Saturday, 30 March 2013

Sexual Health, Crisis Grants & the Royal Ed

Interesting and varied week again, including a lengthy NHS Lothian Board meeting on Wednesday sandwiched between two visits to different health facilities. Firstly, the relatively new Chalmers Centre for Sexual Health at Lauriston Place. A wide range of services delivered there including STI, HIV, pregnancy advice and contraception and we were given an intriguing tour and chatted to some of the staff. Fantastic building too with a beautiful atrium space where the old building meets the new. The stained glass window in the picture depicts a family tree, appropriately. 

Thursday saw a visit by Housing Minister Margaret Burgess MSP to Chesser House to check on our preparations for the introduction of the Scottish Welfare Fund, which has been devolved to Councils and will become operational on 1st April. I think the minister came to the same conclusion as me, which is that following a great deal of work by council staff, we are as well prepared as could be expected given the uncertainties that lie ahead. There's more information on this link to the Council's website. 

I then paid a visit to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital to meet Tim Montgomery for a chat and a tour. Visited three wards in all and talked to staff and some patients. Parts of the building are far from ideal and there are plans to redevelop the whole site over the next few years. I was struck though by the professionalism of the staff and the quiet way they go about their business. All was calm and peaceful when I was there but I understand it can be a bit hectic at times and the staff need to draw on all their skills and experience to deal with any issues that arise.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ravelrig Riding for the Disabled

Ravelrig Riding for the Disabled (RRDA) launched their ambitious plans for a new indoor riding arena on Friday. They already do wonderful work with committed volunteers and lots of demand for their therapeutic and recreational services. Problem is that historically, and currently, they are at the mercy of the Scottish weather. And believe me, Balerno is still covered with snow when it is long forgotten in the city centre. Obviously the bad weather, rain, frost, snow, leads to a lot a cancelled sessions which equals a lot of disappointed youngsters and volunteers. It also leads to issues about keeping the horses trained and disciplined (not that I'm an expert). So, a covered arena would allow them to operate 52 weeks a year and satisfy some more of the demand that is out there. For every disabled person using RRDA there are 4 or 5 on a waiting list. They even have a waiting list for volunteers ! Their plans include the indoor arena, new stables and office and meeting room accommodation and look very impressive. Their fundraising target is £1.8m which is a lot of money but they are well organised, well supported and well respected for the work they do so I'm confident they can achieve their ambition. Admittedly, I'm not what you would call a horsey person but very much enjoyed my visit to the launch event and even though I didn't actually see a horse, one could feel their presence. Went away with a distinctive smell in my nostrils and a mild asthma attack ! I probably wouldn't be much use to them as a volunteer....

Jimmy McIntosh

Jimmy McIntosh MBE
Was pleased to accept an invite to attend the Partners in Advocacy AGM this week. You can find out more about them at their website. Part of the meeting was used to deliver a tribute to longstanding PiA chair Jimmy McIntosh MBE. This was delivered in true "This is Your Life" style by Duncan Macauley. Jimmy's story is quite remarkable. He's well known in Edinburgh for his tireless campaigning for people with disabilities and was a prominent figure in the successful fight against the Care and Support tender exercise under the last Council. Born in 1939 with cerebral palsy, doctors at the time said he wouldn't live into his teens. He's now in his mid seventies and as active as ever. His story also tells us much about our own society in that Jimmy spent 40 years of his life in different institutions including the old Gogarburn hospital. He and his fellow inmates, as they were called, were kept in locked wards and denied the most basic of rights. They even had to go to court to win the right to vote. Thankfully we've moved on a bit since then, but I'm sure we still have further to travel. You can see a short film about Jimmy on this link.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Bedroom Tax - Making it Real

This morning I joined Pentlands Labour Party to spend a few hours at the Wester Hailes Shopping Centre getting signatures for a petition against the Bedroom Tax. I really was genuinely surprised to see people queueing to sign the petition and I spoke to dozens of folk who will actually be affected by this in just a couple of weeks time. It really did bring it home, seeing the worry this has caused to people who are already pretty poor. They feel they've been attacked and can't understand why. One grandmother told me she looks after her 3 grandkids at the weekend to allow her daughter to go to work. She'll now lose benefits based on the additional bedrooms that she uses for this. Gran is thinking of moving to a smaller house and her daughter will have to consider giving up work and being more reliant on benefits. Absolutely nuts ! A guy told me that as he and his partner are in low paid jobs they receive £1 a week in Housing benefit. Because they've got an extra bedroom they've received a letter advising that their benefits will be reduced to 86p ! The fact that exemptions to the Bedroom Tax were just announced this week proves to me that the ConDem Government are making it up on the hoof and surely more changes will follow.

Tomorrow I shall head for Hampden, more in hope that expectation, for the League Cup Final. I think that St Mirren are underrated as a football side and they certainly carry plenty of threat up front. However, Hearts won't be lacking motivation, fired up with the infectious enthusiasm of new boss Gary Locke. Looking forward to it. Determined to have a good day, come what may. Good luck Hearts.


Very constructive meeting of the Shadow Health and Social Care Partnership yesterday. Still a lot of work to do and a few challenges to overcome but we're certainly moving on the right direction. Starting from next month the meetings will be held in public. There won't be any fanfare launch or anything but the fact that our discussions will be held in public takes us on to an important next stage.

Last night was spent at a special meeting of Juniper Green Community Council to discuss the proposals to re-designate Curriemuirend Park as development land for housing in the new Local Development Plan. Its accepted by most that we really do need more housing in Edinburgh, especially affordable homes and there is pressure from the Scottish Government to identify development land. However, building houses on a local park does seem like a step too far. In addition, the plans (as revealed at Planning workshops earlier in the month) mean reconfiguring Wester Hailes Road from a dual to single carriageway which might make sense from a theoretical policy perspective but would be disastrous in practice. So, I've submitted an objection to the proposal and we'll see what happens at the Planning Committee on Tuesday.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Brixton, Balerno, Glasgow and Easter Road

Lambeth Town Hall
Been on tour the last few days. Visited Lambeth Council (Town Hall is in the centre of Brixton) with a couple of colleagues to discuss their Co-operative Council initiative. They've been leading the co-operative approach for a couple of years now and have developed some really innovative and exciting ideas. The Young Lambeth Co-operative for example which will be established in the next few weeks and young people will own and run their own services with the current budget transferred to them. And the day care centre that we visited that will soon become a mutual, owned by the staff and managed by staff, users and carers. Interesting stuff and not without its challenges but Lambeth colleagues were very open about some of the problems they've encountered, and resolved.

Having got off the train at 11.30pm on Friday I surprised myself by managing to get to the Balerno Farmers Market for 9.30am yesterday, then a cup of coffee at the Fairtrade event in Balerno church before meeting Andrew Burns to head to Glasgow for a Scottish Labour Councillors Conference. Addressed by Sarah Boyack, Anas Sarwar and Johann Lamont as well as a couple of workshop sessions it was very worthwhile and will be repeated.

Last leg of the tour is today, Easter Road, for what is likely to be the last derby of the season. Not hugely confident but looking forward to the game anyway.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Bedroom Tax

Interesting debate at Corporate Policy and Strategy committee this week about the introduction of the Bedroom Tax from 1st April (the Tories don't like it being called the Bedroom Tax by the way, so that's that sorted then...). The Bedroom Tax will inevitably cause problems for individuals across Edinburgh, it is estimated that 6,500 Council and Housing Association tenants will be affected and face the threat of having their Housing Benefit reduced for the heinous crime of having an extra bedroom in their house. Complex rules mean many questions have still to be fully answered regarding people with disabilities, those who need carers to stay occasionally and grown children who may be serving in the forces. But it also presents risks to housing providers like the council and services that are funded after all by the rents that tenants pay. If the Council suffers a reduction in income through the Bedroom Tax that will have a knock effect to front line services and investment in housing. We also have to consider what we do when people inevitably run up arrears. As things currently stand the Council takes every possible precaution to avoid evicting tenants for rent arrears but it does happen unfortunately. Now, I really don't want the Council to find itself in court asking for eviction on the basis that an individual is in rent arrears and their only offence is to have had the goal posts moved on them by the ConDem government. Result of the committee debate ? We've asked for a report on the impact of a no eviction policy and what other mitigation measures we can consider. Watch this space.

Mixed Bag

Very varied and enjoyable activities last weekend. Saturday morning I boarded a 44 and headed for Balerno Tattie Day, staged and promoted by Balerno Village Trust. All things potato related were available for purchase, participation or consumption. The tatties really were selling like hot cakes ! I managed to diplomatically decline the offer of buying various types of seed potatoes and head down the road to Juniper Green Community Market for my stewarding stint. Then off to Tynecastle to see Hearts on the wrong end of a 3-2 against Inverness CT.

On Sunday I accepted an invite from the Edinburgh AhlulBayt Society to attend a lecture on medical ethics as viewed through the Islamic faith. TEAS are a Shia Muslim educational group seeking to encourage debate and a greater understanding of Islam. The lecture, in association with Imamia Medics International, was by Professor Shabih Haider Zadi and focussed on the place of Islamic doctrine in the dogmas of medical ethics. Very interesting session and healthy debate afterwards. I look forward to attending future events. You can find out more at their website.