Aung San Suu Kyi Released

I am pleased that Nobel Laureate and Freeman of the City of Dundee Aung San Suu Kyi has been released in Burma. There are still over 2000 political prisoners in Burma and they should be released. Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi does not hide the fact that the recent elections in Burma were a sham. The international community should continue to put pressure on the Burmese generals to enter into a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and various ethnic groups to deliver a genuine and long lasting settlement in Burma.

I support the work of the Burma Campaign UK. I am really pleased that Dundee has given the Freedom of the City of Dundee to Aung San Suu Kyi. The Council called for her release and it is good that she has been released but this is not the end of the issue.

Logie & St John's (Cross) Guild Coffee Morning

I was delighted to attend the coffee morning organised by the Guild at Logie & St John's (Cross) Church this morning. This was well attended notwithstanding the weather. It was also a good opportunity for me to meet many local people. Well done to all those involved in organising this event.

Shelter - Make Housing Matter

I was pleased to join Marlyn Glen and Jim McGovern, Labour councillors in supporting Shelter Scotland's campaign to 'Make Housing Matter.' This campaign calls for the Scottish Government to ensure that housing is given prominence in the budget announced next week. It was good to see that the Convener of Housing, the SNP's Jimmy Black also supported this campaign.
I will be keeping a close eye on housing issues. The Scottish Government will make its budget announcement next week, whilst at Westminster the ConDem Government are making changes to housing and other benefits. The impact of all these changes needs to be examined in detail.

Call for Capital Funding of Harris Academy

I have called for the funding of the refurbishment of Harris Academy to be speeded up. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney has let it be known that he intends to move spending into capital projects in his Budget which is to be announced next week. I have written to Mr Swinney and to the Chief Executive of Dundee City Council asking that they consider accelerating the work to get a refurbished Harris Academy.

I will leave the rights and wrongs of leaking budget details to others and I will also not linger too long on the fact that the Scottish Government has previously scrapped major capital spending projects but if there is a chance that a refurbished Harris Academy can be delivered sooner then I want that to happen. I know that parents, pupils and staff were disappointed when the refurbishment was put back two years. If Mr Swinney wants to spend on capital projects then I would strongly make the case that Harris Academy should be one of the projects considered. I think that the refurbishment of Harris Academy would be good for the Dundee economy and bring much needed work to the construction industry in Dundee. Importantly it would also deliver a learning and teaching environment fit for the twenty-first century for the pupils and staff at Harris Academy.


Dundee Fairtrade Forum

I was elected Convener of the Dundee Fairtrade Forum today. I am pleased that the members have put their trust in me. I would like to pay tribute to Ann Gammack who has been the driving force behind fairtrade in Dundee for a number of years. Ann will be an extremely hard act to follow. The meeting also discussed plans for Fairtrade Fortnight which takes in late February and early March. The theme of the fortnight will be 'show off your label' and will focus on fairtrade clothing.

Two Minutes Silence Armistice Day

As today was Armistice Day I joined councillors, council staff, veterans, local clergy and the people of Dundee in observing the two-minutes silence. It is important to mark the service of those who fought and died for their country. It is important that we work for peace and justice but we should remember those who have fought. This is a very impressive ceremony as the people of Dundee join in and make their own tribute.

Youthlink briefing

I was very pleased to meet with Jim Sweeney, the Chief Executive of Youthlink Scotland. This was a very useful meeting. It was good to hear about the work of Youthlink Scotland and about their concerns for the future of youth work. These are difficult financial times and cuts are clearly coming from the Administration in Dundee. I will be keeping a close eye on proposals in Dundee. Cuts to youth work might seem to be attractive but we need to be clear that these services often offer excellent value for money. Youth work when successful can often save the public sector money in the long run, saving money from statutory services. I will be continuing to keep an eye on this important area of work.


Council to Lobby for jobs

When the Scottish Government announced that it planned to merge Learning and Teaching Scotland with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education I expressed the hope that at the very least jobs already based in Dundee stay in Dundee. I am pleased that Dundee City Council is to lobby for jobs associated with Learning and teaching and Scotland and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education to remain in Dundee after the proposed merger of these organisations in July next year.

I am pleased that the Chief Executive of the City Council will be making representations to the Scottish Government to make the case to retain these jobs in Dundee. Dundee does not have its fair share of Scottish Government jobs I would be hugely disappointed if the city lost some of those which are already here. Dundee is a main centre for Learning and teaching Scotland, if this merger goes ahead I want to see a main centre for the new body in Dundee. In the current economic climate promoting jobs must be the top priority.

Please find below a copy of the response which I have received from Dundee City Council Chief Executive David Dorward:
'Thank you for your e-mail. I plan to write to the Scottish Government next week asking that the amalgamated new body continue to have their main offices in Dundee.


West End Community Council Meeting

Tonight I attended the latest meeting of the West End Community Council. There was some discussion about planning issues in the West End which as a councillor I was unable to take part in. There was a discussion about the future of the community council. There will be elections for the new West End Community Council in the near future. I would like to thank those who have served the people of the West End on the Community Council over the last few years. I would also urge people in the West End to consider putting themselves forward to be members of the Community Council.

Blood Donation

I was convinced by my colleague, North-East Scotland Scottish Parliament Labour candidate, Jenny Marra to donate blood today. I had not done this before. I am pleased to say that the process in the Marryat Hall was very simple and not too uncomfortable. I met a lot of very nice people who were also giving blood as well as some wonderful staff. You can read about the work of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service on their website.

Dundee City Council Meetings 8 November 2010

The latest meeting of the City Council and its committees took place on Monday evening. The Leisure, Arts and Communities Committee contained a number of interesting reports. I was particularly interested in the report on repairing headstones.

I understand why many headstones have warning markers affixed to them but it is clear that in many cases the ownership is unknown or so distant that nothing will come of it. Headstones are an important record of the history of the city, we should do all we can to preserve these historic records.

The Policy and Resources Committee considered a report about bringing the plans for a new Olympia to fruition. This is the Administration delivering a Labour manifesto commitment.

I welcome this progress on this building. It will be good deliver a modern facility for the people of Dundee. I also hope that this facility will attract people into the city from further afield and that families will visit Dundee to see exhibitions at the V & A and then go for a swim in the New Olympia.

I had a couple of questions have we done everything in our power to ensure that Dundee workers and Dundee businesses are used. This will be a major boost for the construction industry I hope that boost is felt in the Dundee economy. Also have we allowed enough in the budget to deal with all possible contingencies.

Also in Policy and Resources Committee, I was pleased to support my colleague Laurie Bidwell in his motion against changes, which are in effect a cut in Working Families Tax Credit.

Call for Effects of Changes to Tax Credits on Council Staff to be Investigated

In George Osborne's Budget in June and his comprehensive Spending Review in October there were a cluster of changes announced in the qualifying conditions to Tax Credits. Tax Credits are paid by the government through the payroll, to workers on low incomes. Changes to the regulations look likely to disqualify some existing staff members from their current entitlement to tax credits. That is why Labour Councillors Laurie Bidwell and Richard McCready have placed this on the agenda of the City Council's Policy and Resources Committee on Monday evening. They will be bringing forward a motion to get the Council to assess the position of staff who may be affected in these changes.

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:

"A significant number of Council staff job share or undertake part time work. Taken together, all these changes to Tax Credits may make a significant difference to many of our staff; especially if they lose entitlement to Tax Credits and through this help towards child care costs. While some of these changes are more than a year ahead, it is not too soon for the Council to investigate the likely impact of these changes on its own staff and assess what might be done to help staff retain their entitlement to Tax Credits. I think this is the least that the Council can do as a major and responsible employer. Maximising the income of staff from wages and benefits is not only good for our staff and their families but also good for the economy of the city."

Councillor Richard McCready said,
"The Council has a duty to ensure that employees are rewarded for their efforts and that parents are able to work to support their families. I am very concerned about the accumulative effect of these changes to tax credits.'


Dundee Rep wins award for Sweeney Todd

I would like to offer my congratulations to Dundee Rep for winning an award for best musical for Sweeney Todd at the Theatrical Management Association awards. I am a member of the board of the the Rep and I have to say that I think that the staff do a great job. I think that sometimes we do not recognise just how lucky we are to have the Rep on our doorstep. It is gratifying when their efforts are recognised by their peers. Well done to everyone concerned with this production.

Laying of Crosses - Remembrance

On Saturday along with other councillors, officers of the council, veterans' groups and members of the public I took part in the ceremony of Laying of the Crosses. This is where the garden of remembrance outside the City Churches is inaugurated. I think that it is important that we remember those who have fought on our behalf in the past, those who have given their lives and those who still suffer.

I thought of my great uncles who took part in the Second World War. My uncle David who was killed in an accident whilst in the army, and my uncle Jack who sailed in the Artic Convoys, and my uncle Bertie who was in the Eighth Army in the desert. I also thought about my grandads one of whom was in the National Fire Service throughout the war, the other who built tanks but also worked as an ARP warden. I also thought about my great-aunt Catherine who worked with the British Government in Germany after the war.

It is important to consider how the people of our time have not had to deal with the turbulent times which those who lived through the Second World War had to.

We must all work for peace, to promote reconciliation and prevent wars. We should also remember those who have suffered in wars. For information on Poppyscotland visit their website.


Bonfire Night

I enjoyed the bonfire night fireworks display from Lochee Park. I watched from the other side of Balgay hill. This is one of those things that Dundee City Council does well. This is a safe, community event, along with the display at Baxter Park is enjoyed by thousands in the park and watching from various vantage points throughout the city.

Dementia Resource Centre - Dundee

On Friday afternoon I attended the opening of Alzheimer Scotland's new Dementia Resource Centre in Dundee. Dementia is a condition which effects many people and has a great impact on their families. The new centre looks like a great resource for dementia sufferers and their families. I spoke to a few families at the opening and it is clear that the new centre will be a great benefit for them. Well done to all the Dundee companies, trusts and people who contributed to the funds which allowed the centre to go ahead.

Shelter Briefing

Along with a number of other councillors, council officers and tenants I attended a briefing last week held by Shelter Scotland. This briefing highlighted many of the issues facing housing and housing providers in Dundee. It is important that the City Council takes it responsibility seriously to deal with homelessness and provide good quality housing for council tenants.
It was interesting to hear Shelter Scotland views on the issues which face us. I think that Shelter is a good organisation which does a great deal of good.