30 June 2011

Progress at Gracemount

This afternoon I took the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Alex Neil, and new Council Chief Exec, Sue Bruce, round the building site at Gracemount where we are building the first council in a generation in Edinburgh. 

The area was transformed from the muddy wasteland we cut the first sod at last November. We walked down a recognizable street and climbed up onto the roof of one of the blocks. The slates had been neatly placed on the roofs ready for attaching.

Sue and I then managed to meet a couple of the local lads who as part of our social responsibility part of the contract with developers Crudens had been recruited locally. Both seemed to value the opportunity to get a toe in the door of a proper career. 

Both visitors looked suitably impressed by what we are doing up these and I for one can’t wait until we see the first tenants in there later on in the autumn.

29 June 2011

Priase for Local Action on Bonfires

Friday saw me attending the Lothian and Borders Police Board. I am not a member but occasionally I substitute for some one who is double booked. 

I was particularly pleased to see the Chief Constables Annual Report. As well as an excellent snap of the local Murrayfield beat bobby this featured good news about the close partnership working between the police and the council which has resulted in crime and antisocial behaviour figures tumbling. 

I was also delighted to see a feature on the bonfire initiative in West  Edinburgh which was such success in the run up to last years Guy Fawkes night. Again this was down to close partnership working between Fire, Police and the council’s West Neighbourhood team. Numbers of dangerous unauthorized bonfires which used to take up a huge amount of  Fire Service time have dropped dramatically as a result of this and local people are much safer. 

Well done all involved.

26 June 2011

Spirit of 71 in Wiltshire

As I write I can hear the sound of the  bass and drums of the Kings of Leon set drifting over from their concert at Murrayfield. The show was a sell out long ago and in light of the anti social behaviour accompanying  Oasis visit a couple of years ago I, along with my constituents, will be hoping their fans are as well behaved as Bon Jovi's were on Wednesday. 

On the subject of big concerts the Glastonbury Festival hits 40 this year and they have a Spirit of 71 stage featuring artists from that year. 

I thought I would share a favourite track from one of those artists Melanie. Hadn't heard this in years and I can't recall ever seeing her on TV. I did have an album with this on it. You Tube is amazing!

Nighy the Page Turner

Other highlights in this year’s Film Festival included the Bill Nighy spy drama Page 8. This topical conspiracy thriller about prime ministerial collusion in torture was excellent. 

Nighy plays a latter day Harry Palmer, an anti hero spook with a bit of style and a noble side. He has a string of ex wives and an artist daughter plus a collection of very expensive paintings.

The film boasts a cast to die for - don't all British dramas -  includes Judy Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weitz, Michael Gambon and Ewan Bremner who has a small role as a journalist. Bremner is one of the great comic actors of our time - Spud Murphy is what he is most famous for but I thought his past portrayal of Salvador Dali was magnificent. 

As if proving Edmund Gwen, the famous thesp's , dying words "Dying is easy, comedy is hard" Bremner really shone in his abbreviated outing here showing his versatility as a straight actor and demonstrating that if you can play Spud you can play anything!

Less impressive was Post Mortem which was set in Chile at the time of the 1973 coup. It was very slow and centred round the main character who transcribes post mortems for a living and his relationship with his neighbour.   During the film  the coup to out Allende starts and the bodies start to  pile up. Really not my up of tea.

25 June 2011

Man in the White Suit on War Coverage at Film Fest

Today’s I was fortunate enough to take in a screening of Oliver Stone’s “Salvador”. The film wasn’t the attraction but the Q&A was it involving Martin Bell, great British war correspondent and one time Independent anti sleaze MP. 

I am a huge fan of Martin Bell. He represents  to me total honesty and objectivity, every inch in keeping with the BBC tradition. 

Chatting to him beforehand in the Filmhouse bar, resplendent in the famous white suite (actually it was cream linen) he indicated that he had walked out of Salvador each time he has seen it. Indeed he had done so with Apocalypse Now. He did so because he was outraged by the factual inaccuracies of the Films. 

He then went on to tell us later about where in Stones film the facts deviated from the version the entertainment we had seen. 

I think he has a point. I know that feature films are not documentaries but I do nothing would have been lost of Salvador had been true to the events.  

He was one of the few journalists to cover the El Salvador conflict and probably the only one not on the frooftops for safety. 

Did Martin sit though the whole screening this time? Well he was sitting in the same row as me and he managed to stay for 90 minutes before bolting!   

20 June 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World

This week saw the start of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The highlight  for me so far has been the documentary Bobby Fischer against the World.

I was trying to describe the histrionics of World Chess during the Cold War to some one the other day. When I got to the coded yoghurts of the Karpov v Korchnoi struggle I started to wonder if it all had really happened! 

The documentary itself was excellent. It really caught the mood of the time and was a warts and all portrayal of a flawed, disturbed genius. 

The treatment of the Fischer v Spassky match was brilliant. You got a real insight into the man thanks to interviews with many of his confidants including Fischer’s friend the great Scottish photographer Harry Benson. Benson was with him in Reykjavik during the Spassky encounter. 

The Spassky match was end to end confrontation usually away from the board.  Fischer's histrionics were apparently less about unsettling his opponent but all about what is going on in his mind it was explained. 

Probably the highlight for me was the description of the game were Fischer, described as a man who was so wedded to routine he would have the same breakfast daily and who played the same opening moves every match, started unusually with the “English” opening and the chess he played was so nuanced and so divine that at conclusion of the game Spassky joined in the applause.  Fischer was heard later to utter that "that guy is a real sportsman". 

Spassky came across in the film as the second best player in the World but much the better man, Fischer as a compulsive, obsessive who frankly didn't care what others thought of him as long as he was the best at chess. 

Later in life he battled serious mental health problems, audibly raging against the influence of the USA and of Jews on world affairs in spite of being ethnically Jewish himself and of course once a proud American. 

I didn't get a chance to ask the Director any questions at the end. My only regret about this excellent documentary was the absence of any interviews with Spassky.

18 June 2011

Saving the planet at Gylemuir

Yesterday  afternoon I opened the Western Edinburgh Environmental Fair at Gylemuir Primary School. There were stalls from a variety of groups including eco-schools and Friends of Corstorphine Hill. There was also a fabulous musical tree make from tin cans and recycled bits of guitar.

In trying to save the planet we are encouraged to think global but act local. Today’s event was  all about us trying to change attitude locally so we can make our small contribution to reversing global warming

17 June 2011

Babes in Arms

I spent Wednesday morning touring Neo Natal services at the Simpson's Centre for Reproductive Health.

As well as meeting some of their highly trained staff we saw some of the cutting edge technology they use. Praise was heaped by the staff on the local Edinburgh newspaper the Edinburgh Evening News for their fundraising for scanners for the Unit.  These are very expensive pieces of equipment and the News has played a blinder in raising cash to buy them. 

We then had a tour of the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit. It never ceases to amaze me how small new born babies are. The occupants of Intensive Care were very much smaller than any babies I have ever seen.  They were also redder. This is due to their epidermis not being fully developed. I understand that this happens later in the pregnancy than the points when most of these babies were born.

Simpson’s is a world class establishment giving the best possible care to Edinburgh and Lothian's babies and mothers.  It is a unit the NHS is rightly proud of and is so important in giving our babies the very best start in life.

14 June 2011

Edinburgh Leading the Way with National Housing Trust

I had so many things to write about last week I hadn't a chance to share this news with readers. It is about the latest stage of the National Housing Trust and what is likely to go where. I am very proud that Lib Dem led Edinburgh is leading the way on this innovative method of  funding Affordable Housing.

Developers on board with affordable homes plan

Four developers have been short-listed to provide detailed proposals to build up to 600 much-needed affordable homes in Edinburgh. 

The homes, which would be built across five sites in the north and east of the Capital, would be the first to be built under the National Housing Trust (NHT) scheme.

The developers have all entered into a Framework Agreement with the Council and Scottish Futures Trust and their proposals will be evaluated further before contracts are signed.
The interested developers and potential sites are:

Places for People (Lochend North and Madelvic 8), Miller Homes (Telford North), Hillcrest/Teague (Salamander Street/Salamander Place) and New City Vision (Niddrie Mains Road).

The latest update is included in a report, National Housing Trust - Appointment of Developers to Framework Agreement Update, which was discussed at the Council's Finance and Resources Committee today (7 June).
The innovative NHT project is being led by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Futures Trust in order to provide a major expansion in the provision of affordable rented homes across the country. It builds on an initiative in Edinburgh between the Council and housing associations in the city which has already delivered new affordable homes.

Under the scheme the Council would borrow funding with the Scottish Government underwriting the loans to remove the financial risk in lending funds.

Edinburgh is leading the way among Scottish local authorities taking part; aiming to secure much-needed affordable homes and boost the local economy. All the planned homes will be for intermediate rent.
Councillor Paul Edie, Housing Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: "Securing affordable homes through the National Housing Trust would be a significant achievement given the current financial and housing climate. This has been a very thorough process and I am pleased we are getting closer to the finishing line.
"NHT is an innovative way of tackling the shortage of affordable homes not just in Edinburgh but around the country. Everyone knows more needs to be done and it's good that the public and private sector are working in partnership on this project."

Minister for Housing and Transport, Keith Brown said: "The National Housing Trust model, developed by the Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust, has won plaudits across the UK.  Procurement of Phase 1 is nearing completion and we will soon see several hundred affordable homes being developed through this ground-breaking initiative, safeguarding hundreds of jobs.

"I am delighted that Edinburgh City Council has embraced this approach as one that can help ease housing pressures locally, and that they have been successful in attracting this level and quality of developer interest. I hope the NHT can act as a catalyst to encourage further, innovative approaches that will maximise supply through increased efficiency and greater leverage."

Barry White, Chief Executive of the Scottish Futures Trust, said: "In these challenging economic times, NHT opens the doors to build affordable housing in Scotland. This demonstrates how the public and private sectors can work together in an imaginative way.

"Such innovation is at the heart of Scottish Futures Trust's work to attract additional finance while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer."

The National Housing Trust initiative has been set up by the Scottish Government to deliver new homes for mid market rent (starting rent levels will be set at 84 per cent of March 2011 LHA rates) across the country. 
Under the scheme local authorities would borrow funding with the Scottish Government underwriting the loans to remove the risk to Councils in lending funds to the scheme.

Edinburgh Council already supports a similar development guarantee scheme locally and this has already been successful at providing new affordable homes.

With the ongoing financial pressures on local authorities and Scottish Government budgets NHT is seen as a way of maintaining the affordable housing market.

The True Face of Carers

The true face of carers

The following opinion piece appeared in The Scotsman yesterday.

Today marks the start of Carers' Week 2011. The week aims to raise awareness of the 6 million carers in the UK who provide unpaid support for a family member, partner, relative or friend who needs help.
There is no such thing as a typical 'carer' - a carer can be of any age, from any walk of life, and have a range of caring responsibilities. They could be a couple raising a child with a disability, an older person who is supporting a relative with dementia, a young person whose parent has mobility difficulties, or someone who helps their friend with day-to-day tasks.

Statistics show that at least 1 in 8 people in Scotland provide unpaid care. In Edinburgh , there are an estimated 48,000 carers. All will have different needs, but what they have in common is that their contribution is voluntary, unpaid and, too often, is unrecognised. Carers' efforts are saving the public purse in Scotland around £7.6 billion - a staggering amount which is equivalent to the cost of providing the entire NHS service north of the Border.

While for some taking on a caring role can be very rewarding, for others the experience can mean poverty, isolation, frustration and poor health. The stresses imposed can destroy the relationship between carer and the cared for. Many carers will put their own concerns to one side and fail to seek help. This is particularly true of those who fail to recognise the fact they are actually carers, for example because their partner has suddenly become ill or disabled. Indeed carer breakdown is one of the biggest reasons for avoidable admissions to care homes, so providing good quality respite care is vital to help prevent such situations.

In Edinburgh , the Council and a number of other organisations provide services and support for carers. Help is available whether this is to deal with financial issues, gain benefits advice, access counselling and other support services, or receive a much-needed break from caring. If anyone feels that they need help to continue in their caring role, I would urge them to seek out some support. A good place to start is the Council website or contact Social Care Direct on 0131 200 2324 for more information. 

Councillor Paul Edie -  Health and Social Care Convener

13 June 2011

Man Bites Dog - Hibs Fan Gets His Hands on a Trophy

Well done fellow Hibs fan  Andy Murray on winning Men's Singles at the Queens Club this afternoon. The final was delayed due to rain. 

The sight of a Hibs fan with his hands on silverware is enough to make you weak at the knees!

10 June 2011

Local Winners for Scottish Homes Award

I was delighted to attend last nights Scottish Homes Awards last night. 

I was positively elated when our 21st Century Homes project romped home with the prize for Community Partnership of the year. You can read more about this below. 

This project simply would not have happened if the Lib Dem's had not been in power. Both Labour and the Tories voted against it at committee when it was first muted.  To see it coming to fruition and  scooping up awards is very satisfying.

I was also delighted that Susan and Gerry Goldwyre won the award for the Best Designer House of the Year for their  new home by the Water Tower in Dalkeith. Susan was my previous boss when I worked in Blood Transfusion.  Well done. 

Port of Leith Housing Association were commended in one category and Eildon Housing Association won best Waterfront Development for a development in Galashiels. 
Just to show how strong the housing  sector is still in Edinburgh 5 out of 6 finalists in the City Apartment category were Edinburgh flats!

A major housing award has been achieved by the project which will see the first new council homes built in Edinburgh for more than a generation.

The Gracemount project within the 21st Century Homes for Edinburgh programme came out top in the prestigious Scottish Homes Award 2011 held in Edinburgh last night (9 June).
The City of Edinburgh Council and The Cruden Group jointly submitted the entry for the Community Partnership of the Year category.

The submission highlighted benefits such as:
  • Public and private sector working together to significantly contribute to meeting Edinburgh’s housing and regeneration needs
  • A community benefits programme delivering local employment, training and jobs
  • Support for social, educational and community initiatives
Councillor Paul Edie, Housing Leader for the City of Edinburgh Council, received the award on behalf of the Council last night. 

He said: “It’s great news that our partnership with The Cruden Group has been recognised with this fantastic award. It reinforces our belief in the importance of the public and private sector working together for the benefit of the whole community. 

“This is an exciting time for Gracemount residents as the first new council homes for more than a generation are beginning to take shape in Edinburgh.

“The 21st Century Homes project is a vital element of our ongoing long term regeneration plans for the Capital which will support the economy by providing new jobs in both the construction industry and other sectors. These new homes demonstrate our commitment to tackling the affordable housing shortage in Edinburgh. 

“On behalf of the Cruden Group, Steven Simpson, Managing Director of Cruden Homes (East) Ltd, said:
“We are absolutely delighted to have won the ‘Community Partnership of the Year’ award in conjunction with City of Edinburgh Council. Evolution at Gracemount represents one of the most pioneering regeneration projects in Scotland and we’re proud to receive recognition for our commitment to delivering community benefits at this early stage of development. 
“This award is testament to the successes of a strong public and private sector partnership approach, which will continue to generate much needed local employment and training opportunities during the construction of a sustainable and socially inclusive environment for future generations.“
Notes to editors:
The first phase in Gracemount will see 99 homes built all of which will be affordable with 67 council homes for rent, 20 for mid market rent and 12 for low cost home ownership through a shared equity purchase scheme.
The mix is made up of 26 one bedroom, 40 two bedroom and 27 three bedroom flats and colony style apartments. There will also be 6 four bedroom houses.

Phase two, comprising flats and houses for market sale, launches to the public on Saturday 18 June and will consist of 116 homes including a number of shared equity properties to ensure that the development consists of at least 50% affordable housing. The Council granted detailed planning consent for this phase at the beginning of June 2011.

Demolition of the three multi storey flat blocks on the site occurred in 2009 and construction work followed in October 2010. It is expected the first homes will be ready to move into in December 2011.

21st Century Homes for Edinburgh is the Council’s exciting new programme to build 1,300 mixed tenure homes for sale and for rent across the Capital. This will see up to £150 million of Council-led investment in the regeneration of the Gracemount, North Sighthill and Pennywell & Muirhouse areas of the city.
The programme contributes towards meeting the need for 16,600 new affordable homes in Edinburgh over the next ten years.

9 June 2011

Carnaby St Hits Bruntsfield

Yesterday I was over at  Bruntsfield to visit a homeless  project run by Gowrie Care. 

Gowrie have been very good partners to work with in making our homeless strategy such a success. They have a  unit looking after homeless people and they are rightly proud of the improvements made there over the last few months. The service users may be taught cooking skills and many have enjoyed transforming the garden area

Of most interests was their project which gives free clothes to homeless people. Funded in part by a waste management grant from the council we think this is the only service of its type in Edinburgh. The set up was very much like a boutique with pop art painted on the walls (by service users) and rack and railings of clothes. 

A little bit of Carnaby St in Bruntsfield!

Gowrie are always looking for donations. For further details contact   Gowrie Care on the link.

8 June 2011

New HUB at the Heart of Drum Brae

It has been a busy morning. I visited the new Drum Brae Library and Day Centre site with Alex Neil, recently elevated to the Scottish Cabinet as Minister for Infrastructure.

The building is coming on at an astonishing pace and it was amazing that a muddy field only a few weeks ago has been transformed into a recognizable building. It was amazing to walk around inside it and see where the  local council offices would be, the day centre and each part of the library. You can see a  video of the visit below. 

This was a part of the city that was in my council ward for 13 years and which had campaigned for a library for 40 years. It was one of only  two areas of the city more than a mile form a library. When we were in opposition Labour resolutely refused to build one.  

It took a change of administration and the Lib Dem's being in power to make this happen.

7 June 2011

Autism centre to open in Edinburgh's Craigmillar area

I am really passionate about  caring for vulnerable people. It is part of my make up and of my liberal values.  It has underpinned much of what I have done while in power. 

I am proud we have cut accommodation waiting lists for people with learning difficulties and below is a statement about a new unit for people with autism and learning difficulties which the Lib Dem led council has initiated.

A £4 million specialist centre providing essential support to people with autism and learning difficulties is set to open in Edinburgh.

The unit, which will be built on the site of Pefferbank Day Service on Duddingston Road West, will replace two day care centres at Deanbank and Glenallan no longer considered fit for purpose.

With 20 day support service places, the new centre will help more than 50 people and their families, as well as providing a respite service for up to 55 individuals.

There are currently no local services giving specialist support to people with learning disabilities in the area, and families using respite services are required to travel out of town.

Councillor Paul Edie, Health and Social Care Leader, said: “This is a very exciting project which will offer a huge boost for people who live with autism and learning disabilities.

“The specialist, purpose-built centre will be designed with the needs of people with autism and learning disabilities in mind. It will be more convenient for families of service users.

“In approving this new unit, the Council's Administration is demonstrating our commitment to continue to provide high quality care to meet rising demand for services.”

The facility will benefit service users, family members and staff with activities and education in improved surroundings, as well as a garden in a secure environment.

The City of Edinburgh Council hope to develop personalised short breaks for adults with learning difficulties.

Jackie Tufft, director of Autism Services at the charity Scottish Autism, said: “We value localised services for individuals, recognise the need for them and hope to work in partnership with city of Edinburgh to help them achieve their goal of delivering personalised, local services.

“Scottish Autism have over 40 years of experience with a proven track record of providing services across Scotland and would welcome the opportunity to work in partnership to ensure the highest quality, autism specific service is provided.”

Work on the centre, which will be part-funded by the sale of Deanbank and Glenallan, will begin in 2012, and it is hoped it will be completed by 2014.

6 June 2011

Festival of Sport Tees Off

Edinburgh is proud to be known as the "Festival City".  We have so many but one that is relatively new is the  Edinburgh Festival of Sport.

This takes place between June the 6th and 19th and features many local events. These include.....
fencing, a surf morning at Belhaven Beach, roller hockey, orienteering and a ski club open evening to name just a few.

There are also many other large group and spectator events running in the festival such as the Moonwalk, Race for Life, the Cycling Grand Prix and the uniquely action-packed Roller Girls Derby! SoundS interesting!

The full programme of events is available at www.activcity.info, with daily updates throughout the festival also available on Facebook.

5 June 2011

Willie Backs Key Health Measure

I warmly welcome the news that Scottish Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie will reposition the Scottish Lib Dems on minimum pricing of alcohol. The party opposed it in the last Holyrood parliament, much to the discomfort of many activists including me. 

I have said on a number of occasions that the smoking ban was Holyrood’s finest hour but the collective failure to act on alcohol across party lines was its biggest shame.

Now we will have a consensus in favour of this vital preventative health issue and Willie has ensured that the Lib Dems will be part of that. 

Bounding Around Bonaly

I spent yesterday afternoon participating in an orienteering competition.  We were competing up on Bonaly Hill on the Northern slopes of the Pentland Hills and just at the end of the number 10 bus route. Such is the close proximity of the country in our little city!

I did a lot of orienteering at school and managed a wee bit last summer.  Suffice to say after two hours of bouncing around the heather and trying to run up steep hills my legs are dead!  

I managed to stay clean which was better than I managed last year. I still have clothes that smell of marshland from a  run around near the army firing range - they were pointing away from us at the time - until then I had never considered orienteering as either dangerous or a blood sport!

Anyho' a very enjoyable time was had by all and hats off the Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club  who put on these events throughout the year. They are great fun and many families take part.