Friday 31 July 2009

Scrutiny Committee - and child protection concerns

On Wednesday of this week, the first ever meeting of Dundee City Council's Scrutiny Committee took place. The Scrutiny Committee was established following criticism by the council's external auditors (Audit Scotland) of the council's arrangements for policy scrutiny, but there was considerable concern raised by opposition members at the committee, not so much about what was on the committee agenda, but what was missing.

Various reports by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) were discussed - reports on schools across the city - and largely very positive reports and where issues were raised in the reports, we were given detailed information by the Director of Education about how these are being addressed. What was missing from the agenda was the HMIE report on child protection - a report which should in my view should be subject to public scrutiny. Alex Stephen, the City Council's Chief Executive, made clear that it was not intended to bring the report to the Scrutiny Committee.

As reported in today's "Courier", after the committee meeting I wrote to the Chief Executive in the following terms :

"I was very surprised at the information given at the above committee today that it was envisaged that the HMIE report on child protection would not be discussed at Scrutiny Committee.

"I had genuinely assumed given the terms of reference that any HMIE report where there were Dundee City Council services involved would automatically be considered by the committee. The explanation that child protection is delivered in partnership with NHS Tayside and Tayside Police is not in the spirit of what was agreed when the Scrutiny Committee was set up - in short Dundee City Council service provision is involved and the report should and must go to Scrutiny Committee given the terms of reference.

"I want to see the Scrutiny Committee succeed and address the scrutiny concerns raised by Audit Scotland but would ask that an all-party informal discussion now takes place to see if agreement can be reached on terms of reference that allow the committee to function in a proper scrutiny role."

This afternoon, the Chief Executive e-mailed all council political groups to propose a meeting of Political Group Leaders and Senior Officers to discuss the role of the Scrutiny Committee and its Terms of Reference.

I agree with the Chief Executive's proposal to have an all-party meeting to discuss the Scrutiny Committee remit but further have reiterated to him that the issues arising out of the child protection report should be scrutinised in detail at the Scrutiny Committee.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Freemasons featuring Amanda Wilson - Love On My Mind

Comment on YouTube - "This song has been stuck in my head" - absolutely!

Litter on Magdalen Green - good news

I have been in very regular contact with the Leisure & Communities Department of Dundee City Council over past months regarding the need for more (and larger) litter bins on Magdalen Green to assist tackle the litter problem.

If you click on the headline above, you can read a previous blog entry about the litter problem.

I am pleased to say that the Director of Leisure & Communities today advised me that 10 new "topsy" litter bins are to be purchased for the Green.

I am very pleased at the department's proactive response to the litter concerns - not just in relation to the new bins - but also in its proactive approach to litter enforcement.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Digital Switchover Date announced

Digital UK yesterday announced the digital switchover dates for the Dundee area (and the rest of the STV North region) and I was quoted in last night's "Evening Telegraph" welcoming this - but stressing the need for viewers' queries on the switch to digital being fully and promptly addressed and that the Help Scheme for the over 75s and people with disabilities be well publicised.

Here's the e-mail update I received yesterday from Digital UK (I have removed transmitter information for areas outwith Tayside) :

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to let you know that Digital UK is announcing today the exact dates on which viewers across the north of Scotland will switch from analogue to digital TV.

Switchover is a two-stage process that happens by transmitter group. At stage one, BBC Two will cease broadcasting in analogue and the first group of Freeview digital channels will become available from relay transmitters. At stage two, two weeks later, the remaining analogue channels will be permanently switched off and replaced with additional digital services.

Transmitter group : Angus
Area served : Angus, Dundee and Perth and parts of Fife
Stage one : 4 August 2010
Stage two : 18 August 2010

I am pleased to say that the switchover programme is making good progress. I have been working closely with national and local government, charities and voluntary organisations to help spread the word about switchover. Latest figures show that 93% of people in the north of Scotland are aware of digital switchover and 91% of households have already converted their main television set to digital.

The Switchover Help Scheme (, which is run by the BBC, under an agreement with the Government, will launch operations shortly in the area. A mailing to people who are over 75, eligible through disability, registered blind and those living in care homes, is due to begin in the next three to four months and run through to the beginning of next year.

The exact switchover dates for the transmitters in the STV Central region will be announced in due course.

If you need specific information about which digital options are suitable for your specific address, then do consult Digital UK’s predictive postcode checker ( or contact our call centre on 08456 50 50 50.

Please feel free to contact me, or my colleague John MacNeil, who is leading the day-to-day activity across the north of Scotland, if you would like to discuss any aspect of the digital switchover. We will always be pleased to help you in any way that we can.

With kind regards,

Paul Hughes
National Manager, Scotland

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Dundee bus services

Following recent media reports that Stagecoach PLC is in talks with CVC Capital Partners, who, it is reported, may bid to take over the National Express Group, owners of National Express Dundee (formerly Travel Dundee), I received the following e-mail from the Managing Director of National Express Dundee this morning - I reproduce this with his permission :


As you will be aware there is currently a lot speculation in the media about the future ownership of National Express and of our operation here in Dundee.

I am keen to keep you updated on the facts as they develop over what may be substantial period of uncertainty for all the Dundee Employees.

At present no offer has been made for National Express, or for any of its businesses, including NX Dundee. National Express has received an early proposal from a consortium made up of a private equity group called CVC and the Cosmen family, who are NX's biggest shareholders. Discussions are at a very early stage and there is no guarantee that this proposal will lead to any offer being made.

You'll also have seen news that Stagecoach are is discussions with the same consortium to possibly buy parts of National Express should the consortium purchase the entire NX Group. Following this news the National Express Board is clarifying what effect this has on the consortium's proposal.

The team in Dundee is remaining focussed on serving the public with a safe, reliable and punctual bus service. We are also continuing with our plans to develop and enhance bus services in the City & suburbs.

Kind Regards

Lawrence Davie
Director Dundee

Monday 27 July 2009

Ancrum Road - repairs

Following complaints from constituents regarding the condition of the road surface of Ancrum Road at its east end, the City Council has advised me that the area inspector did :

" .... report a sunken utility track on the south side of Ancrum Road between Logie Street and Tullideph Road. This has been reported to Network Management to follow up with the developer who applied for the road opening permit there."

hope that repairs to the road will be undertaken soon.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Hannah's Highway on Perth Road ...

I recently visited an elderly constituent who lives near Perth Road and who has real difficulty negotiating the pavements in the Perth Road shopping area, given the gaps in dropped kerbing. For anyone with mobility difficulties, this is a very real issue.

All credit to the Dundee Accessible Transport Action Group (DATAG) who led on the "Hannah’s Highway" campaign – to make getting down Perth Road to be accessible to all.

Head of Transportation at Dundee City Council has 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."

Saturday 25 July 2009

Hillside Road area - road repairs

I am pleased to advise that, following my raising residents' concerns about the road condition in the Hillside Road area, particularly near the junction with Glamis Drive, the City Engineer advised me:

"I can confirm that an order has been raised to patch the section of Hillside Road from Glamis Drive up to Hillside Terrace. This work has been programmed for mid to late August weather permitting."

I have also raised the need for full road resurfacing in the area - the road is really in need of this - and was further advised:

"Resurfacing of Hillside Road is not included in the 2009/2010 programme however the patching works scheduled for mid to late August involve a substantial area of Hillside Road from Glamis Drive as far as house number 8 across the full width of the carriageway and will extend to a depth of 100mm. It does not involve just pothole filling.

"The remainder of Hillside Road will be included in the next annual review where carriageways are inspected/ranked and considered for possible inclusion in the following year's programme of improvement works."

I have asked the City Engineer to advise me of the outcome of the annual review process in due course.

Friday 24 July 2009

Daft Punk vs Michael Jackson - Rock With You Remix

Irrelevant but superb update!

Number 42 bus service

Regular readers of will know that I have raised with the City Council's Head of Transportation and the bus companies the lack of services in Ninewells Avenue. I am pleased to advise that the 42 service is being re-routed from 17th August (as part of a number of bus changes involving Stagecoach Fife services) to include Ninewells Avenue. Service 42 will henceforth operate hourly using Ninewells Avenue.

To quote the bus company :

42 Ninewells Hospital - Cupar This service will operate to a revised timetable maintaining the current hourly frequency, but there will no longer be any school variations. The route will follow the new 77 between the Tay Road Bridge and Ninewells (and vice versa) and will provide an approximate 20 minute headway during the day between City Centre and Ninewells when combined with the 16A and 77 services.

Thursday 23 July 2009

WestFest 2010 update

A couple of meetings last night, so I only managed to catch half of the West End Festival committee meeting, but its a great gathering of interested people and the festival, taking place next June, is taking good shape.

You can read updates in the coming months by going to the Festival site -

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Emirates Festival Day

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending Emirates Festival Day at Vision @ Seabraes.

Emirates Festival Day is a celebration of the strong links between the United Arab Emirates and Scotland, based on the sister-city relationship between Dubai and Dundee, home of the Al-Maktoum Institute.

Coinciding with the Institute's Emirati student Scotland Summer School, the Festival brought together people from both Scotland and the UAE for networking and a forum discussion, and hosted an exhibition on the links between Scotland and the UAE.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable event - here's a couple of photos from it :

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Update on councillor salaries

As reported in today's "Courier", I have received an update about the legal position on my attempt to freeze all councillor salaries in Dundee to 2008/9 levels in 2009/10, given the significant financial challenges facing the City Council.

Scottish Government's Public Service Reform Directorate advised me that, whilst it was not in a position to give a legal opinion, and said, ultimately that was for each council's legal officers to determine, the relevant rules are given in the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 (Remuneration) Regulations as amended (SSI 2007/183 and amended by SSI 2008/415).

On reading these, these appear to indicate that :

  • The council cannot vary the basic councillor salary.
  • The council cannot vary the Leader's salary.
  • The council CAN vary the Civic Head's salary as long as this does not exceed a laid down maximum figure (this figure varies for differently sized councils)
  • The council CAN vary all senior councillors' salaries subject to neither the total number nor the total budget exceeding that specified in regulations.

I have subsequently been in correspondence with the Depute Chief Executive (Support Services) as the City Council's most senior legal officer, to get her legal opinion on my interpretation of the relevant regulations. She has now responded as follows :

"I would agree with your interpretation except in so far as undernoted.

"The Council can vary the Civic Head salary as long as this does not exceed £24,353 and does not fall below the basic Councillor salary. The Council can vary all senior Councillors' salaries subject to neither the total number nor the total budget exceeding that specified in regulations and provided that the amount payable will be more than that paid to a basic Councillor and provided also that it does not exceed 75% of the yearly amount payable to the Leader of the Council."

The bottom line is that it would therefore be possible to have restricted some councillor salaries this year - all Convener and Depute Convener salaries and that of the Lord Provost - but not other councillors. The principle behind my motion was not to restrict some councillor salaries but to restrict all councillor salaries as a fair and equitable way of tackling the issue.

I consider the way the regulations have been worded is anomalous and I think they should be altered - that will of course require discussion at Scottish Parliamentary level. I agree that the regulations for all councillor salaries should have a legally binding maximum attached to them to avoid a local authority paying inflated amounts, but I feel the scope of the regulations should be reviewed to allow individual local authorities to set councillor salaries at a lower level if that is what a majority on the council wish to do. Such a change to the regulations would allow local authorities more flexibility to vary councillor salaries downwards if they want.

I have therefore raised the matter with my Liberal Democrat parliamentary colleagues through our Local Government spokesperson Alison McInnes MSP. Clearly, getting an alteration to the regulations might prove difficult getting the parliamentary arithmetic and the extent of the workload in the Scottish Parliament, but I feel it is important that the matter is raised at parliamentary level.

I have no doubt
, however, that this issue will be discussed again during the next budget process. Many opposition councillors have had disquiet over the way in which the senior councillor salary the Depute Lord Provost Ian Borthwick turned down has been divided up amongst SNP group Conveners and Depute Conveners for themselves, rather than being used to help other service provision.

Monday 20 July 2009

Busy Monday ...

A busy day, including attending the Recess Sub-Committee of the City Council, where I spoke on a number of agenda items, including the Council's mortgage scheme and the proposed planning local review body.

Tonight I chaired the Friends of Magdalen Green committee meeting - a really good meeting, reviewing the recent Fun Day, planning an autumn coffee morning and discussing other initiatives.

I advised the committee that the Leisure & Communities Department has informed me that work on the bandstand to repair a damaged pillar is due to start on tomorrow and will last for 3 days.

Lastly - and with thanks to Dundee City Council's Public Relations Department - the problems accessing the City of Discovery website I mentioned yesterday were swiftly resolved today.

Sunday 19 July 2009

One City, Many Discoveries

As the 'Creative Dundee' blog pointed out back in April, the "City of Discovery" campaign is no longer (see "RIP Dundee, City of Disco Very" at

The campaign was recently re-born as "Dundee - One City, Many Discoveries" - see logo below. Actually I rather like the new branding (hence the sticker on my car!) but it is not entirely great that if you go to the site you are met by the stunning page indicating :

"Could not grab the file from:"

OK, a temporary problem I am sure (I have advised the Director of City Development and the Head of Public Relations at the City Council) and if you can manage to hack your way into the site, the Dundee Ambassadors bit is a good concept. Click on headline to see more.

The branding is fresh and updated; City of Discovery has moved on and it is really rather good.

Saturday 18 July 2009

The Old Steeple - Guided Tours

Dundee's Old Steeple (St Mary's Tower) is a splendid example of the late 15th century Gothic style in Scotland and is also the oldest surviving building in Dundee, being a belfry, a clock tower from the 16th century. It has been used as a watch-tower and a prison.

The City Council has been organising guided tours throughout July - and through August - the next are on 31st July and 1st August.

You can find full details by clicking on the headline above.

Friday 17 July 2009

An update from the Liberal Democrats on Labour's wasteful ID cards scheme

What has happened?
  • On June 30th, Alan Johnson announced that ID cards would be voluntary for British citizens. This meant the ditching of a scheme that would have made it compulsory for airport staff and pilots at Manchester and London City airports to have them, as part of the ID cards trial.

  • Previously, the government said they would be compulsory once 80% of the population had them.

  • Johnson was also forced to admit that the government had previously wrongly presented ID cards as a ‘panacea’ for terrorism.

  • Johnson did say he remained a supporter of ID cards and that the government was accelerating their role out. The pilot scheme currently being rolled out in Manchester (the city, not just the airport) will be extended across the North West next year.

  • However, those applying for a ID card or a passport (after 2011 supposedly, though this keeps moving) will automatically have their details added to the National Identity Register (which is what a lot of people oppose).

  • They are now selling ID cards as a cheaper, more convenient, voluntary alternative to a passport.

What did the Tories say?

  • They accused the government of “an absurd fudge" and said it was “symbolic of a government in chaos." They claim Johnson is against ID cards (and would scrap them) but that Brown is making him press ahead.

  • They then called an Opposition Day debate in the Commons on July 6th.

  • They had supported ID cards at the beginning but were now convinced that Labour couldn’t deliver the scheme. They had concerns about data security and said ID cards wouldn’t combat crime, terrorism or illegal immigration.

  • They also confirmed their opposition to the National Identity Register, which we tried to smoke them out on with an amendment to the motion.

  • They do, however, remain in favour of biometric passports.

What do we say?

  • This is another nail in the coffin for the government’s illiberal ID cards policy, which will soon be so voluntary that only Home Office mandarins seeking promotion will have them.

  • Airport workers did not want to be guinea pigs for this deeply unpopular scheme, which has now been reduced to nothing more than a second-rate passport.

  • These expensive and intrusive plans should be ditched now. The vast amount of money would be far better spent on something that will actually fight crime and terrorism - ten thousand more police on the street.

  • We also oppose the register as well as ID cards themselves.

  • We have described the cards and register as a “technological solution in search of a problem.” Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.

  • It is telling that the government has ditched all plans for compulsory ID cards for anyone eligible to vote at the next election – we have described them in the past as having the potential to be a “laminated poll tax.”

  • There is also the issue of thin end of the wedge/mission creep/future Govts argument. The government claim that only certain information will be held and that ID cards won’t be necessary to access public services. However, it does not take a huge imagination to see Govt one day arguing the need to put medical records, criminal records, financial records etc on your ID card and making you have one to go to the library; access benefits; visit your GP etc. Then to all intense and purposes, they would be compulsory.

  • Our opposition to ID cards has been consistent and principled (unlike the Tories). People should not have to justify their identity to the state when going about their business. We would spend the money on 10,000 police.

What about foreign nationals?

  • ID cards are still mandatory for foreign nationals and are currently being rolled out to that group.

  • We oppose ID cards for foreign nationals. The Tories don’t. We don’t think that guests in our country should be treated differently from British citizens.

  • They are not going to solve terrorism – the Madrid bombers all had valid Spanish identity documents. Neither will it solve the problem of ‘clean skins’ (people without a terrorist record, but with terrorist intentions). Or crime – the police generally have a problem catching criminals, not identifying them.

  • Nor will it sort illegal immigration – employers are already required to do checks on worker’s immigration status but may unscrupulous ones do not. What we need is more spot-checks and prosecutions, not ID cards.

What does this all mean for costs?

  • No one really knows. There is little more murky in public finance terms than the ID card costings.

  • The government will charge people £30 for the card and for the cost of taking their biometric information (£28 is the rumour for that).

  • The government claim the total cost of ID cards and biometric passports is likely to be £5 billion over 10 years. But they claim that only £1 billion of this is for ID cards. They also claim that this will be claimed back by charging people.

  • However, as soon as the scheme becomes ‘voluntary’, then the cost of recouping the substantial overheads is spread among fewer people. They cannot surely now raise as much money as first thought.

  • We have always maintained that the real costs will be far, far higher – they don’t include any costs incurred outside the Identity and Passport Service (such as for example installing card readers in other locations); the government’s record with large-scale IT projects is they tend to be far over cost and over time; and no one really knows how much this is going to cost until the government get further down the line with it, the LSE estimated in 2005 that costs could be anything up to £19 billion.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Investment for school building improvements

As reported in this morning's "Courier", I have written to the Depute Director of Scottish Government’s Schools Division regarding how Scottish Government is to allocate funding for schools capital projects, following the announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning on 17th June of a new schools investment programme.

Harris Academy has been recognised by the City Council as being in considerable need of improvement and must be a key priority for the city. It would be helpful to learn how Scottish Government will obtain current detail of priorities as perceived by individual local authorities in assisting government in making decisions as to the first tranche of the new schools investment programme.

Given the delays in Scottish Government moving forward its PPP replacement over the past couple of years, I was anxious to find out, following the Cabinet Secretary’s announcement last month, as to how the funding is to be allocated as it is vital that Dundee obtains a good share of any new capital monies so that the schools improvements programme established by the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat administration on the City Council can continue with more schools improvements and renewals. Given that the Education Secretary has said that the bulk of new funding will pay for the construction costs of secondary schools, I am anxious to see Harris Academy benefiting. It is important that there are no further delays.

The Scottish Futures Trust has advised me that:

“The identification of schools to be included in the new schools investment programme is being undertaken by the Scottish Government (SG). The first tranche of schools is due to be announced in September this year. SFT is in close contact with SG and will take the lead in marshalling the order of projects within the first tranche, once the schools are identified.

“The Scottish Government hold considerable data on the condition and suitability of schools, information provided to them by individual Authorities over a number of years, and our understanding is that this will inform the prioritisation of investment.”

Given that the identification of the schools to get capital funding is going to rest with Scottish Government, unlike PPP schemes where individual local authorities made decisions as to which projects to take forward given their local knowledge about the state of their school estate, I have asked Scottish Government for reassurances that local authorities will have genuine input into the selection process so that we in Dundee can make the case for investment in our city’s schools.

It is important that the government does not make the mistake of simply determining this spending nationally. Local councils must have input into this process to provide the local dimension on any decisions made about new funding.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Tullideph area - railings

I have been in touch with the City Council's Housing Department regarding the state of the garden railings in the Tullideph area, following tenants in the area contacting me to ask when the railings will next be painted/repaired through the External Cyclical Maintenance (ECM) programme as it is now 9 years since they were last done.

I paste below the response I have received and have asked to be kept updated on the matter as I wish to see the work undertaken as soon as possible :

"Unfortunately this development is not included in the current year's External Cyclical Maintenance programme as we are still working on developments were the length of time since the last ECM programme was undertaken exceeds that of Tullideph tenements (eg Logie Flatted Development). However our records indicate that Tullideph Tenements last benefitted from ECM work in February 2000 and therefore will need to be included in the programme within the near future.

The ECM programme is currently being reviewed to try and achieve improved value for money and more efficient allocation of labour between developments across the city. This is expected to have a slight effect on the traditional date order used for the identification of work. Despite this I would anticipate Tullideph Tenements being included in the programme for 2010/11.

This year's programme has also been affected by recent financial constraints as a result of spend predicitions for Repairs and Maintenance budgets. This is likely to impact on the amount of railing repairs carried out as work focuses on more essential maintenance such as gutter and door repairs. At the moment the impact of this is being monitored and every effort will be made to avoid major slippage in the overall ECM programme."

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Mars Hill

Paul Burgin writes a popular blog "Mars Hill", is press officer for the North East Herts Labour Party and once worked for Geraint Davies, when he was MP for Croydon Central.

He recently asked me to contribute to his regular "Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger" feature.

You can
read my responses by clicking on the headline above.

Monday 13 July 2009

Opposing centralised policing

I'm pleased that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are opposing the SNP Government's proposal to convene a national police board and their 'one-size-fits-all' approach to Scottish policing. Help us to keep our police forces local.

Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney, spoke out against the SNP plans, “The national body proposed by the SNP Government is to be chaired by the Government. While we await full details of how it is intended to operate, it is clear that the Government have in mind that there should be a single national view on policing and that the local police boards will either become redundant or be abolished.”

In challenging the First Minister about the plans, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Tavish Scott MSP said, “This is a slippery slope to one police force. For 150 years people in this democracy have worried about the government gaining political operational control over policing. The First Minister refuses to see that a National Police Board, appointed without debate in this Parliament - and with no basis in law - moves us down that dangerous road.”

“We need a police service that is responsive to local needs not subject to central diktat and centrally imposed targets.”

You can sign the LibDem petition on this important matter by clicking on the headline above.

Sunday 12 July 2009

Michael Jackson "Gone too soon" Tribute 1958-2009 KING OF POP

Jacques Peretti's programme on C4 tonight about Michael Jackson's death was poignant.

Ask Nick Clegg tomorrow!

Further to the video clip from Nick Clegg that I uploaded last Friday, just a reminder that if you’ve got a question for Liberal Democrat leader, then now’s your chance. Tomorrow, Monday July 13th at 1pm, he’ll be joining the Reuters UK team to take your questions live.

No subject is off limits. You’ll be able to see the live videostream on the link below and you can ask questions ahead of the event or respond during it by using Twitter (#askclegg) the 12 Seconds video service (nickclegg) .

Saturday 11 July 2009

Calls for Riverside Drive speed limit review

As reported in today's "Courier" and in the "Press and Journal", following a 62-year-old woman being taken to hospital in Dundee on Thursday after suffering neck and chest injuries in a head-on collision between two cars on Riverside Drive, I have again raised continuing concerns about the appropriateness of the 50 mph speed limit on Riverside Drive, east of the Riverside Inn. I also spoke yesterday on Wave 102 news about the matter.

I recently secured the City Council’s agreement for a speed safety survey on Riverside Drive, in the area immediately east of the airport. This followed a number of constituents expressing concern about car speed on the busy thoroughfare and concerns about the safety of crossing to the playing fields on the south side of the street.

Obviously it is too early to comment on the specifics of yesterday’s collision but there have been on-going concerns about the appropriateness of the 50 mph limit east of the junction with Riverside Avenue and the City Council’s road safety officer has agreed to a road speed safety survey to be undertaken.

The matter has been discussed at the West End Local Community Planning Partnership at which Tayside Police is also represented.

Following the incident on Thursday, I have written to the council’s City Development Department asking for a progress update on the timescale for the proposed speed/safety survey.

Friday 10 July 2009

Ask Nick Clegg

Nick is taking part in the Reuters 'Great Debate' this coming Monday

Attempt to reduce councillor salaries to 2008/9 levels - an update

Further to my attempt to freeze all Dundee City Councillor salaries to last year's levels, made at the recent Policy & Resources Committee (click on headline above to view more about this), as reported in today's "Courier", I have since discussed the matter with the Depute Chief Executive (Finance) and he has spoken with a senior Scottish Government civil servant on the issue. I have now written to her seeking legal clarification as to whether or not a local authority can freeze or restrict councillor salaries below the level set in the guidance issued by Scottish Government.

I have obtained a copy of the Scottish Government guidance note on the matter for 2009. It indicates that councils cannot vary the remuneration level, but the clarification I have sought is about the legal position of this statement. Specifically, the guidance is only that – “guidance” – and the true test of the legal position will be in the interpretation of the regulations (amended in 2008) arising out of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004.

I am continuing to pursue the matter as I believe it would be a ridiculous situation if a local authority cannot set lower salary levels for councillors to save public money & use this money to help service provision. If it turns out that the City Council is prevented from restricting salaries, I will be pursuing the matter with parliamentary colleagues to see how this can be overturned.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Meeting with Travel Dundee

As I alluded to in last night's blog update, I had a meeting yesterday with the Managing Director of National Express Dundee (Travel Dundee). It was extremely useful, with the bus company appreciating the points I made concerning bus services in the West End and expressing a willingness to maintain a dialogue over ways in which services might be improved there in the future.

I had requested to meet with Lawrence Davie, Managing Director of the bus company, given complaints from many of his constituents about some aspects of the impending bus changes to be introduced by Travel Dundee on 16th August. Although there are positive aspects to the changes – for example the timing of the 2S St John’s High School bus was to be improved to fit better with the start of the school day – I have received many concerns from residents about a reduction in the 9X service and also regarding the reduction in the 22 evening service the bus company is proposing.

The reduction in the 9X service whereby the current 30 minute service across the West End leg being reduced to hourly has rightly been viewed with concern and disappointment by constituents in the parts of the West End affected. Although the bus company is introducing the new 8X service with the spare capacity resulting from a poorer 9X service, as this will go along Riverside Drive to the Technology Park and Ninewells Hospital, it will really only benefit passengers in the east of the city, with no real benefit for West End residents.

If you add the reduction of the 9X service to the recent Stagecoach changes, there’s a real gap in services compared to those available in the past, and the bus company yesterday did give me an assurance that the 9X situation was being kept under review to see what might be possible by way of improving services in this part of the West End, hopefully by the Spring of next year.

The bus company also indicated that it was considering improvements to the Number 2 service, hopefully towards the end of 2009. This would be of real benefit to constituents in the areas around Perth Road east of Sinderins, Hawkhill, Scott Street, Pentland and City Road, so I would greatly welcome any improvement to that particular service.

I will be maintaining a regular dialogue with the bus company and with Stagecoach Strathtay as I am anxious to see improvements in bus provision in the West End. I am also keen that constituents use the services as the bus companies have made clear that increased demand and usage of services made improvements to services more likely.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Busy Day ...

Today's activities included :
  • A meeting with National Express Dundee's Managing Director (more about that tomorrow, as the hour is late)

  • Attended a briefing for councillors about looked after children in Dundee This was a very worthwhile event at which the film 'Opal Fruits - A Year in Care' was shown - click on the headline above to read more about the film.

  • Attended the Community Spirit group's monthly meeting this evening. Community Spirit is the very active community group serving the Pentland, Ancrum and Cleghorn/Benvie Road areas. A useful briefing was given on pest control problems (particularly about seagulls). I updated the group on a recent traffic speed survey on City Road and changes to the bin collections in part of the area. These are:

A number of properties in the Pitfour Street area are currently served by the small bin collection system. In the forthcoming weeks, the City Council intends introducing wheeled bins to undernoted properties (letters are going to residents about this next week):

Pitfour Street - 2 - 20 (even)
City Road - No 31
Rosebery Street - 14 - 32 (even)
Benvie Road - 28 - 36 (even)

Following this, the Council intends introducing communal Eurobins to service the undernoted properties:

Pitfour Street - 1 - 23 (odd), 22 - 60 (even)
Benvie Rd - No 26
Rosebery St - 21 - 31 (odd)
Cleghorn St - 25 - 29 (odd)

The Eurobins will be installed on a trial basis initially and will situated in the channel of the road.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Been in London ...

I've been in London Monday & Tuesday with the day job - here's a few photos :

Above : London was very warm - but with heavy rain at times!

Above : My Institute's Annual Reception was at the London Transport Museum - a great night had by all!
Above : Michael Jackson Tributes outside the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue - the tributes were very moving.

I got back to Scotland on a flight from Luton, getting me in to Edinburgh at 5.30pm tonight. I made it to the Logie Residents' Association AGM at 7pm at the Lime Street Sheltered Lounge, with 5 minutes to spare. A good, well-attended meeting. I updated the meeting on the digital TV switchover and TV reception issues in the West End.

Monday 6 July 2009

Buses in the West End

I have expressed concern about changes to Dundee bus services operated by Stagecoach Strathtay that came into force today and also regarding forthcoming changes to other bus services operated by National Express Dundee (Travel Dundee).

I have been in correspondence with Stagecoach Strathtay regarding today’s service changes, particularly the withdrawal of the 74 service, which I feel is detrimental to many West End residents.

The 74 service was a highly useful link for many constituents, particular those in the Tullideph/Pentland, City Road, Scott Street, Milnbank Road, Brook Street corridor, providing a link for residents to Ninewells Hospital, the City Centre and Broughty Ferry, and its withdrawal will be a real loss to residents in the area. I have had several other residents express concern at the removal of the 13 service – it is replaced only in part by the 73 and 77 services.

On the removal of Service 74, I raised with the bus company the comments of residents that the service had begun to grow in popularity and with appropriate publicity had real potential for the future.
I do think there is potential in Scott Street and surrounding area – it has seen housing growth in recent years and population increase.

Stagecoach Strathtay’s Operations Manager has responded stating, “It has always been our policy …to listen to our customer concerns regarding the service changes. We will review these changes and make any amendments either based on customer feedback - if we feel we can make these work commercially - or to change something that clearly isn't working.”

I am pleased that the bus company was willing to review its changes but think the loss of the 74 service will leave an unfortunate gap in service for a significant part of the West End.

On the Travel Dundee proposed changes that are due to be implemented on 16th August, I appreciate that some of the changes National Express Dundee have announced appeared positive – for example the timing of the 2S St John’s High School bus has been an issue I have raised with the bus company and am pleased that the bus company is prepared to re-time it to make it fit better with the start of the school day.

However, I have raised with the bus company concerns about the further reduction of the 9X service – the 30 minute part of the service is being reduced to hourly – and the 22 service is being reduced in the evenings from 20 to 30 minutes.

The Managing Director of Travel Dundee has indicated a willingness to meet with me to discuss the upcoming service changes and this meeting is taking place this coming Wednesday. I am anxious to make the case on behalf of my constituents about the 9X and 22 evening services in particular.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Friends of Balgay - Summer Meeting

I had the pleasure of attending the Friends of Balgay summer meeting yesterday at which Jim Crumley, undoubtedly Scotland’s foremost creative nature writer, undertook a illustrative talk around Balgay Hill, on the subject of 'Balgay trees and wildlife'.

It was a glorious afternoon and Jim is both informative and entertaining - here's a photo (above right) from the afternoon.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Meeting with Royal Mail

As reported in today's "Courier" (click on headline above to view), yesterday I met with two senior representatives of Royal Mail, including their Dundee West Sorting Office Manager, to discuss the deluge of complaints I have received over the past two months regarding the quality of mail deliveries across the West End of the City and the wider Dundee West area. The talks were positive and I hope that residents will see improvements to mail deliveries.

This meeting gave me the opportunity to raise the many concerns I have received from residents about detrimental aspects of mail deliveries in the past few months and to specifically go over the problem areas with Royal Mail. The complaints have ranged over a number of aspects of Royal Mail service – late deliveries, lack of prompt deliveries, particular problems with packets and parcels, longer delivery rounds resulting in some mail not being delivered on time and difficulties in getting through to the sorting office on the phone.

I do have to say that the Royal Mail staff did recognise that there have been difficulties but assured me that they are working to ensure improvements. They have assured me that where there are problems with amalgamated delivery rounds and complaints continuing to come in, they will be willing to revise them and we set up direct lines of contact should I continue to receive complaints or concerns from constituents.

With regard to the difficulties of contacting the Sorting Office by phone, I was assured that steps were being taken to ensure that staff were available to answer calls and when this was not possible, an answering machine would be available where residents can leave the details of their enquiry. I hope this will resolve the complaint of people just getting the dialling tone when trying to get through to the Sorting Office.

During the meeting, I went through a list of particular issues in specific streets that have been raised by West End constituents to enable Royal Mail to look into these. Royal Mail is anxious that customers report complaints via their customer service local rate number 08457 740 740 as all complaints are logged and passed on to local staff for attention.

I continue to welcome feedback from constituents as I am keeping a close eye on this matter, given the extent of concerns in recent weeks.

Friday 3 July 2009

Railway station - plans withheld

I am amazed at the SNP City Council administration's unwillingness to share with the people of Dundee the detailed proposals to upgrade Dundee rail station.

"The Courier" tried to obtain the detailed plans through Freedom of Information legislation but has been refused access - the newspaper is rightly appealing against this ruling.

As I indicated to the Courier, I personally don’t see what the problem is with the Council releasing the full details - the public has the right to see what is planned for the station.

The question must be why the Council seems to be stalling in bringing reports forward to committee. There is an ongoing delay and I have written to the Council's Legal Manager and the Director of City Development expressing my concerns.

The Courier's report can be read by clicking on the headline above.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Wednesday's City Council Meetings

Last night's City Council meetings lasted around two and a half hours and there was a substantial amount of important business discussed, including :

* The HMIE inspection report on child protection services in Dundee and the Council's proposed improvement plan was debated, aimed at swiftly improving services to protect children and young people in the city. The HMIE report is of great concern and, having met with the inspectors earlier yesterday along with other council group leaders and spokespersons, it is clear that the City Council must act promptly and comprehensively to address all issues. At the Policy & Resources Committee, I asked questions of council officers about the sharing of good practice from other local authorities and about securing funding. I also asked the Council Leader to confirm earlier agreement to an all-party meeting with the Minister for Children and Early Years to discuss the funding concerns and received a reluctant and fairly non-commital response. Scottish Government is under-funding children's services - that is clear and obvious and the matter must be discussed with Ministers.

I was supportive of the improvement plan but also spoke in favour of a sensible amendment from the Labour Group that would have improved transparency and provided greater detail on the outcomes expected from the 34 point plan. My comments are reported in today's 'Courier' - see It is unfortunate that the SNP administration voted down the amendment; transparency and maximum information is vital.

* My attempt to cut all Dundee councillor salaries failed at the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee but may be revisited after a review of the legal position regarding the setting of such salaries. Tonight's "Evening Telegraph" covers the issue - click on the headline above to view.

My motion to committee last night would have cut back 2009/10 councillor salaries to 2008/9 levels, but council officers ruled such a moved out of order, believing that the Council could not alter the basic salary of a councillor and the of the Council Leader and Lord Provost.

The principle behind my attempt to freeze salaries for all councillors at last year’s levels was simple – that the City Council faces significant financial challenges and I and my colleague Cllr Helen Dick feel that councillors should be taking a lead by freezing the amount spent on councillor salaries at 2008/9 levels and forgoing any rise for the new financial year. This would have led to a budget underspend of over £16 000, which would be returned to General Fund Balances to assist with expenditure on services.

Council officials said at committee last night that it was not within the power of the council to alter certain salaries. I have since spoken with two senior council officers regarding this ruling. It is my understanding that whilst the Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) has set salaries in its guidance, the document from SLARC is only that – guidance – and I remain unconvinced that it is not within the power of local authorities to set their own salary levels.
At a time of very significant economic difficulties, this was exactly the sort of time when councils should be cutting back on councillor salary levels.

I have been given an assurance by officers that contact will be made with Scottish Government to secure clarity of the legal position on the setting of councillor salaries. It would indeed be a ridiculous position if local authorities could not choose to lower all its councillor salary levels.

* I attempted to have the City Council's response to the Scottish parliamentary boundary review to oppose the renaming of Dundee West and Dundee East to "Dundee City West" and "Dundee City East" - a pointless complication - unfortunately a pointless complication supported by the Tories and SNP - I lost the vote 17-9. The winner was bureaucracy.

* I sought assurances for community councils with regard to the new scheme for community councils - helpful responses from the council officers.

* Air quality - my question regarding my concerns about progress on this matter in Dundee were answered by e-mail this morning, although I have sent some follow up questions about NO2 assessments in Dundee.

* Allotments - I welcomed a consultation document on allotments in Dundee but raised with the Director of Leisure & Communities the issue of security fencing - an issue I have discussed with many allotment holders.

* Planning Local Review Body - I end this update on a positive note. I moved an amendment to the officers' report on the new planning appeals system to ensure that local ward councillors did not determine appeals in their own wards, to ensure neutrality and fairness in the process. I am pleased that the Council Leader seconded my amendment and this was unanimously approved. This will assist the new Planning Local Review Body to determine appeals that are seen as fair and acceptable to the wider community.