Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Compliments of the Season

This does seem to be the appropriate moment to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year. Regardless of beliefs I hope everyone gets some time off and manages to be with family or friends for a while.

2014 was fairly momentous, the Referendum, Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup, some significant and worrying developments on the international stage, an increase in social inequality at home and an increase in the presence, and use of foodbanks. On a positive note, Hearts came out of administration and continue to build on firm foundations.

2015 is promising to be just as challenging. Council budget pressures will dominate my attention for the first couple of months with Health and Social Care currently projecting a £5.3m overspend ! Not good, but a timely illustration of the pressures on health and social care services. Basically the demand for care services is overtaking the resources that we have available.

I've also announced my intention to stand for selection as the Labour candidate in Edinburgh South West now that Alistair Darling has decided to stand down after 28 years at Westminster. The selection process is underway and that might occupy a fair bit of time and energy in the next few weeks too.

Clovie youngsters receive awards
Of the numerous commitments in recent weeks a few stand out as worthy of mention. The Youth Awards event held at Clovenstone Community Centre was terrific and its great to see youngsters achieve awards that go towards their formal qualifications and help to build confidence and prepare for the challenges ahead. The project work is based at Clovie Community Centre but is backed by Wester Hailes Education Centre.

I was delighted last week to support the festive campaign against domestic violence. It was pleasure to meet Superintendent Liz McAinsh from Police Scotland and Hibs Captain Liam Craig and Hearts striker Osman Sow to get some photographs taken for the local media.

Sadly, incidents of domestic abuse increase at this time of the year, hence the need for the campaign. The Scottish Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is available 24 hours can be contacted on 0800 027 1234.

Finally, amongst the festive duties it was a great pleasure again to support the Currie and Balerno Round Table's annual Santa Runs. I joined the Currievale route this year but many of the guys do numerous shifts throughout the month in the local area. They raise thousands of pounds for local good causes and have great fun doing so. What's not to like ? The Balerno Christmas Market was a great success again and myself and fellow judge Alistair Darling MP took on the onerous task of judging the Christmas Tree festival. Over 30 magnificent specimens were on show and I think we just about managed to award 4 prizes that seemed to meet with general approval !

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Clowndoctors and Elderflowers

I was delighted to accept an invitation to attend the 15th birthday celebration of Hearts and Minds last night at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the High Street (a great venue by the way). From their website an explanation of what they do -

" Hearts and Minds is a Scottish arts-in-health charity. We aim to improve the experience of people in hospital and in hospice, residential and respite care by using the performing arts to encourage communication, interaction and laughter.

We achieve our aim through two specialist creative programmes; The Clowndoctors, who work specifically with children, and The Elderflowers, who work with elderly people with dementia.We raise smiles all across Scotland, from Inverness down to the Borders."

All their "Practitioners", as they are referred to, are actors who spread joy and laughter, sometimes improvised, to people young and old who are facing a difficult time and frightened of what the future may hold. Expertly led by Magdalena Schamberger the organisation has grown from an idea and modest beginnings to a well established and respected organisation that helps to develop young acting talent but more importantly makes a huge difference to the lives of people who are very vulnerable. It should be noted that care staff, NHS staff etc do a fantastic job caring but they don't always have the time to add that wee bit extra. In any case, I'm not sure if they would be suited to the anarchic, slap stick antics of the Practitioners.

Part of the birthday celebrations was a performance by singer songwriter Carrie Mac, followed by a film of the Clowndoctors and Elderflowers in action. It was excellent. It made me cry.

Monday, 10 November 2014


Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
Remembrance Day commitments went well yesterday. Was honoured to lay a wreath at Balerno Church during a service that had a strong anti war theme throughout. The minister stressed the point to some children in the congregation that we learn (hopefully) through mistakes of the past not to repeat bad decisions in the future. Also heard a recital of some wonderful poems from the First World War writer and padre Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy. I wasn't aware of him or his work before but you can access his biography and some of his poems on this link. His poems are very powerful.

Then, back into town and down to the Royal Scots Club at Abercromby Place for the annual McCrae's Battalion Trust Lunch. An excellent afternoon of reminiscences, remembrance, football talk and good old fashioned knock about humour, provided this year by Tam Cowan and Jimmy Stirling. Both were superb. Good to catch up with numerous friends who are involved with the Trust and the football club and even managed to last the pace until the proceedings concluded at about 6.30pm.

The Health, Social Care and Housing Committee meets tomorrow, the papers can be viewed on this link to the Council Papers Online service.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Integration in action

Wester Hailes HLC
After a busy week I was looking forward to our visit to the Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre this morning, as part of our programme of visits to Health and Social Care services and facilities across the city. The process of putting in place the necessary arrangements to comply with Scottish Government regulations in relation to Health and Social Care Integration continues and its quite a complex piece of work. Therefore, while we plough through the seemingly endless, dry process of governance and structures it was refreshing to see and hear the benefits of joint working across NHS, Council, and third sector organisations actually delivering better services for local people. From learning disabilities to children and families and home care and re-ablement to addictions services and support for cancer sufferers, the teams of professionals based at the WHHLC are, after settling into their new surroundings, pressing ahead with very impressive joint working that gives us a real picture of what Integration can achieve. Much of this can and is being done without the need for legislation but where barriers have been identified we need to take this on through the new Integrated Joint Board (IJB) and try to assist these colleagues to make further progress. The construction of the Strategic Commissioning Plan, which will come next year, will be a real opportunity for this and hopefully we can move from the bureaucracy to real service change and delivery.
Sir George McCrae

Remembrance Sunday this weekend and I'm honoured to have been asked again to lay a wreath at the service at Balerno Parish Church and am then looking forward to attending the McCrae's Battalion Lunch at the Royal Scots Club.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Climbing, Currie, Clovie and the Clash - just another Saturday

Festival time at Clovie
Very busy but thoroughly enjoyable day yesterday. My first commitment was to visit the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) Family Fun Day at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena at Ratho. Basically, the idea is that the kids get taken off to go climbing or other activities, while parents get the chance to have a coffee and browse the information stalls set up by various organisations who provide services to deaf children and their families. I'm told that accessing relevant information is sometimes an issue so this was a great opportunity to get info and advice and possibly chat to other parents facing similar challenges. It seemed to be going very well.

Currie - going like a fair.....
Then off to the Currie Community Fair which has been resurrected by the new Currie Community Council, all of whom had put in a great deal of time and effort over the past few months to make the event possible. Well, the good folk of Currie rolled up in their hundreds and good day was had by all. 

I was delighted to do an hour or so on one of the gates and draw the raffle towards the end of the afternoon but not before nipping down to Clovenstone to visit the opening of the new community garden there as part of the Edible Edinburgh initiative. Great turn out from all ages, bumped into a few local activists and we exchanged some Yes/No banter. There was food and live music on the go as well as topping up the raised beds that will be cultivated in months to come.

Helped to clear up a bit at Currie, don't often spend my Saturday afternoons with a litter picker in my hand but it had to be done. 

Then it was off to the Citrus Club last night for a charity gig in aid of the Sick Kids Foundation. Three tribute bands played, David Bowie Sound and Vision were excellent, the Livi Clash Rockers were tremendous and the Underground Jam were outstanding. I slept well last night...

Monday, 1 September 2014

post Festivals

King Creosote
The Edinburgh (summer) Festivals are over for another year and the city centre returns to normal, whatever that may be ! Didn't manage to get much time off but still saw a number of good shows and enjoyed the atmosphere. So, in no particular order of preference, many thanks to - Woody Guthrie, Roy Hattersley, Flagstaff, featuring David Clater, Raymond Mearns, King Creosote, Dean Friedman and James Bannon. Loads of stuff I wanted to see but didn't get the chance but, hey, that the nature of it. Roll on next year with flyers, pop up bars, pretentious students, confused tourists and entertainment overload.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Curriemuirend Park - and beyond....

Rather impressive public meeting at Juniper Green last night. A packed audience (about100) were in the village hall to hear updates on the Local Development Plan and the proposal to allocate Curriemuirend Park for housing development. The recent history and current situation were expertly outlined by the Community Council top table including reference to the motion carried at the Planning Committee in June which asked Planners to re-assess the site just southwest of the Gogarburn roundabout, referred to as "East of Millburn Tower" but more familiarly recognised as the northern finger of Murray Estates Garden District mega plans for 3,500 houses, businesses, sports facilities etc etc... Up until now there has been very little local support for any element of their proposals however, the world has changed and with the published LDP including 4 significant sites along the Lanark Road corridor, among the other land allocation which is meant to provide the supply of an additional 32,000 homes by 2024, there is a realisation that perhaps it makes more sense for a new site with associated infrastructure to be established rather than increasing pressure on existing communities and particularly roads. After some thought, that's certainly my view. If you have the time and inclination to read through the LDP and supporting reports they can be accessed on this link.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Woody Guthrie - Hard Travelin'

"This Machine Kills Facists"
The Edinburgh Festivals are in full flow and the city is bursting at the seams. Great atmosphere though and as usual I'm trying to squeeze in some shows between work commitments. Not ideal, but at least I'm lucky to have the opportunity. Best highlight so far was "Hard Travelin' with Woody", a one man show describing the life and times of Woody Guthrie and featuring a number of his songs. Woody walks us through the hard times of the depression and the harsh reality for working men travelling the country looking for jobs and not always being welcomed by local communities or the Police. He also describes his realisation that workers need to be organised to have any chance of justice or decent conditions. That message is as valid today as it ever was. The show is on at CC Blooms every day at 1.45pm for an hour. It's part of the Free Festival but a fiver in the bucket at the end is the least that this show deserves with a fantastic performance by Randy Noojin as Woody. More details on the Fringe website on this link.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Integration Edges Closer

The Integration of Health and Social Care took a significant step forward this week. The Council's Policy and Strategy Committee and the board of NHS Lothian both agreed, after a brief review, to continue to develop the joint board partnership model that we've been developing in shadow form for the past 18 months or so. The P&S report can be accessed on this link. I was pleased that both organisations reached the same conclusion and while it was right to take a look at what other options were available in light of the Scottish Government draft regulations, it did create a bit of uncertainty and concern that the lead agency model could have been selected. I don't think that would have been right for Edinburgh and wouldn't have been effective in helping to deliver on the wider Health and Social Care agenda. So, we move on, in partnership, the Council and NHS Lothian working jointly with the trade unions, the voluntary sector, service users and carers and health and social care professionals, all of whom are represented on the shadow Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership. Incidentally, after a development session a few weeks ago we agreed to move away from the more formal business meetings that we had scheduled and concentrate on further development work to ensure the partnership gains a better understanding of the issues that we will be responsible for and the skills that will be required once the partnership goes "live" sometime next year.

Friday, 23 May 2014

I have seen the future....

Was privileged to be asked along to the launch event for a new service today at Drummond Place in the new town. A Georgian town house on 3 floors, the Drummond Service now provides a home with intensive skilled support for seven people with complex needs, which has allowed them to leave the care of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Combining many of the best principles of health and social care service delivery - supporting individuals to live as independently as possible, working in partnership with other organisations and involving service users and carers in decision making, this type of service has to be the way forward in allowing people to live within communities as independently as possible, using support as and when necessary and preventing lengthy, counter productive periods in hospital. In this case Viewpoint Housing Association own the property, Edinburgh Council commissions the care service and Faye and her excellent team from Carr Gomm provide the support on site on a 24/7 basis. The improvement to the physical and mental health of the seven guys who live here has been significant I was told and in chatting to a couple of them they seem very settled and extremely pleased with their new home. Oh, the cake was fantastic by the way....

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Scott vs Zombies & WAAD

Me, Scott & the Zombie Auctioneer
Yesterday was one of the most interesting and unusual days for me as Convenor of Health and Social Care. It began with a pre meeting at Waverley Gate, followed by a lengthy NHS Lothian Board meeting and then a visit to Craigmillar to meet one of the city's Pioneer Groups which provide support for dementia sufferers and their families. It was a relatively small gathering, supported by a couple of NHS colleagues, and we had a good chat about what services are needed for people and also what businesses and other public services can do to encourage a wider understanding of dementia and what they can do to help people if they become disorientated or confused. Our work to help Edinburgh become a Dementia Friendly City was welcomed and I look forward to developing this further.

We then made our way to the Gallery on the Corner, in town, for the opening of an exhibition of art work produced by people with Autism. Timed to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), the gallery, an Autism Initiatives social enterprise, provides gallery and studio space as well as the experience of producing work in a business environment. More details on this link to the Autism Initiatives website.

Then a short walk to Stockbridge Library for "Scott vs Zombies". Scott Davidson, who has autism, inspired the project and through the excellent Artlink Edinburgh worked with writer Alan Grant and artist Robin Smith to produce a heroes style comic to tell Scott and his mum Liz's story. Last night's event was to auction 18 of Robin's original sketches used for the artwork in the comic. Quite a specialised interest area and a large crowd gathered to raise money that would be donated to support people with autism. The Zombie Auctioneer, ably assisted by Scott, expertly worked the room and bidding was brisk and generous. An excellent event and congratulations due to all involved.

Then after Scott vs Zombies it was off to Tynecastle for Hearts vs Aberdeen. Following our derby victory on Sunday, a creditable draw means relegation has been evaded again, at least for now...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Committee Business, POSH success and Autism Awareness

Thankfully no April Fools pranks at this morning's Health, Social Care and Housing Committee and not the biggest agenda we've had but still a useful session, in particular hearing from the POSH (Protect Our Sheltered Housing) deputation. Almost 1000 tenants live in Council sheltered housing complexes throughout the city and most receive support from a visiting warden service. The remainder have on site wardens who live in tied accommodation and residents were concerned at proposals to move from this to the visiting wardens. After further in depth consultation via a checkpoint group we've agreed to retain the existing service but not replace the onsite wardens when they move on, retire etc. The deputation made some excellent points about future working and asked for the establishment of a liaison group to monitor the service in future. Given that almost 1000 people live in these complexes and we are acutely aware of the need to ensure more community support for older people this seemed and eminently sensible suggestion and we were happy to agree it. Full papers for the committee on this link, by the way.

Tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day and I'm looking forward to a couple of events to mark the occasion. Will post details later in the week.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Pentlands Labour supporting Womankind

Next Saturday, 8th March, Edinburgh Pentlands Labour are staging an event to celebrate International Women's Day and raise finds for women's rights organisation Womankind. Its at St Columba's by the Castle (14 Johnston Terrace) and should be a great event.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Saving Hearts

On Thursday I took part in a Scottish Patient Safety Programme (SPSP) ward walkround at the Royal Infirmary. There's a planned schedule of visits each month and non Exec NHS Board members are expected to participate as often as possible. It's designed to allow staff and patients to provide feedback on patient safety matters or any other issues. It's also invaluable to me as it provides a fantastic insight into the daily lives of health workers at the front line delivering a vital service. There's also a wide range of services and facilities that are visited and this time it was the Cardiology unit at the Royal (wards 103 and 114, I think). Unfortunately, my other two colleagues had to cancel at short notice which left me as the sole Board representative, however that meant I had some quality time with several members of the staff team and we had a really good chat about numerous issues and the challenges that they face. I was then given a tour of the unit, extremely impressive, professional and bristling with all types of technology that are used to support people who have suffered heart attacks and other cardiac conditions. They are world leaders at early diagnosis and medical interventions (they have a 90 minute target time from the first call from the ambulance) and bags of experience in dealing with high numbers of patients and a steady turnover of admissions and discharges. My thanks to Ann, Pat, Simon and their teams for being so helpful. We often see negative headlines in the media in relation to health care so it was great to see such an important unit providing excellent service with dedicated staff, operating at optimum level.

Yesterday I was at the Edinburgh Labour conference on Local Government Finance. More interesting than you might think... Then off to catch the second half at Tynecastle and while we slumped to another disappointing defeat, this week did at least see the emergence of Ann Budge as the potential saviour of Hearts, until a fans buyout can be delivered. There is light at the end of the tunnel, although to be honest, it's a very long tunnel !

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Pure Poetry, by the way

One of the book sculptures
Another busy week, culminated in us setting the Council budget 2014/15. The usual set piece political blows were duly exchanged in the Chamber before the Capital Coalition proposals were approved. The full papers and all the political motions are available on this link.

Yesterday, saw the latest meeting of our shadow Health and Social Care Partnership and we had a good session discussing a variety of issues from ICT improvements to Unscheduled Care, the NHS Lothian Strategic Plan and the progress of the integration bill through the Scottish Parliament.

I then had a meeting with the good folk at the Scottish Poetry Library in Crichton's Close. They have a number of projects running across Scotland where artists / story tellers / poets do regular sessions in care homes. By engaging with the residents it helps to break down isolation and improves mood and confidence. We don't currently have a relationship with them in Edinburgh but I'm keen to see that change. We also had a look at some of the Edinburgh Book Sculptures, donated by a mystery benefactor, and they are absolutely beautiful. 

I Heart Scotland
I also managed to attend the launch of the latest Travelling Gallery exhibition last night, I Heart Scotland by Rachel Maclean which is "exploring Scottish national identity and its founding mythologies. Presenting a body of film and print work Rachel examines the nation's romantic histories through the lens of contemporary political debate, creating a complex and surreal vision of modern Scotland." Its quite bold and I liked it but I expect it may divide opinion. 

Tonight we're off to the Counting House to see Panic Attack, The Snipes, Big Fat Panda and Root System, who are launching their new CD. Could be messy....

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Great Chieftan o' the Puddin' Race

The Central / Pentlands Burns Supper was excellent. Main speakers Caroline Flint MP (Immortal Memory), Anas Sarwar MP (Toast to the Lassies) and Jenny Marra MSP (reply from the Lassies) were all superb and ably supported by Tim Pogson and Alistair Darling. My flawless Selkirk Grace (only 4 lines of course !) was delivered with a sigh of relief and the knowledge that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. A good night was had by all and we raised a few quid for both CLPs.

Sunday didn't exactly go according to plan. I've seen Hearts get beat under some unusual circumstances over years but I haven't witnessed that before ! At least there was more promising news yesterday about the long process towards taking the club out of Administration and into the ownership of the fans.

Busy start to the week again with the usual array of Monday morning meetings followed by a trip to Heriot Watt Uni for a meeting of the South West Community Sports Hub. Lot of good work being carried out and some momentum now building. Surgeries at Clovie and Currie not too busy.

Labour Group meeting last night, and we're getting very close to putting the finishing touches to the budget and our draft Coalition motion. More info will be released publicly later this week.

This morning saw a very busy NHS Lothian Board meeting with a particularly heavy agenda, but we got through it, eventually.

Full Council tomorrow, all the reports are on this link.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hello 2014

A belated Happy New Year. As expected, after the Christmas and New Year break it's been really busy. At least that's my excuse for neglecting my blog duties. So today's post is more of a summary of some activities and events throughout January.

It began badly with a derby defeat at Easter Road, but a couple of wins on the bounce and we can at least look forward to tomorrow's League Cup semi final with a modicum of optimism.

Council business has been dominated by preparations for the 2014/15 budget which will be set on 13th February and numerous workstreams on the Health, Social Care and Housing front, including the Committee meeting last Tuesday (28th). You can access all the reports on this link.

Locally, the normal routine of surgeries and community meetings has resumed with much focus on the numerous planning applications that have been submitted in all corners of the ward.

In addition, at Wester Hailes CC on 8th January I learned that a Food Bank is to be established within the shopping centre at Westside Plaza, with support from the CC, a local church and the centre managers. A sad sign of the times.

A couple of events with a positive feel are worth a mention from the last week. The Canny wi' Cash project , run by EVOC, provided small grants to local groups working with older people and the successful application were subject to a democratic vote by older people around the city. We hosted a wee reception for them and it was good to chat about the various brilliant activities being delivered. Click on EVOC's Canny wi' Cash page for more details.

Also attended the launch of the Dementia Awareness Campaign at Drumbrae Library and although this is a serious and growing problem, the event itself was upbeat and positive. Working with Alzheimer Scotland, the NHS and the voluntary sector we are hoping to raise awareness of dementia and encourage people to seek help if they think they may have symptoms. Early diagnosis and support can make a big difference to sufferers and their families.

Tonight is the annual Edinburgh Central and Pentlands Labour Burns night. Should be fun.