Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harris Academy : Feedback from the Director of Education

Contrary to the rather unfortunate tone of the comments made by the SNP MSP for Dundee West in today's 'Courier' about the Harris Academy rebuilding project, there is in fact absolutely no certainty as yet regarding the actual level of funding (nor the timescales) for the project - as the response this morning from Dundee City Council's Director of Education to my enquiry about this reveals :

Dear Fraser

I have discussed your e-mail with David, and am pleased to give you our collective response.

The short answer is that there can be no clarity to the questions of cost or timescale until the meeting has been held with Scottish Futures Trust which I referred to at Committee on Monday night. As I indicated, Scottish Futures Trust wrote to all relevant authorities, on the back of the Cabinet Secretary's announcement, seeking an early meeting to discuss all the issues pertaining to the forthcoming project. Scottish Futures Trust would want that meeting to be held no later than the beginning of November.

There will clearly need to be discussions among relevant officers in preparation for the meeting, and then afterwards it would be my intention to bring a report to the Education Committee as soon as possible seeking approval for the project. That Committee report could be in November, but you will understand that I would want an opportunity to confirm that at a later date once all meetings have been held.

I understand fully the desire for as much information as possible and I shall undertake to share that as soon as it is available. You are correct that everyone welcomes this project and we would all wish to see it progress swiftly.

Regards.

Jim

I have responded to him (copying in David Dorward, Chief Executive) in the following terms :

Thanks Jim; I am grateful for your feedback. Clarity from government in early course – hopefully through your meeting with Scottish Futures Trust - on proposed timescale and the extent of funding (whether or not this includes all improvements listed in the Harris Academy Feasibility Study) will be extremely helpful and I am grateful that you will seek to bring forward a report to the Education Committee as soon as possible after meeting with the Trust.

I’d be most grateful if you can advise me when officers of the council are meeting with the Scottish Futures Trust, once this has been arranged. Many thanks.

Best regards

Fraser

Concern about £700 000+ spent on filing system

As reported in today's "Courier" and the "Press and Journal" (you can read the latter article by clicking on the headline above or going to http://tinyurl.com/pandjfiling), I have expressed concern about the council’s decision to purchase an corporate electronic management system at a cost of £738 000, to be used in the council’s intended new headquarters – Dundee House – in North Lindsay Street.

My complaint covers two aspects of the way in which the filing system has been agreed by the Council. Firstly, the tender was approved in a delegated fashion due to “urgent timescales”. Council Standing Orders allow this but only with the approval of all council group leaders. The Council failed to consult all groups. I received an assurance from new Chief Executive David Dorward at the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Monday that this error will not be repeated in the future.

My major concern, however, is the cost of the filing system at a time when the City Council’s finances are under severe strain.

When the decision was taken earlier in the summer at the Council’s recess committee to go out to tender for this electronic management system, I expressed concern at the possible cost and said that it was vital that councillors were given a full report to show the rationale for such a high expenditure on what is essentially an electronic filing system. I was given assurances at the time that a full report would be forthcoming, but this has failed to happen.

£738 000 is a tremendous amount of money to spend on this product, particularly at a time when the council faces very significant financial challenges. Public services come first. The council should not be spending over £700 000 without being absolutely sure it is money well spend and will provide storage savings that justify the expenditure. I am deeply sceptical about this.

The Chief Executive has offered to meet with me, along with the Director of City Development, to discuss my concerns and give me detail of the system the council is purchasing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Harris Academy upgrade : clarity required

As reported in tonight's "Evening Telegraph" I have sought clarity about the extent of funding and timescales with regard to improvements to Harris Academy's buildings.

See : http://tiny.cc/harristele or click on the headline above to view.

At the Education Committee last night, I greatly welcomed the commitment by Scottish Government to fund a substantial proportion of the works at Harris Academy, but we do need clarity in terms of the actual amount of funding coming from government and the timescale in which funding will come forward and work on the school can commence.

The Council's new Chief Executive, David Doward, indicated that Scottish Government would fund two-thirds of the work, but the query is – two thirds of what?

The Harris Academy Feasibility Study’s cost summary estimate was £17 million for total works but in addition to this “other desirable works” of £1.5 million were referred to on top of this. I am of the view that these “desirable” works are actually essential – upgrading the music block, improving the sports hall, gymnasium block and swimming pool and providing a community reception area.

I have therefore written this morning to Mr Dorward and to Jim Collins, Director of Education, seeking clarity over the total funding to be made available by Scottish Government, and arising out of that, the extent of the Council’s contribution required from a revised overall capital programme.

I have also asked of them :

"... has Scottish Government clarified precisely when it will start releasing funds to allow the project to commence? I think it is very important that, having made the announcement yesterday, government is very clear about the total funding and timescale; and I would be grateful if you can advise me if you have had this clarification as yet?"

Trip Hazard to be sorted

Residents have reported to me that grating at the junction of Ryehill Lane and Perth Road is missing.

Having reported this to the City Development Department, I have been updated today as follows :

" ... the area inspector has confirmed that an order has been raised for the replacement of some grating at the junction of Ryehill Lane and Perth Road."

Virgin Media services in Tait's Lane

A constituent in Tait's Lane contacted me recently about an anomaly in terms of the provision of cable TV in the area.

The whole of the lane is cabled for Virgin Media services, except one block of 18 flats. I can only think that at the time the former Telewest cabled the area, this set of flats was undergoing refurbishment as the flats were upgraded some years ago. My constituent - who had contacted Virgin to subscribe to their services - was told there were no plans to extent the services to these flats.

I must say - all credit, however, to Virgin Media. I contacted Neil Berkett, Virgin Media's Chief Executive, last week to raise the issue and he responded very promptly promising that the matter would be investigated. I have since been contacted by two senior staff at Virgin Media who have informed me that the company is looking at the viability of extending services to the 18 households currently without access to Virgin services in the lane. Here's hoping for a positive outcome.

A barrier-free Perth Road

A couple of months ago, I updated www.dundeewestend.com about Dundee Accessible Transport Action Group (DATAG)'s "Hannah’s Highway" campaign – to make getting down Perth Road to be accessible to all by providing dropped kerbing right up to Sinderins on the north side. Click on the headline above to read the earlier story - or go to http://tinyurl.com/hannahhighway.

At the time, the Head of Transportation at Dundee City Council advised me that :

"The 'Hannah's Highway' project has identified a route from Sinderins to Duncan of Jordanstone Buildings - these will have dropped kerbs allowing an accessible route along the north side of Perth Road.  

The works are in final design stage and will be carried out during this Financial Year, programming of works are still to be agreed with Tayside Contracts."

I recently asked for an update on the programming of works - I am anxious to see progress here, particularly as I was very concerned to learn from a constituent yesterday about an accident she recently had on Perth Road in which she fell out of her mobility scooter. The provision of a barrier-free Perth Road on the north side to Sinderins is vital.

My constituent also pointed out the need to improve the dropped kerbs at the Pennycook Lane/Perth Road junction - they are too close to the junction and should be a little up the lane, away from vehicles swinging into the lane. Also, as they are not directly opposite one another, given the camber of the road, it makes if difficult for people in mobility scooters to negotiate the crossing safely. I have taken up the matter with Dundee City Council's Road Safety Officer.

Labour third ... and out

The latest Ipsos Mori opinion poll shows a 7% cut in Tory support, a 2% cut in Labour support and a huge 8% increase in Liberal Democrat support. Detail is:

Conservatives - 36% (-7)

Lib Dems - 25% (+8)

Labour - 24% (-2)

This compares with last month's results which had the Tories 43%, Labour 26% and the Liberal Democrats 17%.

It is the first time Labour have been in third place since February 1982, when they were on 33% compared to 34% for the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

A great bounce for the LibDems, but perhaps more significantly, a measure of the disaster that is Labour in 2009.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Good news for Harris Academy - but detail of extent of funding and timescale required

Further to the reports in the press over the weekend, if you click on the audio download below, you can hear the early morning news on Wave 102, in which I made the point that we required urgent clarity on the funding of buildings improvements at Harris Academy. See also the article in today's "Courier" - http://tinyurl.com/harriscourier.

The good news that Scottish Government is to include Harris Academy in its secondary schools capital investment programme came at 9.30am with the following news release from government. It is excellent that Harris Academy is being included in the programme and clarification will be sought at Education Committee tonight about the extent of funding (the feasibility study on improving the school envisages a cost of at least £17 million) and the timescales involved.

Here is the news release from Scottish Government :

BUILDING BETTER SCHOOLS IN DUNDEE AND ANGUS

Over 1,700 pupils in Dundee and Angus will be lifted out of poor condition schools following the announcement that Harris Academy and Brechin High will be among the first fourteen secondary schools to benefit from the £1.25bn school building programme.

Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Fiona Hyslop made the announcement today as she visited Lasswade High in Midlothian, before officially opening the new Armadale Academy. Ms Hyslop described the new building as "an inspirational example of everything a new school can be".

The Scottish Government, together with COSLA, will now accelerate the process of agreeing the first set of primary schools to benefit from investment, with an announcement expected before the end of the year. Every local authority local authority area across Scotland is expected to benefit from the first phases of the school building programme which sees £800m of funding from the Scottish Government and £450m from local councils.

The Cabinet Secretary also today, jointly with COSLA, set out the guiding principles for future planning and action to improve the whole of Scotland's school estate, with publication of the new school estate strategy - Building Better Schools: Investing in Our Future.

Ms Hyslop said:

"This Government and local authorities are already on track to lift 100,000 school pupils, by 2011, out of tired and crumbling school buildings and classrooms and providing them with cutting-edge accommodation and facilities in which to continue their 21st century education. As a result of the £2 billion of capital funding for 2008-10 made available to local authorities, over 150 projects have been completed since May 2007 and we expect 250 by 2011. What's more, the pace of building has quickened with new and refurbished schools being delivered faster over this four year term than the last four year term.

"Today's announcement is the latest step towards going even further and demonstrates our continued commitment to providing every pupil with the same high quality experience for their school building.

"Working in partnership with COSLA and local authorities we can deliver better school accommodation the length and breadth of Scotland and ensure our school estate is fit for the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

"In June I announced the new £1.25bn school building programme which will, with £800m of Scottish Government capital investment, deliver 55 new schools for Scotland.

"Today's announcement is the latest step towards turning that investment into better buildings. Pupils, teachers and communities across Scotland, including those in Dundee and Brechin, will benefit from these new schools.

"Today's allocations are just the start of our investment, representing a quarter of the new schools that will be built as part of this programme. What's more we have a vision for the school estate that will ensure we make the most of that investment, by backing it up with focus, ambition and commitment. The strategy published today sets out the guiding principals that will help us make the most of our buildings and spaces, grounds, fixtures and facilities.

"The pupils I have met at Armadale Academy today are testament to the rewards this can bring."

NOTES FOR NEWS EDITORS

1. Over 12,000 pupils across Scotland will be lifted out of poor condition schools with the seceltion of 14 secondary schools for the initial round of investment. The schools are:
· Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire
· Mearns Academy in Aberdeenshire
· Brechin High in Angus
· Dalbeattie High in Dumfries and Galloway
· Harris Academy in Dundee
· Eastwood High in East Renfrewshire
· James Gillespie's in Edinburgh
· Auchmuty High in Fife
· Wick High in Highland
· Lasswade High in Midlothian
· Garnock Academy in North Ayrshire
· Clyde Valley High in North Lanarkshire
· Ayr Academy in South Ayrshire
· Dumbarton Academy in West Dunbartonshire

2. The following criteria were considered as part of the process to identify the first tranche:
· The distribution of needs, nationally
· Best available information about schools' condition (core facts, School Estate Management Plans, and other intelligency)
· Best availability on schools' "unsuitability" to deliver modern education
· Additionality - schools which are not part of a funded programme already
· Authorities' own priorities
· Aspects of readiness to proceed (bearing in mind there will be a second phase).

3. The first tranche of secondary schools has been identified by the Scottish Government in partnership with COSLA and the Scottish Futures Trust.

4. The first tranche of primary schools will be identified using the same criteria used for the first phase of secondaries. Without second guessing the process we have to go through, and having looked closely at the extent of poor conditions, unsuitability and the scale of needs and local investment priorities across Scotland we now anticipate that each council will benefit from the first phases of the school building programme.

5. The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) will have a central role in managing this new school building programme, working alongside locals authorities. The SFT will develop, recommend and implement approaches that will secure a better schools programme across Scotland, and better value for money than could be achieved through each local authority working separately.

6. The new school estate strategy has pupils at its centre and sets out the joint Government-COSLA target of achieving in excess of 90% of children being educated in good condition schools, with firms plans to lift the rest of pupils out of being educated in schools in poor or bad conditions. The strategy document - Building Better Schools: Investing in Our Future - is available to view at www.scotland.gsi.gov.uk

7. In addition to the specific investment of £1.25bn, including £800m from the Scottish Government, we have provided local authorities with £2 billion of capital funding for 2007-11 for school building initiatives in their areas.

8. 250 new or refurbished schools over the period of this Parliament (48 months/208 weeks) exceeds the 200 over the previous 48 months/208 weeks. By the end of this Parliament, the rate of delivery will have gone up from 0.76 schools per week over the 8 years of the previous administration to an anticipated 1.2 per week over the period May 2007 - April 2011.

9. The West Lothian Project (Armadale Academy and Deans Community High) one of the first project reach financial close and to be signed off as Cabinet Secretary in August 2007.
video

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Councillor Salary Cut : community groups will benefit

Earlier this month, my colleague Cllr Helen Dick and I advised the City Council's new Chief Executive David Dorward that we want to voluntarily reduce our own councillor salaries to last year's level, given that public services are under very considerable financial strain and this is a time when all elected representatives should be showing restraint and putting public services first. (See http://tinyurl.com/dundeecllrsalary or click on headline above to view the earlier article from 18th September).

As regular readers of www.dundeewestend.com will know, Dundee's LibDem councillors made a request to Finance Minister John Swinney to change regulations to permit councils to limit councillor salaries below the maximum level, should each council agree by democratic vote to cut or freeze them, but this request was turned down by Mr Swinney. We therefore decided on a voluntary cut in salary to last year's level; clearly if other councillors in the city and elsewhere in Scotland were minded to act in a similar manner, there would be a sizeable benefit to public services overall.

We specifically asked the new Chief Executive if he would agree to the saving to be used to benefit community groups in the city. I have now been updated by Mr Dorward as follows :

“I can advise you that your proposal is acceptable, and if implemented from the 1st April 2009 for both yourself and Councillor Dick would generate a saving of £775 in the current financial year 2009/10 . The Director of Finance will add these amounts to the Leisure & Communities Department small projects grants for the financial year 2009/10.”

Harris Academy : vital there is clarity over funding for upgrade

I have today said that, given media reports today about schools to be included in the Scottish Government’s capital improvements, it is vital that there is immediate clarity from Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning over government plans - and assurance that Harris Academy will be included in the funding.

I have made this call following media reports that Scottish Government was including in the capital improvements programme Ellon Academy, in the First Minister's Gordon constituency, Mearns Academy (also in Aberdeenshire), Lasswade Academy in Midlothian, Eastwood Academy in East Renfrewshire and another in Ayrshire. (See :
http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/latestnews/SNP--unveils-school-rebuilding.5682003.jp or click on headline above).

Harris Academy has an overwhelming case for capital funding from government and it is very important, given the “drip feed” of news over the weekend about schools that Scottish Government intends to fund improvements at, that the Education Cabinet Secretary swiftly clarifies the position regarding all schools to be included.

The whole process of decision making and announcements regarding funding via the Scottish Futures Trust lacks transparency. With the former PPP arrangements, local authorities could decide their priorities for investment in an open and democratic manner at council committee. The SFT arrangements are clouded in secrecy and it is very concerning that part of the announcement is “drip fed” through the media.

Earlier this summer, in responding to my correspondence to government calling for the refurbishment of Harris Academy, Fiona Hyslop gave me an assurance that an announcement would be made about secondary schools during September. As September draws to a close, it is vital that Fiona Hyslop clarifies the full list of schools to be included.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dusty Springfield

Superb - rare - video of Dusty from the 70s - "The Look of Love" is Dusty at her very best.

Dundee Railway Station Latest

As City Councillor for the area of Dundee's railway station throughout my eight years on Dundee City Council, and as the Council's Planning & Transport Convener and Chair of TACTRAN, the regional transport partnership - both for two years - I have long campaigned for improvements to the station. The people of Dundee rightly feel that the station requires a major modernisation.


During my period as TACTRAN Chair, I met with the Regional Director of Network Rail in Scotland and - in raising the need for Dundee station refurbishment - it struck me that intense negotiation was going to be required with Network Rail, and with other partner organisations such as First ScotRail, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Government. What is clear, however, is that Dundee has not had a fair share of rail capital funding improvements. My entry on
www.dundeewestend.com back in April of this year (see http://tinyurl.com/dundeerail) pointed out :

"Network Rail announced plans for a new roof for Waverley Station in Edinburgh as part of a £130 million overhaul of the station. It comes on top of some £190 million announced last May for Edinburgh Haymarket."

Only yesterday, the Glasgow Evening Times reported in relation to Dalmarnock Station :

"SNP vows £8m station revamp will go ahead." (see http://tinyurl.com/glasgowrailway)

The SNP Government's Strategic Transport Projects Review failed to commit to improving Dundee Station - a very disappointing outcome. We need to see a commitment from government as well as railway industry to improving the station.

Last week, the media highlighted the City Council's latest proposals to improve the station. Click on the headline above to read a report and see the TV news item from STV - "£10 million Dundee rail station plan revealed."

As a former member of the Dundee Waterfront Board, I was surprised to see the figure of £10 million being bandied about. I reproduce below an e-mail I have since sent to Mike Galloway, the City Council's City Development Director. I think we need transarency and answers to the points I have made :

Subject : Rail Station Refurbishment

Mike

I refer to media reports regarding the “
Plans for £10m railway station revamp” (The Courier; 24th September – the Press and Journal and STV reported the same cost figure).

Given that your presentation to the Waterfront Board in Q4 2008 on the station study referred to 2 comparative estimated costs of :

OPTION 1 : £33m
OPTION 2 : £34.5m

I am extremely surprised at the £10m figure now being quoted. Even if the cost of commercial office and hotel building was removed from the 2008 figures, the total cost is very substantially in excess of £10 million.

Can you please give me an indication as to what revised proposals consist of, reassurance that the revised much lower intended cost will actually deliver the sort of quality improvement to the station that everyone in the city wishes to see and that the revised proposals are financially robust?

Can you also indicate to me when a report will be given to all elected members through either the City Development or Policy & Resources Committee?

Many thanks.

Best regards
Fraser
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Councillor for the West End
Liberal Democrat Group Leader - Dundee City Council

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady - Helen Reddy

I recently uploaded Helen Reddy - I Can't Say Goodbye To You - to the blog and what a superb reaction! So, here's another Helen Reddy classic!

Friends of Magdalen Green - 2010 calendar - and forthcoming coffee morning!

The 2010 Friends of Magdalen Green Calendars are back from the printer and look beautiful - the winning photos this year are exceptionally good. I was lucky enough to get an "advance buy" of two of them yesterday to go in my home office and my office at Tayside House. If you go to http://tinyurl.com/maggrncalendar you can see the names of the winners whose photographs are used in Calendar 2010! (Or click on headline to view)

The calendars will go on sale in the next few days, both from us via our website at www.magdalengreen.btik.com and in some of the shops on the Perth Road.

Lastly, the Friends of Magdalen Green Coffee Morning is on Saturday 31st October in Dundee West Church (opposite Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art) and there will be a presentation to the winners. The Coffee Morning runs from 10am to 12 noon, with the presentation at 10.30am - all residents very welcome!

Congratulations to Brian!

Having been on holiday recently, I missed my usual daily fix of LibDem Voice, at www.libdemvoice.org, so until today hadn't actually realised that I was within the 5 blogs shortlisted for the Blog of the Year award in the "Best Blog from a LibDem holding public office" category (the Tim Garden Award).

OK, I didn't win! But it has been a rather good year, having been included in Total Politics' Top 50 Scottish Blogs, Top 75 LibDem Blogs and being top LibDem Blog in their Top 30 Councillor Blogs!

The competition for the Best Blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award) was pretty fierce including Peter Black AM and my good friend Willie Rennie MP.

So very many congratulations go to Brian Robson – Lee Green Councillor - for his win! Brian has an excellent blog with interesting content and extremely professionally presented. See www.brianrobson.org.uk - we could all learn a bit from Brian!

And
talking of blogs ... many of you who read Blogger blogs regularly will have noted that in the past 24 hours, blogs with a decent extent of content are loading awfully slowly. Just a reminder that I have my 'mirror site' at www.westendblog.org.uk - powered by WordPress, it always loads in just seconds!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Friends of Dundee Botanic Garden - Winter Talks

With thanks to Friends of Dundee Botanic Garden for permitting me to update residents about their forthcoming Winter Talks :

WINTER TALKS

The talks will be held in the Education Centre at the Garden commencing at 7.00 p.m.

After the illustrated talk there will be a short question and answer session followed by tea/coffee. The evening will end at approximately 9.00 p.m.

All welcome. Come along and bring your friends.
Free car parking.


Wednesday 18th November 2009 -
Clare Reaney the Horticultural Technician at the Garden will give a talk entitled
“Plant Conservation in Hawaii”

Wednesday 17th February 2010 -
Gavin Ramsay, a Research Scientist at SCRI. will give a talk entitled.
'Where did the potato come from'?

Wednesday 17th March 2010 -
Dr Deborah Long, of Plantlife Stirling University, will give a talk on Plant Conservation

Getting things done ... Ryehill Lane

Residents have contacted me about the overgrown grass at the advertising area on the corner of Perth Road and Ryehill Lane.

I contacted JC Decaux UK Ltd who own the site and am impressed by a super-fast response within hours of e-mailing their Regional Operations Manager :

"Fraser

Please leave this one with me and I will have this attended to ASAP."

Christmas Week Update!

Earlier this month, I updated residents regarding the proposals for this year's West End Christmas Week - see http://tinyurl.com/xmasfactor09 (or click on headline above).

We had another, very positive, meeting of the Christmas Week Committee this afternoon, to further progress West End Xmas Factor 2009.

The week is taking great shape ... for further information, drop me an e-mail at xmasfactor@frasermacpherson.org.uk - many thanks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dundee City Council (Hillside Terrace, Dundee) (Stopping-Up) Order 2009

The City Council has now published the above Order, Plan, Notice and Statement of Reasons relating to the above.

You can read the detail at http://tinyurl.com/hillsideterrace. Or simply click on the headline above.

Given
the controversy over the two planning applications at the former Wimberley Student Flats (I moved refusal of both applications; the first time successfully, the second time unsuccessfully), local residents will have great interest in this proposed Stopping Up Order.

As
the download makes clear, there are 28 days in which representations can be made.

From Nick Clegg tonight ...

Dear Fraser

Today I explained that I want to be Prime Minister because I want to change Britain for good. I want to live in a country where prejudice, insularity and fear are conquered by the great British traditions of tolerance, pluralism and justice.

That is the real change our country needs. And it is the real change that only our party can deliver. These are difficult times, but the blue-red, red-blue politics that got us in to this mess cannot get us out.

Today I made a direct appeal in my keynote Conference speech to those who have not supported us in the past, asking them to join us in bringing a fresh start for Britain. If you didn't see my speech, then you can read it by going to http://tinyurl.com/nick-clegg-today.

I have made it clear that I will not duck the difficult decisions now facing our country, but in these decisions I will always be led by our values as a party. That is how we will build a new, sustainable, economy, a fair society and clean up our politics.

With your continued help and support I know we can offer people a different, better, future.

Thank you.

Best wishes

Nick Clegg MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Class sizes pledge - SNP failure

In 2007, the SNP won thousands of votes on a promise - an explicitly clear promise - to cut all primary school P1, P2 and P3 classes to a maximum of 18 pupils.

There has been no real progress on this in the past two and a half years. Why? Because the SNP government, having promised it, has failed to fund it and failed to deliver its promise.

Today's 'Guardian' :

"Party abandons promise on class sizes
Scottish Nationalists accused of misleading parents as they abandon pledge to reduce primary class sizes to 18"


What are they now pledging to deliver? A maximum 25 (TWENTY FIVE!) pupils and the commitment covers P1 only. Pathetic. Utterly pathetic and complete failure of policy delivery.

As with so many of its promises - dumping student debt, £2000 to every first time home-buyer, matching the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat school building programme "brick for brick" - the SNP in government has proved to be an abject failure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Update from Tavish tonight ...

This week I have been at the UK Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth. Our UK leader Nick Clegg is in very good form. He has his main leader’s speech tomorrow. But every day at conference he has been at meetings and rallies where he has shown real and persuasive strength.

Our message from Liberal Democrats at this conference to the country is that “if you want things to be different - really different - choose the party that is different, the Liberal Democrats”.

Labour’s time is up. They have let people down. Yet the Conservatives simply believe that it’s their turn. They just say what they think people want to hear. You don’t know where they really stand. They offer phoney change, not real change.

The Liberal Democrats have been straight about the difficult choices we face, even when speaking out hasn’t been popular: on Iraq, on climate change, on Northern Rock, on Trident, on political reform. On all these issues, Liberal Democrats were the first to speak out when others have remained silent. Our plans will build a fairer society, a sustainable economy and clean up politics.

In my speech to the conference on Sunday I highlighted our plans to take all those who earn less that £10,000 out of income tax completely. That will benefit about 500,000 people in Scotland. The lowest paid will gain £700 from this measure. It will be paid for by closing the loopholes used by the very rich to avoid tax. It is a measure that Scottish party members, in particular, have strongly supported as the most effective way of cutting taxes for the low paid.
On Sunday I published Liberal Democrat research which shows that the SNP will have spent £950m in four years on their tax cuts and freezes. We have shown that money has not been used to build a fairer society. A family earning £100,000 will have gained £800; a family on £15,000 will have gained just £6.07. The SNP have had their chance with £950m yet they have given more to the rich than the poor.

Another theme, which I intend to take forward in the future, is to campaign against centralisation. The current Scottish Government is intent on centralising more power in Edinburgh. They think the Minister always knows best. That is not the liberal way. I want people to have more say and control over their own communities.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nick Clegg will be addressing our conference. I know it will be an uplifting speech. At this major point before the General Election, he will set out very clearly how we will make a fresh start for Britain. It will be change for real, change for good.

Tavish Scott MSP
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Irresponsible product of the week

Here's a ridiculous idea, as seen last Sunday at Barcelona Airport ... For €6, you can get your suitcase covered in a plastic covering as a "security measure." I was honestly flaggergated at the huge amount of cling film wasted by this product that claims to "protect baggage from mishandling, manipulation, rain, wear and tear, stains, and damage."

At a time when supermarkets are now taking a very responsible approach in discouraging the over-use, throw-away attitude to plastic bags, this product is wasteful and irresponsible.


"But how much protection is this, really? An airport security official looking to inspect your bag’s contents will just cut the plastic right off. A determined thief will do the same. How much protection is this, really? And for 6 euros (the price charged at Madrid) or 9 dollars (the price at JFK) per item, is this money well spent?"

Memorial to Brandon Muir

The circumstances surrounding the death of Brandon Muir are deeply concerning and, following my request to the City Council's Policy & Resources Committee, a detailed further discussion took place yesterday between a cross-party group of councillors including myself with Jimmy Hawthorn, who conducted the Significant Case Review, and Peter Wilson, author of the independent review of the tragic circumstances.

It is absolutely vital that the recommendations arising from these reports - and the recent HMIE report on child protection in the city - are implemented with speed. The Best Value Review Group on Child Protection that the Council has established will seek to ensure this occurs, but it is really important that there is full, public and proper scrutiny of the City Council's response (and that of partner organisations) to the serious issues raised.

STV news tonight reported the dedication of a memorial bench for Brandon. The video report can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/brandonmuirmemorial. My good friend and colleague, Allan Petrie of the Real Justice 4 Brandon Campaign, deserves real credit for ensuring that there is a lasting memorial to Brandon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Harris Academy : Scottish Government must recognise case for upgrade

I have today called for Scottish Government to indicate as soon as possible its decision on possible inclusion of Harris Academy in its intended secondary schools improvements programme through the Scottish Futures Trust.

My previous update on feedback I received from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning can be viewed by clicking on the headline above and today's news release is below :

West End Councillor hopes for prompt decision on Harris Funding Bid

Dundee Liberal Democrat Councillor for the West End, Cllr Fraser Macpherson, today said he hoped that any decision from Scottish Government on the possible inclusion of Harris Academy in the tranche of announcements on secondary school capital improvements through the Scottish Futures Trust would take place in the very near future.

Cllr Macpherson said that in July he had received written confirmation from Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, that the first tranche of announcements – relative to secondary school improvements – would take place in September and he was extremely anxious that Scottish Government sticks to its timetable and makes the announcement as a matter of urgency.

Ms Hyslop, in a letter responding to a request by Councillor Macpherson for clarification as to the criteria Scottish Government intends using in prioritising further capital funding, said,

“Decisions will be taken on the basis of the best data information and intelligence available about the scale, nature and distribution of needs across Scotland. This includes the school estate Core Facts data, already submitted by authorities three times since 2004; a similar succession of school estate management plans; and information from bilateral discussions with, visits to, and representations from authorities, all of which have helped build up a national picture of where the scale and urgency of the need for replacement schools are greatest.”

Cllr Macpherson said, “I have no doubt that the data about school condition will serve to show Scottish Government that there is an undeniable case for including Harris Academy in the first tranche of Scottish Futures Trust secondary school projects. Harris Academy is crying out for buildings improvement and the fact that the City Council has already carried out a feasibility study gives a clear way forward as to how refurbishment can be achieved.”

Cllr Macpherson added that it was vital that, should Harris Academy be included in the first tranche of Scottish Futures Trust secondary schools funding, the City Council revisited its own capital programme as the Council would be required to make a contribution, estimated at around £5 million, towards costs.

Cllr Macpherson concluded, “I think its is vital that Harris gets priority in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming announcement relative to secondary school improvements and I hope that Scottish Government recognises Harris’s case.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back from holiday ...

Janet and I have been on holiday the past ten days. Updating www.dundeewestend.com from a ship in the Med has been a (rather significant!) challenge but we did have a great break! I have kept boring holiday snaps to a minimum!
Above : Barcelona : Janet enjoys the sun!Above : Graffiti in Barcelona is as bad as anywhere else but the architecture is superb!
Above : Not been in Malta since my honeymoon in 1988! But Valletta is very much improved.
Above : Janet and I have visited Sorrento twice; raining both times! Actually, it was a really nice visit although Janet was rather grateful for the poncho to keeping out the rain (photos available on request ...)
Above : Rome - me at Trevi Fountain. Lovely day, lovely city.

Above : Janet at Pisa; beautiful day and a really nice time

Above : Cannes was wet, but worth a visit!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting things done ... Pennycook Lane

Having had complaints from residents about overgrown shrubbery in Pennycook Lane - and tree stumps causing some of the recycling bins being out of their original position - I asked the City Council if the shrubs could be trimmed and that tree stumps removed.

I have just had this update from the City Council :

'Just a short update on the Pennycook Lane situation. I have spoken to my colleagues in Parks who will be undertaking the necessary work to remove the tree stumps & overhanging greenery & they have advised that they will do everything that they can to get the required work completed ASAP.

Once I have confirmation that this has been done I will arrange for the recycling bins to be returned to their former position.'

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dundee LibDem councillors voluntarily cut their own salaries

Towards the end of July, I updated www.dundeewestend.com regarding the issue of councillor salaries and the fact that the Liberal Democrat Group on the City Council wished to see councillor salaries frozen this year because of the significant financial challenges facing the City Council (click on headline to view this update from 21st July).

As the previous updated indicated, we were prevented from moving such a motion at council committee as the Scottish Government regulations on councillor salaries do not permit local authorities to freeze or reduce the basic councillor salary or that of the Council Leader, not matter that such a decision was taken by a democratic majority on the council.

I therefore made a request to Finance Minister John Swinney to change regulations to permit councils to limit councillor salaries below the maximum level, should each council agree by democratic vote to cut or freeze them, but this request has been turned down by Mr Swinney. I do think John Swinney's response is seriously out of touch with the public mood. Public services are under very considerable financial strain and this is a time when all elected representatives should be showing restraint and putting public services first.

Both my Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Helen Dick and I believe that public services matter and we have therefore told the Council's new Chief Executive David Dorward that we want to voluntarily reduce our own salaries to last year's level and we have asked that the money saved be used to benefit funds to community groups in Dundee.

The cut in our own salaries is about £400 each and we have asked Mr Dorward if the small projects grants funds managed by the Leisure and Communities Department for the benefit of local community groups in the city be increased by the saving made to the revenue salary by councillor salary cuts. Clearly if other councillors in the city and elsewhere in Scotland were minded to act in a similar manner, there would be a sizeable benefit to public services overall.

Ironically, I am writing this on the day "The Courier" reports :

'Swinney unveils spending cutbacks
FINANCE SECRETARY John Swinney yesterday dramatically hit the brakes on public spending in Scotland and heralded a new era of cutbacks.'

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Farington Street

I have recently raised residents' complaints about the condition of the roadway on Farington Street.

I have now been advised by the City Council's City Development Department that the roadway has now been checked by the area inspector.

Feedback is that repairs to the existing carriageway are not possible due to it being surface-dressed concrete, but the inspector has highlighted the poor condition of the roadway and it will be considered during the annual ranking exercise when roads and footways are assessed for possible inclusion in the roads resurfacing programme.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Friends of Magdalen Green success!

I was delighted to learn earlier today that Friends of Magdalen Green has won the environment category of the Dundee Partnership Awards 2009.

The Friends have worked hard over the past few years to protect and enhance Magdalen Green, and a great debt of gratitude is owed to our first chair, the late Sheila Roy, who did so much to establish and grow the group's activities. It is fitting that our Vice Chair Angela received news from the Dundee Partnership today - Sheila's birthday.

The Friends will receive a small cash award to help its activities and a trophy and a short film about the group will be viewed at the Partnership Awards Dinner in November. As the Friends' Acting Chair, I would like to particularly thank the committee members who put much effort into the group's submission to the Dundee Partnership - well done!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tackling fly-tipping in the West End

An issue I have had many complaints about in recent months is the extent of fly-tipping or the dumping of old furniture and other items in parts of the West End. At meetings of the West End local community planning partnership, Tayside Fire and Rescue has highlighted that on tenement stairwells, discarded items of furniture present a real fire hazard, and fly-tipping generally is a source of complaint from the vast majority of residents who wish the area to be kept in a nice condition.

I am most grateful to the Waste Management Department who, earlier this week and at my request, removed fly-tipping in the Pitfour Street area - this is just one of many dozens of residents' fly-tipping complaints I have raised with the department in the past few months. I do have to say that the City Council's Waste Management Department is extremely proactive and helpful at reacting to such complaints.

At a recent meeting of the Housing and Environmental Services Committee, I put forward a motion to seek a review of the special collections charge to see if the way in which the council deals with bulky uplifts could be improved, to reduce the instances of fly-tipping. The issue is a city-wide one, not just a concern for the West End.

The bulky uplifts charge was last looked at in detail by a working group around 2000, just before I was elected to the City Council. In the intervening years, the charge has increased significantly and I feel that a review is now needed. The SNP Housing & Environment Convener, in all fairness, agreed to meet with myself and the Head of Waste Management to look further at the issue and I have suggested that the other council political groups are invited to participate in discussions. These are planned to take place in the next few weeks. I think every effort must be made to tackle fly-tipping in Dundee and an all-party consensus approach is undoubtedly the way forward.

Monday, September 14, 2009

West End Xmas Factor!

This year's West End Christmas Week - our area's ninth consecutive Christmas Week - starts on 21st November - and this year it is titled 'West End Xmas Factor'! We have already held two meetings of the informal group of residents, local businesses, councillors and other volunteers who help put Christmas Week together and Christmas Week is already taking great shape!

The next meeting of the Christmas Week group will take place on Thursday 24th September at 2.30pm at the Tartan Coffee House, 53 Perth Road, and all interested are welcome to attend.

The week will launch on Saturday 21st November with a community fayre in the new facilities at Dundee West Church (this extensive refurbishment is nearing completion), and on Tuesday 24th November, the Annual Children's and Family Concert will take place, followed by the Christmas Lights Switch On and Fireworks Display at Seabraes. This year, the Tuesday evening events will include - for the first time - a carnival kindly provided by Horne's Carnivals.

On Saturday 28th November, the week will complete with the Christmas Fayre at Blackness Primary School, complete with a showcase of the services of the many and diverse local businesses in the West End, taking place in the area around the fayre - around Pennycook Lane and Perth Road.

There will be lots of other activity during the week - for example, don't miss the West End element of Winter Light Night on Friday 27th November - taking place in the Cultural Quarter.

More updates to follow as we get close to Christmas Week but do please take a look at the Christmas Week website - www.seabraesfireworks.co.uk - a work in progress, but looking great! Our many thanks go to Rob Carstairs for his work on the website (and with so much else with Christmas Week!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Shaftesbury Place

The roadway of Shaftesbury Place is in a really poor state and has never been adopted by Dundee City Council.

Following requests from residents, I have written to the City Engineer about the matter. It seems strange that the street was not adopted, given that all the adjacent streets are on the list of public roads.

I have asked the City Engineer what steps might be taken to have Shaftesbury Place upgraded and brought up to adoptable standard.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Neighbourhood Watch in Logie

It is good to see progress towards the setting up on a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme for the Logie area.

Following the recent AGM of Logie Residents´Association I attended, the Tenant Participation Officer has written to all residents in the Estate to update them. She writes:

"The idea we have at the moment would be to run the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme along with the Logie Residents' Association, with the Association being the Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator. We already meet on the first Tuesday of every month in the Sheltered Lounge in Lime Street at 7pm and Neighbourhood Watch could become a standing agenda item.
We have set aside Tuesday 3rd November at 7pm as an open meeting to discuss how to take a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme forward. We would welcome as many people as possible to attend."

This is an excellent initiative
for the Logie area and it is hoped that many local residents will support it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Improving attendance in Dundee´s schools

Yesterday, the City Council launched an initiative to further improve attendance in Dundee´s schools.

You can read more about this from the "Evening Telegraph", including my own comments welcoming the initiative - by clicking on the headline above.

The new
initiative has to be reviewed after a period of time to ensure it is actually achieving what it set out to do, but I do welcome the Education Department´s proactivity in ensuring that attendance at the city´s schools is maximised.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rail Bridge - Riverside Drive

Following residents raising concerns with me about graffiti on the bridge over the rail line on the part of Riverside Drive north of the Riverside Inn (just south of the Botanic Garden), the City Engineer advises me :

"Your constituents' complaint regarding the graffiti on Riverside Drive rail bridge was checked and has now been passed to the Council's Rapid Response Team to assess and deal with."

I have also asked the City Engineer to consider a proper repainting and maintenance upgrade of the bridge. It has historical significance and it would be good to see it upgraded and fully repainted.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Blackness Library

I recently had complaints from residents about the extent of buddelia growing from the library.

I am pleased to advise that the City Council's Leisure and Communities Department, on receipt of my request, asked Land Services Officers in the City Development Department to survey the building.

The buddelia has now been removed and I am grateful to the City Council for its fast response.

Don't let the Tories airbrush history

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tuesday activities

Following the vandalism on Magdalen Green overnight Sunday/Monday, in which heritage-style lamp posts were vandalised, I was in touch yesterday with Tayside Police regarding increased patrolling and with the City Council's Leisure & Communities regarding repairs. An article appeared in today's "Courier" - see http://tinyurl.com/courier080909 - but it was infuriating to see further vandalism last night (see above right, with thanks to Liz Broumley of Friends of Magdalen Green). There's a clear need for further police attention overnight on the Green, something I have raised with our local Inspector.

This morning,
I attended an informative briefing for councillors by Tayside Police and the Council's Social Work Department on the Tayside Pilot Offender Disclosure Scheme, soon to be launched.

Thereafter,
along with other members of the Kingspark Project Board, I had the pleasure of going on a site visit around the new Kingspark School building project in Clepington Road. As you can see from the photos, there's a fair bit of work to be done yet but the project is taking great shape and is currently ahead of target for completion next year. The new school will be a superb resource for the city's children with learning difficulties and will give 21st century facilities to add to the existing excellent reputation of Kingspark School.

This evening,
I attended the first meeting of West End Community Council's new session and had the pleasure of chairing the AGM part of the meeting. If you click on the headline above, you can read my update to the Community Council for September.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Thomson Street : Traffic Order

I am advised by the City Council that Thomson Street will be closed to traffic from Monday 12th October for a maximum of 5 working days because of gully replacement works. Hopefully the works will fully tackle the road smell complaints I have raised with the Council.

Here's an update I had earlier received from the City Engineer on the subject :

"The update to the gully replacement in Thomson Street is that this work will now require to be carried out independently of the planned gas and water utility works due to a delay in the programming of these repairs by the utility companies involved. A road closure will be required in order for the gully works to carried out and this has been provisionally scheduled for mid to late October. Resurfacing works will now also require to be postponed until completion of the works to the water and gas services.
 
In relation to your constituents’ comments, I can advise that the planned gully replacement will proceed with the new gully frames and covers being set at a level appropriate to the camber of the carriageway to ensure the proper draining of the road. As advised previously, the replacement gullies are of a different design to the existing and it is envisaged that the alternative trap system will assist in dealing with any smell."

Proposed Riverside Nature Park - update in tonight's "Evening Telegraph"

I recently updated the blog about the proposed Riverside Nature Park (click on headline to view).

Tonight's "Evening Telegraph" has a useful article about the matter - see http://tinyurl.com/rsidenature.

It is good to see some progress taking place with regard to the proposed Riverside Nature Park - at last!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Helen Reddy - I Can't Say Goodbye To You

Janet suggested this for the blog - not heard it in a long time, but really good. Pity Helen Reddy has pretty much retired from performing - she's superb.

Disabled parking bays

An issue that constituents have brought to my attention recently is an anomoly in Dundee City Council's criteria for the allocation of disabled parking bays that, in my view and the view of the constituents who contacted me, is discriminating against some residents in the city who have mobility difficulties.

The City Council's criteria for allocating disabled parking bays requires the applicant to have both a Blue Badge and to live in a household where there is at least one vehicle registered to someone in the household. The requirement for at least one vehicle to be registered at the home address of the applicant means that a person with mobility problems who lives alone and has had to give up their car due to illness or disability cannot get a disabled bay created near to their home. For two of my elderly constituents in very busy parts of Perth Road and the Corso/Abbotsford area, this makes it very difficult for their carer to park close enough to their home to allow the elderly person to get out of their carer's car within a reasonable distance. This presents real difficulties for these constituents and restricts their ability to get out and about.

At the last City Council's City Development Committee, I proposed :

City Development Committee instructs the Director of City Development to prepare a report to be considered by this committee, the report to outline current policy in terms of the allocation of disabled parking bays in terms of qualifying criteria, and to also consider extending the qualifying criteria to persons with Blue Badges where there is no vehicle registered at their address but that it can be shown to the satisfaction of the authority that a non-resident carer regularly assists the Blue Badge holder with car travel and this necessities parking close to the Blue Badge holder’s residence.

Unfortunately, although I got the support of some opposition councillors, the SNP administration opposed my proposal. The SNP convener's argument was that later this year the Director of City Development will bring forward a report on the implications of the Disabled Persons Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009. However, this new legislation has nothing to do with the issue I have raised. The Disabled Persons Parking Places (Scotland) Act 2009 will ensure that, from 1st October, it will be against the law to use a disabled parking space unless the car is displaying a blue badge.

I made clear to committee that I was prepared to withdraw my motion if I was given an assurance that the forthcoming report would also tackle the issue I have raised about discrimination against some Blue Badge holders, but the administration seemed unprepared to agree to this.

It is deeply disappointing for the constituents who should be allocated a disabled parking bay but cannot get one due to Dundee City Council's bureaucratic rules that they are not being listened to by the City Council administration. It is important that the council tries to help all citizens with mobility difficulties, not just those with a car owner in their household.