Crichton Street Collection Office

I attended a meeting with representatives of Royal Mail on Friday to raise the concerns of my constituents about changes to the Royal Mail collection service. Royal Mail has closed its collection office at Crichton Street and replaced it with services which I and many others have described as inadequate.

Royal Mail appear not to have listened to the representations made to them. I wanted to hear how they are going to ameliorate the problems which they have now created for themselves.'

The office at Crichton Street is owned by the City Council and I have written to the Chief Executive and to Royal Mail asking whether any efforts could have been made to either bring Crichton Street up to scratch or to find an alternative site within the city centre which would have satisfied Royal Mail's requirements and also would have allowed the City Council to help in the delivery of an important public service to the people of Dundee.

I thought that the meeting was useful to give Royal Mail a clear understanding of the level of unhappiness amongst people in the West End. Royal Mail undertook to look at whether the disabled access at Baird Avenue was adequate, the council undertook to look at winter maintenance around Royal Mail sites.

The real issue here is the situation which Royal Mail finds itself in, where it has to operate more and more like a private company whilst still operating under regulations which assume that it is a public service. I think that the City Council would have had a much stronger case if the Administration had not recently pushed through a policy of removing our postal services from Royal Mail. I will continue to make the case that the council should consider much more than the bottom line when looking at such contracts. What monetary value can we put on the diminution of service now received by our constituents from the Royal Mail which the actions of the City Council have contributed to? If we support public services, we should say so, and act accordingly.


Make Work Pay - Childcare costs

I have read with interest the report produced by Save the Children called Making Work Pay - The Childcare Trap. I think that it is crucial support is given to children and families. Every child should have the best start possible in life. Work should always pay, and childcare costs should not be a major disincentive to taking up employment. Childcare costs should not be putting families into debt. Reasonably priced childcare should be available to everyone.

There is no doubt that this is a really important political issue and that the solution will be very complex, that is not an excuse for not trying though. I will be looking at ways in which this issue can be dealt with at local and national levels.

You can tell the Scottish and UK Governments that you think they should do something about this on the Save the Children website.

My Labour colleagues at Holyrood and Westminster, Ken Macintosh and Ann McKechin, have made their views known and you can read them below:

McKechin: child poverty rise is disturbing
Macintosh: too many mums can’t afford to work

Labour MPs and MSPs joined forces today to warn over the cost of childcare in Scotland. Shadow Scottish Secretary Ann McKechin and Labour's education spokesperson Ken Macintosh raised the issue following a new survey by Save the Children and the Daycare Trust showing that a third of low-income families had gone into debt to pay for childcare. (1)

The Scottish Parliament’s finance committee has previously called for additional investment in early years, including childcare.

Labour’s Shadow education spokesperson Ken Macintosh MSP said:

"It is scandalous that parents here face the highest bills in the UK. This report makes grim reading for many families who are being squeezed in two directions.

"Parents face rising bills because the Tories have cut tax credits and child benefit, but the SNP have been too slow at keeping childcare here ahead of the pack.

"They say they want Scotland to have the best childcare in Europe, and I fully support that ambition, but we are in real danger of being left behind.

"The reality is that too many families face desperate situations as mums want to go back to their job but find they simply can’t afford to work."

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ann McKechin said:

"It is shocking that Scottish parents faced an average nursery bill of £5,178 a year, the most expensive childcare costs in the UK, but what is even more shocking is the SNP’s complacency on the issue. If work does not pay, then this becomes a serious issue for the individual families, the economy and Scotland as a whole.

"Decent, affordable and accessible childcare is essential for Scots and is a much higher priority for families in Scotland than the wasting valuable time on constitutional arguments.

"Child poverty has risen under the SNP, meaning we need to see more being done for Scottish children and their families. (2)

"It’s time for the SNP to wake up to the reality that the majority of Scots are simply not interested in their continual constitutional wrangling and want to see their Government focus on the things that really matter, like being able to afford to go to work and not be pushed into debt by spiralling childcare costs."



(1) The story is reported here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-14804038

• A quarter of parents earning less than £12,000 have given up work, mainly because of childcare costs
• A third have turned down a job on the same basis
• Families earning less than £12,000 are twice as likely as higher income families to move home because of childcare costs
• 63% of parents say they cannot afford not to work but struggle to pay for childcare
• A quarter of parents say the cost of childcare has caused them to get into debt

(2) Percentage of children in Scotland living in low income households:

Last full year that Labour were in government in Scotland: (2005/06): 44%
Under the SNP: (2006/07) 45%
(2007/08) 45%
(2008/09) 47%
Source: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/933/0109982.xls

The Scottish Government’s own Child Poverty Strategy Analytical Paper states that absolute and relative child poverty fell starkly under Labour, but ‘have not changed much’, or remained ‘fairly flat’ under the SNP.

“Relative poverty - Between 1998/99 and 2004/05 the percentage of children in relative poverty (before housing costs) in Scotland fell from 28 per cent to 21 percent. Since then relative poverty rates have remained fairly flat. In 2008/09 21 per cent of the population of children (210,000) were living in relative poverty2 (before housing costs). The overall reduction in relative poverty rates between 1998/99 and 2008/09 was one of the largest seen in any UK region.

“Absolute poverty - Trends for absolute poverty among children have been similar to those for relative poverty, though more marked. Absolute poverty among children fell from 28 per cent in 1998/99 to 12 per cent in 2005/06. Since then rates have not changed much and the 2008/09 figure was 11 percent. This equates to around 110 thousand children in absolute poverty.”

Scottish Government - Child poverty strategy consultation - Analytical paper, 10 November 2010 Source: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/304557/0107230.pdf

Community Spirit Meeting

I was at the Community Spirit Action Group's meeting tonight. Community Spirit does excellent work in the northern part of the West End ward. Tonight there was a very interesting presentation about the next stage of Dundee Travel Active's work. They are promising to cut petrol costs by 100% (by getting people walking and cycling!). There is a range of information on their website which highlight how to save money from fuel costs.

The main issue which local residents raised with me at the meeting was their continuing concerns about changes to the bus service in this area. It is now very difficult to use buses in this area. There are no buses to Lochee in this area, many people who live in Tullideph, Ancrum, Pentland and Benvie Road areas want to shop in Lochee or go to their doctor in Lochee. One women in her 80s told me of having to get two buses to get to Lochee or having to walk in order to visit her doctor.

I am clear that neither National Express Dundee nor Stagecoach think that they are delivering a public service instead they are only looking to deliver profitable routes. Indeed they look at each route in Dundee as an individual business they do not see that they should cross-subsidise services with a social need. This calls for the re-regulation of bus services in my opinion and I will continue to press for this from the Scottish Government.

The City Council Administration has also created problems by creating subsidised services which seem destined to failure because it appears that these services do not serve the needs of the people of Dundee and the people of the West End in particular.

30th Anniversary Celebration Tayside Pre-Retirement Council

I was really pleased to be at the 30th Anniversary Celebration of Tayside Pre-Retirement Council today. It was great to hear about the work of this organisation. Planning for retirement is really important and people should give this some thought. Companies should also think about how they prepare their staff for retirement. With people expecting to live longer and be more active in retirement it is important that they have prepared properly. The City Council supports this work and encourages staff to attend courses. I think that all employers should give serious consideration to this. It is easy for companies to see this as an unaffordable extra which could be cut in these difficult economic times.

Well done to all the volunteers who have made this organisation work over the last 30 years, I hope that it goes from strength to strength.

Tayside Police Joint Board

On Tuesday evening I attended a meeting of the Tayside Police Joint Board, this was a reconvened meeting. The only item up for discussion was the Police Staff Council Negotiations Pay and Conditions of Service. I don't entirely understand why but the discussion was heard in private and therefore I am constrained in what I can say about it.

The one thing I would say is that in discussion about changes to the police service which will be on-going over the next few years it is important to remember that police staff play a vital role in supporting the work of police officers. I would also want to make clear my belief that we should not have police officers doing work which can and should be done by police staff.


Home Scotland 75th Anniversary

I was really interested to attend a lecture today organised to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Home Scotland. It's not actually the Home Group's 75th anniversary but it is the 75th anniversary of the first housing association which formed part of organisation which now makes up the Home Group.

Home Scotland provide housing in many parts of Dundee including in the West End.

The event today was a lecture given by Professor Duncan Maclennan of the Centre for Housing Research at the University of St Andrews. This lecture was very interesting and certainly gave me as a local councillor food for thought. It is important that we think about housing in a much wider way than we do at the moment and that we recognise that housing has a huge impact on much more than the narrow policy silo that we have attempted to put it in.

Public Use for Camperdown House

I'm calling for a sustainable, long-term, public use to be found for Camperdown House. Part of the House was open to the public during last weekend's Flower and Food Festival.

I was really pleased that Camperdown House was open to the public as part of this year's Flower and Food Festival. I heard many people say that they wished that this was a permanent situation. I have contacted the managing director of the new trust Leisure and Culture Dundee to ask for an update on progress on this issue. I accept that these are difficult economic times and that any efforts to have Camperdown House open to the public would have to be commercially viable but I do think that we should be working towards this.

Camperdown Park is great place to visit with its golf course, wildlife centre, play area and parkland I think that if a viable use could be found for Camperdown House it would be a feather in the cap of park. Camperdown House is an important part of the history of the city and indeed has a role to play in the wider history of the United Kingdom and indeed Europe with the estate having first been owned by the victor of the Battle of Camperdown.

I am looking forward to hearing what the plans are for the house and hope that progress can be made to get it back into public use on a more regular basis.

For more information about Camperdown House, the Duncan family and the Battle of Camperdown please visit the very interesting website of the Friends of Camperdown House.


Dundee Flower and Food Festival

On Sunday afternoon I was delighted to have a great family day out at the Dundee Flower and Food Festival. This is a really excellent event and I was delighted that reports that the City Council's Administration were going to scrap the festival have proved to be unfounded.

The festival is a great collaboration between the private, public and voluntary sectors. I would like to pay tribute all those who worked hard to make the festival such a success. The festival though is anchored by the City Council and it is council workers who go the extra mile to make sure that the festival works. This is in many respects local government at its best with council staff leading in the delivery of an excellent event for the people of Dundee and for the many visitors which the festival attracts.

It was particularly good that visitors to the festival were able to visit Camperdown House today. I think that the council and the new trust, Leisure and Culture Dundee, should be looking at ways in which a sustainable, long-term, public use for Camperdown House can be found.

I had a great time at the festival today. I met many people from right across the city who were having a great time at the festival, which was good to hear. I also thought about my friend, the late Tom Mitchell, who was the political lead behind the creation of the festival nearly 30 years ago.

Well done to everyone involved and I look forward to the festival in 2012.

Shelter - Help end the wait

I was really pleased to meet with Shelter Scotland recently and listen to their concerns that the Scottish Government is not going to fulfil its promise to deliver new social housing. It is important that councils, housing associations and housing co-operatives have the resources to deliver new homes for people here in Dundee and right across Scotland.

You can find out more about Shelter Scotland's concerns and sign up to support their petition here. The picture shows my colleague Jenny Marra MSP and myself signing up to support this campaign.