26 September 2011

Chambers Turned into Film Set

Friday saw a wee bit of Hollywood glam at the City Chambers with the filming of scenes for Cloud Atlas. Sadly no sighting of Halle Berry.

The film is based on a Booker shortlisted novel featuring a number of stories in different times and places which are all interconnected.

The City Chambers was  turned into the Imperial Hotel and the entrance looked very grand indeed.

As you can see 1930's cars  and lorries were evident and I did feel for the extras who spend several hours standing around in heavy tweed suits. At least it wasn't raining!

Still there was an air of excitement at meetings in my room through out the day when shouts of "Action" and "Cut" rang out from ther Quad!  Participants in meetings just couldn't resist hanging out of the window to see what was going on. 

Most impressive was the sequences shot  where the  floppy haired stunt man - I hope he was the stunt man - climbed out of Planning Convener Jim Lowrie's window, slid down a drain pipe and ran across the canopy of the  Chambers entrance.

An image of this is pasted here.  He did this three or four times much to the surprise of each meeting and didn't fall once!

Sighthill Blow Down

Yesterday we had the last of the big "blow Downs", the demolition of three massive 1960@s tower blocks at Sighthill in Edinburgh.

Built in 1966 these were visible from my bedroom window when i was a child and them not being there for the first time in memory will be surreal.  

This is part of the regeneration of Sighthill and getting these blocks into a shape where they would meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard was not going to be cost effective.  It thus made sense to demolish and rebuild new and better homes. 

To view the spectacle I have  put a link to The Scotsman website who have a wee bit of footage.


19 September 2011

Fair Trade Corstorphine Launched

Last night I attended a church  service to mark the launch of Fair Trade Corstorphine. This was hosted at the Old Kirk in the village.

The event was well attended and the local Minister, Moira Robertson, ably demonstrated how easy it was to buy good quality Fair Trade goods. She had managed to get all sorts of quality purchases on display from retailers such as Scotmid (the Co-op),  Boots, M&S, Tesco and Sainsburys. 

The idea is to get Corstorphine tagged as a fair Trade Community by encouraging more traders and restaurants to use some fair trade products. 

The Council has already  jumped on board the Fair Trade train and it would be great if other local communities such as could join Corstorphine in this worth while initiative.

Nervous Kitty Keeps Safe Distance from Big Beast

I wandered past this scene this morning. The council blog describes this as a curious cat. I thought it was petrified myself! When I saw it it was being helped by a  kind member of staff as it was to scarred to wander past the big beast on its own!

Sam Maguire Goes To Dublin

Congratulations to Dublin who edged out Kerry by a single point to clinch the All Ireland Gaelic Football Championship in front of the largest crowd in 50 years yesterday.

This was the Dubs first title since 1995. Pictured is Dubs forward Paul Flynn holding aloft the Sam Maguire Cup which must be one of the largest in sport!

18 September 2011

Irish Outmuscle Aussies

This is my first  post on this years Rugby World Cup. This is being held in New Zealand  and that is part of my problem. I am usually asleep or at work when the games are being played!

The initial group phase is half way through and  has thrown up a few closer than expected games. 

In Scotland's Group both Romania and Georgia ran Scotland close while Argentina just ran out of puff against England. 

In other groups Wales were narrowly edged out by South Africa. The one point defeat was disappointing for them but it shows that they are a real force to be reckoned with at this tournament as are the Irish who shoved Australia off the park yesterday running up the first upset of the tournament. 

Lots to look forward to.

16 September 2011

More Affordable Homes for Edinburgh

This release related to funding which will be used to add to the Edinburgh's Affordable Housing stock. More details below.

Edinburgh’s housing leader has welcomed an announcement from the Scottish Government that will lead to 645 new affordable homes being built in the capital.

Councillor Paul Edie was speaking as a package of measures was announced for more affordable homes in Scotland. 

The City of Edinburgh Council and housing associations will receive the cash boost from the Scottish Government’s Innovation and Investment Fund which was announced today (September 15).

Additional money from the fund will lead to 594 new housing association homes being built on various sites across the city.

The £1.5m in funding that the Council will receive will be used to build new council homes at Fort House and Greendykes.

Cllr Edie said: “We welcome this additional investment from the Scottish Government in the city. It’s good news for both housing associations and Council house building and even better news for people who need a home.”

15 September 2011

Green Light for New Drum Brae Care Home

I was so pleased to hear that planning consent has been granted for the new Drum Bare Care Home. This will, in time, provide much needed jobs in the Drum Brae area. I am looking forward to work beginning there soon. More details on the release below.

Work set to start on city's latest care home

Published Thursday 15 September 2011

Work on the City of Edinburgh Council’s latest state of the art care home will begin next month after planning permission was granted. 

Contractors will start on the new care home at Drumbrae in October after agreement was reached at the Council's Planning Committee yesterday (14 September).

The new 60 bed home is being built on the site of the former Drumbrae Primary School and will be the fifth new care home the Council has commissioned as part of its strategy for providing a high quality care environment for older people.

It will replace two of the Council's older care homes - Clermiston House and The Tower Care Home.
Councillor Paul Edie, Health Leader for Edinburgh, said: "We are committed to offering high quality residential care for older people in the city. Just this week, we opened our latest care home at Inch View. This facility gives residents the opportunity to stay in accommodation which is more suitable to their needs and gives them a better standard of living.

"I am really pleased that work can now begin on the next modern care home commissioned by this Council. This will also bring an economic boost to the local community by bringing in new employment opportunities which will lead to more jobs in the long term."

The new home will be sub-divided into four wings of 15 bedrooms, each with their own sitting and dining areas.  Bedrooms will all have en-suite shower rooms and assisted bathrooms.

The four wings are arranged around a central courtyard and accessible garden, allowing the more vulnerable residents freedom within a secure environment.

All the Council's new care homes have been designed to a high specification and include activity rooms, hairdressing rooms and support facilities.

The new care home is part of Edinburgh's Live Well in Later Life strategy, which aims to provide a wide range of quality care and support to meet older people's needs in their own and in carefully designed homes. The new care home will be beneficial in providing a caring and supportive service for older people so they can enjoy a better quality of life.

14 September 2011

Bread St Clean Up and a Womans Scorn

It has been a busy week with lots of evening meetings. Today I helped  with the Bread St Clean up.
Organised by the local community, City Centre Neighbourhood Team and the local police this was about cleaning a bit of the city just of Lothian Road. A good turnout from local volunteers was very good to see.  Picking up cigarette butts with one of those litter grabbers was a challenge - like trying to pick up grains of rice with chop sticks!

The saddest thing I saw today was the story of the Jackie Kennedy interview with  Arthur Schlesinger. This revealed her scorn for Lyndon Johnson - I knew that already - but also for Martin Luther King - which I found astonishing. 

I would like to think that much of the negativity was down to grief, the interview being only four months after the assassination. I am long enough in the tooth to know it probably wasn't.


Here is the Council response.

Date  14/September/2011

Status  For Immediate Release


Council Leader Cllr Jenny Dawe said: "We have been in constant dialogue with Transport Scotland throughout and both parties agreed that it would be beneficial to have a closer relationship in the operational management of the tram project. We have a joint interest in ensuring a clean, green and efficient transport network is delivered in Edinburgh and our new working arrangements are a logical extension of the discussions we have had with them." 

Chief Executive Sue Bruce added: "As we move closer to a settlement agreement, the delivery of Edinburgh Trams remains the Council's responsibility and we are putting in place new arrangements to ensure that there is the best possible governance and operational oversight of the initiative. That will be complemented by the technical, project management expertise, and experience that Transport Scotland offers and I am very pleased to welcome their involvement. Our staff and theirs will work closely together as we look to enter a new phase in the project's history."

See the text of Transport Scotland's news release.

Stewart Argo, Media Manager
0131 529 4430

Follow our news on:

Council Information and news releases are available on www.edinburgh.gov.uk

Ministers to oversee final delivery of Edinburgh trams

Here is a release relating to the latest development in the Trams saga. I will post the Council response in a moment.


Ministers to oversee final delivery of Edinburgh trams

14 September 2011
The Scottish Government has today announced that it will help oversee the final delivery of the Edinburgh trams project.
Ministers have also confirmed that the remaining £72 million Scottish Government grant will be reinstated to the project now that the route to St Andrews Square has been similarly reinstated.
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment Alex Neil announced that a team of experienced project managers from Government agency Transport Scotland will fill key senior roles in the new governance structure with City of Edinburgh Council and will bring the professional approach that has seen major projects such as the M74, completed ahead of schedule and under budget. 

Working  alongside managers from the local authority, the Transport Scotland team will work closely with the Council’s own team to provide strong managerial and technical assistance to ensure the delivery of a viable tram service between St Andrews Square and Edinburgh Airport for Scotland’s capital city.
As part of the agreement with the City of Edinburgh Council, Ministers will have the power to direct strategic project decisions. Ministers will also be given regular progress updates from the project team.
Alex Neil said:
“The Scottish Government did not back the trams project when Parliament voted on it in 2007, and we share the frustration of many people in Edinburgh over the way the scheme has developed since then.
“We made it clear two weeks ago that we were no longer prepared to commit further public money to a route which was not financially viable and which did not deliver the link to the city centre which people rightly expected.

“However, now that that link has been reinstated, it is vital that the remaining stages of the trams project is delivered on time and within the £776m budget that we are advised by CEC is needed to complete the route to St Andrews Square by Summer 2014. That is why today I am announcing that senior management from Transport Scotland will now help complete the trams project.”
Mr Neil added:

“The Scottish Government has a strong track record, through Transport Scotland, of delivering major projects like the M74 early and under budget and secured significant savings on the three contracts to deliver the new Forth Replacement Crossing.
“As part of the arrangements put in place today, Ministers will receive regular updates on the progress of the project, and will also retain a veto over strategic decisions in respect of remaining Government funding.
“We must make sure that we work as closely as possible with those who will be affected and make sure that the impact of the work is minimised for Edinburgh businesses and communities.”
The move builds on the agency’s involvement with the Council in mediation discussions which have been ongoing since earlier this year and which have resulted in an expected settlement being reached later today between CEC and its contractors Bilfinger Berger/Siemens. 

CEC has calculated that the overall budget for the project is now £776m, comprising of a base budget of £742m and a risk allowance of £34m. This increase of £231m above the original project budget of £545m will be funded through the Council’s prudential funding facility.
Additional Information 

Transport Scotland’s new role will involve a team of around 4 or 5 staff.  TS Director MTRIPS Ainslie McLaughlin will be on the new project Board and TS staff will work alongside CEC staff in key senior roles.  TS staff will based in the same offices as CEC and the contractor and work in partnership to ensure that problems are indentified quickly and solutions found to avoid the approach under previous TIE ltd regime that saw the contract blighted by disputes.

Significant challenges remain in completing the crucial Haymarket to St Andrew’s Square section.  For example, the Scottish Government remain concerned that there are more than 700 separate instances where utilities may remain in conflict with the project design – some even after they were diverted as part of the earlier utilities diversion works contract.

13 September 2011

MP's Need to Up Their Game

The recall of James Murdoch to the House of Commons Culture Select Committee is a welcome move which comes after conflicting evidence on the Phone Hacking scandal was  heard by the committee.

I only hope the MP's who sit on the committee do a better job than last time. As one media outlet said the only punch packed in that anticlimactic meeting was thrown by Wendy Deng, Murdoch jrs step mum. 


12 September 2011

Benefits Info Session for Western Edinburgh

This is a plug the briefing for residents of the Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership area. This event is being run by Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living and is supported by the grant from the Neighbourhood Partnership.

Disability Benefits Briefing
West Edinburgh

Presented by Grapevine - The One Stop Shop for Disability Information and Advice in Edinburgh.

When:  29th September 2011 from 10am – 1pm,
Where: Edinburgh Capital Hotel, 187 Clermiston Road, Edinburgh, EH12 6UG

·        Are you worried about what’s happening with the benefit changes? 
·        Do you get any of these benefits:  Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support on grounds of incapacity, or Severe Disablement Allowance?  
Then why not come along to our Benefits Briefing event and find out about the welfare reforms and how the changes might affect you.

10am – 10.30am - Arrival, tea, coffee and biscuits

10.30am – 11.30am   Benefits Briefing - Information on the latest changes to  disability benefits.

11.30am – 12.30pm   Question and Answer Session – Speak to our information staff, ask questions and receive advice.  

This event is for residents living in the Western area of Edinburgh
including the following areas – Drumbrae, Clermiston, East Craigs, Gyle, Corstorphine, Carrick Knowe, Saughtonhall, Murrayfield, Roseburn and Ravelston.

Places are limited, so book now!
Contact the Grapevine service to book a place on Phone 0131 475 2370 or email grapevine@lothiancil.org.uk    

Grapevine is run by the Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living (LCiL), a user-led Disabled People’s organisation, providing a range of support services to enable disabled people to access Independent Living.

10 September 2011

Special Flag for the Friend of Corstorphine Hill

I was very honoured to be asked to raise the Green Flag  awarded to the Friends of Corstorphine Hill

Edinburgh has more than half of all the Green Flags in Scotland, one of the reasons why our Parks team picked up an award at the Association of Public Service Excellence Awards (APSE)  on Thursday. 

This flag was special though as it was a Community flag awarded not to the Council but to this excellent group.

The snap here is from the event held in the majestic Walled Garden just of Clermiston Road. Ten years ago this was a ruin and with the help of the Beechgrove Garden TV Program and no little effort from volunteers four years work was crammed into a fortnight and the garden was renovated.  

The Friends also accessed various pots of grant funding not available to the Council and managed to rebuild the walls. 

The Garden is an achievement in it's self receiving the first Green Pennant in Scotland  - this is the equivalent of a Green Flag for gardens.  They also  organize litter pick ups, have published leaflets and books on the Hill, led tours  focusing on geology, archeology, mushroom picks and flora and fauna. Thanks to the friends tree planting started again.

The walled garden though stands out as symbol of what is possible. The real challenge was not simply renovating it but keeping it up. The Friends have done this brilliantly.

Within the next three weeks the Walled Garden on Corstorphine Hill will be a riot of colour when the trees turn. The walls  have various species towering above them and  this will be one of the most beautiful places in Scotland to visit.

Well done all involved in this.

7 September 2011

Legislative Program Parson's Egg

Like many  I have been trying to follow the announcements flowing from today's Scottish Governments Legislative program launch. 

A parsons egg is my conclusion so far. Most such events are with most governments implementing some unexciting but necessary  improvements to peoples live mixed in with the show stoppers and some stuff which they will regret in the future. 

Today the show stopper was minimum pricing of alcohol which I have long supported and which  the Lib Dems did not support last term. Willie Rennie has changed our position on that issue and I have to say that the party is very comfortable with that. 

Another showstopper is rollig out  at a Scottish level what we are starting here in Edinburgh -  guaranteeing all school leavers "positive destinations" after they leave school - education speak for ensuring that they all have a job, college/ university course or apprenticeship/training. In Edinburgh we have 600 children who have slipped through the net annually and we are acting to  stop this happening. 

I still can't see what is being suggested for Social Care. That might be announced tomorrow and I have  naturally some concerns about the direction that may take but I shall wait and see.

The issue  we will live to regret will be the police reform  - setting up a single police force is something I have long said would be a bad move.

I do fear that in a Parliament with no checking second chamber, with a Presiding Officer taken from the  majority governing party, with all of the checks and balances being invested in the committee structure all of which have a majority of members who are members of the governing party setting up a police force answerable ultimately to a Scottish Cabinet Minister rather than Police Board Chairs is distilling to much power into the hands of that Minister. The opportunity and temptation to abuse that power will in time prove too tempting for some one.  

Scotland is sleep walking into a police state. Some of the First Minsters statements about the courts, for example, do not augur well.  

All governments have a tendency towards authoritarianism if left unchecked, majority governments more so. That tendency becomes more pronounced in second term governments,  and I would wager that nationalist governments have also an additional tendency towards authoritarianism if we were to look further into this. 

Sir Robert Peel set up the modern Police service in the 1840's and based it on a decentralised model. This has protected the traditonal freedoms of the little guy from government pretty well over the years. The fact we have not had the authoritarianism of continental Europe is in no small measure down to this. I hope the SNP think again on this. 

6 September 2011

Edinburgh's First Female Chief Inspector Jinty Kerr Dies

I was very sad to read of the death of former Superintendent Jinty Kerr in today's Edinburgh Evening News.  Jinty was a remarkable lady who was the first female Chief Inspector in Edinburgh. She also headed up Lothian and Borders Drug Squad for a while. It was in the role that I first met her. 

She was great enthusiast with a great sense of humour and I worked  with her when I chaired the Western Edinburgh Crime Prevention Panel for a time.  She lost her fight with cancer at the all too young age of 63.


5 September 2011

Hidden Treasure

An Indian friend told this astonishing tale of hidden wealth in a Temple in the middle of Trivindrum. The wealth stashed in the vaults so far comes to about £15 Billion with more to be valued!!! This is roughly equivalent to the deficit George Osbourne is trying to claw back. The story is below courtesy of the Times of India.


I visited this Temple  a few years back - not that I was allowed actually  inside, local custom forbids non Hindus from entering temples in Kerela. As you can see from the snap it wasn't exactly Fort Knox!

Council up for top local authority award

This press release below explains it all. The City Council have been nominated for Best Council a the prestigious APSE Awards later this week.

Published Monday 5 September 2011

The City of Edinburgh Council is in the running for a prestigious public service award as one of the top local authorities in the UK.

They have been short listed from over 300 entries in 'Council of the Year in Service Delivery' awards from the Association for Public Sector Excellence (APSE).

In addition to the top nomination the council has also been short listed in four other categories:
  • Best Efficiency Initiative: Energy Management team for their energy improvement programme across the schools' estate which resulted in reduced consumption
  • Best Housing & Regeneration Initiative: 21st Century Homes for their programme redeveloping three sites with mixed tenure communities delivering up to 1,300 homes over the next eight years.
  • Best Service Team Parks , Grounds and Horticultural Service: The Parks & Greenspace team for their improvements across the city's open space estate.
  • Best Service Team Sports, Leisure and Cultural Service: Library & Information Services Management Team for their work in performance improvement and customer service.
Cllr Jenny Dawe, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council , said: "It is a fantastic achievement for Edinburgh to be short listed for the UK Council of the Year award.

"I congratulate staff across the Council for their hard work and dedication to providing excellent services for residents that has led to these nominations.

"This builds on our success in the best efficiency initiative category at last year's awards and demonstrates a culture of real continuous improvement."

Paul O'Brien, APSE Chief Executive, said: "There are some real big names in local government amongst our finalists and all are thoroughly deserving of their nominations.

"After an austere couple of years in local government these awards are a welcome way to acknowledge that, despite the pressures on local councils, those that work to deliver frontline services have continued to make sure that they provide much valued services to their local residents and businesses." 

The awards will take place in Bristol on Thursday 8 September 2011. 

3 September 2011

Jim Fixed it for Me! Broomview Blowdown

Three weeks tomorrow the last three tower blocks in Sighthill will be blown up.  I got to press the "Wiley Coyote" plunger three years ago to take down Broomview House in Sighthill. It was my "Jim'll Fix It" moment. Here is the official video of the event. Not easily forgotten!

The event should take place at 10 am on the 25th.

Melingo's Ayer

This is Melingo again. This time with Fabian Cantilo. Ayer is by a mile the most listened to track on my i-tunes. More than any by the Who , Kinks, and Van the Man and that says something! 

This track is simply superb with two brilliant voices and  a bandeleo which dips into the piece perfectly. Watch and enjoy....

2 September 2011

Back on Track

The Council today performed a U turn on the trams issue. The move followed the intervention of both the Scottish Government, through Transport Scotland, and the Contractor.  

Transport Scotland said that if the line was built only to Haymarket they would withhold about £70million.  The contractor said that if we went for Haymarket the estimated price would rise.

Today we had 4 parties voting for St Andrew's Square in one form or another though Labour hastily redrafted their rather confused amendment after it became apparent that their stance would have meant Haymarket again. 

Only the Tories stood back and proposed cancellation. This would have cost around £161 million and their justification was that we could spend a few years fighting this in court. Hmmm!

In the end after exhaustive votes  our motion supported by the SNP won 28 -15. 

Based on the information in front of us this was the best of the options. We need to get on with this project as soon as we can.