Assurances sought on Mega-Trust for Cultural and Leisure Services

As Labour's Leisure, Arts and Communities spokesperson I have sought reassurances from Councillor Bob Duncan, the Convener of Leisure, Arts and Communities and the Director of Leisure and Communities of Dundee City Council on the proposals for a new mega-trust to deliver leisure and cultural services in Dundee.

Obviously I have served as a director of a number of arms-length companies and trusts and the previous Labour-led Administration used trusts as a means of delivering services so I am not fundamentally opposed to them. I do have concerns about the size and range of the proposed trust, there may be economies of scale but I do wonder whether all the services which are being considered are a good fit. I want to ensure that the people of Dundee continue to receive an excellent service from these cultural and leisure services. I could not support an agenda that was only about cutting cost. These services are crucial to the social and cultural well-being of the city and its citizens, this cannot be counted only in monetary terms. I have asked a number of questions and I hope that these questions will be looked at and responded to in the reasonable manner in which they are asked.

Please find below the questions which I have asked of Councillor Duncan and the Director of Leisure and Communities:

Are these proposals only about saving money? If they are only about saving money then I am prepared to be part of a campaign to have publicly owned museums, libraries and leisure facilities exempted from rates in the way that charities are at the moment.

Does the council actually own all the properties which are proposed to be transferred? Are there any legal obstacles in the way of this project? Many of these facilities were set up by bequests, do these proposals conflict with any of these?

Do these proposals conflict in any way with the councils statutory obligations to provide certain services?

Are the savings envisaged in this proposal realistic and achievable given that the actual shape of the organisation has not yet been agreed? Are savings at this stage a best guest?

Can you explain the VAT position of the proposed trust? Is more VAT irrecoverable due to the fact that at present many of these facilities have no entry fee?

Can a single board focus sufficiently on the issues facing leisure facilities, libraries, a variety of museums from the large McManus Galleries to the small and very specialised, Mills Observatory?

Would the intention be that there would be specialised sub-committees for each area of business? If so would this include experts such as, for example, in the case of the Mills Observatory, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland?

Can you guarantee that there will be no admission charges levied on any of the facilities which are now free to enter? I am particularly conscious that the excellent Dundee Heritage Trust, a trust set-up to run museums in Dundee, requires to charge for admission to both Discovery Point and Verdant Works.

Who will be the custodians of Dundee's heritage? Will it be the City Council or the proposed trust? Will the trust continue to have an acquisitions policy, and budget, for art and cultural artefacts and will the level of spending on library resources be maintained?

Will the network of Community Libraries be maintained? Who could make a decision to close a community library once the trust is set up?

Has any consideration been given to setting up any arms length organisation in a different manner? Greenwich Leisure is a successful example of an employee-run organisation which is successfully running many leisure facilities in London Boroughs. Should we not look at ways of empowering the workforce by setting up an employee-run organisation?

Has any consideration been given to allowing users of the services to form the board of directors? A board which reflects the concerns of the service-users and customers and is accountable to them could be more responsive to the needs of the people of Dundee.

If a traditional board model is accepted can we have some indication of how the board would be selected? Would it represent a wide cross-section of Dundee society or would it be a number of hand-picked appointees?

How do you intend to attract board members? The intended winding up of Dundee Leisure does not value the voluntary contribution of the directors of that body. What guarantee could be given that the new body could not also be abolished at the whim of the council?

Can you guarantee that there will be no attacks on employees' terms and conditions once this trust has been established?

Are the current levels of employment to be maintained? Would budgets and management fees reflect the current level of workforce and service provision? Are savings envisaged by downsizing the workforce?


Budget proposals - Back to the Future unacceptable

After long and hard consideration the Labour Group has put forward a number of amendments to the SNP Administration's budget proposals. Our amendments do not indicate that we are happy with the budget as a whole but we need to work within the parameters which have been set by the Administration and the secretive Changing for the Future Board.

Our message is clear we want to invest in education. We believe that the changes proposed to the education budget would have a detrimental impact on the education of young people in Dundee. We want an education system fit for the challenges of the 21st century, the Administration propose a staffing structure agreed in 1972. This Back to the Future approach is unacceptable.

Our proposals are reasonable and in the best interests of the city of Dundee we hope that the Administration will have the good sense to accept them. We are also prepared to look at any other proposals put forward by any other party and put party politics to one side and make a decision in the best interests of the city of Dundee.

You can read my colleague Kevin Keenan's statement on the budget below:

'Whilst we continue to work with Officers to explore the possibilities of savings, this has been extremely difficult with the policies that this SNP Administration have voted through over the last two years.

Their proposals for saving £14.5million for this year's budget will be extremely damaging to services across the City in areas such as Social Work and Education. Their Culture Company will see employee's conditions of contract diminish in years to come. It will therefore be very difficult for us to support the proposals that they have laid out for this City - but they have time to change.

It will be a "Back to the Future" programme, when we see their budget forced through on
10 February 2011 it will see our Educational Service back to an operational model from 1972. I don't know how they can ever describe their vision as "Changing for the Future" when it is, in fact, the complete opposite.

Education Convener, Councillor Fordyce the only person who believes her own propaganda in that £4million cuts will improve the Educational Service and the opportunities for our children.
Cutting Depute Head Teachers, Teachers and Senior Staff in our schools is to be condemned. All these members of staff play a vital role in school life, in particular Depute Head Teachers with responsibility for disciplinary matters, ensuring that the quality of lessons are delivered and holding responsibility for child protection issues - perhaps something that had less focus in 1972 - things have moved on in every walk of life.

We therefore proposed the following to save £350k which we would like used to off-set the SNP's proposals to cut £323k from the Devolved School Management Scheme. These proposals will short-change schools to the tune of £120k in sickness absence cover. Cut the continuous professional development for our staff by £175k and reduce the number of children that will be presented for SQA Qualifications by £28k.

We propose that the full £350k be placed in the area of Devolved School Management as we believe that Head Teachers should be empowered to make educational decisions in the best interests of the children and young people we entrust into their care.

We would not ring-fence any monies for sickness absence or Continuous Professional Development (CPD), Head Teachers can decide, but we would like to see more of our children presented for SQA Qualifications. It is vitally important that we give every child the best opportunity to attain Certificates that would help them as they present themselves to employers in the future.

Our proposals therefore are:-
To surrender the Lease on the current TS1, the Lord Provost's car, and therefore producing a saving of £6k - thus leaving only one Civic Car.
Another saving we would propose is from the Chief Executive's Department of £78K. This is a fund which we understand the Chief Executive uses to resolve issues of spend where it is unclear as to which Council Department should foot the bill. We would suggest that any such future needs be more clearly identified and taken from an individual Department or contingencies.
The third area of spend is from the City Development's budget under the heading "Bus Route Development Grant" of £266k. We trust that this will be deemed competent as we have taken this saving, based on the information given by the Director of City Development. His comments were "this expenditure is used to make improvements to the bus network and infrastructure throughout the City. If the budget were cut, then the current trend of modal shift from car to bus would unlikely to continue and may reverse." We have given this considerable consideration and feel that this is a saving that can be taken. We have also given consideration to the bus service that has been offered to this City over the last two years under the SNP Administration's tenure and I would ask the public to consider if they feel they have been given value for money. Bus routes have been tinkered with endlessly and it looks to me like we have spent £266k creating chaos for bus users. Perhaps the Administration should deliver an apology? We fully expect an incoming Labour-led Scottish Government to bring about significant changes in the bus industry and consider ways in which it can be better regulated and that any public investment can be directed towards delivering real results for the travelling public.'

Community Spirit Action Group

On Wednesday evening I attended a meeting of the Community Spirit Action Group in the northern part of the West End ward. There was a very interesting presentation on bank/credit card fraud and identity theft from Prof Andy Grieve. Clearly we all need to be very careful with our cards and our personal details. It was good to listen to the concerns of local people in this area I have a number of cases to raise about roads and also about graffiti. You can report any instances of graffiti to me here.


Voices unheard -Domestic Abuse: LGBT Young People

This afternoon I attended the launch of research, called Voices Unheard, by LGBT Youth Scotland on domestic abuse and LGBT young people's perspectives. This was a very interesting event and it was particularly good that the voices of young people were heard. Domestic abuse is unacceptable in any circumstances. This research showed that the LGBT young people face some particular issues with regard to domestic abuse. I will be asking the City Council to consider this research and see if there is anything that should be done differently. More information on LGBT people and domestic abuse can be found here.

Lottery for pupils over teacher absences

I support my colleague Jenny Marra, Scottish Labour's list candidate for North-East Scotland, in her concerns about the proposals from the Dundee City Council Administration to devolve the budgets for long-term absence cover in schools to each school. I am concerned that this will create a lottery where pupils could suffer due to the ill-health or even pregnancy of their teachers. At present the council absorbs the risk across the city's schools these proposals mean that all the risk transfers to the individual school and therefore to the pupils in that particular school. I think that the Administration should reconsider these proposals and change them. The education of the children of Dundee should be a priority for everyone on the council.


Blackness Primary School Parent Council

Tonight I attended a meeting of the Parent Council at Blackness Primary School. This was a very interesting meeting. This is a very popular school and the teachers and pupils do a great job. It was good to see that work on the roof at the school which the council agreed to last week has been started. There are on-going issues at Blackness, as with just about every school, with regard to traffic. There are a number of plans to deal with this which are ongoing. I will work hard with the school community to deal with these issues and make the area around the school as safe as possible.

Appalled at Cannabis Factory in the West End

I was very concerned to hear about Tayside Police finding a cannabis factory in the West End at Forest Park Place. I am appalled at this discovery in the West End. I hope that Tayside Police find the culprits and that appropriate action is taken against them. I have contacted the local police about this and been briefed on this issue. Anyone who has any information should contact Tayside Police on 0300 111 2222 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

These cannabis factories in an area like this put the lives of local people in jeopardy due to the risk of fire as a result of the number of electrical appliances being used. This reckless behaviour cannot be tolerated.

West End Schools Project Board

This afternoon I attended a meeting of the West End Schools project board. This looks at how the council will deliver new schools for St Joseph's and Park Place Primary schools as well as Park Place Nursery school. This is moving towards work starting soon and I hope that there will soon be a decision on how the schools will be built.

Labour Manifesto Commitment Delivered

I am really pleased that work has begun on the building of the replacement for the Olympia Leisure Centre. This proposal was a manifesto commitment from the previous Labour-led Administration. I was pleased to have been the Convener who took this development through the council's Leisure, Arts and Communities Committee.

This is an important development as it will bring about a 50 metre pool for Dundee as well as an enhanced leisure provision in the city. It will also allow the waterfront development to progress and make way for the V & A at Dundee.

It would be good to hear about progress on other sporting developments in the city notably the velodrome and the future of the McTaggart Centre.


Tayside Fire & Rescue Board

This morning I attended a meeting of Tayside Fire and Rescue Board. The board looked at a few different issues. On the budget for the next financial year I asked about the assumption that there will be no pay rise for the workforce either operational workers or support staff. I sought some information on whether this had been agreed nationally between the unions and the employers. The unions have not agreed to a pay freeze and this is therefore a risk for the board.

The extensive quarterly activity report highlighted a number of issues for us. I asked about the issue of Bonfire Night, there has been a steady decline in the number of secondary fires occurring on Bonfire Night. I think that this is good news and I hope that this continues over the next few years. It was also good to see that compared with the last time that Bonfire Night had occurred on a Friday (2004) that there was a decline in secondary fires.

The Board also noted the recent ministerial statement on the proposals to reform the governance of the Fire Service in Scotland. I look forward to seeing the consultation on this issue. At this stage I am very comfortable with there being one fire service for Scotland. I think that this needs to be tempered with local control and accountability. I would like to see local accountability and local budgets and priorities set as well as this being part of a national service.


Rev George Robson Retires from Balgay Parish Church

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of attending the morning service at Balgay Parish Church, this was the minister, Rev George Robson's last service prior to his retirement. I have worked with George since my election on a number of issues. He has been one of the driving forces behind the excellent Community Spirit group in the north of the West End ward.

Today's service was very beautiful and it is clear that George Robson is held in high regard by his congregation and the local community. I would like to wish George Robson a very long and happy retirement. I would also like to wish the congregation at Balgay all the best as they move into a new phase of their church's life and begin the search for a new minister.