parish (to ensure no encroachment from bandits in Balerno or Juniper Green !).  An ancient tradition to protect land this celebration now brings together riders and communities from other towns and villages who still uphold and enjoy this ritual. Quite a logistical exercise and much credit to the organisers including my old sparring partner former Councillor Alistair Paisley. The Currie Ride were joined by friends from Annan, Penicuik, Lanark and Berwick, among others and together they all, quite literally, headed for the hills (the Pentlands). I believe there are a couple of pit stops along the way and no doubt much needed refreshment, for the horses, will be taken. While they're out tramping the boundaries I'm going to head for Tynecastle, more out of habit than expectation. I noticed the other day a large banner displayed across Gorgie church, next to Tynecastle, imploring us to "Try Praying". Might be good advice.....

    Thursday, 18 April 2013

    Foodbank Trolley Push

    As can been seen in the photo I was happy to lend a hand to the Trussell Trust supported foodbank trolley push today, promoting and collecting for the growing network of foodbanks in the UK. The Edinburgh NW Foodbank were leading the charge today but I believe there are another couple in the city, all doing good work. They're also in the process of building a network of contacts with various organisations, churches, charities etc, many of who were represented today in the City Chambers Quadrangle, so that crisis help, in the form of food, can be provided where and when it is most needed. Its a sobering thought that in this day and age some people, and families, struggle to feed themselves. Sadly it seems there is a growing need for such support, much of which is provided by donations and co-ordinated by volunteers. Its a movement that's in its infancy but will definitely continue to grow.

    Sunday, 14 April 2013

    Shared Lives

    Big Fat Panda giving it laldy
    Was delighted to speak at the relaunch of Edinburgh's Shared Lives programme this week. The scheme supports carers who are prepared to look after an adult with learning difficulties, either short or long term. Not a decision to be taken lightly obviously, but potentially rewarding and worthwhile for all parties. Part of a national scheme Shared Lives Plus, its an innovative way of supporting vulnerable adults in a home environment and is structured in a way that still ensures high care standards are met but not in an institutionalised setting. Its actually been going for a number of years and one of my fellow speakers, Nicky from Leith told the audience that him and his wife have been caring for the same lad for 44 years now. He spoke excellently about the challenges and rewards and stressed the need for commitment. Cleary that that's something that Nicky and his wife have by the barrow load.

    Also managed to get to see Big Fat Panda at Bannermans on Thursday, supported by the Skababs. Excellent gig and the guys have produced a CD in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. There's a launch gig at the end of May and I'll certainly be going and will post more info nearer the time.

    Wednesday, 10 April 2013

    Holocaust Memorial Service

    Attended the annual Jewish Holocaust Memorial service at the Peace Gardens in Prince's Street Gardens earlier this week. As ever, it was a short, dignified, solemn and moving event, hosted by Edinburgh's Jewish community. The memorial stone in the picture was placed there by the Council in conjunction with the local Jewish community about 20 years ago. I've been to the service a few times now and I think the attendance seems to grow slightly each year with more young people there this time than I've seen before. The old saying "You can't know where you're going, until you know where you've been" springs to mind and the crimes of the past must never be forgotten.

    Wednesday, 3 April 2013

    Edinburgh's No Eviction Policy

    After some internal discussion with our Capital Coalition partners we have decided, like many other Scottish Councils, to commit to a No Eviction policy for Council tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax. There are real implications for the Council's Housing service in this approach but to be honest the Bedroom Tax was already putting investment plans and existing services at risk, not to mention taking money out of the pockets of some of the poorest people in Edinburgh. We simply couldn't contemplate taking eviction action against our tenants who make every effort to pay their rent and whose only crime is having the goalposts moved on them by Iain "£53/week" Duncan Smith and George Osborne, et al .....

    The motion below has now been submitted for consideration to the Council's P&S Committee on 16 April.

    Policy and Strategy Committee 16 April 2013

    Motion By Councillor Ricky Henderson – Welfare Reform

    1)         Committee wishes to express its concern regarding the impact that the range of Welfare Reform measures is having on people in Edinburgh.

    2)         Specifically the Committee is concerned that, from April 2013, measures to reduce housing benefit for tenants of local authorities and housing associations (Bedroom Tax) have not taken account of the acute shortage of one bedroom homes.  This will lead to significant hardship for the tenants affected and increase the risk of homelessness.

    3)         Committee is further concerned that these measures may have an adverse impact on council and housing association landlords’ rental income and their ability to invest in improving their own stock and in building new, affordable to heat, homes.

    4)         Committee notes that there is a significant risk of a reduction of £45 million in capital investment, funded from the Housing Revenue Account, as a result of this and other measures.

    5)         Committee agrees:

    (a)             that where the Director of Services for Communities is satisfied that tenants who are subject to the under-occupancy charge have done all they reasonably could to avoid falling in to arrears, then all legitimate means to collect rent arrears should be utilised except eviction

    (b)        to establish a joint working group that will include elected members, officials from Housing and Revenues and Benefits, Registered Social Landlords and tenants representatives. The role of the working group shall be to monitor the implementation and impact of various benefits changes and to contribute to consideration of further measures to support tenants.

    (c)        to support calls by local campaigns to scrap the Bedroom Tax.