Logie Estate Centenary - Bold thinking required for today's problems

The plaque which commemorates the opening of the
 Logie Estate 100 years ago today
One hundred years ago today using a gold key the Lord Provost of Dundee Sir William Don formally opened the Logie Housing Estate.  He declared that these houses  were 'little castles, superior in many ways and equipped in a manner ahead of many larger and more highly rented houses.' The Logie Estate he said was a 'veritable garden city' which was 'outside, and at the same time in close proximity to the city.'  The then Lord Provost said that the scheme 'departed from the orthodox path of political economy' he also said he was disappointed that private enterprise had not delivered such houses for the people of Dundee.

I know that there will be a number of celebrations of the history of the scheme once some form of normality returns.  I think though that all of us today are challenged to think differently what are we going to do to make a real difference today.

Some of the things reported in the papers around the opening of the estate have changed now, Logie is very much in the city these days.  One thing that has not changed is the inability of private enterprise to adequately house everyone in society.

When you look at the picture from the opening another difference that you see is that councillors do not have such fancy headgear these days, or at least this one doesn't.

It is disappointing that the coronavirus has meant that we are unable to mark the centenary of the Logie Estate in an appropriate manner.  I am proud to represent the oldest council housing scheme in Scotland.  I want the council to look for ways to mark the centenary of the estate once we are able to.  I also want to see the council make sure that those houses which are still owned by the council are invested in and make sure that they are fit for the next hundred years.

Our predecessors at the end of the First World War had the foresight to plan for a better future.  Building the first council housing estate in Scotland was a remarkable achievement. The estate was built in the aftermath of the First World War with some impressive innovations such as a district heating system.

The work from one hundred years ago is a challenge to Dundee today.  We need think about how we will take forward policies today which are as innovative and as ambitious as the policies which led to the Logie Estate being developed in the years after the First World War.  I think that we need to look for ways to develop a new vision for council housing in Dundee which delivers new high-quality housing for people in Dundee.  The district heating system installed in 1920 also demonstrates that we need to develop new, innovative and sustainable ways of heating and powering our houses and that the council should play a leading role in that in Dundee and elsewhere.

The people who came up with the idea for the Logie Estate did so at a time of national and international crisis.  We need to match their ambition for our city and say that even in the midst of a crisis we are going to make our city a better place.

I am looking forward to being able to start holding my regular surgeries in the Logie estate at Lime Street before too long.  If you are interested in the history of this please follow the monthly blogs by Dundee City Archives.


Labour Group Call for action on air quality

At Dundee City Council's Community Safety and Public Protection Committee on Monday evening there was a report on progress on the Low Emission Zone.  As Dundee Labour's City Development spokesperson I want this policy to work.

The Labour Group welcomed this report.  We have said consistently and say again that we are supportive of the Low Emission Zone Policy but that we want to be kept in the loop about progress.  We want the council to take the people of Dundee with them on this policy.

I also want to make clear that at Monday night's meeting we noted responses to the consultation about the Low Emission Zone and delegated the Executive Directors of Neighbourhood Services and City Development to further work to prepare for a final report on the design and scope of the Dundee LEZ.

I want to make clear that nothing that we said or did on Monday evening means that we have agreed to the design or scope of the Dundee LEZ.

The Labour Group look forward to the report on the final design and scope of the LEZ for Dundee and will scrutinise it fully when it is brought forward.

Prior to that report we expect the other issues around this which form part of Dundee City Council’s policy around air quality. 

At a meeting of this committee on 3rd June 2019 we agreed to an amendment which the Labour Group put forward that amendment called for a report on what is being done to mitigate poor air quality at a number of locations across the city, including Lochee Road.  I see no evidence of that report.  I remain concerned about the lack of such a report.

It remitted the Executive Directors to bring forward a report on how local businesses were being prepared for the implementation of LEZ.  I am concerned that there may be unintended consequences of changes we need be aware of those and mitigate them and help businesses especially small local businesses deal with any decisions that we make around LEZ.

Lastly, whilst there was a report later on Monday's committee  which was intended to deal with our ask for a report along with NHS Tayside on actions which could be taken to mitigate the problems caused by poor air quality.  That report on Monday did not meet our expectations, we were looking for an action plan and that is not what we have got.

The Labour Group want to make clear our wish to improve air quality right across the city.  We are not fussed as to whether this is within the Low Emission Zone or not.  The Low Emission Zone seems destined to be within a relatively small area but it must not be the only show in town with regard to air quality.

Convener, we want to improve air quality we want the LEZ to be a success.  I hope that officers and yourself have heard what we have to say and that you will work accordingly before any more reports are brought back to this committee.


Let the council know your views on changes to Harris Academy and its feeder primary feeder primary schools

Recently Dundee City Council decided to consult on changes to a variety of schools across the city.  In the West End the main issues are around Harris Academy and its associated feeder primary schools.

The headline move is that the council plans to exclude pupils from Invergowrie Primary from the Harris Academy catchment area.  The Labour Group voted against these plans on the basis that there was no overall educational strategic vision underpinning these proposals.

We were out voted and as a result there is now a consultation on these proposals.  You can read the proposals here. The consultation is now open and will go on until 27 March.  I would encourage anyone who has a view on these proposals to let the council know.

There are also two evening meetings taking place one taking place on 26 February starting at 6pm with  a public viewing of proposals and a drop-in session at 6pm and a formal presentation at 7pm with a Question and Answer session.  A similar meeting will take place on 16 March at the same times, both meetings take place in Harris Academy.


Violence, Threats and Abuse Not Part of the Job

Meeting staff at the Co-operative Store
 in Brook Street
I am concerned about the number of attacks on and threats made to retail workers.  

Recently I was pleased to meet staff at the Co-operative Group store in Brook Street in my ward.  I was very concerned when the manager told me about the number of incidents of violence, threats and abuse faced by staff in that local store.

I often shop at the Co-op in Brook Street and I was appalled to hear about number of incidents of violence, threats and abuse faced by staff there.  I was told that the shop had recorded more than one incident a day in a three month period.  I was pleased to hear about the Co-operative Group's Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities campaign run by the Co-operative Group.  I fully support this campaign.  

I am a member of the shop-workers union Usdaw and I support their campaigns to protect retail workers.

I do not think that the Co-op in Brook Street is in some way unusual, this is a problem faced by retail workers in shops across the country.  I am clear that we must have a zero tolerance approach to the abuse of shop workers.

I also support the Members' Bill being put forward in the Scottish Parliament by Daniel Johnson MSP which would make it an aggravated offence to threaten a shop worker or to be violent to a shop worker.  Politicians, including councillors, have put more and more responsibilities on to retail workers for example on stopping underage alcohol sales.  Often whilst politicians are safely at home it is retail workers on the front line being threatened for refusing to serve an underage person with alcohol for example.  We need to recognise that in effect there are many times when shop workers are operating as law enforcement officers and they should be given the same protection as other law enforcement officers.

With regard to the Co-operative Shop at Brook Street I have spoken to Police Scotland about my concerns and also to Dundee City Council's Community Safety team looking for greater support for the staff there.

I am clear that violence, threats and abuse should never be part of anyone's job.  I will work locally with all shops and with Police Scotland and Community Safety workers to protect shop workers and shoppers.

Call for action over shocking deprivation figures

I am calling for action over the latest Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) figures published today by the Scottish Government.  These statistics are shocking. We must remember that they are not just statistics they represent lives which are blighted by poverty.  It is disappointing to see the Scottish Government describe Dundee as having a 'relatively high level of deprivation.'  We must do all that we can to deal with these problems. In Dundee 38% of the population live in areas which are classed as being within the 20% of the most deprived areas in Scotland.

I know that many people are working hard to alleviate poverty in Dundee.  These figures should send a stark message that more needs to be done.  We cannot just accept this as a fact of life we need to use all the powers available to the City Council, to the Scottish Government and to the UK Government to have as our aim the eradication of poverty.  I want to look at what needs to be done to update our anti-poverty strategies and find ways to make a real difference.

We must also accept that the SIMD is only one measure of poverty.  Over half of the people on low incomes in Scotland do not live in the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland.

We must be focused on the eradication of poverty and of dealing with consequences of poverty.  I want the council to take concerted action to make this happen.  Our priorities should be the eradication of poverty, the creation of jobs and improving educational attainment for our young people.


Proposed Education Changes - Where's the strategy?

Last week Dundee City Council's Children and Families Services Committee considered a three reports which would change educational provision across the city.  You can read the reports here.

The Labour Group were clear that reports which change the catchment area for Harris Academy and its feeder primary schools; which propose the amalgamation of Braeview Academy and Craigie High School and changes to the catchment area at Grove Academy as well as looking at the provision of education for residents of the Western Gateway needed to be grounded in an overall strategic vision about what the council was trying to achieve.

There was no strategic vision in these reports.  The closest we got to a strategy was a wish to ensure that schools were as close to their capacity as possible.

I am clear that giving every young person in Dundee the best possible start in life should be the top priority for the Children and Families' Services Committee.  I saw little evidence that this was the driving force for the proposed changes.  Given the publication of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation figures this week giving every young person the best start in life is all the more important.

We were disappointed that our amendments seeking more information on the educational strategy behind any changes were defeated on the reports about Harris Academy and the amalgamation of Braeview Academy and Craigie High School.  Our amendment on educational provision in the Western Gateway was accepted.

I am calling on the SNP Administration and the council's Children and Families Services Department to engage in a meaningful consultation on these changes and that despite the committee vote that they explain how these changes will improve the educational opportunities for young people across Dundee.


Disgraceful lack of action on car parking in the West End

I have been campaigning for a solution to the car parking issues in the West End.  As a local resident and as one of the local councillors I know that this is a major issue for a lot of people.

In March 2018 Dundee City Council unanimously agreed to consult on setting up a residents parking scheme in West End and other areas around the city centre.  It is a disgrace that nothing has been done to implement this policy.  Instead the SNP-led council has pushed through charges for the off-street car parks in the West End.  This is a remarkable show of bad faith on the council's part.

I have written to the Executive Director for City Development asking him when action will be taken to implement the democratic decision of the council.

The action that the council have taken will make the situation for residents worse.  It is perverse that nothing has been done to implement a policy agreed in March 2018 but a policy only agreed in September 2019 has now been fully implemented.

There is a need for a joined up approach to the issues around car parking in the West End.  We need to do more to cut back on demand.  We need to improve public transport and look at delivering park and ride options around the city.

Dundee City Council is a democratic organisation which carries out democratically agreed policies.  I cannot understand why there has been no progress on a consultation on a residents car parking scheme.


Saddened by attempts to remove votes from Trade Unions and Church Reps on Education

At the first set of Dundee City Council meetings of the year I was sad to have to speak and vote against plans to remove voting rights from trade union representatives and church and other faith community representatives in the education section of the Children and Families Services Committee.

Earlier in the evening there had been a welcome outbreak of cross-party consensus about the need to regulate fire works more.  The attempt to remove voting rights from church and trade union representatives saddened me.

I agreed with the Lord Provost that it would have better if the item had been withdrawn.

Fundamentally, I do not know what the problem is that this proposal is meant to fix.

An Administration which lost any vote at the Children and Families Services Committee could take the item back to a subsequent Policy and Resources Committee and with a political majority win a vote.

We were told that, in particular, the role of the churches was an anachronism.  If that is the case then we need to have a good understanding of the history which got us to this point.

It is said that the Reformer John Knox wanted a school in every parish and there is no doubt that the Church of Scotland and the other Presbyterian denominations have played a crucial role in promoting education in our country.

It could be argued that it was, in part at least, the Church of Scotland and the distinctive Scottish education system which helped to maintain a strong Scottish identity and prevented the complete assimilation of Scottish identity into British identity after the Union of Crowns and the Union of Parliaments.  I think that this is a good thing and suspect that many people in the council chamber thought it was even more important than I do.

The 1872 Education Act was in some respects the beginning of state education in Scotland and brought about a partnership between schools, local authorities and some of the churches.

I would want to pay tribute to the work of the Church of Scotland representatives on the Education Committee and its successor since my election.

Prior to my election I was for a couple of years a member of the Church and Society Council of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  As a member of that council with responsibility for education I recognise the seriousness with which the Church of Scotland supported their representatives on education committees across Scotland.

Likewise the Catholic Church's representatives have been assiduous in their efforts on behalf of all aspects of education in our city.

Essentially, the Catholic Church's place comes from the 1918 Education Act.

I want to pay tribute to that act and to the foresight of those who brought it into being. An Act that legislated for multi-culturalism before the term had been invented.  An Act which allowed a significant minority of the population of this country to integrate.  An Act which brought Catholic Schools into the state system, although it is important to note that it was not just Catholic schools.

The centenary of the 1918 Act was marked with much fanfare in 2018 with, for example, the First Minister giving a lecture extolling the virtues of the Act and of Catholic Schools in particular.

In Dundee I would also want to pay tribute to Mr Bashir Chohan who fills the third place on our committee for the Faith Communities, representing the Muslim community.

I also want to say as a trade unionist that I am appalled by the proposal to take votes away from employee representatives on the committee.

I think that these external voices with votes make a difference to our committee and to our decisions.

Whilst I recognise that as elected representatives that the buck must stop with us I think that there is a case for worker representation to be a part of other committees and we should certainly be listening to workforce and their trade unions in particular.

As I said earlier I do not understand what the problem is that these proposals attempted to fix.

It was suggested that unelected people should have no say over decisions which impact on the public.  If that is the case can we expect motions to be brought forward to abolish the Dundee Partnership, bring Leisure and Culture Dundee back fully under council control and calls for the Health Board to be democratised?

My ward colleague, Bailie Macpherson, suggested that we should look at giving votes to the parent and pupil representatives on the Children and Families Services Committee.  I was glad that the suggestion by my colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan for that proposal to be looked at in the future was agreed to.

I thought that the debate was unfortunate and unnecessary.

I want to pay tribute to the hard work of teachers and pupils in our schools.  But everyone involved in education in Dundee, that should include councillors as much as anyone else, knows that we must do better collectively.  We need to work together to find ways to make a difference for our young people.  I do not think that tinkering with the committee structure is going to make a real difference.

When the vote came I joined the majority of councillors and the proposal was defeated by 26 votes to 2.

I hope in the not too distant future that we will see as much energy expended on discussing plans to improve the outcomes for all the young people in our city.