Sunday, November 23, 2008

Well, the big news in my world has to be the Full Council on Thursday. Specifically the closure of Westburn primary. A travesty if ever there was one. The vote went to another 29/29 split and the Lord Provost closed the school with his casting vote! Surely another travesty. See below the notes of my speech though it was all to no avail.....

Consultation – widely described as a ‘shambles’.
Initial proposals full of mistakes. Eg 3rd lowest role – then had to admit it was the 14th. Then sent round an erratum changing it to 3rd lowest capacity but this is based on assumptions about accommodation which are also demonstrably false!

Sticking with this for a moment because it is central to the proposal. What are in fact the ICT rooms and Library are not allowed to be counted as general purpose space at Westburn and have been counted in other schools. This is apparently because they don’t have doors on them and it was even suggested that they should move the ICT suite and Library out into the corridor!
Criteria have at best not been intelligently applied with things being worked out on paper without looking at the actual reality in the school.

The condition of the school is portrayed as poor based on a survey done in 2003. The reality is that it has had 750,000 spent on it in recent years including, since that survey a new roof, new boilers, upgraded internal lighting, state of the art disabled toilets, not to mention teaching facilities like Smartboards nursery play equipment …..the list goes on and on…they have even got brand new staffroom lockers and kitchen facilities. The fact is that anyone walking around the school would think it was well equipped, well maintained and very fit for purpose …modern bright and well decorated. Not at all as it is portrayed on the consultation proposals.
Speaking as a teacher myself I know that assessment is for learning not for closing schools. Attainment statistics need to be taken in context and the context in this case is a high number of kids with very challenging backgrounds and home lives.

Westburn is a happy constructive learning environment that parents are happy to bring their children to and the kids are happy to come to. It is seen as a safe and happy place by all including the local community. There have been slurs on the competence of the staff and yet staff at Westburn are involved in and actually delivering in service training across the Region. The school wins awards for example the ‘Green Pencil’ award for Creative writing and the Standard Life Edinburgh award for working with a school in Malawi.

Overall then there seems a huge gulf between the school portrayed in the consultation document and what actually exists. The decision to close this school was based on grossly misleading and downright wrong information. Attempts to rectify these errors have not helped the situation. Objections from far and wide have produced only a digging in of heels by Children and families. This school should never have been proposed for closure, the reasons for closing it are false . The reasons for keeping it open are many. This is a well loved and well resourced school with hard working and dedicated staff and is a vital and central part of the local community. I understand the need for the rationalisation of school accommodation but for the reasons that I and others have stated closing Wesburn is a terrible mistake – don’t do it.

I said more than that but you can get the idea from the above notes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just back from the demolition of Broomview House It was dramatic in more than one sense of the word! There were tears and cheers. Some applauded with genuine delight and some clapped politely but with a look of sadness on their faces. I never stayed there and have only represented the area for a couple of years now so I would not try to guess what people were thinking. One long standing resident on the way to the viewing area said that although this could be a step towards something much better going in in its place you had to remember what a great thing it had been when it had first been built. He added that there had never been anything wrong with he building but some of the people who had been put in it that had caused the problems. Another resident joined in saying the most of the flats were kept clean and tidy and the concierges had always done a good job with the communal areas. Certainly I was in Broomview House many times as part of my election campaign and afterwards to visit constituents and the people I spoke to were friendly, decent people. At anyrate there is clearly a good community here and everyone needs to try to ensure that these people have a say in what goes in in place of the skyscraper. Perhaps we have just moved on in society so that the high rise or that kind of communal living doesn't work anymore. It is true that the same social problems such as anti social behaviour are present in many tenement stairs. I find myself sad for the loss of the good (a bit like a funeral), glad at the loss of the bad and also hopeful that with community involvement we can put something good there in its place. in any event it was a momentous occasion.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

People at the School talk about winding down for the summer holidays, as usual however I find myself winding up rather than down. It has to have been two of the busiest weeks I have ever had. I hardly know where to start! First we have a new excellent Labour group leader - Andrew Burns. Wendy Alexander has resigned and we have started the process of electing a new leader at the Scottish Parliament. If all of this wasn't enough to be going on with, at the local level we have the disastrous announcement that Tesco is closing the Wester Hailes branch. Local people are still angry at the decision of B&Q to relocate to Hermiston Gate from Longstone and Gorgie. People of this area already know they find it hard to get to Hermiston Gate either by foot , bus or in fact car as if you go out to the by-pass you have to go all the way to the end , round the roundabout and all the way back just to get in! Vulnerable people and people with mobility problems will have real difficulty getting to the new store if Tesco decides to close the one in Dumbryden and open a large one in Hermiston Gate instead.
Meetings... a new record for my time at the Council - 12hours 20mins for the full Council last Thursday. I thought I was seconding an uncontentious motion to hold a reception to mark the contribution made to the city for over 30 years by the Gorgie Dalry Gazette and West Edinburgh Times. These papers were recently closed by the Lib Dem / SNP Administration and they also blocked an attempt by the South West Neighbourhood Partnership to get them started again. So much for the localisation agenda! No real reason has ever been given for withdrawing their funding and certainly without a doubt in the areas they served they were regarded as a community created, independent voice keeping people informed of what was happening in the area. This role made them a vital part of the local community and their loss is going to be deeply felt for some time. An example of this is the Gorgie Dalry Festival which is normally publicised in the Gorgie Dalry Gazette devoting a whole centre spread to photos. This year as a result in spite of the Community Association running around putting up posters the numbers were down with many local people saying they did not know it was on! I was surprised therefore that Cllr Nick Elliot-Cannon put in an amendment to the motion at the full Council effectively saying they were not having a reception and adding that Services for Communities were looking at options for alternative 'value for money' communications. I pointed out in my speech that thinking that another council publication could take the place of the independent local community newspapers showed a complete lack of understanding of what they were and why this was such a loss to the area. People will miss them more and more as time goes on.

This week, by contrast, has been mostly civic. Monday was the 'Ceremony of the Keys' , Tuesday the Garden Party and Wednesday the investitures for the Order of the Thistle. The Ceremony of the Keys is a grand spectacle as is the 'Shooting for the Edinburgh Silver Arrow' (all of which I attend as a Bailie) and I don’t think we advertise these things enough. The passers by that were there loved it but if more people knew it was on they would want to come along.

Would it be a crime to admit though that I am looking forward to my holidays?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Well that is all I'm going to get of the Common Riding this year. The Crying o' the Burlie and the start of the Busin o' the Colours. Still it counts. When you are a Souter (someone born in Selkirk) you are drawn like a magnet.
People come back from all over the world for Selkirk Common Riding. You can spot the flags hanging from windows. I spotted a Canadian one as I was leaving. Of course I'm missing the big day which is a source of sadness and annoyance to me but I have to go on an in-service in Glasgow and though I would normally catch the first and second drums before heading up to Edinburgh the time I would have had to leave to make a previously unvisited destination in Glasgow made it unworkable. The Common riding gives you a sense of who you are and also a continuity that is unique. I've been going literally since I was born and I know I'll be going till I die. I see people every year that I don't see any other time (because they come back for it too). The casting of the colours to the tune of 'It's up Wi' the Souters o' Selkirk' then 'The Flowers of the Forrest' played by the Burgh Band culminating in the two minute silence is an emotional and enduring experience that never leaves me. Sigh. Ah well maybe next year.

NB Pictures are from 2006

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I've just been informed that the film they were making for the launch of the Everybody Online project in Gorgie Dalry is on YouTube. I've embedded it below. Although launching on 6th of February the project was first organised and brought forward by the Council's E-Government Division, BT, the now demised Gorgie Dalry Partnership (Council Cuts - don't get me started on that one again) and of course myself. As more and more of the Council's services and communications move over to ICT and the Internet it becomes increasingly important to take local communities along with you. So much is available and with more needing to be done online, I believe that to be truly healthy, a community must be encouraging and extending access as well as promoting the many benefits of digital incluson. I would describe this as fighting to address the 'Digital Divide' which is something I have always felt strongly about.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reporting bad news to the local area gets too depressing after a while although of course it is virtually impossible to find a positive side to the closing down of the Gorgie Dalry Gazette, the West Edinburgh Times and the Gorgie Dalry Partnership to name but three. Given the enormous contribution these organisations have made in the Sighthill Gorgie area the 'disinvestment' strategy employed by the Lib. Dem. / SNP administration is doing catastrophic and irreparable damage to the local community.
There is a sense of shock and anger at every community council, neighbourhood council and residents association I attend. Even the organisations that are left have received cuts that threaten their future. This administration clearly does not believe in the voluntary sector at all!
The relatively small sums of money involved represented fantastic value for money including as it did volunteers and local support that could not be replicated in straight council services. No doubt the administration would try to blame this, as they have everything else, on the previous administration but the fact is that from the second Jenny Dawe signed on the dotted line to take the money from the Scottish Government and freeze the council tax they forfeited the right to blame anyone but themselves. If they were not being given enough to do the things they wanted to do then clearly they should not have signed! Supporting these local groups and organisations is obviously something they do not want to do then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Budget time ! The Lib Dem/SNP administration will reveal their budget on the 21st Feb which could be bad news for anyone who stands to lose out as it is also when the decision gets made! They have even gone as far as to call it a 'disgrace' for anyone to leek anything in advance of this date. Not much consultation here then. We on the other hand have been firing out our intentions using every method of communication we can think of (eg see the website). If I was being cynical I might think that the Administration was trying to discourage deputations or citizens coming up to the City Chambers. We know already that they do not like deputations and have been known to attempt not to hear them. We will see what happens this time. See below budget statement from Ewan Aitken.

Dear Edinburgh Resident

Still Standing up for Edinburgh

I wanted to write to you directly and outline our 2008/09 budget proposals for the City of Edinburgh Council .

Edinburgh Labour may be in opposition but we still have a vision for the City that reflects our values and our priorities. We left the present administration an award-winning city of low unemployment, a strong economy, clean streets, successful schools, and with a great record of investment in green spaces, roads, arts, creativity, and services for the vulnerable, the young and the old.

Our alternative budget for Edinburgh would keep that record strong and sustainable. Here are just 20 of the many reasons why the Edinburgh Labour budget would provide the coherence, clarity and conviction that this city needs. More details are contained within the accompanying leaflet, and I would welcome the chance to answer any queries you may have – do just get in touch … all my contact details are as below.

Budgets are about choices. These would be some of our choices.

By cutting waste and reducing bureaucracy at the centre, along with careful use of the resources available, the Edinburgh Labour Budget would provide support for …

Our schools, investing in our young people by:

Preserve school based budgets, not cutting them as the LibDem/SNP administration already have
Creating ‘School Based Trusts’ to build 5 new schools
Increasing the money available for school building maintenance
Increasing support for School and Pupil Councils to £100,000 , not cutting it like the LibDems/SNP
Continued support for the Youngedinburgh programme

The vulnerable, being there for our citizens in their hour of need by:

Investing £3m of new money for home helps and other individual care packages
Restoring the £750,000 of cuts in home care made by the LibDem/SNP administration
Increasing spending on young people with learning difficulties by £750,000
Restoring cuts to the voluntary sector grants budget
Protecting Community Learning and Development from the LibDem/SNP proposed £833,000 of cuts

Our economy, building on the 50,000 jobs we helped create in 10 years by:

Creating a single ‘Edinburgh Bureau’ for inward investment and marketing
Creating a ‘Princes Street Trust’ to re–invigorate shopping and bring homes into the many un-used upper floors on Princes Street
Investing a further £20m in roads and pavements
Investing in more affordable homes
Restoring cuts made to supported bus services

Our Sport and culture, keeping Scotland ’s Capital healthy, active and creative by:

Investing in cycling in the city
Investing additional money in the International Festival
Investing in the Kings Theatre
Refurbishing Glenogle baths
Investing an additional £19.5m in National and Regional sports facilities and the Royal Commonwealth Pool

And much more beside… we have the vision, the political will, and we have the experience. We know what needs to be done, and how it can be done, to keep Scotland ’s Capital strong and safe, caring and creative.

Yours sincerely

Ewan Aitken
Councillor Ewan Aitken
Labour Group Leader – City of Edinburgh Council

Download the Labour Group Budget Leaflet in PDF here

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yesterday was a busy day even for me ! Busy in a good way though. In the morning I had a meeting with Council officials to discuss the problem of statutory orders of repair covering properties that have no access to the communal stair. Seems pretty clear cut legally - if there is no firewall between the attics then two properties are considered one for communal repair purposes. This , obviously, could come as a shock to some householders.

The afternoon was almost entirely taken up by the launch event for the Everybody Online project being piloted in the Gorgie Dalry area (1pm - 5pm. I was there till 4). I was speaking at the launch event as the Convenor of the South West Neighbourhood Partnership. It was made all the more relevant for me though by the fact that I was the Executive Member for the Smart City until May last year and and am now the Labour Group Spokesperson for same. See below my speech although I managed not to look at it so there may only be a rough correlation between this and what I actually said....

I am delighted to be here as convenor of the South West Neighbourhood Partnership today to mark the launch of the EverybodyOnline project. I have been closely involved and felt passionate about this project from the beginning being then the Executive Member for the Smart City.

¨ The City of Edinburgh Council has a Smart City’ vision; a 10 year investment programme with BT Scotland to deliver efficient, joined up interactive public services using a wide range of new technology. For example, Council Papers Online, paying for council services online and providing free internet access throughout all local libraries.

¨ We realise however that not everyone has yet mastered the online world and recent research in Gorgie Dalry, commissioned by Citizens Online, showed that although most of the new young professionals were avid internet users nearly 40% of the 55+ year olds, and those not in work, didn’t as yet understand the benefits of the new technologies

¨ It is important that we give everyone in our communities the same opportunities to participate and so I am delighted that the City of Edinburgh Council, Capital City Partnership, the Gorgie Dalry Partnership, BT Scotland, Age Concern Edinburgh IT and Citizens Online have created a partnership to actively promote the use of Information & Communications Technology amongst those who would otherwise be excluded through this EverybodyOnline project.

¨ There will be an emphasis on developing new skills, greater confidence and more active participation in the local community. Results elsewhere have demonstrated that these will in turn lead to the creation of new jobs and opportunities and a more vibrant and prosperous local economy.

¨ The success of this project will depend on everyone working in partnership and partners working together and I call on you all to grasp this opportunity with both hands so that all the residents of Gorgie Dalry can be online citizens and realise the benefits and opportunities that this new world brings.

¨ This project is dear to my heart for two main reasons first it opens up the Smart city to all – always felt that in a sense the more successful we were developing services on line the more , potentially we contributed to the digital divide – widening the gap between those with access to the new or improved services and those without. This is the other side of the coin – at the same time as you are moving services onto for example the internet like Council Papers or Planning applications you have to be working to ensure that everyone has access. 2nd One of the hardest things to do is take the benefits of new technology out to local neighbourhoods. Edinburgh cannot be a truly Smart City unless it includes everyone and engages local people.It is not just about access it is about encouraging people , providing training , showing people the benefits of the new technologies.

¨ Thank you to once again to City of Edinburgh Council, Capital City Partnership, the Gorgie Dalry Partnership, BT Scotland, and Citizens Online. I wish the project every success!

There was a good attendance and people representing a wide variety of local groups, voluntary organisations, Community Councils, the Neighbourhood Partnership, Council E-Government Division etc. as well , of course as local people who just dropped in to see what it was all about. It was very enjoyable for me as well as seeing the project getting under way to be able to chat to such a wide collection of local groups such as Health Help for All at Springwell House and ACE IT at Caledonian Crescent.

Gorgie Dalry and the surrounding area is truly lucky to have such a large number of dedicated, hard working and largely under appreciated local groups and organisations. The Gorgie Dalry Partnership for example, which has on its Board a unique mix of representatives from the local Business Association and Community Council and provides a broad range of services to help local people into work, has been central in bringing forward the Everybody online Project. Fountainpark (Gorgie Dalry Partnership Member) provided the venue for the launch - free of charge. The Partnership also organises events like the Gorgie Dalry Christmas Lights Switch on Ceremony (as well as organising the lights themselves); the Best Dressed Christmas Window Award; the Annual Gorgie Dalry Customer Care Awards; administrative support for the Gorgie Dalry Community Association, The Gorgie Dalry Community Forum; providing premises for surgeries, meetings consultations on local developments and a drop in shop where local people can be given advice and find out information on a wide variety of topics. The list is almost endless. If I seem to be laying it on with a troul it is because the Partnership had it's just over £20,000 budget cut by £2000 in the last quarter of this year and on the basis of the answer to a question on the subject posed at full Council in which Economic Development stated that it did not fit with there core objectives (which is clearly untrue!) , I think we have to conclude that there is a threat to the rest of the funding in the new budget due to be set on 21st February. Of course the SNP / Lib Dem Administration have not set their budget yet but there is nothing wrong with emphasising how important groups like this, the Gorgie City Farm, the Gorgie Dalry Gazette etc. are to the local area and what a disaster it would be if they were lost through short sighted, short term, relatively minor cuts when perfectly pheseable alternatives are being put forward which would not hit direct front line services to local citizens. Sometimes these services are for the most vulnerable and in greatest need and sometimes they enhance and enrich the lives of local people (like Everyone Online).