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).