30 August 2010

Not Cricket

It is a shame to see the sport which is synonymous with the British sense of fair play being dragged through the mud again.

Cricket has had its share of scandals over the last few years from ball tampering, biased umpires and betting scandals. Today three Test players have been quizzed by the Police over allegations they bowled "No Balls" as part of a betting scam.

This sort of thing is not new. In baseball the Chicago White Sox were involved in a betting scam during the 1919 World Series prompting, according to popular legend, a boy to ask Shoeless Joe Jackson to "say it ain't so Joe". That team became known as the Black Sox and the White Sox did not win the World Series again until 2005 - poetic justice.

Much as I love cricket I have no rose tinted view of it. Where there is sport there will always be people who want to break the rules in order to win. That is why we have fouls and penalties. Yes we still have batsmen who walk but the ball tampering scandals of the 90's and the betting scandals involving players of the stature of Hanse Cronje

The British sense of fair play was always a bit of a myth. The Empire often used sport to divide and rule and if Marx thought that religion was the opium of the people what would he have made of the hysteria surrounding World Cups or indeed an Old Firm match!

29 August 2010

Showcasing Local Services

I rounded off the week by taking Lib Dem MSP Robert Brown and Mike Crockart the new Lib Dem MP for West Edinburgh on a visit to the West Edinburgh Neighbourhood Office. Robert is the Lib Dem Justice Spokesperson and the visit was to showcase  best practice. As well as hearing of the radical  decentralization of services we also met with Community Safety staff.

Both teams did the council proud. The joint working at a grassroots level between Council and police in particular has shown amazing results in reducing crime and  antisocial behaviour and the decentralized approach to Neighbourhood Management had resulted in a whole range of improvements in services. This is probably the most advanced and successful decentralization of council services in the UK and it is paying off for local residents. I would be  interested in hearing from any readers of this blog about similar systems elsewhere.

Both Mike and Robert were duly impressed by what the saw and heard.

28 August 2010

Council Housing On Track

I am delighted to report that the Council has appointed a developer to build our first Council Housing in a generation. Crudens have won the contract to develop the Gracemount site  where we are looking to build 215 homes of various sizes  including colony style dwellings. These will replace the 3 massive tower blocks demolished last year at the press of a button by Council Leader Jenny Dawe (see left).

Half of the homes will be affordable with the other homes sales cross subsidizing the building.

With an amazing inspection report, record investment, the first council housing in a generation and an innovative homelessness strategy which is cutting the number of people who are Homeless in Edinburgh against the trend these are very exciting times to be involved in Housing in Edinburgh.

26 August 2010

Action on Fallen Gravestones

I spent this morning at a photo call in Liberton Cemetery. We have for a long time had a problem with gravestones in our cemeteries. Many  older stones had keeled over  or have been in danger of doing so prompting the council to lay them flat in order to make them safe. 

You can imagine that this would be very upsetting for the relatives of people lying in the cemeteries. The council simply do not have the money to re-erect the 9483 stones we had n this condition.A local Liberton resident then had the bright idea of involving the criminal justice team  and getting low level offenders who have been community service orders to re-erect them. 

The deal is that the council trains them and the teams of offenders re-erect them. They get training and often this is the first proper type of work some experience. A win win for everyone and an excellent project worthy of rolling out in other councils.

25 August 2010

New Respite Centre At Firhill

I had the great pleasure of opening the new Firhill Respite Unit for people with Learning Difficulties and Complex Needs yesterday. The unit replaces the old Currie centre which, while getting terrific Care Commission reports for the quality of service provided, was no longer physically fit for purpose.

The new building accommodates eight residents for short breaks providing an opportunity to make new friends and experience new activities and provides much need rest for carers.

The new centre looks fabulous with much better equipment and the chef is a qualified p√Ętissier! It doesn't get much better than that!


20 August 2010

Green Flag for Corstorphine Hill

IT has been a very varied couple of days or so ranging from holding my surgery in a new venue, attending Corstorphine Community Council, a reception with King Abdulla of Jordan, attendance at the Tattoo, the Council meeting, and this morning I helped raise the newly acquired Green Flag on Corstorphine Hill.

This last item is a source of immense satisfaction as this year Edinburgh managed to secure a whopping 13 green flags - half of the Scottish total! Corstorphine Hill is a real gem and the work of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill has again been rewarded with a Green Pennant - still the only one in Scotland -  for their magnificent Walled Garden.

Many people deserve  congratulating for this. Our Parks Team and our Rangers service and the Friends.  So much work goes into the applications and inspections  and it is really worthwhile to achieve this accolade.

I shall shortly finish off the Monday to Friday by handing out Customer Service Excellence Awards to 3 of our teams in the Council though I shall be in attendance at one of the religious ceremonies which mark the festival over the weekend.   Never a dull moment.

18 August 2010

First 100 Days

Jack Straw has revealed that he was relived that Labour did not form a coalition with the Lib Dems in May. The statement comes as the coalition at Westminster marks its first hundred days in power. Straw says he felt that they would have been scrabbling around for votes to get items passed - a point I made at the time.

He also says there is inherent mistrust within Labours ranks of the Lib Dems. Well I have news for you Jack; it cuts both ways! The tribal  behaviours I have seen over the years from Labour politicians does make them very unreliable bed fellows. This tribalism was exemplified again this weekend when I learned that Alan Milburn had been asked to assit the government in developing  social mobility policies. He was accused of being a collaborator by Lord Prescott. Very harsh words when you consider he is being asked to help the government of the UK!
Their tribalism in its self would not preclude working with them as we managed to do so reasonably well at Holyrood and manage to do  in councils the length and breadth of the UK. What ruled this out in this time were the numbers not stacking up plus the fact that Labour lost the election. I know that nobody won the election outright but Labour were in power and suffered heavy losses. There was a sense that they had been voted out and that could not be ignored.

The coalition seems to be working reasonably well with good approval ratings for it but poorer poll ratings for the Liberal Democrats. I would urge our MP's to keep their nerve. Poll ratings go up and down.  Our ratings will recover in due course as the public sees what we manage to achieve in government just as they did at a Scottish level when we were in coalition with Labour. 

One such achievement would be the proposed reform of Welfare  integrating the  tax and benefit system. I have campaigned over the years for this. It will at a stroke abolish the poverty trap and  provide a dynamism to the economy. I hope that this very liberal idea is implemented as soon as they can manage it.


15 August 2010

Hibs Get a Winning Start

Well done to the Mighty Hibernian who started their SPL campaign with a thrilling win over Motherwell. The 3-2 win away from home is definitely not to be sniffed at noting what a handful Motherwell have been for most teams in the last few seasons. Hopefully this will augur well for the rest of the season!

Top Marks for Balerno Revamp

Summer has descended upon us again after what seems like weeks of showers. I spent a bit of yesterday morning attending and speaking at  the celebrations of the revamp of Balerno Main Street. This project was part of the Urban Centres Program which is aimed at improving local shopping areas by making them cleaner, safer and more attractive thus adding to their sustainability.

A City wide pot of cash of £1.2 Million is available for the Program and Balerno received £100K of this which was then matched by £150K of roads and carriageway funds making the grant total of £250k. The improvements involved rebuilding carriage ways, new steps and better lighting. They also built out an area suitable for community events and for hosting their Farmers Market. The launch took place of the day of the Farmers Market and there were hundreds of people along. I am pleased to say that I took advantage of the market and dined like a Prince last night! The Market its self is one of the nicest I have come across.  The accordionist, who I understand sits plays every time the market is on, added a Continental touch to the morning and  to add to the cosmopolitan atmosphere we even had a dance troupe from Zimbabwe! 

The Pentlands Neigbourhood Partnership are to be congratulated on this excellent project as are the South West Neighbourhood Team who have been managing this. The great thing about our Neighbourhood model is the ability of our local officers to squeeze much more value out of a project by pooling little pockets of budgets here and there and ending up with something that  is much greater than the sum of its parts!

12 August 2010

Council in Running For Two More Awards

I was delighted to hear that two of our Council Departments have been nominated for the prestigious APSE Awards.


I am particularly pleased to see the Stroke Service nominated. Regular readers of this Blog will recall  I recently opened the art exhibition  at the Filmhouse which displayed the work of many of the users of the Stroke Service.  Well done to them and the Gully Cleaning Team for their excellent work and good luck at the awards.

Bad Day for the Grouse

Today is the "Glorious Twelfth"of August. The Day when the grouse shooting season starts. Glorious.... if you are not a grouse!

Here is Edinburgh the Fringe Festival is well underway and the High Street outside my office is a riot of colour and noise. I can hear the street entertainers from my  window at the best of times and at this time of  year it gets louder and louder! I am not complaining - I greatly enjoy both the spectacle and the bustle though it does take an age to go over the road for a sandwich!

Yesterday I chaired the Edinburgh Community Safety Partnership. We had various presentations on issues as diverse as the Cash back for  Communities scheme - where money is confiscated from criminals and distributed to  causes associated with prevention of youth crime and antisocial behaviour - to the  progress of our Violence Reduction Program.  In the afternoon I attended the Edinburgh Community Health Partnership where we had a couple of good reports up on Health Inequalities and Neighbourhood Working. I am passionate about tackling Health Inequalities.

I was sad to read of the death of Jimmy Reid, leader of the UCS Shipyard "work in". I am of a totally different political persuasion to him but I had tremendous respect for him as a man on integrity, immense creative talent and a great communicator. His speech to the workers at the start of the work in was evidence of his inspirational leadership

We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us. 

He moved into journalism, writing columns for various newspapers, and won a couple of Baftas for his "Reid about the USSR" TV series. A true polymath.

10 August 2010

HSC Committee and Fringe

The Health Social Care and Housing Committee met today. The first item up was the election of Convener.  I am delighted to say I was unanimously re-elected!

Items discussed included the new Anti Social Behaviour Strategy, the impact of the changes to supported employment  funding  agreed by the last government will have  and the Annual Report for the Health and Social Care Department.

The latter report was packed full of innovation and  excellent service developments. An example is our Intensive Home treatment Teams for people with mental health crises. This service uses home support and crisis resolution to prevent hospital admissions and has had very positive feedback from service users and carers alike.


I also took the opportunity to take in Five Guys Named Moe at the Udderbelly. This was a 20th anniversary revival of the comedy, music and dance show based around the the music of Louise Jordan. Great fun which I can wholeheartedly recommend!

4 August 2010

Trust To Help Keep Capital Building Industry Moving

The Council agreed today to  work up proposals to tap into the Scottish Governments National Housing Trust scheme. This involves the council using its financial muscle through Prudential Borrowing to borrow £55 million to invest in mid market rental housing. The Scottish Government  will under write the loan thus making it a less risky venture for the council. We calculate that we can obtain 600 homes to satisfy the demand estimated at over 4000 for mid Market Rent.

Mid Market Rents are pitched between private market rental levels and affordable (social) rent levels. They tend to be favoured by those in employment but who are not well able for one reason or another  to have a mortagage. If they can't access mid market properties then they  will be added to the numbers after social housing so this proposal helps to keep the demand for social  housing down.  The Trust idea also help the council keep the building industry rolling in the city. I am very proud of the work our Housing Service (the best in Scotland I posted previously) has done to assist the building sector in these difficult times.

1 August 2010

Golden weekend for British Athletes and Lord and Lady Provost

The City Arts Centre has re-opened at long last! I can't believe how much I have missed it. The Council owned gallery has had a makeover with the shop moving to the ground floor. The exhibitions at present include Edward Westons extraordinary pictures of  vegetables such as  the pepper to the right which looks like a human with big biceps and also pictures of the human form (Ediespeak for nudes). Added to this were William Wegmans extraordinary pictures of dogs. 

All great fun and excellent art!

Congratulations to the British Athletics team who have just enjoyed their best ever European Athletics Championship in Barcelona.This augurs well for the Olympics in London in a couple of years.

On the subject of athletes striking gold  former Scottish  800 meters record holder and Lord  Provost George Grubb and Lady Provost Liz Grubb had a busy weekend. Saturday was their Golden Wedding. The started their celebrations waving off the Jazz Festival opening Cavalcade from the City Chambers Quadrangle. They topped all of this off with Liz, her daughter and grandson abseiling off the Forth Bridge in aid of Queensferry Churches Care in the Community. Mercifully the ropes were long enough!