Northern Rock should be Remutualised

On Thursday in the House of Commons my colleague Gareth Thomas, a Labour and Co-operative MP secured a debate on the remutualisation of Northern Rock. Many of the problems in the financial sector stem from the demutualisation of Building Societies such as Northern Rock. I think that putting customers at the heart of the focus of these institutions would be preferable rather than putting the focus on chasing profits for shareholders. You can read a report of the debate here, and sign up to the Co-operative Party's The Feelings Mutual campaign here.


Welfare Reform

The Conservative-led Government today published its proposals for welfare reform. I am clear that poverty in Dundee, in Scotland and the UK needs to be dealt with. We need to offer support to people who require help. We also need to ensure that no one is abusing the welfare system. Labour will support the Government in some of these policies but we will also make sure that vulnerable people in our society are protected.

I'm clear that the best way out of poverty is work. I will make jobs, jobs and jobs my priority in the forthcoming election campaign.

Labour's leader in Scotland Iain Gray MSP has commented:
"Welfare to work schemes won't work without jobs and only Labour has a credible plan for getting Scotland working again."
"There is a real risk that the Tory plan will push people into poverty when they need help getting into work."
"Labour will stand up to the Tories if they take away support from people who are out work through no fault of their own."
"Yesterday's figures showed that Scotland's unemployment rate is still higher than the UK level and the private sector isn't creating jobs fast enough to offset the Tories' public sector job cuts.""
"If I am First Minister Labour will make sure young people have the right to learn a trade by guaranteeing apprenticeships to those who are qualified and we'll make sure the lowest paid benefit from Labour's living wage."
"Labour will be fighting for jobs, for growth and to protect families worried about their future"

Keep the Promise - 0.7%

I have always had a great deal of interest in International Development issues. I have been campaigning to get the UK Government to commit to spending 0.7% of the UK's GDP on aid. This is a long standing policy goal, it is as old as me!

The previous Labour Government was on course to deliver on this policy, it should have moved quicker. The Conservative-led Government promised to deliver on this policy, there are some signs that it is dragging its feet. Please sign up to support the campaign and make the Government keep its promise.
I was appalled recently to read that the Conservative-led Government had spent International Development budgets on the Papal visit. I was present at the Mass celebrated by the Holy Father in Glasgow but it is inappropriate that International Development funds were spent on this event.


Scrutiny Committee

On Wednesday afternoon I attended a meeting of the City Council's Scrutiny Committee. I managed to get a guarantee that parents would not have to apply every year for a travel pass for their children to get to school. I was concerned that this would unnecessarily put a barrier in the way of children getting to school.

I raised my concerns that equality impact assessments are not carried out with the same level of robustness across all council departments. I was given an assurance that this should be the case and I will be keeping an eye on this in the future.

I was surprised to find out that the length of time taken to re-let council houses is rising. Until the end of September last year the average time to re-let a council house in 98.7 days. It also appears that many of the initiatives which the current Convenor implemented has added to the length of time taken. Performance in this area must improve.

Support for Roads Review

Today I have responded to the publication by Audit Scotland of a report entitled Maintaining Scotland's Roads. I'm backing calls for a review of how Scotland's roads are managed and maintained. I welcome the fact that the model of Tayside Contracts implemented by among others previous Labour Administrations on Dundee City Council was commended as a way forward for the rest of Scotland.

I am getting more and more people speaking to me about the state of the roads. It is clear to me that the recent bad weather has only made the situation worse. I am pleased that Audit Scotland see the work done by and model used by Tayside Contracts as one which is worth replicating. I think that there is a need for a review of how roads are managed and maintained. I will be seeking a briefing from council officers about their views of this report.

Hard-pressed council tax payers are paying more and more for the upkeep of their vehicles and then finding that these costs are added to by problems caused by the poor state of the roads. People in Dundee will be surprised to find out that the council is spending money on resurfacing one of its own yards rather than spending the money on our streets.

Clearly there is not an unlimited supply of funding for road repairs, or for anything else, but we should consider whether we can deliver these services in a better manner.

Adult Support and Protection Biennial Report

This morning I attended a briefing conducted by Professor James Hogg the independent chair of the Dundee Adult Support and Protection Committee. This was a very interesting meeting and we need to take this issue very seriously. We all have a role to play in this, please visit the Adult Support & Protection Committee's website to find out how you can raise concerns. The report produced by Professor Hogg can be found here.

Harris Academy Parent Council

On Tuesday evening along with my ward colleagues I attended the Harris Academy Parent Council. The City Council's Head of Secondary Education, Michael Wood, was in attendance to explain why the new Harris Academy will be built on the current site and cannot be built on the Elliot Road site. Mr Wood also explained the thinking behind the City Campus proposals. The way he explained it the proposal is so much more credible than when members of the Administration try to explain it.

It was also good to hear about many other aspects of the life of the school. I am looking forward to the imminent publication of the HMIe report on the school.

Fuel Prices and the Cost of Living

At the City Council's Policy and Resources Committee on Monday evening their was a debate about the Courier's campaign on fuel prices. The SNP put forward the motion which was debated in the House of Commons last week, Labour put forward a reasoned amendment. Our amendment actually sought action, we wanted to contact the Prime Minister about this issue. We also refuse to be fixated with dealing with only one means of reducing fuel prices. The issue for us is not how the cost of living and the price of fuel is dealt with but rather that it is dealt with. We felt that there should have been a greater effort by the Convener to bring about consensus but we were pleased that at least the SNP took on board our call for action in their motion and that they accepted an amendment from Labour.

Action on the cost of living is needed from the UK Government. After the latest inflation figures were announced on Tuesday with the inflation rate at double the Government's target at 4%. I have written to the Prime Minister to raise his concerns.

In recent weeks the Courier has been highlighting growing concerns around the cost of fuel. The Conservative-led government have previously stated that they would deal with this through a fuel duty stabiliser, I am not concerned about the means by which they do this but rather that some effective action is taken. The recent rise in VAT has had a major impact on the cost of living for people in Dundee.

The UK Government claims that 'we are all in this together' well I have my doubts about that, I'm not sure that hard-pressed families in Dundee feel that the Prime Minister is on their side or that he understands what they are going through. Many of these economic problems are the result of political decisions made by the Conservative-led Government. People in Dundee are suffering as a consequence.

Government at all levels must make sure that it is doing everything that it can to alleviate the problems caused by inflation and rises in the cost of living. At the level of the City Council and at the level of the Scottish and UK Governments decisions should be being made which boost the standard of living of people in Dundee and beyond. The Governor of the Bank of England has stated that this has led to the longest decline in the real value of take home pay in the UK since the 1920s, this is unacceptable. That is why I am supporting efforts to bring in a Living Wage for public sector employees in Dundee and elsewhere and why I want the Living Wage to apply to all sectors of the economy.

I have written to the Prime Minister to raise my concerns about the cost of living and I hope that he will reverse the policies which are causing the problems. These are difficult economic times and all political parties must accept a share of the blame for financial problems facing the country, but it is important to ensure that these problems are dealt with now and that the real impacts on real people are dealt with rather than engaging in a sterile debate about what has happened in the past.

In terms of the Courier's campaign they have done particularly well over the last few weeks in highlighting what is clearly an important issue - the cost of fuel. I note that the Conservative-led government stated that it would introduce a fuel-duty stabiliser; they have not yet done so. They might do so in the budget next month.

In some ways the issue before us tonight is whether a technical adjustment to fuel prices will deal with all the issues that face hard-working families in Dundee. The Tories have said that they would do it, they should do it, but the issues are bigger.

Labour believes that the issues here are bigger than just fuel prices. The cost of living for people in Dundee and beyond is rising. This is having a major impact on families in Dundee. Right across the country council budgets were agreed last week which are effectively a pay-cut for many of our employees. That is why I support the campaign for a Living Wage for all public sector workers in Scotland.

VAT increased at the start of January and this is having an impact on the cost of living for everyone whether they drive a car or not.

We should be doing all we can to deal with the issues around the cost of living.


Dundee City Council and Committees 14th February 2011

Monday evening saw the latest set of meetings of the City Council and its committees. At the Leisure, Arts and Communities committee I welcomed the proposals to redevelop the McTaggart Centre as a regional gymnastics centre. Dundee has a strong track record for gymnastics and hopefully this facility will allow local gymnasts to develop their full potential. It is also important to ensure that Dundee's previous Commonwealth Games legacy in the name of Dick McTaggart is remembered.

At the Policy and Resources Committee there were a number of interesting reports. I welcome the unanimous support for the Scottish Veterans' Charter. I recognise the important role that our armed forces and veterans play in our country. I am looking forward to this policy having a real impact on how the council operates.

I welcome the unanimous adoption of the Scottish Veterans' Charter. It was important that the council recognised the contribution of those who serve or have served the United Kingdom so well over the years. I hope that the charter will have a real impact on the way that the council delivers services. It is important that those who have served us so well as treated with respect.

The Principles of the Charter are:

'This Charter recognises that the men and women of the Scottish Veterans Community have served our nation and our nation's interests through dedicated service. They may have been called on to serve in circumstances that has led to physical and mental damage. As such this Charter establishes the principles upon which public bodies in Scotland should recognise the unique characteristics of service in delivering public services and which affords all members of the Veterans Community, and their family the dignity, respect and level of service that corresponds to their needs.

New Visitor Centre at Camperdown Wildlife Centre

As Labour's Leisure, Arts and Communities spokesperson I welcome the opening of the new visitor and education centre as well as cafe at Camperdown Wildlife centre on Saturday. I was the Convener of Leisure, Arts and Communities when this project was initiated.

I am looking forward to the opening of this new centre. This is important investment in Camperdown Park. I know that the Wildlife Centre is very popular with Dundonians and that this investment will be welcomed by many people in Dundee. I hope that it enhances the visitor experience and that it encourages more people to visit the centre.

This investment in the Wildlife Park adds to the facilities at Camperdown Park, it is clear that we need to find a long-term sustainable public use for Camperdown House. The people of Dundee and elsewhere should have the chance to visit this magnificent building to learn a little of the history of Dundee, Scotland, the UK and Europe.

Corporate Parenting Event

On Friday I attended a very important training session which looked at how councillors and senior officers fulfil our roles as corporate parents. In Dundee there are 693 looked after children. The vast majority of these children have not done anything wrong. As one of Dundee's councillors I have to take my responsibilities to these children seriously. These children need the same opportunities as any other child, they need to be listened to, and should be viewed positively. I will try to bear this in mind when looking at a wide range of council policies. The training was delivered by Who Cares? Scotland, there is some interesting information on this issue on their website.

Local Community Planning Partnership

Last Thursday after the council's budget meeting I made it along to the latest meeting of the Local Community Planning Partnership in the West End. This was a very interesting meeting. It was good to hear about the work which many council departments and other bodies are doing in the West End. Local people are very concerned about derelict buildings and also about graffiti in the West End.


Dundee City Council Budget - Priorities - Booze or Bairns?

Last Thursday the City Council held its Budget meeting. The meeting took four hours and heard from a number of interesting delegations. Clearly, a number of trade unions representing council staff are very unhappy at how they have been treated in this process.

Even with the reduced budget from the Scottish Government the budget setting process is a question of priorities.

The whole process of setting the budget has been entirely unsatisfactory. The secretive Changing for the Future Board has been a failure. The SNP Administration will point out that Primary Headteachers were able to change some of the proposals for cuts in the primary education sector. It is entirely unclear as to how this process works. What is the forum for trade unions or associations to make their views known? How can trade unions make their views known when they were specifically excluded thanks to the votes of the SNP Group and the Lord Provost.

Labour put forward amendments which would have cut some spending but which would have increased investment in education which has been cut by the SNP Administration.

I am disappointed that the Administration on the City Council did not listen to Labour's reasoned amendment to their budget. It is clear that setting the budget is about setting priorities. Labour's priority was getting as much money as possible into the education system, investing in our future by investing in the children and young people of Dundee. The SNP Administration want to invest in alcohol, in sandwiches for councillors and highly-paid officers, in cars to drive councillors around the city, in ineffective ways of subsidising bus companies and in a slush fund for the Chief Executive. The choice was stark; invest in booze or invest in bairns.

It is clear that council employees are very unhappy with the changes imposed on them whether in schools, in social work or in our libraries and museums. It is also clear that many members of the public are unhappy with the changes to services pushed through last night. The Labour Group will be keeping an eye on the impacts that these cuts have on services to the people of Dundee. We will do our best to defend Dundee's public services in the face of these cuts.