Sunday, January 31, 2010

Concerns over the future of local radio

With the recent introduction of the Westminster Government’s Digital Economy Bill in parliament, I have concerns at the government’s handling of the future of radio, particularly that, when radio follows television in moving to digital-only transmission (DAB) by around 2015, many people may lose out in receiving radio reception and many local stations may not be available on digital.

Several constituents have contacted me to ask why it is that some local people still cannot receive digital radio services. This appears to be because the digital radio signal only broadcasts locally from the Angus transmitter and quite a few West End homes have a poor line of sight to that transmitter, with the BBC accepting that reception is only “fairly” likely, even with an external radio aerial.

Residents have been surprised to find that, having bought a DAB radio, they simply can’t get consistent reception on digital radio. To be frank, government really shouldn’t be considering switching off FM radio until it has ensured that there is good reception of digital in all areas.

My other concern is that many local radio stations fear they are being frozen out of the digital radio switchover debate, with the future of more than 100 of them still uncertain.

Many local radio stations – for example Wave 102 in Dundee – are not available on Digital Audio Broadcasting. I have recently spoken with Adam Findlay, Managing Director of Wave 102, about this and I know residents will not want to see the switching off of FM radio before the future of all their local, popular radio stations is secured in a digital age.

It is beyond me that the Westminster Government is moving forward with proposals to switch off FM radio by around 2015 when over 100 local stations still do not have a clear digital migration path and are likely to be consigned to an uncertain future on the analogue spectrum once digital switchover has occurred.

I have written to Broadcasting Minister Sion Simon MP expressing my concerns about the government’s handling of the digital radio issue. It is most important that all citizens continue to get access to good radio reception and the full choice of radio stations.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friends of Wighton - latest update

With thanks to Sheena Wellington, here's the latest update from Friends of Wighton :

Wednesday 3rd February 2010, 1.15-1.45pm : Gordon Penman, fiddle, with Isobel Luke, harpsichord - Wighton Centre, Dundee Central Library, Wellgate, Dundee, DD1 1DB.

Admission free.

Gordon Penman, chair of the Friends of Wighton, will be giving an intriguing performance of old Scottish chamber music on Wednesday at lunchtime.

Gordon will perform a sonata by the 18th century composer William McGibbon sonata, a selection of strathspeys and other tunes from the book published by Montrose musician Archibald Duff, and some compositions of the well-known Fife musician and composer James Oswald.

Accompanying Gordon in period style on the Wighton Centre's beautiful French-style harpsichord will be Isobel Luke, a former chair of the Friends.

The music in Wednesday's performance is taken from the rare old books of Scottish music preserved in Dundee City Library in the Wighton Collection.

The Friends of Wighton organises monthly concerts in the Library's specially built performance and study centre, as well as classes and other outreach events to make the treasures of the collection more accessible to the people of Fife, Angus and Dundee.

Harpsichordist Mark Spalding, who had been booked for Wednesday's concert, has suffered an injury. However he will be appearing at the Wighton Centre later on in the year.

Saturday 20th February, 10.30 for 11am : Cappuccino Concert featuring Sheena Wellington, one of Scotland’s finest traditional singers with a programme of songs found in, or inspired by, the Wighton Collection. An article on Sheena is in the February edition of the
Scots Magazine.

Tickets, price £5 (to include coffee and newspapers), are available from Rainbow Music, 35 Cowgate, Dundee, 01382 698397.

For more info please visit
www.friendsofwighton.com or call 07792 336804.

Large waiting list at Dundee College revealed

As reported in today's Courier, following the Scottish Liberal Democrats publishing figures on Thursday showing that many colleges are turning away four times as many applicants as last year and long waiting lists at many colleges, through a Freedom of Information Request made by the Liberal Democrats, it had been revealed that Dundee College has a waiting list of 765. It also revealed that there were over 11 000 applications for less than 4 500 places at the college in its 2009/10 intake.

Again, locally, it was revealed that Angus College has had to turn away 75 full time students.

At First Minister's Questions earlier this week, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Tavish Scott MSP challenged Alex Salmond to make next week's Budget respond to this growing challenge.

Commenting after First Minister’s Questions, Tavish said,

“There has been a dramatic increase this year in the number of people turned away from Scotland’s colleges because there aren’t enough places. Many colleges are turning away four times as many applicants as last year and some colleges have had to reject people for the very first time. Young people’s career plans are being hit twice. With record unemployment they can’t get a job and now they can’t get a college place either.

“Unemployment is still going up in Scotland. The number of young people claiming jobseekers’ allowance has gone up 35% in the last year. We are the only part of Britain where the claimant count is still rising.”


Dundee College is an excellent local educational establishment, providing many top quality courses and providing people with the necessary skills to secure future employment.

It is concerning that nearly 800 people are on the waiting list and it reinforces the point made by Tavish at First Minister’s Questions earlier this week that the SNP government has to act in this year’s budget to improve levels of funding to allow colleges to better meet the demand for college places.

There’s nearly 300 people on the waiting list for Dundee College’s Hospitality, Tourism, Hair and Beauty courses alone, with nearly as many on the waiting list for admission to courses on Care and Social Studies.

Alison McInnes, MSP for North East Scotland, added,

“There has been a dramatic increase this year in the number of people turned away from Scotland's colleges because there aren't enough places.

Many colleges are turning away four times as many applicants as last year and some colleges have had to reject people for the very first time. In Angus, despite having no additional funding, they increased recruitment by 10% to their maximum capacity. There were still 75 students who were unable to be taken on to their preferred course despite fulfilling the criteria.

Young people's career plans are being hit twice. With record unemployment they can't get a job and now they can't get a college place either. The Scottish Liberal Democrats raised this with the First Minister as part of our Budget negotiations and our figures show why action here matters for Scotland."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Airbrushed Tories

There are many good reasons for not launching an "airbrushed" poster campaign and http://www.mydavidcameron.com sort of explains why ...

Nick Clegg - Four Steps to a Fairer Britain

Memorial to the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster 1879

Stuart Morris, son of the Laird of Balgonie, recently proposed a proper and permanent memorial to the 75 people (including many Dundonians) who died in the 1879 Tay Rail Bridge Disaster (see the report in the Courier over the festive period at http://tinyurl.com/balgonie).

As reported in tonight's Evening Telegraph, I am very supportive of this proposal and have been in correspondence with Stuart Morris of Balgonie about the matter. We are meeting during February to discuss how the idea can be taken forward. He has had very good feedback from various sources over the proposal.

It seems only right that there is a permanent memorial to the people who died in the disaster (see a list of the Dundee folk at http://www.brand-dd.com/taybrig.html and also there's also useful background to the disaster available). I have been contacted by a number of West End constituents and others who are supportive of the proposal.

The Dundee City Archives have given me helpful feedback on the matter:

“As far as I am aware the only plaques in Dundee are the plaque on the bridge put up in 1987 to mark the bridge's centenary and the ScotRail plaque mounted on the coping stone from one of the piers of the original bridge in 1987 again to mark the centenary of the replacement bridge.

Tay Valley Family History Society published a booklet entitled "Victims of the Tay Rail Bridge Disaster" in 2005. This was seen as a means of compensating for the lack of a memorial. It brings together what information the authors were able to discover about the victims including details of where they are buried.”


They have also pointed out that monument to the disaster victims should “morally … have to also include in that monument a tribute to those workers who died by crushing or drowning (as commemorated in the Tay Road Bridge south landfall memorial) putting both bridges up in the first place.” I think that is a very sensible suggestion. As the Tele alludes to this evening, the
very sad death of a rail worker on the rail bridge yesterday adds resonance to the memorial proposal.

I am keen to ensure that a lasting, permanent memorial to the victims of the Tay Bridge Disaster and would welcome anyone interested in the matter to contact me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Vince Cable at Demos : Pillars of the Liberal Democrat Economic Manifesto

From www.moneymarketing.co.uk :

"The Liberal Democrats have set out the key pillars of their economic manifesto which include plans to separate banking functions and keep the FSA as the UK’s financial regulator.

At the Demos Politics 2010 series in London on Monday, Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable said: “A modern version of Glass Steagall is required separating retail and investment banking and there is need too for more meaningful competition in business and mortgage lending. Until the banks are broken up and are able to compete and succeed or fail without Government guarantees, they should pay an insurance premium - a supplementary tax on bank profits.”

.Cable called for banking regulation to be reformed and improved but does not support Tory calls for the FSA to be axed. He said the FSA has made mistakes but it is not the right time to change the regulator.

He said the banking industry needs more local banks, mutuals including credit unions, a banking arm for the Post Office and specialist banks to support new ventures and infrastructure.

He criticised Labour and Tory plans to ringfence some Government budgets from spending cuts. The LibDems propose tough limits on public sector pay rises, removing higherrate pension tax relief, reform of public sector pensions and cuts in welfare spending such as tax credits for higher-earners and scrapping child trust fund contributions. Cable said an additional £10bn has been identified in net savings beyond what the
Government has put forward.

Cable also detailed a “revenue-neutral” package of tax changes that centre on tax cuts for the low-paid."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dundee West Transition Town Group

Earlier this month, I mentioned the excellent presentation to West End Community Council about Transition Towns and the subsequent first meeting of a Dundee West Transition Town Group that I attended.

The Dundee West Transition Town Group has now set up a blog available at
http://transtowndundeewest.blogspot.com. Details of the next meeting on 5th February are available on the blog - all welcome!

And ... Wednesday ...

A busy day - including :

* The first ever Board meeting for the West End Primary/Nursery Schools project - St Joseph's Primary, Park Place Primary and Park Place Nursery Schools - took place. It is envisaged that a pre-planning application process, including an exhibition for parents, carers and the local community generally, will take place between February and April. The exhibition will be on 1st and 3rd April, and there was some discussion about the location of this - the consensus view I support is to hold it at Blackness Library.

* I had a useful meeting with a member of the WestFest committee about progress with this excellent initiative - see
http://www.dundeewestfest.com/.

* Tonight's "Evening Telegraph" covered my concerns about the huge cuts in Fairer Scotland funded (FSF) projects across Dundee that have been supported by the SNP council administration. I have been inundated with messages of support over this issue - people right across Dundee are shocked at the extent of cuts to excellent projects that are aimed at helping the least affulent and most vulnerable citizens in our city.

I had a useful meeting this afternoon with council chief officers - including the Chief Executive, the Director of Finance and key directors - about the council budget. Aside from the smash and grab raid on FSF, the officers' proposals on departmental budgets are sound.

I have described the SNP administration's raid on FSF funding as Robin Hood in reverse - taking from those most in need. It is clear from feedback from many constituents that this is a view shared by people right across Dundee.

Tuesday update ...

Yesterday, I participated in a cross-party workshop with the City Council's IT department at which a prototype in-house computer application to assist councillors with constituent casework and other enquiries was demonstrated and discussed.

In the afternoon, I was able to attend part of the latest Go Dundee Dundee Wave of Change planning meeting, introduced by
Gerry Hassan. There was very interesting group discussion about possible community engagement events and you can read more about Go Dundee and the Wave of Change at http://www.godundee.co.uk/.

Last night's "
Evening Telegraph" has a great feature about the West End (although only in the actual newspaper - not in the online version) featuring three great West End community projects - WestFest 2010, the Student Allotments Project and West End Boys Amateur Boxing Club.

Lastly, the City Council's Recycling Projects Officer has advised me that :

" ... unfortunately at the weekend a paper bin within the Neighbourhood Recycling Point on Cleghorn Street has been burnt out for a third time.

... it is our standard internal policy to remove such a problematic unit from an NRP bank following this number of incidents. I'm sure you can appreciate that the cost of replacing these units is quite high (at £525 per unit), and it is highly likely that this paper bin would in future be targeted for further acts of dangerous vandalism.

We recognise that the residents of this area will be disappointed by the loss of this paper bin facility. We are though always on the lookout for appropriate sites for recycling points, and will continue to include this area within our search. Please note too, that the 3 glass bottle bins within this NRP unit will remain as they were. We will continue to monitor the site closely in the forthcoming period and hopefully there will be no further vandalism."

I have suggested an alternative site in the area that could cause fewer problems (the department has promised to assess my alternative site proposal) and have also advised the Environmental Health & Trading Standards Department that a nearby dog bin has been damaged by fire.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monday activities ...

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Jim Begg at Dundee Cermatorium. There was a large attendance - it was a very fitting tribute to Jim. Blackness Area Residents' Association, Home Scotland and the City Council were all represented, along with Jim's family and many friends.

Later that day, I attended the City Council's Audit & Risk Management Committee and - after two surgeries at the Mitchell Street Centre and Harris Academy - the main City Council committees took place in the evening - some 4 hours in total - and the main points are :

* The SNP administration is putting up council rents by 4%. The SNP won the vote by 2 against my amendment to limit the increase to 3%. I am grateful for the support of the Labour and Conservative groups and Depute Lord Provost Ian Borthwick in my attempt to stop the SNP imposing an increase that is simply not reasonable. The Retail Prices Index was only 2.4% last month. The consultation with Dundee tenants was flawed - the choice was the SNP 4% or ... the SNP 4%. No wonder there were far fewer consultation responses than last year - the SNP "consulted" on a done deal. Non-consultation if ever there was.

* Fairer Scotland Fund. I was very unhappy with the debate on this important issue last night.
Following the decisions made by the Dundee Partnership to remove or reduce funding from around 45 Fairer Scotland Fund projects in the city that may result in the loss of around 35 jobs, I have written to the council Chief Executive David Dorward calling for a fundamental review of the transparency of decision making processes within the Dundee Partnership and a review of governance arrangements.

I am gravely concerned about a process that appears to allow the SNP administration on the City Council to take away £1.577 million of monies previously ring fenced in the Fairer Scotland Fund, simply to help balance the council’s own budget. Projects aimed at helping the least affluent and most vulnerable Dundee people have been raided simply to help the council’s revenue budget is a staggering example of the SNP acting as Robin Hood in reverse – taking from the poorest in society, the people most in need of help - simply because the SNP administration appeared incapable of balancing the council’s budget without taking away from Fairer Scotland Funding to the tune of £1.5 million.

At committee, councillors heard directly from representatives of one of the projects - the Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project (DEAP) – about how it is helping large numbers of Dundee people to secure sustainable employment. DEAP conducts 13 job shops across the city in local community centres and has around 2500 clients registered for employability support. In under two years, it has helped secure over 1400 job outcomes for local people. The SNP appeared unmoved by pleas to ensure that DEAP’s funding be restored and that is deeply regrettable.

The dynamics between the City Council and Dundee Partnership lack transparency and democratic accountability and I have suggested to the City Council’s Chief Executive that they be subject to review.

Councillors are accountable to the electorate but there seems remarkably little democratic accountability in the decision making process that resulted in so many valuable projects having their funding removed or reduced.

It appears that the SNP administration can take away £1.5 million of the Dundee Partnership’s Fairer Scotland Funding allocation at the drop of a hat, but that councillors who want to see funding restored to projects are ruled out of order.

There is something very wrong about that and a full review of the relationship between Dundee City Council and the Dundee Partnership is urgently required.

* Changes to Library opening hours were discussed at the Leisure, Arts and Communities Committee (this includes Blackness Library).

* There was a discussion on winter maintenance policy, following the recent very challenging weather conditions. I raised the issues of ensuring gritting of sheltered housing areas and the need to keep grit bins filled.

* I supported a Conservative amendment to ensure councillors do not to attend an expensive Social Work Conference but this was out-voted by Labour and SNP councillors. The council budget is in a difficult position and now is the time to cut out expenditure like this.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Annabel Goldfingers

Today's Sunday Herald revealed that Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie has been claiming large amounts in first class rail travel at taxpayers' (our!) expense, whilst calling for public sector staff on as low incomes as £18 000 a year to have their pay frozen.

What a bare-faced cheek, and I doubt that Annabel's actions have done the cause of the Scottish Conservatives much good as we head towards the General Election.

With thanks to my party colleague Stephen Glenn for this funny and rather accurate picture (above right)!

Assurances about the "Friendly Bus"

I am pleased to say that I have received assurances from the City Council that the sheltered housing bus shoppers’ service – the “Friendly Bus” – will not end “in the short term” despite the Dundee Partnership withdrawing £21 000 of Fairer Scotland Funding that has helped subsidise the service until now.

I have spoken to many elderly constituents in the West End who have heard about the funding difficulties facing the service and were worried that the service would be threatened by the loss of one of its two sources of funding.

The bus service is described by
Dundee Travel Info as :

“Friendly bus service

To help you get out and about

This service picks up at a location near to you and you can use it if you have difficulty or find it impossible to use ordinary bus services.

The bus will take you to the nearest Retail Park, supermarket or City Centre and home again. If you want to go elsewhere and it is on the route tell the driver and you will be dropped wherever it is safe.

The vehicles are designed to carry wheelchairs, there is an escort to help you but feel free to bring a friend if you feel their support will help.”


I am greatly concerned at the cuts to the Fairer Scotland Fund and questions have to be asked about the City Council raiding the fund to help balance its own budget, at the expense of the objectives of the Dundee Partnership. Not the SNP council's finest moment.

One of the cuts is to take away the Friendly Bus funding grant, an annual £21 000 grant. Elderly users of this sheltered shopping service had heard from bus drivers about the funding loss and were greatly concerned that this could threaten the financial viability of the service.

It should be remembered that this service provides a lifeline for many elderly people in sheltered housing, particularly those who, for mobility reasons, have difficulty using the main bus routes. It is an excellent service and I am anxious to ensure it is continued for the benefit of the elderly people it serves.

I contacted the City Council about the funding gap and have been advised by the Council’s Sustainable Transport Team Leader that :

“The Fairer Scotland Fund grant that helped support the introduction of the Friendly Bus will come to an end on 31 March 2010. This has lead to the rumours floating around about the service being axed. DCC (the City Council) will be able support the operation of the Friendly Bus in the short term to ensure continuation but I think we definitely need to review the service in the medium to longer term - and perhaps look at the possibility of registering some elements of the service or speaking with the big supermarkets (as your e-mail suggests).”

I had suggested that the funding gap could be addressed in the longer term by possible registering the Friendly Bus routes (allowing people to use their concession passes on the bus, with part of the cost of the service then being financed through the national travel concession scheme) and by speaking with the supermarkets about how they could assist getting elderly and disabled residents to their stores.

Whilst I am pleased there are assurances on the immediate future of the “Friendly Bus” service, it is very important that it is given long-term funding security as it is a vital service for many elderly Dundee citizens.

More on grit bins in the West End

During the recent very wintry spell, a resident in Hillside Drive asked me if the City Council would provide a grit bin at the top end of the street. The City Engineer has now responded positively to my request as follows :

"Your constituent's request for a grit bin at the top end of Hillside Drive has been assessed by Road Maintenance and as this location meets the necessary criteria it is proposed that a grit bin be set out at a suitable location as soon as this can be arranged."

Also, at the request of residents in Pleasance Court, I have asked for a grit bin to be placed in the courtyard area - currently, the nearest grit bin is in Edward Street.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend West End Updates

A few Saturday West End updates :

* Seabraes : Following residents' requests, I asked for litter bins both at the steps and along the path from Greenmarket to Roseangle. I am pleased to say that Scottish Enterprise Tayside has agreed to pay for bins around the steps area (in a style to fit in with the seating) and will attempt to secure necessary funds for further litter bins along the path.

There are dog bins at each end of the pathway, but none along it. Residents also requests some more along the pathway given its length, but the Animal Control team in the City Council advise that "the location requested isn't going to be possible as the vans could not get close enough to the location to empty other bins."

* Bankmill Road recycling : Yesterday, the Recycling Projects Officer in the Waste Management Department of the City Council advised councillors:

"I am writing to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the burnt out paper bin within the Neighbourhood Recycling Point on Bankmill Road.

As you may already be aware in such cases it is our standard policy to replace the burnt out unit for a second time, however, any further incidents would result in the removal of the paper bin from the NRP unit. The incident occurred on the 9/10/2009, and we thought it was wise to delay the installation of a replacement unit until some time after Guy Fawkes night.

We now have a replacement unit in stock and we will be looking to reinstate the paper bin over the course of next week. We will monitor the site closely in the forthcoming period and hopefully there will be no repeat of the previous vandalism."

* Benvie Road : I have
previously raised concerns about safety surrounding the derelict garage towards the top end of Benvie Road - see right. The City Council has made attempts to contact the owner and in September, he applied for a building warrant to demolish the remainder of the building. This was granted on 6th October and the Council was advised by the agent that demolition would start 7th December, but this has not happened yet. I am very concerned about the state of the site and the fact that the boundary is not secure. I have asked the Council's Head of Planning to make urgent contact with the agent on this matter. It is very important that the demolition takes place as soon as possible.

* Safe parking near schools : I recently
updated residents about the council committee report on improving arrangements for the drop-off of pupils and parking around schools (the report to the Education Committee can be read at http://tinyurl.com/schoolsparking).

I have now received the proposed "roll out" timetable across the city and am disappointed to be advised that it is not envisaged to undertake improvements at the Harris cluster until January to March 2011. Given the large number of concerns I get about the situation at Blackness Primary School, this timescale is disappointing.

I have written to the Head of Primary Education expressing my concern about timescales. It would have made more sense to prioritise the schools with most parking safety concerns raised by parents, carers and local residents.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Latest news ...

As reported in today's Courier, I was pleased to receive an assurance last night from the City Council's Chief Executive that the Council's Convener of Policy & Resources had now agreed that the Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project would be allowed to speak to councillors on Monday (see earlier article at http://tiny.cc/deap). The council's 'raid' on Fairer Scotland Funding - funding aimed at assisting those in Dundee on the lowest incomes - is to be regretted and DEAP and the other projects that have been told their funding has been removed, are rightly perplexed at the decision to take vital funding away.

On another matter, we had an excellent initial meeting of the West End Transition Towns group (for want of a better name!) at Dundee West Church today (see earlier article at
http://tiny.cc/transitiontowns). After a good lunch at the healthy eating lunches, there was a really positive discussion about how to take forward the Transition Towns concept across the West End - including food production, selling food, home insulation, public transport - to name just a few areas of discussion. I am very keen that there is an awareness public meeting soon and pleased all support this. A blog and further information to follow ...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Scottish Budget

The video above was Tavish Scott a few weeks ago making the case for the Scottish LibDem proposal to freeze the remuneration of top-paid public sector staff. Tavish reinforced the point at First Minister's Questions today and exposed the ridiculous position of the Tories in proposing a freeze on the pay of anyone in the public sector earning over £18 000 - well below average earnings.

Here's Tavish's update on the Scottish Budget :

Yesterday saw the first debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Government’s Budget.

The economic background is serious. Unemployment continues to rise in Scotland , when it is falling in the rest of Britain . The gap in economic growth between Scotland and the UK is now widening to Scotland ’s disadvantage.

Liberal Democrats have taken up the challenge to work with the SNP Government to persuade them to take forward our proposals that will build a fairer society and a sustainable economy.

We are discussing practical plans. We can do more to give Scottish business a fighting chance of getting through the recession. Many businesses still can’t get the lending they need from their banks. Scottish manufacturing – including the Borders textiles industry that I highlighted in Parliament last week – needs help. The Scottish Budget needs to help strengthen these businesses, putting them in a good place to reap the rewards of economic recovery.

We have proposed practical steps to help other industries of the future such as marine renewables and businesses important to local communities such as Post Offices.

We also know that there are record levels of people being turned away from Scotland ’s colleges. Research by Liberal Democrats has shown that many colleges are turning away six times as many applicants than two years ago. If the Scottish Government expanded the number of college places then they will provide a direct way of boosting skills in sectors of the economy where we know we are short, be it engineering or social care.

As Labour’s deficit crisis makes the money tight, we really need the Scottish Government to get a grip on the salaries and bonuses of the highest paid people in the public sector.

Research published by the Scottish Liberal Democrats shows that the total salary bill for those earning more that £100,000 is £413million and is £651million for those over £80,000. And that is just 5,300 people out of half a million in the public sector.

People just cannot understand it when they learn that highest earners in the NHS are also able to nominate themselves for bonuses worth up to £75,000 a year on top of their salaries.

I know that we need restraint at the top to give a fair deal to the people at the bottom of the income scale.

People who want a progressive, fairer society will want government to take up these plans.

We can help Scotland out of recession. The SNP Government needs to work with us to do that.

It can find the money. It should use the money it has earmarked for its constitutional referendum. It should look hard at the Scottish quangos. And not just on their pay bill. For example, the Scottish Futures Trust continues to consume millions of tax pounds but builds absolutely nothing.

It is disappointing that the SNP Government has not moved to change its Budget yet. That is why we couldn’t vote for the Budget today. We have given them the benefit of three more weeks to respond to our positive and constructive approach. It will be for the benefit of Scotland if they take up our offer, make changes and win our support.

After all, they have seen the very poor show from Scottish Labour. Labour have simply proposed hundreds of millions of pounds of extra spending but have failed to identify where it can come from.

The Scottish Tories appear to have lost their way. Even last week, the normally loyal Daily Telegraph wrote of them, “it is time for a major rethink”. It reported “malaise”, “embarrassment” and called their performance “dreadful”.

And today’s Conservative proposals on public sector pay will hurt those on low incomes. It will not just be newly qualified nurses and teacher who will lose under the Tory plans for pay limits. Even a lance corporal returning from service in Afghanistan will find that his pay has been cut in real terms by the Tories while he has been away. It’s clear life would get worse, not better, for most people under a Conservative Government.

I will keep you up to date as the Budget process continues.

Tavish Scott

Nick Clegg: Giving Hope Back to Young People

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Carolan, Connellan and Lyons

The following update comes with thanks to Sheena Wellington!

"Carolan, Connellan and Lyons" - a special concert of 18th century harp music by three famous old Irish composers, will be held this weekend in Dundee's Wighton Centre.

The Friends of Wighton's January Cappuccino Concert will be held in the atmospheric setting of the Wighton Heritage Centre, upstairs in Dundee Central Library. The concert is on Saturday 23rd January 2010. Coffee and papers are served from 10.30am, and the music starts at 11am.

Playing replicas of historical Irish and Scottish harps, with brass, silver and gold wire strings, historical harp specialist Simon Chadwick will present compositions by the harper-composers Turlough Carolan, Thomas Connellan, and Cornelius Lyons, which he has found in the rare old books housed in the Wighton Centre.

Carolan is the most famous of the old Gaelic harpers, though much of his music and song is rarely heard today. Connellan, who lived in Scotland, is credited with composing some of the most famous Scottish airs including "Lochaber no More"; while Lyons was responsible for elegant baroque variation-sets which were all the rage in 18th century Edinburgh.

In the afternoon, from 2.30-4.00pm, there will be a workshop and masterclass on the music of these three composers. Participants will have the chance to see the rare first editions of their music, will find out more about the old harp traditions and will have a chance to try their hand at playing replica medieval and baroque harps.

The Wighton Centre is a purpose built performance and study space in Dundee Central Library. It houses the Wighton Collection, an internationally important collection of 700 old Scottish music books which were bequeathed to the city in the 1860s by Dundee merchant Andrew Wighton. The Friends of Wighton is a volunteer group which promotes access to the collection, and organises regular concerts as well as weekly instrument and song classes.

Admission to the concert is £4.50 (includes coffee and newspapers) on the door or in advance from Rainbow Music, 35 Cowgate, Dundee 01382 698397.

Admission to the workshop is £5 (£2.50 for under-25s) on the door only.

For more information please contact 07792 336804 or
http://www.friendsofwighton.com.

Last couple of days

Yesterday, I attended an informal cross-party meeting at the City Council, on the revenue budget for 2010/11, attended by the SNP and Conservative group leaders, the administration's finance spokesperson, the Lord Provost, the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and myself, representing the Liberal Democrats.

As I indicated to the Courier thereafter, I felt the meeting was constructive, although I have sought clarification of a number of savings that are being proposed.

My greatest area of concern about the 2010/11 budget is the reduction in Fairer Scotland Fund budgets, resulting in the removal of funding from a number of excellent projects in the city. I was very concerned to learn today that one project whose funding has been removed (Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project) has been refused permission to put its case to the council's Policy and Resources Committee next Monday. I have written to the City Council's Chief Executive making clear my disquiet at this decision and calling for a rethink. If DEAP is not given leave to speak to councillors at committee next Monday, I intend to move suspension of council Standing Orders to allow DEAP to speak.

On another matter, I had a positive meeting this morning with senior Waste Management officers and the SNP Convener of Housing, Dundee Contract Services and Environmental Services about bulky uplifts policy and charging. It is around 10 years since the council's bulky uplifts working group reported, and I had suggested that a review of policy should now be undertaken. We met today to discuss this and had a useful exchange of views about the issues, including looking at other authorities' good practice through benchmarking (for example, some councils have concessionary pricing or free uplifts for some residents, such as those on low incomes, the elderly, etc) and improving the recycling effort.

This afternoon, I attended the council's Scrutiny Committee, where various Care Commission reports were discussed.

I was greatly saddened to learn earlier today that Jim Begg, Treasurer of Blackness Area Residents' Association - BARA, passed away this morning after a short illness. Jim was not only a stalwart of BARA but also a thoroughly nice person and he'll be sadly missed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tenement lighting

Over the weekend, residents in Bellefield Avenue drew to my attention that the stair lighting in all the tenement flats on the east side of the street had failed. A similar situation arose some time ago on the west side of the street. The problem is that the stair lighting is linked together, so if a fuse blows in one tenement, all lighting on one side of the street blows.

I contacted the City Council's Environmental Health & Trading Standards Department straight away and was pleased to receive this update yesterday :

"Officers visited Bellefield Avenue this afternoon and found that a fuse had blown. They were able to repair this and the stairlighting is working again."

A very fast response and greatly appreciated by the residents.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Busy Monday!

Apart from two surgeries this afternoon at Harris Academy and the Mitchell Street Centre, I had a very useful meeting with the Pennycook Court and Sinderins Court Residents' Association about a number of local issues, including road safety, pavements & dropped kerbs and the Friendly Bus sheltered shopping service.

Tonight, the City Council's Development Quality Committee lasted well over three hours, a major application approved being the Asda superstore application at Kingsway West.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Garden Of Light - Outdoor Light and Sound Show

The video above is from last year's "Garden Of Light" event at Dundee Botanic Garden. At the request of Steve Page, the organiser (see http://tiny.cc/gardenlight2010) here's his update on the 2010 event next month :

"On 27 and 28 February, I will once again deliver the Garden Of Light event at the Botanic Gardens in Dundee.

The event aims to help raise funds for the Garden and raise awareness of this important tourist attraction and resource for the city. This event was run for the first time in 2009 and was well attended, whilst successfully gaining publicity on national radio and television.

This event is a good news story for Dundee – with myself being an ex graduate of the university and employee of the City Council setting an example of local action to support local business."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Trip Hazard at Tullideph Place

I have seen some trip hazards in my time, but the repair required in the middle of the pavement in Tullideph Place, near the junction with City Road, takes the biscuit. I am grateful to the residents in the area for bringing it to my attention.

In an area of sheltered housing, it is important that this footpath repair is undertaken as a matter or urgency and I have raised the issue with the Council's City Development Department.

West End Boxing Club on STV news!

Last month, STV filmed at the West End Amateur Boxing Club's Saturday training session (see http://tinyurl.com/dundeewestendabc) and it was great to see the news item on the STV news last night (see http://tinyurl.com/stvabc) - well done to Emilio and a growing membership at the club.

And many thanks for their Christmas gift - see below!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Literacy in Scotland

I was on Wave 102 news yesterday speaking about the subject of literacy in Scotland ... click 'play' to listen.

DEC Haiti appeal launches today

You can help the Disasters Emergency Committee Haiti Appeal by going to http://www.dec.org.uk/donate_now/ or phone 0370 60 60 900

By Post: Please send a cheque made payable to DEC HAITI EARTHQUAKE and send it to DEC HAITI EARTHQUAKE, PO BOX 999, LONDON, EC3A 3AA.

Residents' parking update

Earlier this week, I updated residents on http://www.dundeewestend.com/ about the recent report to City Development Committee of Dundee City Council on residents' parking.

Last night, the Evening Telegraph ran a news article on the subject, including my comments, and you can read this by going to http://tinyurl.com/teleparking.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latest updates ...

A few Thursday updates :

* This morning, along with councillor colleagues, I had a very useful meeting with the Waste Management Department and the Environmental Health & Trading Standards Department about the problems of refuse presentation at various locations. This gave the opportunity to raise issues in specific streets in the West End where residents have complained about poor refuse presentation or wheelie bins being left out on the street permanently. The officers present gave very useful updates on their various initiatives to help tackle this problem, that is a source of many complaints from constituents.

* Further to Tavish Scott's visit to Dundee yesterday, you can read the article about this in today's
Press and Journal by going to http://tinyurl.com/tavishpandj.

* I recently asked for additional grit bins for the north end of Thomson Street and the top end of Tait's Lane. I am pleased to advise that the City Engineer updated me this morning as follows :

"The update to the grit bin issue in Tait's Lane is that Tayside Contracts have been asked to set out a grit bin on the grassed area in the car park at 38 Tait's Lane.

In Thomson Street, an order has been raised for the placing of a small grit bin on the east side at the top."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tavish Scott in Dundee

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott MSP, was in Dundee today to give his support for the city’s campaign to see improvements made to Dundee Rail Station. You can hear his news interview on Wave 102 below and read the article in today's Evening Telegraph by going to http://tinyurl.com/tavishdundee.

A former Minister of Transport for Scotland, Mr Scott believes that the city’s rail station is badly in need of modernisation – it is in poor aesthetic condition and has poor facilities. Given the key improvements to Dundee Waterfront, with funding started by the LibDem/Labour Executive prior to 2007, it is vital that the city has a rail station in the waterfront area that does not sit out like an embarrassing sore thumb next to the proposed V&A and other major improvements along the waterfront of the city.

Tavish made clear that it requires the working together of all stakeholders – primarily Scottish Government/Transport Scotland, Network Rail, First ScotRail, the local authority, the regional transport partnership TACTRAN and Scottish Enterprise if the council’s vision of an improved rail station is to become reality. The failure to give the station priority in the Scottish Government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review in December 2008 was a missed opportunity.

Tavish was also in Dundee to support the adoption of Dr Clive Sneddon as Scottish Liberal Democrat Westminster candidate for Dundee East and also visited the University of Abertay to see the university’s expertise in computer games education.
Above : From left - Raymond Lawrie (Dundee LibDem Convener), yours truly, Clive Sneddon (LibDem candidate Dundee East), Tavish, John Barnett (LibDem candidate Dundee West)
Above : Tavish (centre) with Dundee's Liberal Democrat Westminster Parliamentary Candidates - John Barnett (Dundee West) left and Clive Sneddon (Dundee East) right

Tavish Scott interviewed by the media in Dundee today

Tavish Scott, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, was interviewed by Wave 102, Radio Tay, STV, the Courier, the Evening Telegraph and the Press and Journal during his visit to Dundee today. You can hear his comments on Wave 102 news, supporting Dundee's campaign for an improved railway station, by clicking 'play' below.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TRANSITION TOWNS : An Interview with Rob Hopkins

There was a very interesting and informative presentation at West End Community Council tonight about Transition Towns and in particular the successes at Monimail/Cupar in Fife. It was really inspiring and a number of us are keen to meet to look at ways the West End community can participate. The video above is well worth a look.

Parking, buses and school class sizes ...

Last night's City Council committee meetings were lengthy, at some three hours in total, and a number of important subjects were discussed, including :

Parking : The long-awaited report on residents' parking, looking at five areas of the city including the area approximately east of Sinderins from Roseangle/Magdalen Yard Road in the south to Blackness Road in the north (termed 'West End' in the report) and the Invergowrie Drive area finally appeared on the agenda of the City Development Committee.

The report (see http://tinyurl.com/parkingreport) gave the outcomes of the surveying work and informal consultation on the difficulties residents in the affected areas face trying to get their cars parked in these areas of high parking demand.

The surveying and consultation took place during my period as Planning & Transport Convener and it had been the intention of the previous administration to maintain the momentum in the process of finding parking solutions for residents, by bringing a report to committee in spring 2009. The SNP administration that took control of the council at that time has since taken an age to move this process forward (I have lost count of the number of e-mail exchanges and converstations I have had with council officers including the Chief Executive in lobbying to get the report to committee for discussion and progression) - but at least the matter has now finally been debated.

The report envisages the drawing up of residents' parking scheme proposals in 4 of the 5 areas (not the Invergowrie Drive area) with priority in terms of timing of this work being given to two areas, including the area I refer to above as 'West End'.


I sought assurances from the Director of City Development over timescales and he indicated that (subject to public consultation) should a parking scheme find favour with residents, it would be in place in approximately 18 months.

Whilst welcoming the fact that consultation with the community is to take place, I stressed that this must be proactive and inclusive - to ensure that any scheme finally agreed is fit for purpose and actually has the support of residents. I pointed out that the response rate to the questionnaires issued in the area during the informal consultation period was only 16%, so public engagement is vital. I have concerns about the so-called "cost neutrality" of the proposed scheme and a charge of around £77 per annum may well make any scheme unattractive.

Given the large number of residents who regularly contact me about their problems with parking, I will be following progress on this issue closely and would welcome feedback from residents at any time - parking@frasermacpherson.org.uk or call me on 459378.

Parking again! : At Education Committee last night, another aspect of parking was discussed - that being the drop-off of pupils and parking around schools. The report (see http://tinyurl.com/schoolsparking) outlined the successes of the parking pilots at Park Place Primary in the West End and Eastern Primary in Broughty Ferry and proposed a roll-out across the city.

I welcomed this, particularly given the number of concerns raised by parents and other residents about the parking problem outside West End schools - in addition to the long-standing concerns at Park Place that resulted in it being a pilot site, I get many complaints about the parking situation at both Blackness Primary School and St. Joseph's Primary School in particular.

In answer to my question to the Director of Education last night about the speed of roll-out of the project to particular schools, he gave a commitment that this would be shared with local councillors and I have now written to him seeking detail about the West End schools.

Policy and Resources Committee : At Policy and Resources Committee, I asked the Chief Executive for assurances about how the City Council's 2009/10 overspend was being tackled - at £220 000 in the red, net of underspends, as of 30th November 2009, there is concern at this, particularly given the continuing areas of expenditure pressure such as demand-led social work services and winter maintenance.

The committee also discussed cuts to Fairer Scotland Funded projects to the tune of nearly £1m. As these projects provide much-needed services to many of our most vulnerable citizens, this is an issue of considerable concern.


I have specifically raised with the Chief Executive my concern about the proposal to remove funding from six projects, particularly given that most projects have met or indeed exceeded their targets/outcomes.

At committee last night, I particularly highlighted my concern at the proposed removal of funding for the Sheltered Shopping Scheme - its loss would be met with great disappointed by the many elderly folk across Dundee who use this useful bus service to take them shopping. I am in correspondence with council officers seeking clarification as to how this service could continue to be funded.

At both Education Committee and Policy and Resources Committee, a report of free school meals and P1-3 class sizes reductions was tabled.

Whilst welcoming the approach taken on school meals (expansion of breakfast clubs including Blackness and Park Place Primaries, with the Park Place facility being a joint one with St Joseph's), the approach the SNP administration is taking with class sizes benefits only some schools and shows just how
hollow SNP promises to reduce all Primary One to Three classes to 18 or less, made at the last election, really were.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Latest on gritting supplies in the city

From the City Engineer at lunchtime today :

"Fraser

As you are no doubt aware, the ship arrived in Dundee yesterday and salt was delivered to Marchbanks yesterday and is again today.

The stocks we have are sufficient to keep priority roads and footways treated well beyond the next ship delivery of salt which is currently due on 18 Jan 2010.

The Council's grit bins were fully stocked over the weekend, with only minimal replenishment required on Sunday. Grit bins will now be dealt with on a case by case request."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 2010 Update to West End Community Council

I have today launched my January 2010 update to the West End Community Council.

Subjects covered include :

■Winter Maintenance

■Flooding at Richmond Terrace tackled

■Wheelie Bins

■9X bus service

■Car Parking

The Community Council meets this coming Tuesday (12th January) at Logie St John's (Cross) Church Hall at 7pm.

You can download a copy of the
update by clicking on the headline above or by going to http://tinyurl.com/weccjan10.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

London MP visits Dundee

Leading London MP Tom Brake has visited Dundee to learn about the city’s Waterfront project, the Victoria & Albert Museum project and to tour Dundee's cultural quarter, taking in a visit to the DCA and Dundee Rep theatre.

Accompanied by my colleague John Barnett, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Dundee West, Tom received a briefing about the exciting plans for the V&A on the city’s Waterfront which is expected to attract many new visitors to Dundee. With the recent announcement of all-party support for the proposed high-speed rail link from London to the north of England and Scotland, they discussed prospects for the service to hopefully be extended in time to Dundee.

John said "The first step is to build the new line to Edinburgh and Glasgow which will greatly improve the rail travelling experience to Scotland from London and continental Europe. Whilst the railway line north of Edinburgh, with two bridges and tunnels, would pose major engineering challenges, improved transport links to Dundee will be a vital factor in securing future visitors to the new V&A and Dundee's other attractions."

Above : John and Tom in Tay Street, near to the Rep

Above : Tom and John outside DCA

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday update

My comments on the latest situation regarding the weather and winter maintenance in the West End and across Dundee were reported in last night's "Evening Telegraph" and today's "Courier" - you can read the article from the Tele by going to http://tiny.cc/wintermaintdundee.

I was pleased to receive confirmation from the City Council's Chief Executive today that Winter Maintenance policy will be discussed at the City Council meetings on 25th January.

I have reported a number of other problem areas to the City Council, following residents raising concerns - including Kinloch Park and Shepherd's Loan.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Assurances on winter maintenance

Late yesterday, I received assurances from the City Engineer regarding winter maintenance grit stocks across the city. I had sought assurances on behalf of constituents to get clarification that the council has sufficient levels of salt to undertake much-needed gritting over the next few days and was also making sufficient effort to fill the many empty grit bins in the West End and across the city.

The City Engineer updated me as follows :

“As you will no doubt be appreciate, considerable salt and sand grit has been used over this severe winter spell and salt stock levels have reduced. There was a delivery of marine salt on Tuesday and with the stocks we currently have this should be sufficient to keep priority roads and footways treated until the next delivery of salt which is due on Fri/Sat this week with a further delivery ordered for 19 Jan 2010.

For your information, approx 85% of the 600+ grit bins were filled yesterday and we will be going back again over the next few days refilling all as necessary.”

I welcome clarification on the stock levels of salt held by the City Council as many residents are expressing concern about the need to grit roads and footpaths, particularly those residential streets that haven’t been treated as a priority and therefore remain a sheet of ice.


I am particularly concerned for the elderly and residents with mobility problems and am anxious that a full and proper discussion of winter maintenance arrangements in the city is carried out as a matter of urgency. I wrote yesterday to the City Council's Chief Executive asking that this discussion takes place at the earliest possible date.

Surgeries return!

With the end of the school holidays, my weekly surgeries start again tonight at 6.15pm sharp in the staff room at Blackness Primary School. My other surgeries for the West End are at Harris Academy and the Mitchell Street Centre from next Monday.

Full details are available at http://tinyurl.com/frasersurgeries.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tavish Scott: Wanted: a fair and practical budget

An excellent article by Tavish Scott in the latest edition of Scotland on Sunday :

"As we move through the festive period, thoughts in Holyrood turn to the Scottish Government's Budget. This is their third budget and a chance for ministers to make their choices clear.

People are still losing their jobs – just before Christmas, Flyglobespan went bust with the loss of 550 jobs. We need a change of direction in Scottish public life from the Scottish Government. Their budget needs to respond to the challenges facing Scotland's economy.

The choices I want to make for the Scottish Budget should tell you that the Scottish Liberal Democrats want a fairer society and a sustainable economy.

For example, as money gets tight, we really need the Scottish Government to get a grip on the salaries and bonuses of the highest people in the public sector.

Research published by the Scottish Liberal Democrats shows that the total salary bill for those earning more than £100,000 is £413 million and is £651m for those earning more than £80,000. And that covers just 5,300 people out of about 500,000 working in the public sector.

People have been astonished to learn that the highest earners in the NHS are able to nominate themselves for bonuses worth up to £75,000 a year.

And further Liberal Democrat research has shown that many of these very highly paid medics also work in Scotland's private hospitals. So, despite six-figure salaries, the NHS still doesn't get them full time.

When we hear of health boards, such as Greater Glasgow and Clyde, drawing up plans to delete nursing posts because of cash pressures we know that change needs to happen.

It is not just in the health service. The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Scottish Government to save millions next year on these big salary budgets across the whole of its responsibilities.

We need restraint at the top to give a fair deal to the people at the bottom of the income scale. Not least of these will be young people without a job.

Statistics last month from the UK government show that the level of unemployment among young people has officially never been higher. The numbers claiming Jobseekers' Allowance have gone up by 45 per cent in the last year. The Scottish Budget needs to respond to the very real prospect of a generation of young people being economically unproductive, just like many of us saw in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

We also know that there are record levels of people being turned away from Scotland's colleges – research by the Liberal Democrats has shown that many colleges are turning away six times as many applicants as two years ago. If the Scottish Government expanded the number of college places available, then they would provide a direct way of boosting skills in sectors of the economy where we know we are short, be it engineering or social care.

A fair society is one where the very well-off shoulder more of the burden in the tough times. When so many young people don't have a job and many other people on low pay are worried about losing theirs, we think this approach will mark a change that works.

This all mirrors the Liberal Democrat plans for the Treasury. Vince Cable has published our plans to limit public sector pay rises to £400. This gives an increase well above inflation for people on low pay. The alternative idea – currently the policy of the Scottish Government – is for a percentage limit. That isn't as fair: a limit of 1.5 per cent still gives an increase of thousands of pounds to people at the top and just a couple of pounds a week to the lowest paid.

And we will go further with our radical tax plans. By closing the loopholes exploited by the very wealthy, we can take the income tax threshold up to £10,000 for everyone. That will save middle- and low-earners £700 a year, save pensioners £100 and take 530,000 Scots out of income tax altogether.

I don't think that people who want a progressive, fairer society will forgive us if we don't take up these plans.

We can also do more to give Scottish businesses a fighting chance of getting through the recession. Reports from the British Chambers of Commerce, Fraser of Allander Institute and the Federation of Small Businesses show the scale of the problems faced by Scottish business. Small and medium-sized Scottish companies still can't get access to the lending they need.

And Scottish manufacturing – including textiles – isn't getting the support to help those companies at risk of closure, redundancy or short-time working. The Scottish Budget needs to bring forward proposals that develop staff skills and strengthens these businesses, putting them in a good place to reap the rewards of economic recovery.

There are practical steps that should be taken to build industries that can have a real long-term future for Scotland. Liberal Democrats remain concerned at the lack of research and development support for the marine renewables industry.

Report after report confirms Scotland's potential for green energy and the thousands of jobs that it could bring. The Saltire Prize has, of course, been announced. But the SNP has delayed the payout from that until 2015. This is no use to Scottish companies now. The previous government gave research support. The benefits are clear: the companies that received support under the previous scheme now have prototypes generating electricity in Scotland. The 2010-11 Budget needs to make sure other companies can follow in their footsteps.

We need practical steps that can help Scotland through the recession. The SNP government needs to embrace them.

It can find the money. It should use the money it has earmarked for its constitutional referendum. It should look hard at the Scottish quangos – and not just at their pay bill. For example, the Scottish Futures Trust continues to consume millions of tax pounds but builds absolutely nothing.

So these are the choices our government must make to build a better Scotland. We will be urging them to make these changes.

• Tavish Scott is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats"

On Wave 102 news - winter maintenance

I was on Wave 102 news this morning about the winter maintenance conerns and the need to get grit bins filled. I've had several further winter maintenance issues (and bin collection issues) raised by constituents this morning and have reported these to the City Council.