Dundee Needs a Better Deal

On Monday evening Dundee City Council's Policy & Resources Committee looked at the forthcoming budget process.  A paper was produced which showed that the council needs to find a further £15.7 million of savings this year.  This is on top of the something like £100 million which has been taken out of the council's budget over the last ten years or so.  The report can be found at pages 1-9 here.

The Labour Group felt that the paper only told us the facts of the situation and that we needed to make clear that we did not think that we should meekly accept more cuts for Dundee.  We continue to support COSLA's viewpoint that we need a fair settlement for local government and that this settlement isn't fair.

Therefore on behalf of the Labour Group Kevin Keenan put forward the amendment below:

'That Committee believes that the detailed settlement laid out in the report does not represent a fair deal for the people of Dundee or for local government in Scotland as a whole, notes that there is no current majority in the Scottish Parliament for the budget, resolves to stand by the cross party stance set out by COSLA and in doing so make joint representation across all political groups on the council to the Finance Secretary and the leaders of all parties in the Scottish Parliament ahead of the next budget vote calling for a fair deal for local government funding in order to avoid damaging cuts in local services. '

We were very pleased to see that the amendment was accepted by the entire council.  I spoke in the debate and pointed out that this was not about party political point scoring but rather was about doing what was right for the people of Dundee.  It is easy for politicians and political activists to make barnstorming speeches about the faults of others but we must be clear that the issues here about real people with real problems.  For example, there are people in Dundee using foodbanks; there are people in Dundee sleeping rough and there are people struggling to heat their homes - these (and many others) are the people who need Dundee City Council to get a fair settlement.  These are the people who need the council to provide services for them.

We should be clear that the days when we can say that there is fat to cut from councils were probably never true and they certainly aren't true now.  The proposed cuts will have a detrimental impact on communities and on the economy of Dundee.  If a company with  a turnover of £15.7 million was threatening to close then there would be much hand-wringing from politicians and campaigns would be started to stop the closure, well these cuts to Dundee City Council's budget should be treated in the same way.

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice about this important issue on Monday night, now we need action at Holyrood which gives Dundee a better deal.


Call for Council Action over RBS Closures

As Dundee Labour’s City Development spokesperson, along with my colleague the Labour councillor for the Maryfield Ward Councillor Georgia Cruickshank we have joined forces to raise concerns about the future of Royal Bank of Scotland branches in Dundee.  We're are calling on Dundee City Council to use its position as a customer of RBS to put pressure on the bank to retain services in Dundee.


Councillor Richard McCready said, ‘It is a disgrace that the publicly owned RBS is continuing to abandon communities across Dundee as they already have done in the West End.  Dundee City Council banks with the RBS and I think we should be looking to see what leverage there is within that contract to put pressure on RBS to keep their Stobswell branch open.  At the very least I want the council to make sure that when the banking contract is renewed in 2019 there is a robust community benefit section in the contract.  This would call on whichever bank won that contract to undertake to protect services to the community in Dundee and I would hope to include a promise not to close branches within the city.  I would also be looking for the bank to deliver support for organisations like Discovery Credit Union.  I would want to make sure that who ever the council banks with that promoting financial inclusion is an important part of the social benefits promoted through the contact.'


'I will be writing to the council's Chief Executive to ask that the council makes its voice heard and joins the local community in saying to RBS that this is not good enough and that they should change their mind about closing the branch in Stobswell.'


Councillor Georgia Cruickshank said, ‘I know from the Stobswell Forum and from speaking to local people that they are concerned about the prospect of the RBS branch closing.  The bank branch brings people to the area and this helps other local businesses.  I know that a number of businesses in the Stobswell area are struggling and it is important that we do all that we can to promote the area.  It is disappointing to find out that the council banks with RBS at a time when RBS are planning to close the branch in Stobswell.  I am calling on the council to make its voice heard and tell RBS that as a major customer in the city we are not happy at their plans to close the Stobswell branch.’



Free Wi-fi for the people

At the City Development Committee this week there was a report about delivering a strong free Wi-Fi system in the Waterfront. I recognise that there is a need for this development and I welcome it.  We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available in the city centre and in the district shopping areas such as the Perth Road.

We also need to ensure that free Wi-Fi is available across the city.  There are great computing facilities as well as free Wi-Fi in our network of community libraries.  The libraries are not open all the time, though.  Given that what is wrongly called Welfare Reform is impacting on people across the city and that people are made to account for their activity online we should look at making sure that all the communities of Dundee have access to good quality free Wi-Fi.  Why not aim to be the most connected city in Scotland and have the most extensive free Wi-Fi network.

It is all very well offering free Wi-Fi to shoppers and tourists but all the people of Dundee including those living in areas of deprivation should benefit from this sort infrastructure as well as the many tourists that we hope will come to Dundee.  I would like to see free Wi-Fi as a benefit to all Dundonians, it should be available for the many not just the few visiting the city.


Time for the People's Bus

The People's Bus from West End Labour & Co-op on Vimeo.

At Monday evening's City Development Committee there was a report which considered the council's response to Transport Scotland's consultation on the future of the bus industry. The legacy of bus deregulation from the 1980s is heard everytime a constituent complains to councillors about the bus service in their area.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government have undertaken to look at the future of the bus industry and legislate in the near future.

I have been campaigning on these issues for some time now.  The video at the top of the page is from earlier in the year and deals with some of the issues around buses which people in the West End have raised with me.

I think that we should be clear that the council’s inability to direct bus operators is a disgrace.  A disgrace given the level of support that the council gives to bus services in Dundee.  Maintaining bus stops, promoting bus use.  Yet we have little or no say over how the buses are run.  At present when we are consulted on changes to bus services, it is really about giving the council notice of things that are happening, rather than giving us the chance to influence a decision.

Two clicks from the Dundee City Council website gets you to the websites of commercial bus operators.  I am not aware of other commercial bodies which the council facilitates in such a way.

I welcome the City Council’s response to the consultation.  We need effective partnerships with bus companies.  I would welcome local franchising, this is how the bus service runs in London and whilst it is not without its problems, it is an effective network.  I strongly welcome the chance for the council to directly run services. 

Sharing data is hugely important to allow us to deliver the best service possible for the people of Dundee.

We need a bus system which serves the interests of people not one which merely serves the interests of the shareholders.  We need a bus service which is just that a service rather than run solely in the interests of the shareholders.


Fair Funding for Essential Services

On Monday night at the council's Policy & Resources Committee there was an item setting out where the council is in terms of budgets.  The UK Budget was announced last month and the Scottish Budget will be announced in Holyrood on Thursday of this week.

The report  produced by the council's Executive Director of Corporate Services suggests that over the next three years the council may need to cut as much as £70 million from our budgets.  This is a frightening prospect, this would have an impact, as previous cuts already have had, on people right across Dundee and on the health of the economy of our city.

The Conservative Group put forward an amendment which laid the blame for the financial situation at the door of the SNP Scottish Government.

The truth, of course, is somewhat different.  The UK Government has chosen the path of austerity.  A political choice by the Conservative Government.  The Scottish Government has largely acted as a conveyer belt for austerity and passed on Tory cuts especially to local government. A political choice by the SNP Government.

On behalf of the Labour Group I made clear that we would be looking to work with anyone to protect jobs and services in Dundee.  Comment was made last night that the Conservative amendment was merely designed to embarrass the SNP.  I do hope that the Conservatives were not just trying to embarrass the SNP and I also hope that the SNP's biggest issue is not to avoid being embarrassed.  I made the point that this is much more important than petty point scoring.  Decisions made at the Budget in Dundee City Council have a real impact on the lives of real people in Dundee.  This is far too important to play games with.  All of us who are councillors have a duty to do what we can to deliver the best outcome to the people of Dundee.

COSLA, the Scottish local government body, has put forward a very interesting case for council's delivering essential services.  I think too often we are apologetic about what local government does. As COSLA say local government is democratically elected and provides a breadth of essential services to Dundee's communities which; support and protect all in our society; tackle inequalities; promote a fairer Scotland through inclusive growth; local government creates opportunities for every citizen which strengthen communities.  Local Government in Dundee is a key economic driver in the city and we should not be ashamed of that we should rather celebrate this.

The Leader of the Council said that he had already made representations to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance about the deal for Dundee.  I welcomed that and asked that he, in the spirit of openness and transparency, share the representations he has made.

The Labour Group is clear that we will work to achieve the best outcome for our city, we will work with other parties on the council and outwith the Council Chamber with trade unions and the communities of Dundee to deliver the best deal we can aimed at protecting jobs and services.

Last night we saw an early outbreak of 'it wisnae me' syndrome, with the Conservative Group in denial about the impact of ongoing austerity on the people of Dundee and likewise the SNP Group in denial about the impact of the conveyor-belt of austerity that the Scottish Government has become.

It is ironic, of course, that the Scottish Government has so-far refused to use the full powers of the Scottish Parliament to provide more resources for local government yet it is the same Scottish Government which complains about councils who didn't use their full powers to raise the Council Tax by 3% last year.  Those councils who didn't use their full powers include the then SNP-majority-led Dundee City Council who pushed through a 2.5% increase despite there being a proposal from Labour to increase the Council Tax by 3%.

The Labour Group will work with others to deliver the best deal for Dundee but we need the other parties to be bold and ambitious for Dundee.  We need the other parties to be prepared to stand-up to their political masters in Holyrood or Westminster and put the interests of Dundee first.

I am clear, as are my Labour colleagues, that we were elected to deliver the best services we can for the people of Dundee.  That is out priority.  We are not mere pawns in political game of chess.  Our duty is to do what we think is best for Dundee not what we think will please our political parties or go down well at a party meeting .

Labour is up for the challenge and we hope that all other councillors are as well.


End Period Poverty

Monica Lennon receiving support from Dundee University and DUSA
for her proposed bill 
Today is the final day of the consultation on the Members' Bill put forward by Monica Lennon MSP on the issue of period poverty.  I have responded to the consultation indicating my support for this proposal.

Menstruation is a natural bodily function for women.  Sanitary products are important for maintaining health.  The fact that cost can determine whether some women are able to afford these essentials is wrong.  I support this proposed legislation because of this, it is important that we find a way of providing access to sanitary products in such a way that involves no stigma.

As the local councillor I was really pleased last week to see the University of Dundee and DUSA supported the proposal and are also providing free sanitary products before the Scottish Government implements a policy to provide free sanitary products in educational establishments.

A number of retailers have been looking at ways of assisting with this issue and, for example, the Co-operative Group has undertaken to pay the VAT on sanitary products.  Scotmid Co-operative and others have supported organisations such as Positive Steps to provide hygiene packs for the homeless.  I hope that this proposal will be taken forward in the Scottish Parliament.


Life chances for young people - wake up call for Dundee

I was really concerned to read the recent report of the Commission on Social Mobility.  The report highlighted that unfortunately Dundee still lags behind in terms of the life chances of the young people in our city.  There are still huge discrepancies between the educational performance of the poorest and the most well-off in our city for example.  This report should be a wake-up call to all of us in Dundee. A lot of good work has been done, for example, in the Fairness Commission, but it is clear that we need to do much more.

We must make Dundee a real Living Wage City. That means that we should be saying that companies will not get any public contracts unless they pay the Living Wage including to sub-contractors. Dundee City Council should be leading a city-wide campaign to make all employers Living Wage employers.

The education statistics are very concerning. We should be doing all that we can to even up the playing field, so that every child in Dundee has the right to achieve their potential. Far too often the life chances of young people in our city are determined at a very early age, this is unacceptable. All of us in the city should want the very best for every child in the city.

I accept that many of these problems have been around for a long time but we cannot allow this situation to continue. Policy should be directed at improving the life chances of every young person in Dundee. Every child in Dundee should have the ability to reach their potential. When it comes to the council's budget I hope that every elected member will reflect on these statistics. Collectively every party represented on the City Council has failed some of the young people of Dundee. We should remember that when the council makes cuts it has a real impact on the lives of real people. The young people of Dundee deserve the best chance in life the council should work together to make sure that we are investing in education, especially in early years, to make a real difference to the life chances of every young person in Dundee.

It is not good enough to shrug our shoulders and move on - we need action to make Dundee, Scotland and the United Kingdom a fairer place.


Don't cut Bus Pass Entitlement

I'm campaigning for better bus services

I was pleased that Dundee City Council spoke with one voice recently against the proposals by the Scottish Government to raise the age for entitlement for free bus passes. (pages 16-33)

The Council has vowed to fight Transport Minister Humza Yousaf’s plan to change the age at which people are eligible for a free bus pass, branding it “unwelcome” because of the city’s “high levels of deprivation”. 

Despite promising to protect the pass in its 2016 manifesto, the SNP Government has cut £9.5 million from the bus pass budget and is consulting on the future of the scheme. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Transport Minister have both repeatedly refused to rule out raising the qualifying age from 60 to 65.

Under the SNP, there has been a decade of decline in bus services with: 

•             Bus passenger journey numbers down by 78 million

•             Nearly 70 million vehicle kilometres stripped out of the bus network

•             The number of bus routes registered with the Traffic Commissioner down by a fifth.

Scottish Labour introduced concessionary travel for older people and disabled people in 2006 and 1.3 million people benefit from the free bus pass.

My friend and colleague Neil Bibby MSP who Scottish Labour’s Transport spokesperson, has said:

“A Labour government introduced the free bus pass, allowing older people and disabled people the freedom to travel where they choose. 

“We will fight the SNP's cuts to the bus pass – and it is welcome that SNP councillors are finally realising the damage raising the bus pass age would do too. 

“The SNP has already cut £10 million from the bus pass budget and now it's consulting on plans to cut back eligibility and restrict the number of people who will get the free bus pass in future.

“In its 2016 manifesto the SNP promised that the bus pass would continue and said nothing about cutting it back. The SNP has absolutely no mandate to make these cuts. To do so would be a betrayal of voters' trust.

“Humza Yousaf should go and read his own 2016 manifesto and ditch his plans to cut the bus pass, which have never been endorsed by the electorate.”

I am pleased that Dundee City Council unanimously opposed plans to cut the bus pass scheme. It was good that Dundee SNP councillors recognised just how unwelcome this cut would be.  We say no to cuts to bus passes.  I’ll be campaigning against cuts to the bus pass and for improved bus services.


Disappointed at Post Office Decision

The picture shows me campaigning with the CWU to protect the
Post Office along with Ed Balls before he was famous
disappointed at the decision of the Post Office to continue with plans for a franchised Post Office to replace the Crown Post Office in Dundee city centre.  On behalf of the Labour Group on Dundee City Council I responded to the consultation on the future of the Central Post Office and had made the case for Dundee retaining a Crown Post Office.  I am particularly disappointed that the Home Office Biometric Enrolment Service will be relocated to Perth, this is a service which is needed in a university city like Dundee.

As a city with a large student population I am disappointed that the Biometric Enrolment Service will not be retained in Dundee.  This will move to Perth which as the Post Office's response helpfully points out is a 65 minute bus journey away from the centre of Dundee.  This will be a major inconvenience for many overseas students, with the possibility of the numbers needing to use the service increasing after Brexit.  People will be able to pick up Biometric Residency Permit card from the Post Office in Dundee but in order to apply for the card they will need to travel to Perth.

I think that all of the changes which the Post Office are saying will be good about the new franchised Post Office could have been achieved whilst retaining the status of a Crown Post Office.  A more central location and longer opening hours could have been achieved if the management of the Post Office were minded to implement those changes.

I hope that all existing staff are looked after.  I have concerns that in a city where our ambition is to be a Living Wage City we are seeing a Living Wage employer leave.

I am very disappointed that the Post Office has not listened to the views which I put forward on behalf of the Labour Group.  I think that Dundee should have a Crown Post Office and that we will see in years to come that this was the wrong decision.


Welcome for Decision to Revisit Residents' Car Parking Scheme

I welcome the decision by Dundee City Council to revisit the issue of a residents' car parking scheme in the West End of Dundee.  At the November meeting of the West End Community Council the Depute Convener of City Development Councillor Mark Flynn announced that Dundee City Council will be revisiting the issue of a residents 'car parking scheme in the West End.

I have been consistent in asking for action on this important issue.

I welcome this announcement.  It is good that the City Council has listened to my concerns and the concerns of other local residents.   This welcome news and it recognises that something needs done.

Residents in the West End have raised concerns about not being a able to park near their house.  I welcomed the announcement from Councillor Mark Flynn tonight.  It is a very welcome change of heart from the Administration of the City Council.  It is important that the council learns the lessons of the previous attempt at implementing a residents parking scheme.  There can be no one size fits all solution.  We need may need different solutions in different streets.  We also need to recognise that the biggest problem with the previous proposals was that the proposed cost of £80 was just too high.

We also need to do all that we can to cut back on demand for car parking spaces.  We need to do all that we can to cut back on the number of people using their cars and coming and parking in the West End.  We also need to be wary of unintended consequences of any proposals, we need to be careful about merely moving the problem.

The devil will be in the detail of these proposals and it is important that local people have their say over the proposals when they are brought forward.  The council needs to listen to local people and deliver on proposals which they support.  I am pleased to see action at long last.

The video here is from October 2015 and it sums up my views on what is needed  - no one-size-fits-all approach and a need for clarity about the future.

Need to deal with Gig Economy

Recently I was asked about my views on companies like Deliveroo operating in Dundee.  I am happy to hear about businesses doing well in Dundee, but I am also clear that we need to make sure that people have a good quality job.

In my view a good quality job includes things like a good rate of pay and I agree with the report of Dundee Fairnesss Commission which wanted Dundee to be a Living Wage city.  People also need to have a clear expectation of what hours they are going to work and their income from week to week.

The ambition of the city is to a be a Living Wage employer: that’s what the Fairness Commission said and we should be looking to give people reliable and sustainable income.

I know a lot of people do like the flexibility of what is known as ‘the gig economy’ but there are people doing these jobs because they have no other alternative.

It’s good to see business doing well and coming into the city but we need to make sure the dignity of workers is always recognised.

I was recently at the Co-operative Party conference where Jeremy Corbyn spoke about the need to embrace these new digital platform. 

Jeremy Corbyn said at the Co-operative Party Conference,

'The top-down model of organisation, whether in politics, the media or in business, is being challenged and is breaking down.

The technology of the digital age should be empowering workers, enabling us to co-operate on a scale not possible before and yet too often it has enabled a more rapacious and exploitative form of capitalism to emerge.

Look at Uber, Deliveroo, and others. The platforms these companies use are the technologies of the future. But, too often, their business models depend not on technological advantage, but on establishing an effective monopoly in their market and using it to drive wages and conditions through the floor.

Governments have to make sure that regulation keeps pace with changing technologies.
But sensible regulation of working conditions would not only improve the lot of existing workers – and yes, despite what some firms try to claim, they are workers – it would mean that new businesses could survive in the market.

Digital platforms are opening up huge opportunities for horizontal, more democratic, forms of organisation to flourish.
Imagine an Uber run co-operatively by their drivers, collectively controlling their futures, agreeing their own pay and conditions, with profits shared or re-invested. The next Labour Government, working with you, can make that a reality.

The biggest obstacle to this is not technological but ourselves. We must have the confidence and organisational skill to make it happen. That’s why we commissioned our report on Alternative Models of Ownership. To start asking fundamental questions about who should own our economy in the digital age, and how to ensure that it’s enormous potential benefits serve the many, not the few.

Its authors recommend that co-operatives be supported by government through access to finance, through legal changes to level the playing field for cooperatives in the market, and through a better government procurement policy, so that public money is being used to support companies that serve the public good.

To prevent just the few benefiting from the “rise of the robots” the report suggests we consider higher minimum wages, a shorter working week, profit sharing schemes, or putting the ownership and control of the robots in the hands of those who work with them and come to rely on them.

We don’t have all the answers yet but are thinking radically about how we can shape the next thirty years to use the power of new technology to make our economy work for the many not the few.'

We need to ensure that the economy is run democratically and ensure that every worker is treated fairly and with dignity.


Exempt Police Scotland & Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT - Pay back the £140 million

Tonight at Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the Labour Group called for a VAT exemption for Police Scotland and for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and for a refund of the £140 million they have paid in VAT since 2012.  The way in which the Scottish Government set up the centralised police and fire service made them eligible to pay VAT, this was pointed out to the Scottish Government at the time these bodies were set up. 

At a recent meeting of Dundee City Council's Community Safety & Public Protection Committee the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service was unable to give any guarantees about the future of any of their services in Dundee due to the extent of cuts they face.  On Monday evening Dundee City Council decided to write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the VAT charge levied on Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service.  Labour is demanding that he exempt both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service from VAT and reimburse the £140 million paid since 2012, we're looking for the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to protecting services in Dundee.

I am determined to protect police and fire services and jobs in Dundee.  The Labour Group will work with other political groups, with trade unions and with the local community to protect crucial police and fire services in Dundee.

The Scottish Government got in wrong in the way in which these centralised services were set up. There is little to be gained in point scoring about this.  We should accept that a mistake has been made and we should move on to find the best solution.  The Labour Group is calling for both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to be exempted from VAT and for the UK Treasury to reimburse them the £140 million which they have already taken from these hard-pressed services.

The Labour Group was shocked to hear that the local commander of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service could not guarantee any services in Dundee due to expected budget cuts.  We are calling on the UK Government to stop taking this level of funding out of these important services.  We are also calling on the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to commit to funding services in Dundee at a level which means that there will be no closures of services and that there will be no further diminution of services in Dundee.

I was pleased that there was quite strong cross-party support for the motion which I moved.  It was disappointing that in the end the council's administration was unable to follow the logic of their own motion and demand support for police and fire services from the Scottish Government and from the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board.

I will be writing to the Chancellor demanding that Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service are exempted from VAT and that the £140 million is reimbursed.  I will also be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the Scottish POlice Authority and the Scottish Fire & Rescue Board seeking a reassurance about the future of police and fire services in Dundee.  This is important to protect services and give local people the reassurance that they need.


Ryehill Police Station Saved for Now

Campaigning to a save Ryehill Police Station
with amongst others Jenny Marra MSP
I welcome the fact that Ryehill Police Station appears to have won a reprieve for now and will remain open.  Police Scotland have published their consultation on their Estate Change Project and Ryehill Police Office was excluded from the consultation.  I have also received a response from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson MSP where he says that there are 'no immediate plans for that police station.'

This time last year I was running a petition against the proposed closure of Ryehill Police Station along with the local community and Jenny Marra MSP.  At that time Police Scotland were keen to close Ryehill Police Station.  They subsequently kicked that proposal into the long grass.  Therefore I was concerned to hear that Police Scotland were publishing a consultation on property closures.  I am glad that Ryehill Police Station has not been included in the current consultation.  I welcome the response which I have received from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice which does say that it is not part of the current consultation.  Michael Matheson's response is welcome but it is clear from it that there are no long-term guarantees for Ryehill Police Station.

I will be keeping a close eye on Police Scotland to ensure that Ryehill Police Station remains open. I would also like to see Police Scotland use the facility more.

As a local resident and a local councillor I am clear that people in the West End want to see Ryehill Police Station remain open.  Local people are looking for the reassurance of a public facing police presence in our community.  I will continue to campaign to protect services in my area and I will be watching to ensure that Ryehill Police Station remains open.


Invest in the Perth Road

Along with the Community Council and my council ward colleagues I am calling for investment to improve the shopping experience on the Perth Road.

As a local councillor and a local resident I know how important it is to maintain the Perth Road as a vibrant shopping district.  I think that branding for the area would be a good idea.  I also think that we should have a good look at street furniture and the state of the pavements.  It would be good to see if there were any areas on the Perth Road which would lend themselves to being a new area for seating or public art.

Car parking is an issue that has been raised with me time after time.  I want the council to look at what it can do to ensure a regular turnover of car parking in the shopping area.  I also want to see what can be done to make the area more attractive for cyclists and walkers.

Those of us who live in the West End are lucky to have access to the wide variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs which are found on the Perth Road.  These are also good for the whole city. 

I am concerned that regular roadworks over the last few years have had a detrimental impact on the shopping area.  This is why I have been calling for much better co-ordination of roadworks.  We need to do what we can to protect the local shopping area.

I want to see action from the council, before too long to deliver on some of the priorities which have been agreed on.  I want to hear from local traders and from local residents about their priorities for the Perth Road.  I want to work with the West End Community Council to ensure that we are doing all that we can to promote the Perth Road.


Homelessness Far from Fixed

Last week I was pleased to join my colleague Councillor Brian Gordon, who is Dundee Labour's spokesperson on Neighbourhood Services which includes housing issues, in supporting Shelter Scotland's work.  I am a long-standing supporter of Shelter's work and I have previously signed up to their Homelessness Far From Fixed campaign.

It is good to hear that the Scottish Government are looking to allocate more resources to tackling homelessness.  I am looking forward to finding out what that will mean here in Dundee.  We need to look to deliver good quality homes for all our people.


End tax on ill-health & NHS workers

Cars parked all the way along Ninewells Avenue avoiding the charges
I am calling for an end to car parking charges at Ninewells Hospital, which is in the West End ward.  I have been calling for the end to this policy since 2009.  This policy is a further cost to NHS staff who have suffered years of pay freezes.  I am clear that there is no such thing as a 'free' car parking space, they must be paid for in some way and must also be regulated. 

I want to see an end to car parking charges at Ninewells.  If free car parking at hospitals is the policy of the Scottish Government then it should apply in Dundee just as much as anywhere else in Scotland. Taxpayers in Dundee are paying for 'free' car parking at hospitals across Scotland.   I know that I will be told that Labour agreed to the contract, if the Scottish Government thinks free car parking is the way forward then the contract should be bought out in Dundee.  I want to do what is right for my community not worry about the rights and wrongs and political point scoring of who made the original decision.

We should also be clear that 'free' car parking is a cost to the NHS budget nationally.  In Dundee charging for car parking is a further tax on NHS staff and ill people and their families and friends.  I am not advocating a free for all at Ninewells just that staff should be able to get free parking when they are working and that people attending for appointments or for reasonable visiting should also get free spaces.

We must also do all that we can to make Ninewells accessible to people without the need to take their car to the hospital.  The current policy either penalises those who pay or encourages others to park in the surrounding streets becoming a nuisance to many of my constituents.  I have written to NHS Tayside and to the Cabinet Secretary for Health about this issue.


Welcome for Civil Service Jobs for Dundee

Jenny Marra MSP's letter calling for these jobs to come to Dundee
As Dundee Labour's City Development spokesperson I have welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government of Civil Service jobs coming to Dundee with Scottish Benefits Agency coming to Dundee.

My priority for Dundee is jobs.  Along with the Labour Group I will work with anyone to ensure that good quality sustainable jobs are brought to Dundee or kept in Dundee.  The Scottish Benefits Agency coming to Dundee is something that my colleague Jenny Marra MSP has been calling for and I am glad that her call has been supported.

This is the first new Civil Service jobs to come to Dundee in ten years and it is good that the SNP-led Scottish Government has finally delivered on its campaign from 2003 and 2007.  It is good that this has eventually led to jobs coming to Dundee.

I have been calling for Civil Service jobs to be relocated to Dundee since I was elected.  Indeed when I work for former Dundee East MP John McAllion it was one of our big campaigns.

We are keen to work to ensure that these jobs become a reality before too long.  Labour in Dundee will work with the council and the Scottish Government to ensure that Dundonians receive a pay packet from the Scottish Benefits Agency before too long.

I look forward to these jobs coming to Dundee and I hope that they are the first of many jobs for our city.


Campaign to be a Living Wage City

Along with council colleagues, including Councillor Charlie Malone and others I attended a Living Wage Roadshow in the City Chambers on Wednesday evening.  I was the first person to promote the Living Wage on Dundee City Council, and while I welcomes what the council is doing to promote the Living Wage he is clear that there is much much more that could be done.

It was good to see just how far we have come since I first proposed the Living Wage in a Dundee City Council meeting.  I am really pleased that after a fairly long campaign that Dundee City Council is now a fully accredited Living Wage employer.  I want Dundee to become a Living Wage city with a Living Wage economy.  People need to be rewarded for their work.  Dundee City Council has considerable financial clout in this city and we should not be afraid to use that to ensure that the people of Dundee  are paid a decent wage.  Dundee residents should benefit from council external contracts and we should make sure that all council contractors and sub-contractors are paid the Living Wage.  Dundee City Council should be at forefront of the campaign to make Dundee a Living Wage city and should lead by example.

It was good to hear about what the council is doing in conjunction with the Poverty Alliance, the Living Wage Foundation and the Scottish Government to ensure that more companies sign up to the Living Wage and there are special accreditation rates over the next month.  I want to work with anyone to make our city a Living Wage economy and improve the lot of very many of our fellow Dundonians.


Chic Farquhar RIP

Chic supporting Labour on the campaign trail
I was sad to hear of the death of former Labour councillor Chic Farquhar.  Chic served Dundee and more especially Lochee as a councillor for 42 years.  He held a variety of posts including Lord Provost.  He was my predecessor as Convener of Leisure and Arts.  He was a hard act to follow.  Before I heard of his death on Tuesday I was thinking about Chic at the celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of the McManus Galleries.  Chic was the political lead for the refurbishment of the McManus, I took over responsibility for this when I was elected as Convener of Leisure and Arts.

Chic's role as 'Mr Lochee' is relatively well known.  He did have a wide variety of interests.  For example, he was hugely supportive of disabled sport in the city through the Dundee Disability Sports Council.  He was also, for many years, the Chair of the Dundee Sports Council promoting the work of volunteer sports clubs across the city.

Chic was, of course, a stalwart of the labour and trade union movement and served the movement well over many years.

Whatever their politics someone who has served their community for 42 years has made a strong contribution to their community and our city. Whilst many people will comment on Chic's political career it is important to note that he will be missed by his friends and family and my thoughts are with them.


Big Noise Douglas

Cllrs Kevin Keenan & Richard McCready making their way into
Dundee City Chambers to support El Sistema
I was delighted to see the Big Noise Dundee launched on Thursday.  This version of the El Sistema programme is to welcomed and I hope that it will make a real difference in the Douglas area.

I was particularly pleased to see this happen as I had made clear my support for this project several times in the council chamber.  Indeed I spoke in favour of it long before the council's administration was prepared to support it.  I first mentioned that we should support it when I was paying tribute to the life and legacy of the singer Michael Marra.  This should be a lasting memorial to Michael Marra.

I have heard about the great work that the Big Noise has made in Raploch and indeed in the area of Glasgow where I was born, Govanhill.

I hope that the Big Noise Douglas will be a great success.


Community Spirit Action Group

I was at the regular meeting of the Community Spirit Action Group in the north of the West End ward on Wednesday evening.  It was an interesting meeting.  It was good to listen to local people's concerns.  Their concerns included road safety, buses, bin collections and trees amongst other things.

It is always good to listen to the views of local residents and I was very happy to get a number of constituent cases to chase up.

It was good to get the chance to talk about changes to the bus services which will impact on this area.  Xplore Dundee are to introduce a new service 4 which will serve the Logie Estate.  This service will be an off-peak day time service but it is a start.  I am pleased that Xplore Dundee have listened to the case which I am the Community Spirit committee have been making over a number of years.

One World Centre AGM

On Wednesday I was pleased to be able to get along to the Annual General Meeting of the One World Centre.  I was pleased to be able to support this excellent organisation.

It was good to hear about work which they have been involved in which has helped the integration of refugees in our community.

Our city was built on international trade and it is important that we understand that we are truly part of one world and that we should act accordingly.

I want to pay tribute to the work of Ann Gammack who has served as Convener of the One World Centre for the last five years.  In the annual report she says 'In our globalised world we can no longer build a wall around ourselves and shut out the rest of the world.'  I could not agree more.  My neighbours are the people of Dundee but they are also people around the whole world.

I will continue to campaign for change in the economic situation here is Dundee and around the world.


Basque Refugee Children Exhibition

As regular readers will know one area of history which fascinates me is the Spanish Civil War and reactions to it in Scotland and the UK.  I have been pleased to mark the sacrifice of the volunteers of the International Brigade at the memorial outside the McManus Galleries.

This week there is an exhibition in the Central Library of the story of the Basque Refugee Children who came to Britain in 1937 to escape the Civil War and bombing in the Basque Country.  In Dundee there was a great deal of support for these children and the Dundee Free Breakfast Mission made their home in Montrose available for these children to stay there.  There was a great deal of support for this including from the local co-operative societies, political parties and trades unions.

If you want to know more about the history of these children please visit the website of Basque Children of 37 website. The website includes a number of  articles about the so-called Montrose colony.  In the 80th anniversary of this refugee crisis we need to look at what we would do today to support those suffering throughout the world.

Dundee Rep - August: Osage County

 Amongst the many organisations which I am associated and which I support is Dundee Rep Theatre.  I was appointed by the council as a Director of Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre.  As part of this role I attended a performance of August: Osage County. This was the first production directed by the new artistic director Andrew Panton.

I did not know the play before I attended it but I was pleasantly surprised.  This is an excellent production and well worth going to see.  The production was really good with a striking set.  It was funny and challenging at the same time.  An excellent performance by the Dundee Rep ensemble.

It is on at the Rep until 16 September, get along if you can.