31 October 2011

2000+ Jobs as Lib Dem Led Edinburgh Triples Affordable Homes

A record number of affordable homes have been approved for construction this year by the City of Edinburgh Council.

In total 1,558 homes have been rubber-stamped for building which will lead to £296m of direct and indirect investment and support 2,180 jobs in the construction and related industries and services in Edinburgh.

The figures have been revealed in a new report – Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2012-17 – which sets out the Council’s affordable homes strategy for the next five years.

This is the first time that the number of approvals for affordable housing has almost matched the 1,660 homes needed every year in Edinburgh. In previous years the number of homes approved for construction has been around the 600 mark.

Housing Leader Councillor Paul Edie said: “This really is very exciting news for Edinburgh as we have never seen such a high figure of affordable homes being approved for construction in one year. 

“And it’s not just those families who will be able to buy these homes that will benefit. The knock on effects linked to the construction will see over £100m pumped into the wider economy and thousands of jobs supported as a direct result.

“A great deal of praise must go to the Council’s housing team who have made full use of all the funding options available to us to achieve this significant milestone. Scottish Government schemes such as the National Housing Trust and Innovation and Investment Fund have been instrumental in helping us reach this year’s figure.

“But it’s important we do not rest on our laurels and we will continue to find new ways of funding more homes in years to come so the people of Edinburgh are not struggling to find affordable homes to live in.”

Scottish Governemnt Minister for Housing and Transport Keith Brown said: “It is encouraging to see the City of Edinburgh reach this milestone in affordable housing and fantastic to see the local authority’s commitment to making homes available and within the financial reach of those who need them.

“Housing remains a priority for the Scottish Government and we aim to deliver 30,000 affordable homes over the next five years.

“To this end, in the face of such massive economic strain, we continue to strive for creative and innovative approaches to provide homes and stimulate the economy.

“The City of Edinburgh Council has clearly seen the benefits of continuing to support the construction industry and invigorate the housing market.”

26 October 2011

An Encounter with an Old Competitor

I spent this morning visiting the new Quarries development at Hyvots in the South of Edinburgh. 
This new development  has been built by Hart Builders for Dunedin Canmore Housing Association  for 58 older people. 

Today was the formal opening performed by the new Housing Minister Keith Brown. The last time I met Keith was on election night 2001 when I was the Liberal Democrat Candidate  for Ochil and he was running Labour a close second for the SNP. My campaign manager was a guy called Willie Rennie who doubled our vote and made me look really good as a candidate! As an ex marine Keith is probably the only SNP minister trained to kill with his bare hands!

Today was very pleasant occasion and the development is simply stunning. It has special panels for collecting heat and the heating bills are apparently very very low! Not unimportant when you are living off a state pension. There is also some exercise equipment out in the back green area aimed at helping the residents keep fit for as long as possible. 

Pictured is Lib Dem  Councillor Conor Snowden who represents the area on the Council trying out one of the items of equipment. OK I need to read the instructions to the new camera but you get the idea! The development also has raised flower beds for residents  and many other features.

We have a very close partnership with Dunedin Canmore and the Scottish Government and I have to congratulate them on this extraordinary development.

Getting About in Gracemount

Yesterday I visited the South Edinburgh Local Office in Captain's Rd.

The waiting area at the Captains' Rd Office has been transformed into a mini library  and I was given an extensive tour of it by the local Libraries Team who are rightly proud of the various uses it receives. 

As is my custom I did check how often some of the books had been booked out  and can reveal that Margaret Thatchers biography had been taken out just once which is significantly fewer than the number of times that it had been borrowed from the Prison Library! I was warned though that the  Self Service  machines didn't stamp a return date and so this measure was highly suspect! Hmmm.. I'm not so sure in this instance!

As well as hearing about the various eye catching initiatives the Local Team have been  carrying out I was also taken on a tour of the Gracemount 21st Century Homes development.

I have put two snaps on this posting to show what they will look like. The flat roofed ones  I have posted to show how the council and the private homes, whose sale will help pay for the affordable element of the development, will look the same externally. This is  important in terms of avoiding social stigma and has worked well elsewhere.

I am also posting pictures of the new Colony style flats to give you an idea of what these will look like.

I was taken inside the  a few of the flats which are still being finished off. They are being built to the new Edinburgh Standard and as such have wider doors and other   specifications to allow barrier free living. The rooms are also much larger than we have had in the recent past and they have been built with modern insulation. The flooring also will give better sound proofing than we have had in the past.

These will be the  first Council Housing in a generation and something, as Housing Convenor, I am proud that this Lib Dem led authority is delivering on.

23 October 2011

Laws of Geography Overturned - New Zealand on top of the World

Well done New Zealand who finally put their 24 year hoodoo to rest when they sneaked home to win Rugby's World Cup by a single point beating a very plucky and stubborn  France 8-7.

The French have for much of the 24 barren years been the thorn in the side of the All Blacks  and in spite of being heavily beaten in the group stages. Two truisms were evident today...
  1. You can never write off France at Rugby and 
  2. A world Cup Final is never a foregone conclusion.
This was the right result. The best team of the  tournament won the trophy. That doesn't always happen in sport.

It was also a very sporting contest right from the coin toss to decide  the change of  shirts. The French won the toss and insisted that New Zealand got to wear the famous All Black kit, at home, in the World cup final. The French made the final special in so many ways!

On a more artistic front The Stone Roses are going to get back together. We can look forward to their mesmerizing music and wobbly heads, a little bit like those felt model dogs   you got in cars. Don't take my word for it have a look at them in this video. Fabulous or is that Fab? They were, are, still the epitome of Brit pop cool and older than me which is  nice!

Democracy Finally Comes to Tunisia

Tunisians go to the polls today. My pal Gill is part of the team monitoring the elections and has sent me this snap of where she is billeted. 

Keen sci-fi buff, of which I am not one, will recognize in an instant as one of the places where the Star Wars trilogy (if you can you have a six part trilogy) was shot.

Anyho' the best of British to the voters of Tunisia. Democracy was a long time coming and was hard won.

Remember as Churchill said....

"....democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried"

17 October 2011

Successful Start for Housing Incentive Scheme

A pilot scheme which offers Edinburgh tenants financial help in moving to smaller homes has seen a 72% increase in applications from people living in homes too large for their housing needs.
  The Tenants Incentive Scheme started in May 2011 and tenants can benefit from up to £1,000 worth of help in moving to smaller homes.

Fifteen tenants have moved under the scheme up to the beginning of this month with a further 122 people seeking to move (up from 71 before it started).

The scheme, which is run by the City of Edinburgh Council, aims to free up much needed housing space for those families who are living in a property with three or more bedrooms and are interested in moving to a smaller home.

Under the city-wide initiative, tenants who have successfully bid for another available home advertised through EH – Your Key to Choice (Edinburgh’s choice based lettings system) can get assistance up to a value of £1,000 to help with moving costs such as removals/packing and decoration. 
Councillor Paul Edie, Housing Leader for Edinburgh, said: “It’s very encouraging that so many tenants have expressed an interest in taking part in this scheme as it’s all about trying to help increase the supply of larger family accommodation in the city.

“The first few months of the scheme has seen fifteen tenants move which has freed up much needed larger accommodation. This includes one five bedroom house in Bingham.
“No one wants to see rooms lying empty in some of our larger Council homes when other families are living in over-crowded accommodation. Tenants now have an incentive to move and free up this larger family accommodation.”    

A sum of £50,000 has set aside for the initial pilot project which will then be evaluated to allow the Council to decide on future incentive options.

12 October 2011

Go East!

This morning I had an excellent visit to the East Edinburgh Local Office to hear about the work that Neighbourhood Manager Jim Hunter and his team are doing there. 

I was struck by how much the area has improved over the last few years. The East area has some of the most deprived residents in the City and life expectancy in some of the areas of it can be lower than parts of the third world.  

This picture of decay has been turned around with a lot of work  in early intervention and  very strong partnership working between council, police and health. 

The team were very excited by the new Library that is being built in Craigmillar. This will replace the  existing library which, in spite of the excellent work being done by the staff there, is too small.  The new building will also incorporate new council offices and the library will be much much larger!
For a virtual walk through  just watch the you tube link below.

I am really proud of what we have done in Edinburgh on partnership working but I am also really proud that while other councils are closing libraries we are building more of them!  

Wonder why we were the world first City of Literature?

Edie Medal Winner Honoured

Spare a though for Dean Grice who missed the  Aussie Rules Chandler Medal  Awards bash the other night after falling ill on a trip to Queensland. 

Grice spent the night in bed sick  but still managed to win the Paul Edie Medal for Best and Fairest.

I had an image of this lovely medal which is of a suitable Hibernian green with white but can't find it. Here is a picture of the main man above. He is  on the right.

If any readers can supply a url or picture  of the medal or tell me who my namesake  commemorated in this way was I would be most grateful.

Well done Dean and get well soon!

Perc medal winner Shaun Jamieson is so proud of his Scottish heritage that he has "Lang may your lum reek" tattooed on his  forearm. This translates into "Live long and prosper earthling".

11 October 2011

Step up the housing ladder for armed forces

Ex-service personnel have been given a boost in their bid to find a new home by the City of Edinburgh Council.

Councillors have agreed that the length of time people have served in the armed forces will be equal to the amount of time others have been registered on Edinburgh's common housing register (EdIndex).
The decision was taken at today's Health, Social Care and Housing Committee (11 October) because many ex-service personnel find it difficult to get social housing once they leave the armed forces as they have been living abroad or in service accommodation.

Those 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 regulations will apply to people providing they register on EdIndex within three years of leaving the armed forces.

It was also agreed that the Council would work with the Ministry of Defence to provide specialist housing advice to armed forces personnel who were considering settling in Edinburgh.
Councillor Paul Edie, the city's housing leader, said: "I'm delighted that we will be able to help people who have left the armed forces and are struggling to find somewhere to live.

"Many of them have spent time overseas serving their country and putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom and way of life. It is only right that we do everything we can as a Council to give them a helping hand."

Ian Ballantyne, Chief Executive, Scottish Veterans Residences, said: "This is a very welcome initiative by the City of Edinburgh Council and a great boost for those veterans wishing to settle in Edinburgh.  Veterans are not looking for a hand out but rather a hand up and this policy will certainly help achieve this and one that we would encourage all other local authorities to emulate.

"Our service men and women have contributed immeasurably to preserving our freedoms in a way that could not have been predicted and it is beholding to us all to do everything possible to support them when they leave the services."

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.

7 October 2011

Council Leader welcomes jobs boost to Capital

The release below say it all. 

Councillor Jenny Dawe, Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, welcomes news that leading banking software company Avaloq is to create hundreds of jobs in the city.
"The City Council, in close partnership with SDI, went to great lengths to ensure that Scotland 's capital was Avaloq's destination of choice and this announcement sends a clear signal that, despite tough economic conditions, Edinburgh is still seen as an exceptional investment proposition. "Once again, the city has been recognised for the high standard of its workforce and higher education institutions - but also for the great quality of life it offers to its residents.
"We will continue to work closely with the company to ensure that they settle in quickly and easily to the city and that we make the most of what is undoubtedly a fantastic opportunity for Edinburgh ." 
See full Scottish Government press release below.
Swiss company to recruit 75 Scottish graduates
Swiss software solutions company Avaloq is to recruit at least 75 Scottish graduates among the 500 new jobs to be created when it opens its new Edinburgh base.
The announcement was welcomed today by Alex Salmond, who met with senior representatives of the company as plans were officially unveiled for their new Scottish software development centre. The First Minister described the graduate jobs boost as good news for new graduates in Edinburgh and across Scotland .
The development centre - to be sited in Edinburgh city centre - is expected to employ 500 people in its first five years, with 20 staff to start before the end of this year alone.
Recruitment begins today to find the 75 graduate employees who will begin an intensive six-month training programme with the global multinational. The initial recruitment will be the first phase of Avaloq's employment of graduates in Scotland , with more graduate positions expected over the next five years.
First Minister Alex Salmond said:
"I welcome Avaloq's commitment to recruit 75 new graduates from Scottish universities which is terrific news for new graduates in Edinburgh and across Scotland . This is a substantial number of training positions being created by a well-respected international software company, whose solutions are used by dozens of banks in more than 20 countries worldwide.
"The plans they are announcing this morning for their Edinburgh software development centre will mean a total of 500 high-quality, highly-skilled new jobs. Private sector job creation is pivotal to Scotland 's economic growth and the most recent figures show employment increased in Scotland by 23,000 over the three months to July 2011, at a time when it fell by 69,000 across the UK as a whole.
"This will be only the second such site for Avaloq anywhere in the world and the first outside their home country of Switzerland . Avaloq have chosen to locate their new software development centre in Edinburgh and to recruit 75 graduates from our universities, which is testament to the high quality of Scottish education and enhances the strength of the city's international reputation for finance and IT services."
Avaloq CEO Francisco Fernandez said:
"The UK is one of the most important strategic foreign markets for Avaloq.  It is also a base for many important banking customers and Edinburgh is seen as the number two financial market in the country.
"We decided three years ago to create a second site to reach our growth targets. Edinburgh came top of our global search for several reasons, but one of the most important factors was due to the wealth of potential graduate talent available in Scotland and the number of universities offering excellent degrees in software engineering. We very much believe in working with the local talent to grow this operation and are optimistic about the forthcoming student fairs which will be used to identify the first Avaloq appointments.
"The support we have received from Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council has been extremely encouraging and their collaboration remains important to Avaloq and our plans to grow the development centre in Edinburgh to approximately 500 employees within the next five years."
Scottish Enterprise Chief Executive Lena Wilson said:
"We have worked extensively with Avaloq to secure this investment in Scotland , which will bring 500 new jobs to Edinburgh.

"Working in collaboration with our public sector partners as part of Team Scotland , we successfully fought to bring these jobs to Scotland . In doing so, Scotland beat a number of other international locations being considered, and Avaloq's decision to invest here is testament both to our strong software skills base and Edinburgh 's reputation as the leading UK financial centre outside of London .

"We are operating in a very competitive inward investment environment and, through our international arm Scottish Development International, we will continue to do everything we can to encourage more companies to locate in Scotland .

"Our message is clear; Scotland is very much open for business and is ready to compete on a global level."

Avaloq were established more than 25 years ago and now supplies 75 banks in 20 countries with specialist software. The company is headquartered in Zurich in Switzerland .
For more information see www.avaloq.com.
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6 October 2011

The Billy Goat Curse

Today is the anniversary of the infamous Billy Goat ejection and resultant curse from the Chicago Cubs Wrigley stadium in 1945.

On  being ejected, apparently due to his goat eating  other sports fans  hot dogs, Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, declared that "them Cubs ain't gonna win no more"! The Cubs lost the World series they were playing in and have never made it back.  Only in America!

I have pasted a link  to explain the surreal happenings and also to give an indication as to how superstitious  baseball players are. The bit I like was that the Mets had thwarted the Cubs in 1968 due to a Black Cat walking in front of one of the players!

Now what exactly did the Mighty Hibernian do after 1901 to merit the run of bad luck we have had in the Scottish Cup. Must be worse than being nasty to goats!


Launch of Community Safety Postcards for Western Edinburgh

Making West Edinburgh a safer and cleaner place to live is the aim of a new community safety postcard being launched tomorrow (6 October).

The postcard highlights the successful work of the West Community Safety Forum and how members of the public can raise issues of concern.
Achievements in recent months have included regular joint Police and Council patrols to deal with broken glass and dog fouling close to the play area at Clermiston Park, engaging with young people by liaising with schools, and working with parents to respond when antisocial behaviour is identified.

Other initiatives have included raising awareness of and stopping dangerous parking around schools so it is safer for children to cross roads, and speaking to speeding cyclists in Roseburn Park.

The postcard can be used by members of the community to contact the Neighbourhood Partnership about any suggestions regarding improvements to the area.

Councillor Paul Edie, Community Safety Leader and Chair of the Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership, said: "There are some fantastic initiatives in the west of the city which are making a real difference to people's lives.

"This postcard highlights the wide range of community activities taking place day in day out across West Edinburgh and also gives people an opportunity to have their say in what matters to them.

"Over the past four years great inroads have been made across the city in tackling antisocial behaviour and it's important we do not rest on our laurels.

"By listening to their suggestions the Council and partners like the Safer Neighbourhood Teams from the police and the Council's Community Safety officers can better direct resources to dealing with the public's concerns."

Inspector Andrew Gilhooley, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: "The West Community Safety Forum has enabled us to understand and respond better to local people's needs, and we are committed to seeking the views of our communities to identify local issues, so that we can work with all our partners to achieve a solution.

"Proactively tackling antisocial behaviour in all its forms has led to various joint initiatives being implemented, all of which have helped to improve the quality of life of residents in the west of Edinburgh."

Money for the postcards came from the Edinburgh Council Social Justice Fund which allows local forums to develop initiatives to support community safety objectives.

The West Edinburgh Community Forum is made up of members of the public, community council, residents' associations, neighbourhood watch groups, council and police staff.

The road show event will be taking place from 10.30am to 3pm in the Rannoch Centre where members of the Community Safety team will be on hand to answer questions from the public and explain more about their work. Environmental Wardens will also be carrying out high visibility patrols in the local area.

5 October 2011

Museums Alive in Capitals Care Homes

Yesterday I visited Oakland's Care  Home as part of a  new venture aimed at enriching the lives of the city’s older people.

The project, Museums Alive, plans to provide many older people who either attend day centres or are resident in care homes with greater access to a variety of museum collections.

It is hoped that those who are unable to visit independently the many wonderful collections on offer in Edinburgh Museums & Galleries will still be able to view and interact with unique historical memorabilia.

Volunteers from the City of Edinburgh Council will bring the collections to older people across the city, running interactive sessions and developing a small exhibition within the day centres and care homes.

Care home and day centre, Oaklands, participated in a recent session of Museums Alive, where fashion and hairdressing memorabilia from the wartime era was shared amongst residents.
Service users discussed shared memories, and the women in the group remembered how they used to use Bisto to tan their legs and a match or soot to draw a seam up the back of their legs.

The project is a joint venture between Edinburgh Museums & Galleries and Older People's Services, whose aim is to bring museums into the community and stimulate sharing of conversation, memories and new learning between older people.

I am pictured above with some of the volunteers and residents. I have spared you the snap of me in a 40's style leather flying jacket as this makes me look like a man having a mid life crises!

Bert Jansch and Graham Dilly die

I was very sad to learn of the deaths of Scottish Folk singer  Bert Jansch and England Cricketer Graham Dilley.

Jansch was a founder member of Folk Rock mega stars  Pentangle and was a solo artist of great repute in his own right, his guitar playing being put on a par with Jimmy Hendrix by no less a figure than Neil Young! He passed away at the age of only 67.

Dilley was taken at an even younger age -52. The famous "Lilley; bowled Dilley caught Willey" stat or was it the other way round - is one of many things  he will be remembered for.  More so that he was part of the great Ashes series of 1981 which a documentary was recently released in cinemas  and played a critical role in turning round the Third test.

3 October 2011

Heart Break for Scotland - Again!

A lot has happened since I last posted. Scotland have made an exit from Rugby's World Cup following a heartbreaking late loss to England.

France lost to Tonga but still go through to face  England. The form teams from the Home Nations, Wales and Ireland, will square up to each other and from what I  can see of the draw there will be a Northern Hemisphere versus Southern  final. I would tip it to be New Zealand V Ireland at this stage but Rugby is a very funny game.

On Thursday I spoke at the opening of a Welfare Rights briefing session held by the Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living.

The event was funded by the Western Edinburgh Neighbourhood Partnership, of which I am the Chair, and was aimed at giving people who have a disability, or their carers,  information about the proposed changes to welfare rights currently being discussed by the Government.

All Governments change the Benefits system to a greater or lesser extent when they come into office.The current changes are more fundamental than we have seen for many years. There are pluses and some minuses to these changes. The Universal Benefit could, if done properly, eliminated the poverty trap where the existing benefits system provides disincentives to work. Other proposed changes, particularly those aimed disability benefits are very contentious and may cause real problems.

Times of change to the benefits system are times of real nervousness to people in receipt of them particularly people who have a  disability who are less likely to be able to find work and who may face a life time living on benefits.

The event was all about informing people of what is happening, shining some light onto the issue and informing them of their rights of appeal.