Looking back on the year (and I have to say I am glad to be looking back on the year!) there was not much good in it for Sighthill Gorgie Ward. The year started off with the Gorgie Dalry Partnership going into liquidation as a result of the cuts imposed by this Lib Dem / SNP administration. The GDP for those who do not know organized things such as Christmas! This year there was no Santa in Gorgie Dalry, no children’s party, no selection boxes for the kids, no 'Best Dressed Christmas Window' and no Switch on Ceremony. The lights were switched on by some unknown council officer on the quiet. These things take months to organise and having scrapped the organisation that did it there was no one to take its place. The irony is that the GDP brought in sponsorship from local businesses such as £600 last year from Sainsbury’s for the children's selection boxes, so the cut in Council core funding has cost the local area thousands in donations for local projects and events. We told the Lib Dem / SNP administration this but they scrapped it anyway.
The year went on as it had begun with the scrapping of the Gorgie Dalry Gazette and the West Edinburgh Times – again Council funding withdrawn. The two biggest and best of the community newspapers, free through the letter box - gone. These vital local links needed and wanted to expand their delivery areas to include the new multi member wards but instead this administration withdrew their funding.
Every month seems to have brought new horrors such as the withdrawal of the 20 bus (we wanted to subsidise it till the end of the year but this was rejected) and even at the end of the year when the festive season had already begun they announced the closure of Westburn Primary (for reasons which were based on false information and assumptions) and lastly the Wester Hailes Rep. Council has had to be dissolved through lack of funds! That spells the end not only of the Rep. Council but probably many of the 15 Neighbourhood Councils which reported to it as well! So much for active citizens and informed participation. Make no mistake where the blame lies for all this, withdrawal of funds by this Lib. Dem./SNP Administration. As someone said to me the other day it's not rocket science, freeze the Council Tax, less money in so cuts across the board. And if it wasn't enough they should have said so instead of signing up to to the Single Outcome Agreement.
So the question remains - ‘What have I been doing about it?’
Being in opposition has meant that our ability to protect the local community has been seriously limited. Being voted on to the Chair of the South West Neighbourhood Partnership has helped a bit as I was able to use what little power has been given to these organisations to fight against these cuts minimise their impact.
I was very involved in the development of the Neighbourhood Partnerships which were designed to devolve decision making down to local areas. This administration however have failed miserably to give them real teeth or even respond positively when they bring something forward.
Neighbourhood Partnership local community grants however have benefited a variety of deserving local projects such as the Gorgie City Farm and the Broomhouse Centre.
There is not enough in this fund however to prevent the major closures but we took the fight to the Neighbourhood Partnership and the full Council through motions, questions and debates. There has not been a single month when I have not been proposing motions, asking questions or contributing to a major debate.
The year has also been characterised by numerous deputations from local groups and organisations fighting against the stringent cuts which have been imposed.
Getting round the multi member ward is a major challenge with calendar clashes virtually evening however I believe I have achieved a presence in the area with careful juggling and regular weekly surgeries.
Being made Labour’s Bailie is a responsibility I take very seriously believing as I do that it is important to be visible in the civic life of the city. I have also tried to do things locally wherever possible such as handing out the Garvald awards for achievement to people with learning disabilities at St. Brides. Local people and groups seem very pleased to have a Bailie who is also a local resident.
Other notable civic duties were when I read the ‘Complaint of the Black Knight’ in Fountainbridge Library and unveiled a plaque in the Cowgate to commemorate 500 years of printing in Edinburgh. I also unveiled a plaque on International workers memorial day in Princess Street Gardens which was to draw attention to health and safety at work and commemorate those who have died in industrial accidents. I highlighted the hazards of asbestos which has now become the subject of a major public awareness campaign.
I think there is everything to fight for in the new year. The administration’s cuts are far from finished and there are many challenges for the area in the months ahead. The Lib Dem and SNP Councillors for this area seem unable or unwilling to do what is best for local people. It therefore falls to us, the Labour Councillors, MPs and MSPs to defend local people and those who cannot defend themselves and that is as it should be since that is what the Labour Party is all about.