This legal decision shows the folly of the UK Government's plans. However, this legal decision gives the UK Government the chance to think again, I urge them to do just that. I hope that a rethink might allow the plans for Dundee to be revisited and I would hope that this innovative scheme might be up and running before too long.
The scheme proposed for Dundee would have been good for the economy of Dundee, good for tenants in Dundee and good for the environment in Dundee. I was pleased that the City Council agreed a response to the UK Government consultation on feed-in tariffs this week. It is important that we use any opportunity that comes along to produce cost-effective renewable energy.
I agree with my Labour colleague Caroline Flint that the UK Government must think again on this important issue and do what it can to sustainably support the solar power industry.
People expect the local bus service to be just that - a service. Unfortunately bus companies are run to try and make a profit. In the West End we have seen changes which have made the service poorer for people who live in the Tullideph, Pentland and Ancrum areas, many of these people are elderly. We have also seen how difficult it was to get a suitable service between the West End and St John's High School. The Competition Commission issued a report yesterday which highlighted uncompetitive nature of the bus industry across much of the United Kingdom.
The solution to these problems in my opinion is the introduction of a much greater level of regulation in the bus industry. I have absolutely no difficulty with bus companies making a profit, but I do think that they should be made to deliver a service which meets the needs of the people they serve. In order to operate in Dundee, for example, the council should be able to ask them to deliver a certain level of service which meets social needs in the city. In my mind this would include things such as ensuring good services to schools and hospitals and areas with large elderly populations but would also include things like services on Boxing Day.
I welcome the report which was put before the committee on Monday evening which highlighted that the proposed scheme cannot go forward as a result of changes made to the feed-in tariff by the UK Government. I supported the proposals when they were first brought forward and I am very disappointed that the UK Government has made this pre-emptive strike against the scheme. The council is right to make its voice heard to the UK Government calling for a re-think of the policy. I accept that changes made by the Conservative-led UK Government make it difficult for this scheme to continue. However, we have missed out by being slightly late in the game and we need to ensure that this does not happen in the future. We need to look for new ways to maximise green renewable energy generation in the Dundee. We should not just sit back and heckle from the sidelines though; we should be calling on officers of the council to continue to look for innovative, cost-effective schemes which would encourage renewable electricity generation in our city. This would be for the benefit of all the people of Dundee, as it could deal with fuel poverty and cutting the city's carbon footprint.
I am pleased that the Administration saw sense tonight and accepted my amendment. This is a common sense way forward. This is what I was looking for and is a means of allowing me and my colleagues to put the interests of the city first, before any minor party consideration.
Labour in the House of Commons has been campaigning against the plans for changes to the feed-in tariff.
On the important issue of governance of the Tayside Superannuation Funds I asked about how key stakeholders from outwith the City Council can get involved in the governance of the fund.
With regard to the running of the council's Voluntary Early Retirement and Redundancy Schemes. I asked about the apparent lack of an audit trail in the administration of the teacher's scheme. Teacher early retirement seems to have been focused more on the age of the employee rather than good of the service. It is important that the council offers the best education service it can and that it should not compromise this by losing too many experienced teachers.
I was very concerned to read that the new West End nursery school was not to be a stand alone nursery. I was told that this was 'poorly written' but I have to say that what was written could hardly have been clearer. But what was written was 'There are currently 9 Nursery Schools in Dundee. This number will reduce to 7 when Park Place Nursery moves into the new West End campus and Whitfield Community Early Years' Centre moves into the new Ballumbie building.' I sought a reassurance that this was not a precursor of the budget process when we may be faced with cuts to nursery school headteachers. I was told that this was not the case. I was disappointed that this report was pushed through, it was so poorly prepared that it should have been deferred and a revised report should have been brought back.
The Administration must take responsibility for presenting such a bad report to the committee.
In the City Development Committee I supported moves to reduce the speed limit on Riverside Drive to 40 mph. I am clear that Dundee does not use its situation on the Tay to its best advantage. We need to reconnect the city with the river, this is what is being done with the whole Waterfront Development. I asked questions about the enforcement of this speed limit as the report said that the police said that this might be a problem.
At the Policy and Resources Committee I welcomed moves by the council to involve young people in decision making. The council needs to listen to the voice of all the people of Dundee including young people. I was really pleased that this was a move away from the secretive Changing for the Future Board way of developing policy.
My colleague Laurie Bidwell raised concerns about cuts to Dundee College. I used to work at Dundee College and I am aware of the excellent work that goes on there and how it makes a difference to the lives of young people in Dundee. I am pleased that next Monday the council will consider a report on our response to the Scottish Government's plans for the further and higher education sector.
My Labour and Co-operative colleague Stella Creasy MP has been running an excellent campaign to End Legal Loan Sharking. This is a campaign that I strongly support. Independent research by R3, the insolvency body, shows that one in six of us are now what they call 'zombie' debtors, able only to service the interest on our debts, but not reduce the debt. 45% of people in the country are now in financial difficulties - amongst young people this figure rises to 62%. People in financial difficulty are being bled dry by the legal loan shark industry with interests rates of 1700% or more. R3 research suggests that in the next six months three and half million Britons expect to take out a payday loan. In an unregulated credit market, the research shows just how financially dangerous this is, revealing 32% of those who took out a payday load couldn't pay it off, so had to get another one. This is not just bad for these families, but bad for Britain. As more and more household income is sucked into paying interest on these loads so the public are left with less money to spend, hurting an already anaemic economy.
You can read more about Stella Creasy's campaign here.
Stella's campaign in the House of Commons has little chance of success unless pressure is put on MPs and the UK Government to support her plans for a bill which would regulate the credit industry more and limit interest rates. You can sign a petition to the UK Government asking that they take action to deal with Legal Loan Sharks.
People who have debt problems in Dundee should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau. I would recommend saving and borrowing from the local credit union Discovery Credit Union.
I hope that the UK Government listens to Stella Creasy and the many many people supporting her campaign to tackle Legal Loan Sharks and take the burden of debt off of people struggling to make ends meet.
We are in the middle of the 16 days of action against violence against women. There is no excuse for violence against women, ever. I have made the pledge and I would urge others to do so. I support the work of White Ribbon Scotland.
I was pleased that Dundee United and Celtic players wore white ribbons on their shirts during Sunday's match. While this is merely a symbolic gesture I hope that it will have made some of those watching think about their relationship towards violence and their attitude towards women.
We can make our society a better society if we all take our responsibilities seriously and ensure that we are never complicit in condoning violence.
You can find out more about the campaign at Shelter's website, you can also sign the petition here. I was pleased to sign the big Christmas card today in Dundee and you can see from the picture on the right me signing the Christmas card.
I think that the BBC's Douglas Fraser has a very interesting take on this. I do think that Forth Ports need to put in a bit more effort to attract jobs to Dundee. Dundee has a great deal to offer and I think that all of us with the city's best interests at heart must work together to deliver jobs and investment opportunities in our city.
Jobs must be the top priority for all of Dundee's politicians.
The end of last week saw some great Christmas events. On Thursday evening was the Christmas concert and the switch on of the Christmas Lights at Seabraes. It was great to see and hear pupils from Ancrum Road, Blackness, Park Place and St Joseph's Primaries take part in the concert. I have to declare an interest as a proud parent that my daughter was in the St Joseph's choir. It was great to hear pupils from Harris Academy also performing, and see dancers from the Russian School. I was delighted to hear the excellent Sheena Wellington singing as well. Sheena switched the Christmas Lights on. The very poor quality video shows the lights being switched on.
Today is World Aids Day. I think that it is crucial that we do all we can to prevent and hopefully cure or eradicate this terrible disease. I have emailed David Cameron today asking the UK Government to give finding a cure for AIDS a top priority. This campaign was brought to my attention by ACTSA, the successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, ACTSA are part of the Stop AIDS Campaign. It is also important to do all we can to prevent AIDS in the UK.
Dundee West Constituency Labour Party unanimously made their views known about this issue. You can see the statement which they supported here, you can read more about the unions together campaigns here.
I am sure that there were people present yesterday who were taking part in their first demonstration. It is clear that right across the country people were supporting this campaign. The Prime Minister described Wednesday as a 'damp squib', I beg to differ. I hope that there is a negotiated settlement which allows all workers dignity in retirement. I support a fair pension and dignity in retirement for all workers, whether in the public or private sector. I hope that the Tory-led UK Government and the SNP-led Scottish Government, along with local government recognise that dignity in retirement and a fair pension are important.
The video here shows the extent of the march which takes 12 minutes to pass a given point, you can see the Dundee Labour Party banner at around 10 minutes into the video.
The Christmas Show Cinderella starts this week and I am sure that it will be well worth a visit. The Christmas production is always worth going to and is a real treat for all the family. Click on the video to see a trailer, unfortunately too late to book and get a free ice cream as promised in the trailer.
My colleague Jenny Marra has led the way with her campaign to bring the National Football Academy, you can sign the petition here. It was great that politicians put party differences to one side and supported this petition which calls on the Scottish Government to bring the National Football Academy to Dundee. Like my Labour colleagues I am prepared to work with anyone to ensure that this facility comes to Dundee.
It is important that from time to time elected representatives in Dundee put the interests of city first and leave party labels behind and join together to put Dundee first.
At the City Development Committee there were some interesting reports but I was disappointed that the report which proposed reduced speed limits on various roads including Riverside Drive was withdrawn. I am led to believe that this report will be re-submitted to the committee in the near future. I hope that this is case and I hope that road safety is the top priority in this policy. I have raised my concerns about the proposals for Riverside Drive and I was worried that the police had raised concerns about their ability to effectively police a reduced speed limit. I am seeking further briefings on this important issue.
At the Policy and Resources Committee I was pleased that the council has been able to offer at least a year of support for the Whitehall Theatre. The Whitehall Theatre provides a great venue for a wide range of performers from comedians to amateur dramatic societies. I will be keeping a close eye on progress and hoping that this sets the Whitehall Theatre up on a more secure footing for the future.
At St Andrew's Cathedral Bishop Vincent Logan preached on Matthew's Gospel (Mt 25: 31-46) which talks about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked. This passage finishes with the line what you did to least of these you did it to me. Bishop Vincent pointed out that, 'we rarely hear of the ongoing catastrophe which sees one child dying every four seconds. The silent killers are poverty, easily preventable diseases and illnesses. The gap between rich and poor is high, and widening.'
Whether your motivation is religious or not Bishop Vincent is absolutely correct that something needs to be done about poverty. Poverty needs to tackled both in Dundee and right across the world. Tackling deprivation and inequality is what I want to do in politics.
The service at St Peter's Free Church heard about some of the practical work being done by churches and faith based groups in Dundee to tackle problems like poverty and the often related problems of drink and drug addiction. The main speaker Os Guinness spoke on service and on how important it was to serve. I think that interestingly both messages are linked in that those of us in public office are called to serve the poor and the needy. This is certainly something that I try to keep in my mind in my work serving the people of the West End.
Bishop Vincent Logan has announced his retirement and will soon be replaced as Bishop of Dunkeld I would like to wish him a long and healthy retirement when it comes. The minister of St Peter's Free Church, Rev David Robertson is currently ill, I would like to wish him a full recovery.
I would like to thank all those who gave me such a warm welcome at these services.
The main item was probably another presentation on proposals for a park and ride scheme to the west of Dundee. I would be grateful to hear local people's views on whether there is a need for this and whether the proposed locations would be good or not.
My colleague Lewis Macdonald MSP has highlighted a number of concerns. I think that these concerns which are outlined below could have a particularly poor impact on passengers in Dundee. A good railway system is important for Dundee's economic well-being. With the V & A at Dundee we should be looking to attract visitors by rail from all over Scotland and from England and Wales. I think that forcing passengers to change trains more would make Dundee a less attractive option as a destination.
Cutting the number of trains to reduce the number of trains that are late
“for current passengers, reliability and punctuality of services is one of the top priorities. Accordingly, timetable adjustments could be made to increase the time journeys take which would allow more flexibility and thereby improve train performance levels, increasing the proportion of punctual trains. However increasing journey time may result in a reduction in the number of train services that can be provided.” (section 4.8)
Ramping up fares to tackle overcrowding
“Currently the fares mechanism is designed to encourage passengers to travel in the off-peak period, where they can. However the differential between peak and off-peak fares is generally too small to have any significant impact on changing behaviour. We are considering increasing the differential in order to free capacity in the peak period to accommodate future growth. Modelling indicates a differential of at least 20% between peak and off-peak fares would be required to have any significant effect on passenger behaviours.” (section 6.27)
Forcing cross-border passengers wanting to travel north of Edinburgh to change at Edinburgh
“We are therefore considering whether services north of Edinburgh should be provided by the Scottish franchisee, with Edinburgh becoming an interchange hub for cross-border services in the east of the country. In this scenario cross-border services would terminate at Edinburgh Waverley, with onward connections being provided by ScotRail.” (section 8.6)
Forcing long distance passengers to change more
“We consider that the franchisee could achieve greater efficiency in the deployment of its staff and rolling stock through increased flexibility in its operations. On some routes, longer-distance services could be replaced by a number of shorter-distance services terminating at an interchange station. We want rail to be attractive to passengers, so the impacts of adding a leg to a journey, would have to be thought through carefully, particularly in terms of passenger expectations, rolling stock and train crew.” (section 5.16)
Putting new limits on the number of passengers
“We are therefore considering whether we should include a measure for how many people can be carried on a train, as opposed to just relying on how many minutes a passenger may have to stand. The carrying capacity could for example be set at 105% on certain types of service. We envisage that this would only affect the peak services, and other methods, such as fares adjustments can help to alleviate crowding on these few services.” (section 5.6)
Scrymgeour's solution, Prohibition was tried in the USA and proved to be impractical, however perhaps we should see him as a figure worth reflecting on. Although elected as a Prohibitionist MP, he took the Labour whip in the House of Commons. In terms of the left at the time his views were close to being mainstream, the STUC supported prohibition at this time. For much of the 1920s his fellow MP in Dundee was Tom Johnston, the future Secretary of State for Scotland during the Second World War. Johnston supported Temperance and he and Scrymgeour argued over the issue throughout the period. Scrymgeour wanted to ban alcohol, while Johnston wanted people to make their own decision not to drink alcohol. Johnston was successful in making his home town of Kirkintilloch a 'dry' town. Pubs only opened in Kirkintilloch in the 1970s. It is clear that these two stalwarts of the left tried hard to find a solution to the problems caused by alcohol and addiction in their day. They realised that alcohol could be the curse of the working man, or working woman and their families. They recognised the problems caused in society by alcohol.
Alcohol has been joined by drugs in the twenty-first century and the problems caused by addiction continue to be a curse on many in our society. I think that this is an issue which the left should be looking for solutions for in the present day. The SNP Government has focused on the issue and their chosen solution of minimum pricing. Price is an issue worth looking at but minimum pricing will not solve all of the problems. Indeed prices in Scotland and prices in England are roughly similar but Scotland seems to have worse problems with alcohol than England. I think that we need to look at a wide range of issues and that changing the culture with regard to alcohol in Scotland should be the priority. This will not be easy but trying to find a way to deal with this issue is hugely important to the future of our country.
Minimum pricing as currently proposed will add to the profits of supermarkets. This is such an important issue to the future of our country that there should be attempts to find a consensus on a wide range of measures which will deal effectively with alcohol abuse.
Labour should reflect on the legacy of the Labour movement in the early twentieth century who saw alcohol abuse as one of the key scourges to be challenged in the new society they were trying to build.
History does not repeat itself and the solutions of the 1920s are not the solutions for the present day; but perhaps we should consider the principles which inspired people in the past and apply them in a modern setting.
The Environment Committee considered a report on the work of the former Dundee Contract Services, this is a good report but it will be a real challenge for the next six months to be as good. There was a report on improvements to play areas. I welcome this and I welcome the possible involvement of 'friends' groups in future renovations of play equipment but I stressed that this was not an alternative to the council. We should encourage local people to form friends groups related to parks, and give them some involvement in the running of the park but where this is not possible there should still be support from the council.
At the Policy and Resources Committee there was to be a report on an extension to the teacher's early retirement scheme. This report was withdrawn at the last moment. This may well be as a result of the work of my colleague Laurie Bidwell who has pointed out that under the SNP Administration there are fewer teachers in Dundee, yet the SNP Scottish Government are threatening sanctions on councils which don't maintain teacher numbers. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this policy.
In my ward in the West End we have a very active Community Council. I think that this makes the West End a better place and certainly on a number of community issues they hold local elected members to account. I was very disappointed to hear that Dundee has the lowest level of active community councils in Scotland. There are a variety of historic reasons for this but I will be asking the City Council what they are doing to ensure that more Community Councils are active in the city.
I think that local government and importantly the Scottish Government should be supporting Community Councils. I know that the Association of Scottish Community Councils is to close next year over lack of on-going financial support from the Scottish Government. We need to develop more local accountability not let it wither on the vine.
It is important that there is a level of investment in early years which allows these problems to be dealt with. The best place for children is with their parents, however we cannot allow parents health issues, or drink or drug habits or abusive behaviour blight the life chances of babies. We must as the jargon says 'get it right for every child.' Indeed we need to make that more than jargon but make it a key aim of people like me on councils and professionals right across the country.
The video outlines the situation across the UK.
Every child deserves the best start in life and it is wrong that for some their life chances can be decided at an early stage. All babies should count.
It is despicable that firefighters have been attacked. Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect the public and they should be respected. It is not acceptable that these public servants are attacked. I hope that those responsible are caught.
We should not have to have security at a cemetery but I will be speaking to the council to see if there is anything more that can be done to protect the cemetery. These acts of vandalism cause a lot of grief.
You can read about the impact of this disgraceful vandalism in the report from the Courier . This shows just how upsetting this is to bereaved people. The people responsible must be caught.
The City Development Committee was scheduled to discuss bus services between the West End and St John's. This was withdrawn because at long last council officers are taking the concerns of local parents seriously. I hope that a solution will be forthcoming before too long.
At the Policy and Resources Committee I asked about future plans for the Community Learning and Development section. This section has received excellent reports from the HMIe, which are sector-leading. The council has made a number of changes to this section recently with a number of staff members leaving and the section being moved. I was delighted that the Chief Executive gave me a reassurance that the aim is to maintain the high level of service.
There was also a report on the increasing pressures on children's services. It is important that the council provides the appropriate services to vulnerable children. We need to see if there are ways to help finance this but we also need to note that child safety is priceless and the top priority.
I was pleased to support my colleague Kevin Keenan in calling for better medical services in Ardler.
I also asked about procedures which are in place to ensure that fraud is prevented in the council's payroll.
I made the point in relation to the report on Scotland's public finances that any scheme which is designed to create joint working or shared services must have effective governance structures. Scrutiny and transparency are essential when dealing with public money.
The report which was in The Courier this morning caused me a great deal of concern. I find it hard to believe that the Administration have not agreed to meet Monsignor McCaffrey or parents from St John's to discuss how to find a solution to this problem. It all begs a very simple question - why?
I am appalled at the lack of action on the part of the Administration. Why are they refusing to meet with parents? I am aware that a group of parents from the West End and the Parent Council have been trying to meet with the Education Convener to discuss this issue but they have been refused, so far. There is a saying that 'it is good to talk.'
I am surprised by the statement by Dundee City Council in today's press that the Council does not subsidise school bus services, there is a subsidised bus service to St Paul's Academy. (See council report 325-2011 this service costs £44,840 per annum) The City Council also subsidise a number of bus services throughout the city based on their 'social' usefulness, surely buses that take pupils to school serve a useful purpose.
I was shocked at the recent council meeting when Monsignor McCaffrey was ruled out of order for having the temerity to ask about bus transport to schools. But it is more shocking that the council is refusing to engage with parents. Parents are the first educators of their children and have an important role to play in supporting the school. Parents in the West End are trying to support the school by ensuring that their children get to school on time and are able to do their homework in the evenings. Why is the partnership between the council and the parents not being taken seriously by the council.
As a local councillor I want a solution to this problem, the Administration should meet with parents and be prepared to look positively at ways to secure a bus service to St John's. Local people, sending their children to a local school deserve no less.
I think that the car parking charges at Ninewells continue to cause real problems. These changes to charges will have a real impact on staff members, many of whom are not receiving pay increases. Visitors and staff attempting to avoid the charges cause parking problems in the West End and on the other side of the hospital in Menzieshill.
Charging for car parking at Ninewells was a mistake and it is no use focusing on the history of who did what and when but rather we should be focusing on the way ahead. The Scottish Government says that car parking should be free at hospitals, they should implement their own policy in Dundee. I would be happy to work with anyone to achieve the goal of abolishing car parking charges at Ninewells.
There is no such thing as a free car parking place, costs are involved. Through our taxes we are all paying for free car parking at hospitals across Scotland, in places such as Perth. The difference is that people using Ninewells Hospital do not benefit from free car parking.
Ninewells Hospital does have good public transport links and these should be encouraged, but public transport does not always suit the hours of some people working in this vast complex. For some people who are visiting as patients it may not be appropriate for them to use public transport.
All I want for the people I represent is equity.