31 August 2009

Housing Crises Set to Worsen

Today is a v big day in Festival land. It is the last day of the English Bank holiday weekend and as such we have had a massive influx of tourists keen to enjoy our various festivals. The noise from the High St drifts over to my office and I do enjoy the colour and spectacle of it all.

The Evening News ran a story this afternoon about a tenant who has waited 7 years to get a bigger house. I fully empathize with her. We have approx. 23,000 Council Houses, in excess of 5,000 people present themselves as Homeless each year and 1 in 5 of our Council households is overcrowded. This is a situation which has been around for a long time and it is only going to get worse for 2 major reasons.

Firstly our population as a city is expected to rise to the extent that we have to build 15,000 new affordable houses in the next 10 years and even under the increased levels of investment we have had this year we can't do that. Secondly we have an obligation to eradicate unintentional homelessness by 2012. That means those without a home will get preference to those who are in too small a home.

What am I doing about it? Well I have successfully campaigned for additional investment. The South East of Scotland received 15% of investment in Social Housing despite having 75% of the need. Only in the last few months has that picture begun to be turned around and I have to say I have a lot of time for the new Housing Minister at Holyrood who has played a blinder on this. Secondly I have put the wheels in motion for the development of an incentives scheme aimed at encouraging people to move from under occupied houses to smaller ones more in keeping with their needs. Our policy is moving in the right direction but it all take time and that is something we don't have much of.

More misery for the poor. The Government is set to cut up to 20% of the income of some of the country’s poorest people in April. They plan to alter the Local Housing Allowance could leave low-income families £780 worse off. At the moment, families receiving Local Housing Allowance (LHA) are able to keep up to £15 a week if they choose a home with a rent below the Local Housing Allowance maximum for their area. Ministers now propose removing this £15 a week payment with immediate effect in April. This has been a scheme which, according to rebel Labour MP’s, has actually saved the tax payer money! Such win wins are rare in Public policy and abandoning it seems politically stupid.

30 August 2009

To be a Nation Again

Sunday spent at the book festival. The first item was all about Turkey and Albania and borders whether physical or mental. V interesting . One of the authors was Albanian who had walked to Greece to work in the early 90's. He told of how he was in Bosnia speaking to people from each of the different ethnic groups about why with the same language, intermarried families, cuisine they could see themselves as different nationaliites. The other writer was speaking about his experiences in eastern Turkey and the difficulties of some ethnic groups in defining their Nationality. One group he reckoned had three points of reference - “how hard must that be to live with?” he asked. Well I am a Scot and British and European. It doesn’t seem to cause me any problems. All this came on the day that the papers ran the story about the SNP announcing an Independence Referendum next year. Well I would vote No. Scots marry people from the other parts of the UK and nobody bats an eye. We speak the same language and script – The Albanian writer failed to mention that Cyrillic was used by Serbs. The Cuisine is pretty much the same. The English eat French Bread Pizza too and Chicken Tikka Massalla, invented in Glasgow, can be found anywhere. Religion as a division, which is the main difference in Bosnia where there are three large denominations, is even less pronounced here. The division here is between Scots and other Scots not between Scots and the rest of the UK. My point is that independence is even less logical in Scotland which is part of the EU than it is in the former Yougoslavia.

All this reminds me of my feelings when watching the Motorcycle Diaries for the first time. How does a continent with the same religion, language define the various nations? What makes a Venezuelan different from a Colombian? A mute point as Bolivar wanted a much bigger Colombia when he set out liberating much of South America in the early 19th century.

The other vice at the book festival was the book shop there. I did spend too much on books buying Chris Mullins excellent diaries. He tells the charming tale of Tony Blair who attended IT classes, and failed dismally, sitting next to a youth who passed but continued to look seriously hacked off about it. Why asked Blair? “I keep passing and I’ve been unemployed for 18 months and yet you keep failing and your Prime Minister! “ Life is so unfair.

August is just not the same unless you spend some time sitting in a tent on Charlotte Square listening to a writer being drowned out by the noise of rain on the roof of the tent!

Just spotted a picture of a “Blow Down” in Glasgow on the BBC Website. It reminded me of my “Jim’ll Fix it “ moment last year . Today’s was a double blow down. We have a triple in Gracemount later on in the year. Should be a blast.


29 August 2009

Cross Party Working and Remembering Ted

I am writing this while waiting for my visitors.
Yesterday I had a useful meeting with the Police Divisional Command. As Community Safety Chair I have to work closely with the Police. The relationship is v good. We have put in place a lot of good imaginative initiatives over the years and they are paying off in dealing with Antisocial Behaviour. When you are in power you have to really work across party lines to achieve lasting results. I am a Liberal Democrat and on Community Safety issues I have to work with a Tory Police Board Chair, Nationalist Community Safety and Justice Ministers and a Labour Home Secretary (or the results of his Policies). Ultimately it is the general public we are all serving and we have to transcend party lines.

Last night I managed to get along to my first official (Edinburgh International Festival) performance. James Clark’s interpretation through modern dance of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowies music. The music was fabulous as we expected that but the choreography was out of this world. In the bar I tripped across a number of senior social workers and spotted the NHS’s top consultant. Clearly the caring professions have their aesthetic side to them! That or they just like wine.
Edinburgh has such a multitude of festivals which pull in loads of tourists. V important to our economy and amazingly almost 50% of the tickets to the various shows are bought by locals. We are such a cultured city!

Put in a stint at the West Edinburgh Lib Dems action day this morning so more bundles of leaflets dispatched. I needed the exercise to work of my fury at hearing James Murdoch CEO of News Corps having a pop at the BBC. He does run the main competition so no surprises there then.


Rupes little boy is a real chip off the old block. He want us to pay for our news on the internet presumably so we can pay through the nose for the same type of tat that his guys at Fox serve up.

Can’t let the week finish with out reference to the passing of Ted Kennedy. He was probably the most significant Senator of the late 20th century serving from before I was born. He managed to achieve so much in terms of progressive legislation. He was also the only other politician -apart from me - that I can think of who was the ninth child. I had always wanted to meet him but sadly that is never going to happen.

27 August 2009

Festival Crime Crackdown Pays Off

It's been a v busy week. It started with my legs aching from playing Hockey last Saturday for the Housing Dept (Services for Communities) team in a tournament. We were knocked out v early on :( In spite of the early exit I had to hang around to dish out the prizes and draw the raffle personally winning "make up" this time - I always win the shampoo at these things - I am totally bald. Still I moved on to my constituency Party Barbecue at my MSP Margaret Smith and her partner's home. By a mile the best attended Barbecue she has had in years. Last year there was only a handful of us. Hopefully this is taking off as an occasion. The make up was a useful addition to the raffle prizes there which was drawn from my Panama hat! This time I won a bundle of leaflets.Never have any luck with raffles.

Monday the Evening News ran the story about crime rates in the City Centre being down by almost 50% for the first two weeks of the festival!!! What a fantastic result. The Joint working between Police and Council is really paying off and I am really proud of our Community Safety Team and Police for the hard work that has gone into this.


Tuesday started with early morning leafleting in my ward. I then met with residents of Craigleith Cres who have terrible problems with boy racers crashing into local walls. We are working on a solution which we have identified funding for! A real result! It's always nice to get a win on the casework front!

I also met with residents of Kaimes Rd who are concerned about the Zoo's proposals to build Houses behind them. The end game of this would be the Zoo grabbing land from a nature reserve on its East side which the Council owns. I am hopeful we can knock this out. There will be a deputation led by my good friend Donald Gorrie - former MP and Councillor who in his retiral has taken on the role of Secretary of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill. More on this in later posts though.

Wednesday was a breeze by comparison but no less inspiring. A Community Justice Planning Day. Met one of my Lib Dem colleagues from East Lothian Cllr Barry Turner who impressed me with his passion for local Community Planning. The day was devoted to developing the Community Justice Plan with various partners. This is a really liberal document aimed at preventing re offending. There are all sorts of tie ups between Social Work Housing Health and Community Safety. I have fingers in all of these pies and so I can see where there are opportunities to really make things better for services users.

Today my Business Manager returned from Leave. A woman who can easily run the world if we gave her her head - she has been greatly missed while she has been enjoying her well earned rest for the last fortnight. A good long catch up - I had lots to tell her not least about Annie Lennoxs visit to the City Chambers last week - then off to Corstorphine to pick up more leaflets. A pleasant time avoiding the rain chatting to constituents.

Tomorrow I have a visit to the Police and Edinburgh Tenants Federation. Should be fun.