31 May 2011

Council to help ex-forces personnel find a home

Here is a Satement regarding the Council's consultation on how we house returning service men and women.

People leaving the armed forces could be given a boost in their bid to find a new home by the City of Edinburgh Council.

Many ex-service personnel find it difficult to get Council or registered social landlord housing once they leave as they have been living abroad or in service accommodation.

However Councillors have now agreed for consultation to take place so the length of time people have served could be given the same importance as the amount of time others have spent on Edinburgh's common housing register (EdIndex).

It means that ex-service personnel who have served for five years will get the same consideration as someone who has been on the register for a council or housing association home for five years.

The new proposals would apply to people who register on EdIndex within three years of leaving the armed forces.

The Provision of Affordable Housing for Ex-Service Personnel report also calls for extending the current housing options advice service to include ex-service personnel and to work with armed forces charities and housing associations to identify plots of land for housing development in the future.

The decision coincides with the Capital hosting the national Armed Forces Day celebrations next month (24 - 26 June) which is expected to see up to 80,000 people flock to the city.

The three-day celebration will see aerial displays by the Red Arrows, a parade of up to 2,000 veterans and military personnel on the Royal Mile, concerts, exhibitions, and a spectacular Massed Pipes and Drums Parade.

Councillor Paul Edie, the city's Housing Leader, said: "I think it is only right that we explore all available options to see how we can help people who have left the armed forces and are struggling to find a roof over their heads.

"Many of them have spent time overseas serving their country and putting their lives at risk to defend our values and society. Anything that we can do to help them on the housing ladder should be considered."

It is expected that the take up will be limited and any impact will be monitored to ensure there is no adverse impact to others in housing need.

Latest figures show that in 2009/10, there were 105 people in Edinburgh who had served in the armed forces that were categorised as homeless. Of these 70% had left the armed forces more than five years previously.

Between 2009 and 2010 there were 1,730 homeless presentations in Scotland from households where one member had been in the armed forces. Of these 517 had been in the armed forces less than five years ago and 1,2133 had been in the forces more than 5 years ago.

Edinburgh has a considerable affordable housing need with around 16,600 new homes needed over 10 years. There is an average of 138 bids for each Council and housing association home advertised on the Key to Choice website.

30 May 2011

50 Years on from Assasination of Dominican Leader

I  found this fascinating article about the  assassination of the then Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo 50 years ago.  It is gripping reading.


Western Partnership Supporting Community Groups

Last week the Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership had its latest public meeting in Murrayfield.

 We have a couple of meetings in public a year and we were piped in to the meeting by a couple of young pipers from the Craigmount High School band. The band secretary was on hand to tell us what they had managed to do with the grant we gave them last year. The answer - quite a lot! They had invested in new equipment and had managed to expand their activities. They even had managed for the first time in years to enter the national Pipe Band Championships. They had come third in their category.

Other groups were on hand to explain how they had made good use of the cash we had given them. The Corstorphine Trust told us of the good work they had done with the Junior Trust and the new version of the Friendly Society banner the Children had made. The Munro centre explained how that very busy Community Centre had invested in new equipment especially for older internet users.

We then moved on to a short video showing the good work done in the Drum Brae Health promotion day which went down very well. Then on to other substantive items including a grant being awarded ton a cycling project at Clermiston Primary School. All good stuff.

Messi-anic Barca Show Man U Who's Top Dog

European Cup Finals seldom produce the great matches the occasion deserves. A few games stand out as exceptions. Hampden Park 1960 has been the epitome of the "beautiful game".

Saturday night will stand as one of those occasions. Barcelona were, far and away, too good for Manchester United. It wasn't that Man U were in any way poor, though Alex Ferguson seemed less than chuffed with their standard of play, it was that Barca had that vital extra dimension. The three goals were all out of the top drawer and as far as I could see none were due to glaring errors by Man U. Indeed Barca had missed chances and had many passes going astray throughout the match but they had so much more of the ball to make mistakes with and when they did something right it was often sublime.

At the heart of it all was Lionel Messi who ran the whole show. He is to Barca what Zidan was to Real Madrid though, as a man wanting to be a one club player, his influence may be much greater in future years.

This is a side tipped as maybe the best ever. They will have to add to Saturdays win if they are to fulfil those lofty expectations. Only time will tell but they have a terrific squad of world class players; they can afford to pay enough to keep them there and the quality of life in Barcelona is great. They may be in a position to dominate for quite some time.

24 May 2011

O'Bama Out and About in Offaly

Barack Obama has been visiting the old country this week. Obama rightly boasts an ancestor from the great County of Offaly in central Ireland. This is the County my own family hails from. 

Down Town Kinnety

The President was to be seen in the local pub in Moneygall taking  a drop of the black stuff and updating the real special relationship. Lets face it Britain is third in the Special Relationship pecking order. First is Ireland then comes Israel and we bring up the rear.

Offaly boasts the Sleive Bloom Mountains and the Blackwater Bog. Nestled at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains are  the villages of Kilcormac, the metropolis (pop 879) nearest to the farm my grandmother grew up in and  Kinnety where my Great Uncle  and his family lived. 

One of his daughters my cousin Nula sadly passed away last weekend. Nula was a  wonderful, colourful and fun lady who will be greatly missed by all whose lives she touched. She would have loved the idea of Obama visiting Offaly especially as she had worked with the Irish Tourist Board in London for many years.   

Kinnety was also where Hollywood Director Rex Ingram grew up. Ingram - real name Hitchcock  -  made the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with Valentino. I can't think why he chose to change his name. Maybe he concluded that Hitchcock was a lesser name than Ingram for a film director!

Accommodation Waiting List for Learning Disabilites Slashed

Today I chaired the Health, Social Care and Housing Committee. We had an enormous agenda some of which I shall try to post about over the next few days.

One items that we discussed was our Learning Disabilities Plan and a hugely gratifying figure slipped out  during the discussion.

For some time now the length of the waiting list of people requiring supported accommodation has been largely static,  around 180 or so. We have put additional resources in over the years but no matter how many people we manage to provide new packages of care for an equivalent numbers of people requiring care and wanting their own homes  adds to the waiting list and so the length of that list remained much the same. 

Today we learned that the waiting list  has been slashed to 123! This was largely down to additional resources and better efficiency plus the use of telecare.

I am very proud to have managed to deliver on this important manifesto commitment but can assure readers that I will not let up on this area as we cannot afford to be complacent.

22 May 2011

Misery for Blackpool and Birmingham

The grubbiest Scottish football season I can recall has finally finished - and thank god it has! Celtic won the Scottish Cup  beating Motherwell 3-0 yesterday.  

So the record books will show a league win for Rangers and the cup for Celtic. A fairly typical set of results for the history books but this season will be remembered for the referee strike,  referee sectarian e-mail scandals, then the seven old firm games and parcel bombs sent to prominent Celtic figures. Vile utterly vile!

In England the relegation battle went right to the wire with Blackpool and Birmingham going down. Wolves last minute goal kept them up. 

You have to feel for the sides who went down and especially their Managers. I write as Carlo Ancellotti has been sacked for  only managing to finish second with Chelsea! Avram Grant who lost his job with West Ham at least had been relegated but he was also axed in the past by Chelsea after what would look to most as a reasonable run. 

20 May 2011

Best Foot Forward for Walk Edinburgh

This afternoon I had the great pleasure of launching Walk Edinburgh. The event was aimed at encouraging people to take more exercise and particularly  the most obvious and easiest form....walking.

The event involved many groups showing off their services and good ideas and a good few organised and led walks around central Edinburgh also took place and yes I did take part in one of those.

I am pictured on one fun activity run by the Edinburgh Community Food project  - hidden behind me is a liquidizer which the bike powers and which whips up smoothies in an eco friendly and fun fashion. I am not sure how often the chain slipped off or how you manage to fit this device on to a kitchen work top. The smoothy was very nice though!

A Walk in the Park

Yesterday started with a walk in the park. I was supporting the attempt by the Council to secure Green Flag Status for St Margaret's Park in Corstorphine.

St Margaret's Park is 200 yards or so from my childhood home and I spent many an hour there  when I was growing up. The place has some magnificent trees and well used bowling greens, putting greens and tennis courts.  The playground  is also very popular with local children  though the equipment is rather old. Local residents have secured some funding from a  to contribute to replacement of old equipment and the council has the park towards the top of their list for replacement of equipment.

 Edinburgh now has some 13 Green Flags - half of  number for the whole of Scotland. Hopefully St Margaret's will be our 14th!

The picture  here is of the Dower House which sits in the park. Owned by the Council it is leased by the Corstorphine Trust who run the most wonderful local History Museum there. It is also used for Community Meetings and  as a cafe  by the Trust.

19 May 2011

Dr Garret FitzGerald - A Great taoiseach

Dr Garret FitzGerald was the Irish Premier I have most admired over the years. So it is with immense sadness that I read of his passing away this morning. 

He was twice taoiseach and led Fine Gael for ten years. Much of that time his principle rival was Charles Haughy the Fianna Fail leader.

FitzGerald was  every inch the liberal, high minded intellectual, the type of leader that seemed be epitomised Europe in  the 1980's. His attempt to introduce divorce legislation was defeated in a referendum but he was successful in his attempt to liberalise contraception legislation.

18 May 2011

Local School Students Hit the Right Note

Monday evening I attended the strings concert for Corstorphine Primary schools. Students from three  schools  were performing a range of works. The kids were P5 and 6 and the standards were very high. 

I have to admit to some serious envy of the students. I was simply not good enough to take violin lessons. The violin is such a tricky instrument to learn. It has no frets to assist in finding notes like the guitar and  you need a fair bit of strength in your fingers to hold the very tight strings down to get a clear note.Then there is the bowing!! I played drums at school but I have always wanted to play a melodic instrument! 

Anyho' well done to all involved it was a great concert.

Tonight I have had my surgery and a Corstorphine Community Council. Both of which were relatively quiet.

17 May 2011

Watermelons Go Down a Bomb

The most popular tale on the BBC website today is that of the exploding watermelons in China.

Debate is raging as to the cause of this. Some  blame chemicals added to help bring the melons along faster  but other point out that melons not sprayed have been exploding.

This brings me back to my experience of exploding food stuffs. 

One winter night in I decided to roast some chestnuts in the oven. I put the baking tray into the oven and then promptly forgot about them. A few minutes later I heard a sound which could only be described as that of a depth charge going off coming from the kitchen. I went in to inspect the damage but there was none! Remembering the chestnuts I removed the tray and left them to cool down a bit.

A few seconds later I heard the same sound and went to investigate. The place was covered with chestnut shrapnel. I had forgotten to  pierce the nuts  to let the air out! Not a mistake I  will make again!

Willie Rennie is New Lib Dem Leader

I am delighted to see that Willie Rennie is to be the new Scottish Lib Dem leader. I did make a plea for this in this blog just a day or so after the Holyrood elections.

Willie is the right person for the job. He knows his way around Holyrood, is an excellent campaigner and has a terrific work rate.  He also is a former MP and I am sure will   build a constructive relationship between our Holyrood and Westminster parties and our councillor base. 

I wish him every success.

16 May 2011

Zoo Chief Quits

The trials of Edinburgh Zoo came to a head last week resulting in the Chair being subjected to, and losing, a Vote of Confidence at an EGM. He has subsequently resigned. This hopefully brings to an end a very unsettling period for staff and members alike.

I have always defended the zoo as principally a conservation organisation running a visitor attraction to bankroll their conservation work. Over the last few years I have felt that balance switching and I have  become less comfortable in that belief especially in light of the Zoos proposals to build on greenbelt and on a Council owned Nature Reserve.  I find it obtuse for a conservation group to want to tarmac over a bit of a nature reserve.

The zoo desperately needs inspired leadership and hopefully this move allows them to get in someone who will build a much better relationship with the local community and who gets what conservation is all about.

Threat to Donaldsons Site

The Evening News reports this afternoon that the owners of the former Donaldson's College, whose picture makes up part of the banner of this blog, are looking to build on the magnificent lawns outside the 'A' listed building. I was amazed to hear of this as the planning restrictions on are so tight when you own a building of this historical and architectural significant. I for one will be opposed to this move and I am sure many residents and conservation groups will be equally outraged.

15 May 2011

Drum Brae Health Day

Yesterday I opened a Health promotion day in Drum Brae. The event was organised by the Western and Almond Neighbourhood Partnerships Health Working Group which I chair. The event was aimed at families and was about raising awareness of existing services and activities and was great fun. We had stalls from Edinburgh Leisure, Health and Social Care, The Centre for Health and Well Being, our telecare team among others. We also had salsa and tango demos which both went down very well especially the tango!

A good time was had by all and lots of useful information was passed on. It was great to see so many children at the event and watching toddlers dancing along with the salsa try out was  great fun.

9 May 2011

Old Clothes and Porridge

It was back to old clothes and porridge today following the excitement of the election campaign.

In my weary haste to get a blog posting out yesterday I clean forgot to congratulate two colleagues from the Council who have found themselves elected to Holyrood.

Both are former Scottish International athletes. Firstly Colin Keir of the SNP who took Western Edinburgh from the Lib Dem's and who has been Convener of the Council Regulatory Committee for the last four years.  Colin was a middle and long distance runner and has served as Councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle since 2007.

Next is Alison Johnstone of the Greens who was elected on the list succeeding the ever colourful Robin Harper. Alison is a former hurdler and also is a serving City councillor.

Well done both of you.

8 May 2011

The Solution to Political Indigestion? A Good Dose of Rennie?

The saying that you can't see the wood for the trees certainly applies to blogging this week. There is just so much to write about that is very difficult to know where to start.

There are fewer experiences more unpleasant than watching the rout of your chosen political party. Thursday was just that. The Lib Dem's were reduced to five MSP's losing 12 MSP's while Labour lost even more first past the post seats but their loses were mitigated in part by top ups.

It is really difficult to see good people, usually friends, losing  and for the Lib Dem's Thursday night was a melt down. The reasons are not something I am going to write about in this post but will try to post over the next few days.

Today I want to concentrate on the winners and losers.

The losers for the Lib Dem's included Robert Brown - list MSP for Glasgow and possibly the most respected man in the Scottish Parliament; Ross Finnie former Agriculture Minister and some one who was so good at his job he was nominated for Politician of the Year on the basis of his eight years at that helm; Iain Smith of North East Fife - a mark of how far we fell was that NEF went which  was unthinkable. This is the strongest Lib Dem party in Scotland! Jeremy Purvis was  always in danger due to boundary changes. Mike Rumbles, famously independent, Mike Pringle South Edinburgh MSP and a much loved local member and lastly Margaret Smith , the West Edinburgh MSP and the parliamentarian I have worked most closely with over the years.

All will be greatly missed. Margaret who has been a very strong local voice for the residents of West Edinburgh and a highly respected Education Spokesperson. Mike has been the voice of  sense in South Edinburgh. Jeremy, Robert and Ross are towering intellects and Holyrood badly needs people of their calibre.

Labour MSPs who lost out included former Health Minister Andy Kerr, Tom McCabe,  Frank MacAveety,  ooh the list goes on and on.

The only SNP MSP who lost her seat was Lothians Shirley Anne Sommerville who was really a  victim of the SNP success. Having taken Malcolm Chisholm to about 100 votes the SNP won too many first past the post seat to merit any top ups.  

The winners... well obviously the SNP. One SNP Councillor  friend reckoned it was a perfect storm. Everything that could have possibly gone right for them went right on the night. In politics that happens very rarely.

Regarding the campaign the SNP fought a positive campaign yet again. I think it was lacking in real honesty about the scale of cuts that Holyrood is going to have to make and there were too many undeliverable promises but this is the second election on the trot they have gone positive and won! There is a lesson there. Why do others not sit up and notice that the public are wanting our politicians to stop mud slinging? It wasn't a ringing endorsement of Independence whatever the SNP might say now. The "I" word was barely uttered during the election and polls still show a heavy distaste for it amongst the Scottish electorate. That issue will now certainly be decided by a referendum.

We as a  party should be supportive now of the referendum but still maintain our federalist stance which is intellectually consistent and actually popular. It is also the right thing to do when you sit down and coolly think about it. 

Where now? Well Tavish Scott has  fallen on his sword. Tavish is a very honourable man and felt  he should take responsibility. The one glimmer of light was that Willie Rennie, former Dunfermline MP, won on the Fife list and he has to be our next leader. Willie is bright and capable, very hardworking and charismatic. He is the best campaigner in Scotland in any party  and he has experience of Holyrood being a former Chief of Staff to the Scottish Parliamentary Party. A Rennie leadership would get us back on the road to recovery.

4 May 2011

New Shape for Yellow Cabs

The news that New York has chosen a Nissan as the new model for the famous yellow cab brings back memories of when we had endless debates surrounding the type of black cabs we use here in Edinburgh. 

The issue in Edinburgh surrounded thew turning circle, the ability of the taxi to turn on a sixpence. The council discussed this repeatedly with arguments  ensuing about operating a closed shop as, if my memory serves me right, only one manufacturer made the cabs with the turning circle. 

I think I voted for the status quo believing that in very heavy traffic jams the ability to change direction in a small space was exactly what we needed. The other side won out and as it turns out the world hasn't come to an end as a result.

So New York the shape may be different but  they are still the same colour and the cabbies will still be as charming as usual!

3 May 2011

Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner

This excellent speech from Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner really socks it to Donald Trump.  On the more serious side he also makes some very good  points about the importance of journalists and the risks they are facing reporting from the various trouble spots throughout the world. 

1 May 2011

If You're Good Enough You're Old Enough

What is it about the English Premiership? No one seems to want to win it! Arsenal blew it all wide open again by beating Manchester United with the youngest team fielded in the Premiership this year, proving the old adage if you are good enough you are old enough. No one seems to have got the title by the scruff of the neck. Every time Man U appear to have it stitched up they trip up over their boot laces. 

Liverpool managed a 3-0 win over Newcastle to leapfrog Spurs into the final Euro spot. If they pull that off at the end of the season then Dalglish's transformation of their fortunes from relegation candidates to Europe will be truly remarkable

The dismal Scottish season is slowly grinding to its end. I say dismal not because of the slow start the Mighty Hibernian had but due to the Old Firm and the attendant issues surrounding their brand of vile which has shamed Scotland.  

First we had Celtic leaning on refs, playing the perennial victim card,  the refs then went on strike and the SFA, never ones to shy away from sectarian controversy , hired refs from that bastion of tolerance....Israel!! 

Then we had refs in bother due to sectarian e-mails being sent by some of them relating the the Popes visit.  That is just for starters. The Old Firm will have played each other 7 times this season and familiarity has bred a very hightened form of contempt. At least one of those matches got so out of hand domestic abuse  apparently rocketed as a result of the game and  Scotland's First Minister felt compelled to intervene to try to calm things.  To no avail as to cap it all three prominent figures associated with Celtic, a retiring MSP, a lawyer and Celtic Manager Neil Lennon were each sent  parcel bombs.  And this is supposed to be just a game of footie! 

The end of the season can't come soon enough.