25/12/2012

Merry Christmas

A very Merry Christmas to all readers and constituents.  I hope that Christmas brings you joy and hope and brings justice and peace to the world.

21/12/2012

Remploy

After my calls last week for the setting up of an action group on Remploy I was pleased that this group met for the first time on Monday of this week.  It was good to get a cross-party group of politicians from Westminster, Holyrood and the City Council around the table with council officers and trade unions.  It is clear that it may well be very difficult to keep the factory open but there was a consensus that more should be done to help the factory and support the workforce.  There have been a few developments this week with a statement in the Scottish Parliament from the Scottish Government offering support.  The Welsh Government has offered more support and I think that the Scottish Government should take a look at what the Welsh Government is doing.  My colleague Jenny Marra has also tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament about Dundee Remploy.

There will be more meetings in the new year but I think that it is important to remember those people who will now spend Christmas with the shadow of redundancy hanging over their heads.  I hope that we can find a solution to this issue and that jobs can be saved but it will be difficult.

Support Dundee Foodbank

I was really pleased when the City Council agreed to my colleague Kevin Keenan's amendment that we should donate £25,000 from the city's Common Good Fund to the Dundee Foodbank.  I have attended a number of presentations which have been made by the Dundee Foodbank and I have to say that I am very impressed by their work.  Some people might remember them featuring on the Channel 4 programme the Secret Millionaire.  My colleagues Laurie Bidwell, Jenny Marra and Claire Baker visited the Dundee Foodbank this week.  In the House of Commons this week there was a debate on foodbanks initiated by my Labour colleagues there.  It is important that the scandal of people being unable to provide food for their families is highlighted.

The Dundee Foodbank does an excellent job, it is a tragedy that their services are still required.  Whilst I will campaign along with others to ensure that everyone in this country has enough to provide the basic necessities of life I would also urge people to support the work of the foodbank.  You can find out more about the Dundee Foodbank by clicking their logo above.

Dundee SNP Cut A Day from Next Year

My friends in the Dundee SNP are distributing a calendar across the city.  You might think that is very good until you find out that the calendar is wrong, every date in September is wrong and Sunday 1st September has been missed off the calendar.

I am loathe to criticise anyone for a typing or printing error as they can happen to anyone, however, it does seem though that Sunday 1st September 2013 will be another SNP cut.  How will the SNP make up this loss to people's weekends?  What will Dundee's churches do?  Have the Dundee SNP let the cat out of the bag - would there be a different calendar in an independent Scotland?  If successful they plan to keep the Queen, keep the pound and remain in NATO, so perhaps the only difference in an independent Scotland would be a different calendar.  It does join in with hiding the truth over legal advice on Scotland's position in the EU and being economical with the truth over discussions with the Bank of England.  It does beg the question - can we trust the SNP?

18/12/2012

Stop Destitution

I recognise the dignity which is to be found in every human being.  In my previous employment when I was the National Secretary of Justice and Peace Scotland I did a lot of work with refugees and asylum seekers.  These people often get a bad press, but what I said to people who criticised them was 'how much money would make you leave your home with little prospect of return?'  People who claim asylum are generally in hopeless situations with few alternatives. 

I support the work of the Scottish Refugee Council who are pointing out that 1in 4 people seeking asylum in Scotland experience destitution.  This is unacceptable in modern Scotland.   I support the Scottish Refugee Council's campaign to assist asylum seekers by giving them:
  • Proper support – this should continue until people are granted protection or can return home safely
  • Right to work – for all asylum seekers who remain in the UK for more than six months, including those who have been refused.
  • A better system – improve decision making on asylum claims and ensure the UK gives protection to all those who need it.
Please sign the petition in support of the Scottish Refugee Council's campaign to Stop Destitution

As many people prepare to celebrate Christmas over the next couple of weeks it is worth remembering that according to some accounts Jesus, Mary and Joseph were forced to leave their homeland and seek refuge in Egypt.

Shelter's Letter to Santa

I support the work of Shelter and at Christmas they are campaigning on the issue of children living in temporary accommodation.  In Scotland 5,300 children will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation.  I believe that Dundee City Council has a reasonably good record on this issue but I have asked for a briefing from the housing department about this.

I have signed Shelter's letter to Santa and I hope that the Scottish Government will take action to ensure that every child in Scotland will have a bed of their own; a safe place to play and do their homework and a warm, dry, safe place to call home.  You can sign up to the campaign here and send Shelter's letter to Santa.  You can also watch the video above which deals with the issue of temporary accommodation throughout the UK.  The picture below shows me signing up to Shelter's campaign last year, some progress has been made but there is scope for more.

17/12/2012

Tell the Council What you think about residents' parking scheme


West End Parking Consultation 17 December 2012 from West End Labour on Vimeo.

The consultation of the proposed Residents' Car Parking Scheme comes to an end on Friday 21st December.  I think that it is hugely important that everyone with an opinion on this issue must make sure that they make their views known to the City Council.

As I have said nobody has spoken to me in favour of the proposals.  Most people are unhappy that the City Council Administration wants to charge £80 per year for people to park outside their own house.  Something like 7,000 letters were sent out and the council is saying that it has received only 580 responses.  It is crucial that the answers the council receives are representative of the views of the people of the West End.

It is important that people make sure and respond to the consultation.  The City Council must have an accurate idea of people's views on this issue.  You  can hear an interview which I did with Wave 102 by clicking on the video above.

The message is clear though, tell the council what you think about the residents' parking scheme.

Development Management Committee

An artists impression of the new entrance to Duncan of Jordanstone
Monday evening saw the last meeting of the council's Development Management Committee.  There were a few interesting applications.  I seconded a motion against an advertising sign outside the newly refurbished entrance to the Matthew Building at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.  I thought that the advertising sign would have taken away from the new entrance.  I think that  the council should give serious consideration as to how it deals with street furniture and clutter.  The sign that was proposed is fine as far as it goes but the question was is it appropriate for the setting.  On its own this sign was not the worst thing in the world but we should be thinking about the overall position of street furniture.

The recent renovation at Duncan of Jordanstone's entrance has been a major improvement.  Recently I took part in a walkabout with traders from the Perth Road, which did not go as far along the Perth Road as the art college. that walkabout brought home to me that there is a lack of design and co-ordination for street furniture.  I think that this proposal will take away from the new entrance to Duncan of Jordanstone and will add to the clutter in that area.  I was pleased that my colleagues supported me and that the application was rejected.

15/12/2012

Improve Standards in Care Homes

At this week's Social Work and Health Committee I spoke on the report which looks at the standards in Care Homes in the city. I pointed out that it is essential that the council ensures that it promotes high standards in care homes.  Through the Free Personal Care policy millions of pounds are being spent in Dundee on care homes.

I would urge anyone who has a loved-one in a care home to take a good look at this report.  I raised the iniquity that council run care homes have inspection reports reported to the council's Scrutiny Committee.  Bear in mind that there are huge amounts of public money being spent in the non-council run care homes.  I think that the public deserve that someone will examine the reports written by the Care Inspectorate.  We cannot allow public money to be spent without some oversight of how it is being spent.  I was pleased that the Convener of Social Work and Health agreed with my suggestion that we should be looking for some way to ensure that reports for all care homes where public money is spent are reported to the council's Scrutiny Committee.  The reason for this is to ensure that standards in care homes across the city are improved for all of the vulnerable people who are using these services.

I look forward to progress on this issue.

14/12/2012

Cashless Schools

On Wednesday I  moved a motion at the City Council's Scrutiny Committee calling for the council to bring forward a report to make schools cashless. The Scrutiny Committee was considering a report on the 'Processes and Systems in Place for the Management of Cash within Schools'. This report came forward as a result of the misappropriation of cash with a school in the city.  I amended the report to ensure that a report will be brought forward which will look at how smart-card technology can be used to move towards a scenario where money is all but eliminated from schools.

I am concerned that money being handled in schools can lead to problems such as the misappropriation of cash, or bullying of young people for their money, or young people being stigmatised for not having money. I had received a briefing from council officers which stated that the council could use the smart-card technology available to it a lot more and do more things and innovate. I was pleased that there was cross party support for my idea at the Scrutiny Committee and that Councillor Jimmy Black seconded my idea.


I think we could get to a point where no child has to take cash to school, when all meals could be paid for using a smart card. Where schools trips and other incidental expenses could be paid for using a smart card. I think that there is a lot of scope here to improve security as well as eliminating any stigmas associated with having access to events subsidised, for example. The technology might not be ready just yet but I think that we should have as our long-term goal creating a cashless environment in our schools. I am looking forward to a report being brought forward to the Education Committee in the near future.

13/12/2012

Make Your Views Known on Residents' Parking Scheme

On Tuesday evening I attended a meeting of the West End Community Council .  The main item was a discussion on the important issue of the proposed Residents' Car Parking Scheme in the West End.  There was a good attendance at the meeting and the council's Head of Transportation outlined the plans and answered questions.

No local residents spoke in favour of the proposals and there was a vote at the end of the meeting which unanimously voted against the proposals.  I believe that there are some people who have supported the proposals but I have to say that nobody has spoken to me in favour of the proposals.  However, it is really really important that local residents respond to the consultation before it closes on Friday 21st December.

I gave my views on this to STV News on Wednesday you can see this here, with the interview starting at 13.06 minutes, or by clicking below:  

11/12/2012

Action Group on Remploy

At the meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee last night I was pleased to be able to second the Lord Provost when he moved that an Action Group on Remploy should be set up.  I called for an item to be placed on the agenda on Monday evening about the closure of Remploy.  I am glad that the council's Administration listened to my call and brought forward these proposals.

I think that we, as a council and as a city, should make clear our extreme concern about proposed closure of the Remploy factory in Dundee, as it says in the note, but it is important that we look at practical things that can be done either by the council or others to assist the workforce at Remploy.

On Monday I received an email from the Rev Erik Cramb, who as many people will know is a former Industrial Chaplain in the city; people will also know that Erik is disabled.  In his email Erik said that he speaks from 'personal experience of being a person with a disability fortunate enough to have been able to use my abilities in paid employment.'

He went on, 'As well as income, employment gives a unique sense of self-worth.  Even when the employment is subsidised, there is still the satisfaction of being able to make as much of a contribution to society as you are able.  In terms of purpose in life this is light years away from being unnecessarily stick on benefits without the opportunity to use your abilities.'

Mr Cramb suggest s a few ideas for the future of the future of Remploy and I will be tabling these to ask that the Action Group takes his practical suggestions on board.  A few years ago both Erik and I served on a Corporate Social Responsibility working group of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  I think that it is safe to say that the actions of Remploy and the UK Government over the last few days leave a lot to be desired in terms of corporate social responsibility.

It was important that the council sent out a clear message which said that we condemn the way in which the closure of Remploy had been handled by the UK Government.  It is now time to look for ways in which the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the City Council along with the workforce and their trade unions, and civic society search for ways to protect the jobs at Remploy.

10/12/2012

Stop Loan Sharks

As regular readers will be aware I have been campaigning against legal loan sharks this morning I attended a briefing session on illegal loan sharks.  This session was hosted by the government organisation Stop Loan Sharks

It was good to hear that something is getting done to deal with this terrible trade, which targets the poor and the vulnerable.  It was disappointing to hear that loan sharks are probably operating in Dundee.  You can find out more about loan sharks in this leaflet.  We heard about an example of an illegal loan with an APR of 719,000%, and even of an APR which would be the equivalent of 11 million per cent.

If you have information about loan sharks please call Stop Loan Sharks on 0300 555 2222. 

It is important that people are aware of the various alternatives to loan sharks such as Discovery Credit Union.  It is important that the message is clear that loan sharks are not welcome in Dundee and that the council, the police and others will work to stop them.

Call for Remploy to be discussed at Council Meeting

On Friday I wrote to officials of the council seeking to place an item on the agenda of the council meetings on Monday night about the disgraceful decision to close the Remploy factory in Dundee.
The announcement of the closure of the Remploy Factory in Dundee is a blow to the workforce, and is all the more cruel in the run up to Christmas.  It is disgraceful that the announcement was sneaked out at Westminster just days after the minister, Esther McVey, told my colleague Jim McGovern and other MPs that she would be ready to visit the factory in Dundee - which she must have known was already marked for closure.  My colleague Jenny Marra MSP has also called for action on this issue. My trade union, the GMB, which represents many of the members at the Remploy factory in Dundee has described the closure announcement as 'despicable.'
I am seeking permission to place an item on the agenda of the City Council or the Policy and Resources Committee on Monday evening which would condemn the decision by the UK Government, call on the UK Government to think again about closure or bring forward proposals to find alternatives to closure.  The UK Government should also bring forward proposals to find employment for those who are being made redundant at Remploy.  The Scottish Government should look at the sort of support which it can give to Remploy, for example, are there orders which the Scottish Government is about to let which could be procured through Remploy, new police and fire uniforms or protective clothing for example.  The City Council should also bring together a plan to help the factory and support the workforce there.  I hope that my request will be agreed to as it is important that the City Council speaks with one voice on this important issue and that we stand up for vulnerable workers in the city.

09/12/2012

Support for Living Wage at Dundee University

I support the efforts being made by Dundee Labour Students to get all employees of the University of Dundee paid the Living Wage.  I campaigned for Dundee City Council to pay the Living Wage, and I believe that it should be paid right across the public sector.


I am more than happy to support this campaign by Dundee Labour Students to get the Living Wage paid at Dundee University. I strongly supported the moves which made the City Council pay the Living Wage and I believe that everyone in the public sector should be paid the Living Wage. As the local councillor for the university, and indeed as a graduate of the university, I will be writing to the Principal of the University setting out my support for the campaign and asking that he give serious consideration to implementing it.
 
You can show your support for this campaign by Dundee Labour Students by signing their online petition.

01/12/2012

World AIDS Day

Today, 1st December 2012, is marked as World AIDS Day.  It is important that we all do everything that we can to deal with AIDS.  We need to look for progress on the development of medicines as well as raising awareness of HIV/AIDS.

You can watch the video here from the Robin Hood Tax Campaign.  The video looks at the situation in Malawi and how the Robin Hood Tax could assist people with HIV/AIDS and deal with issues like poverty and climate change as well as deal with poverty in the UK.  I support the Robin Hood Tax.


30/11/2012

Support for UK City of Culture Bid in parliament


I've joined with my colleagues Jenny Marra and Jim McGovern to put our full backing behind Dundee’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.


Jenny Marra and Jim McGovern have tabled motions before the Scottish and UK parliaments asking parliamentarians to lend their support to Dundee’s bid.

I am pleased that support for the bid to be UK City of Culture is now being shown in the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament. Now that the council has agreed to take forward the bid it is important that everyone with Dundee's best interests at heart takes the opportunity to promote the bid. The hard work of winning the title of UK City of Culture 2017 starts now.  You can hear me speaking to Radio Tay about the campaign to win the title for Dundee.


Jenny Marra's motion which has been tabled at the Scottish Parliament can be found here.  Jenny Marra MSP said, “Dundee City of Culture 2017 would be fantastic timing for our city. We need to seize the momentum of the V&A and launch more opportunities for everyone in Dundee. We need to fire all the bullets in the air at the same time. Only by bringing more opportunities to the City before 2020, like the National Football Academy and El Sistema will we make the UK City of Culture work for all our communities and give all our children new chances to find their talents.


“Everyone in Dundee should get behind the UK City of Culture bid and make sure that the changing face of Dundee means change for everyone.”


Jim McGovern's Early Day Motion which has been tabled in the House of Commons can be read here.  Jim McGovern MP said; “I am delighted to support the bid to see Dundee become the UK City of Culture in 2017. The cultural life of Dundee is thriving and will only get better over the next few years.”

“This is a perfect opportunity to highlight the unique virtues of Dundee, and to showcase both to Scotland and the rest of the UK how much there is to do, see and experience in the city. I am confident that this bid will put Dundee even more firmly on the map and will have a hugely positive impact on the city.”

Happy St Andrew's Day

I would like to wish everyone a very happy St Andrew's Day.  I think that we should celebrate our national patron.  It would be good if St Andrew's Day was celebrated more in Scotland.  The feast day of St Andrew should be a good time to reflect on the history of our nation and look towards to future of our nation.

In the West End ward we have the Catholic Cathedral of the Diocese of Dunkeld dedicated to St Andrew.  The picture here is of the stained glass window of St Andrew from that cathedral.  I suppose the question we are faced with is what does a two-thousand year old Galilean fisherman have to say to us in twenty-first century Scotland. According to the Gospel it was Andrew who found the boy with loaves and the fishes which led to the feeding of the five thousand, perhaps we should reflect on those who are hungry in Scotland today reliant on food banks and those who are hungry throughout the world.  Whatever your view on religion perhaps we should use St Andrew's Day to focus on hunger rather than flags.

Whatever you are doing I hope that you enjoy the Feast of St Andrew.

27/11/2012

Legal Loan Sharks - Dundee City Council Action

At the Policy and Resources Committee there was a report about what the report called High Interest Rate Lenders - I call them Legal Loan Sharks.  I was pleased to see the report before us as I have been campaigning about this issue for some time.
The report before us last night contained 3 recommendations I sought to amend the report to add a further two.  The original recommendations were:
It is recommended that Committee instructs the Chief Executive to :
a) write to the UK Government recommending that it introduces regulations to cap the interest rates charged to borrowers by high interest lenders
b) write to the Scottish Government requesting that it investigates whether there is any action it can take within its existing powers to assist people in debt due to the policies of high interest lenders
c) write to both Governments encouraging them to maximise support and investment in the expansion of the credit union movement

The two further amendments which I added were:
d)  to bring forward an action plan to promote Credit Unions within the City of Dundee.

e) write to the Scottish Government requesting that it examines its policies in relation to planning matters and whether it is possible to use planning legislation to prevent high interest rate lenders opening shops and if not to consider changing legislation to prevent the spread of high interest rate lenders'  shops.


The report before us was welcome as far as it went I sought to make an amendment which I believe makes the report more powerful.  I was pleased that my amendments were accepted.

We need to ensure that we take action which protects the people of Dundee from High Interest Rate Lenders.  These companies trade on the misery of others and we should be looking to bring in a cap on interest rates.  We should be looking to develop policies which help anyone in debt.  We should be calling on both the UK and the Scottish Governments to do all that they can to promote credit unions. 

I am normally against censorship but I did think that it was interesting idea that the council should look at blocking access to Legal Loan Sharks from any council computer.
My amendments would ensure that the City Council also does everything in its power to promote credit unions.  Credit Unions are important and they can provide a means by which people can help themselves.

In Dundee everyone can be a member of the Discovery Credit Union.  We should be promoting membership and we should be working with them to develop services for everyone in the city.  Credit Unions can and should provide services for everyone in the city.  In Ireland membership of a credit union is something like the same as the population.  In North America in New England the main financial institutions are credit unions.  We should be looking at ways of levelling the playing field between credit unions and high interest rate lenders. 

How can we get to the situation where it is credit union shops which are to be found on our high streets?  Some of these Legal Loan Sharks are within a couple of hundred yards of the council chamber.  How can we ensure that credit unions offer a full range of banking services?  How can we ensure that people understand that credit unions offer the best option, the more ethical option in financial services?  I think that the City Council could do more to promote credit unions.
I also think that we should be looking at ways of limiting the number of high interest rate lenders in our shopping areas.  I think that we should look at ways of doing this through our planning system.  Council officers are worried that we cannot do this, then I think that we should at the very least ask the Scottish Government to look at how this might be done.  I think that the Scottish Government should look to assist us by amending the law if need be so that we can either limit the number of high interest rate lenders on our high streets or better still prevent them.  I know that we want our high streets and shopping areas to be vibrant but I would ask if we mean that to be at any cost?

We should be sending out the message that we don’t support Legal Loans Sharks in Dundee and that they are not welcome to come here and trade on the misery of people here.

We can all do our bit by supporting credit unions and we can do our bit by calling on the UK and Scottish Governments to deal effectively with Legal Loan Sharks and promote credit unions. 

Response to Living Wage (Scotland) Bill

I was pleased recently that the City Council agreed to an amendment which I put forward which committed the council to looking at paying the Living Wage to those contracting business with the council and also that the council should respond to John Park MSP's Members' Bill on the Living Wage.  The Council produced its response at the Policy and Resources Committee last night.


It is important that we take the lead, we did that by paying the Living Wage to Dundee City Council employees.  I don’t think that we should stop there, it is important that we give a clear message that we think that anyone working on public sector contracts should be paid the Living Wage. 


I think that this response to the consultation is welcome I think that it could have gone further in being more supportive of the aims of John Park’s Members’ Bill.  However, I am clear that we have a moral duty if we think that the Living Wage should be paid to City Council employees to say that it should also be paid to those whom we indirectly employ on contracts.


We have a duty to promote the well-being of the people of Dundee; improving their pay would go some way towards doing this.  The council has huge economic power I think that we should be making sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that that economic power is used for the benefit of all of the people of Dundee.

Council - Agrees to UK City of Culture Bid


I am delighted to say that Dundee City Council has agreed to take forward a bid to be UK City of Culture in 2017 and to look at the possibilities of bidding to be a  European Capital of Culture in 2022.  I was disappointed that Dundee missed out on bidding to be UK City of Culture in 2013 but I am pleased that we are now working hard to achieve UK City of Culture status.
 
I warmly welcomed this report.  It would have been easy for me to make a cheap political point about the UK still being in existence in 2017 but this is much much more important than that.

 

This is about saying that we collectively support Dundee.  That we will do everything in our power to promote our city. 

 

I think that Dundee is very well placed to win the competition to be UK City of Culture in 2017.  We have the DCA, Dundee Rep, the McManus, Discovery Point, the Verdant Works, Sensation, the Mills Observatory, the Caird Hall, Broughty Castle, two universities and a college as well as schools across the city.  There is also a very active amateur dramatic scene.  There is also a lot of cultural activity right across the city.  I’m sorry to the organisations which I have left out.  But I would point out that this is even before that great British institution, the V & A at Dundee comes to town. 

 

I’m glad that we are going to bring forward plans to bid for the UK City of Culture title, I am also pleased that we are not just stopping there the city should look to apply to become a European Capital of Culture.

 

I would make a couple of pleas on this.  Any bid has to be about everyone in Dundee not just the cultural quarter.  We need to ensure that any bid includes bringing the very best in culture to everyone in the city.  It must also be about encouraging people to invest in the city and bring jobs to the city.

 


 


 

I welcome this report and hope that it will be successful for the good of our city.

LP will have to wait for Jag

At the City Council's Policy and Resources Committee last night there was an item which suggested that the Civic Cars should be upgraded.  The plan was to replace the Lord Provost's current Volkswagen with a Jaguar and to replace the current second car, a Volvo, with a people carrier.

There was no option appraisal in the very brief report so we could not tell which options were the best for the city.  In recent months at the Environment Committee we have agreed a number of reports where the council has bought end of lease vehicles or has renegotiated the lease at the end of its term.  I wanted to know why if this was good enough for the workers it is not good enough for the civic cars. We were also told that on occasion the council has had to hire mini-buses and therefore a people carrier is needed, I found this strange as the council owns a large number of mini-buses some of which appear to be underutilised. Thankfully, it was agreed to bring back a fuller report to the next set of  committees and therefore the Lord Provost is going to have to wait before he gets his Jaguar.

City Council Committees

Monday evening saw the latest set of council committee meetings.  At the Education Committee I was pleased to see that proposals are being brought forward for new schools in the Hilltown, Menzieshill and Kirkton areas.  This is good news and builds on Labour's building programme which is coming to fruition just now.

It is important that parents, pupils and local communities make their voices heard on these proposals and respond to the formal consultation processes and play an active part in the project boards when these are established.

At the City Development Committee my colleague Councillor Laurie Bidwell had done the council a service by noticing that work was about to start on a contract at Douglas Terrace Walkway which had not been properly authorised.  Some councillors thought that this was unimportant but this gets to the heart of what the council is for and the role of councillors in overseeing the work of officers.  I am sure that it was an oversight but we nearly had the situation where  a contract worth £723,579 was started without any authorisation to spend the money.  Who would have paid if this had not been rectified?  I will be writing to the Chief Executive to make sure that processes are in place to prevent such a thing happening again.

26/11/2012

Feast of Christ the King - St Andrew's Cathedral

On Sunday I attended the Civic and Academic Mass for the Feast of Christ the King at St Andrew's Cathedral on the Nethergate.  Each year the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dunkeld invites councillors, parliamentarians and others serving in public life as well as representatives of both universities.  The Diocese always thanks us for our service, whilst I certainly wasn't looking for thanks it is always very nice to receive thanks anyway.

I was sad to see that Bishop Vincent Logan was not present due to ill health but it was very nice to see Bishop Nigel Peyton of the Scottish Episcopalian Diocese of Brechin, in what Father Jack from Father Ted would call 'an ecumenical matter.'  Canon Michael Milton from St Andrew's Cathedral celebrated the Mass and in his homily he challenged all of us to work towards building a kingdom of justice and peace. 

The welcome at St Andrew's Cathedral was as warm as ever and the music in the Liturgy was very, very good.

Pop up Shop - Support for Duncan of Jordanstone Students

On Saturday I was really pleased to meet Paula Grubb a student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the Show Off pop up shop in the Wellgate Centre.  This project brought together a wide range of artists and makers.  It allowed the students to experience a little bit of the real world.  This was a live opportunity to sell their work in a commercial environment.

It was good for the Wellgate because it brought a little bit of colour, excitement and life to the centre.  Though it was underneath the clock which may well be my favourite part of the Wellgate Centre. 

I will be speaking to Dundee City Council to see if there are any shops or other spaces where the council could assist with facilitating pop up shops like this.  This would be good because it could bring some vibrancy to areas and would be a good opportunity for students to learn about marketing their art.  It could also bring some culture to to areas around the city.

22/11/2012

West End Christmas Lights

On Wednesday evening I was delighted to attend the Christmas concert at Dundee West Church.  Yet again the talent on display from the schools of the West End was remarkable and we were also treated to a performance by Loadsaweeminsinging.

After the concert it was outside to Seabraes for the switching on of the Christmas Lights.  It was great to see so many local people there enjoying this event.  The fireworks were spectacular and a number of people, including former West End Community Council Chairman Alan Young - see photograph, enjoyed the sparklers which were available,

21/11/2012

Safe Drive Stay Alive

As a member of the Tayside Fire and Rescue Board I was invited to attend a presentation for fourth year pupils on road safety in the Caird Hall.  Safe Drive Stay Alive is a very harrowing presentation of the dangers which are present for young drivers.  It presented the problems which can come about as a result of young people speeding or showing off when driving.  It was shocking that the presentation claimed that the biggest killer of teenage girls is teenage boys driving.

We also heard from the father of a five year-old boy who was killed by a drunk-driver.  It was shocking to hear his story.  I do hope that the young people there will think carefully about their behaviour when they are able to drive.  This was a harrowing event and certainly made me think about road safety.

Well done to those who organised the event.


20/11/2012

Development Management Committee

On Monday evening I attended the November meeting of the Development Management Committee.  There was a fairly light agenda for this.  We accepted an outline planning application for a manufacturing facility for offshore renewables at Dundee Port.  I welcome this and look forward to a full application possibly coming forward.  I hope that Dundee is able to attract a company to use such a facility sooner rather than later.

There was also a planning application to allow JTC in Harrison Road to operate a wood burning plant which would produce electricity.  I supported this proposal as I think that it is good to have a sustainable use for offcuts from the joinery works here.  I did ask a question about whether we were setting a precedent in favour of all biomass plants by agreeing last night's proposals.  I was reassured to be told that each planning application is treated on its own merits and that no such precedent was set.  On this basis I was very happy to support the proposals put forward at the committee meeting.

West End Parking Consultation - Make Views Known

A map at the exhibition showing some extra detail (or not)
I've reiterated my call for West End residents and businesses to make their views known on the proposed residents' parking scheme.  On Monday I was at the well attended exhibition at Blackness Library to give residents more information about the scheme.


There was a good turnout at the meeting in Blackness Library but it represented only a small proportion of the people of the West End. I am very clear that everyone with a view on these proposals should make their views known. It is important that whatever the decision that is taken is in line with the views of the majority in the West End.


Many people at today's event were raising concerns about the proposals with me and it is important that each and every one of those concerns is fed back into council. As a local resident I am aware of some of the concerns that people have been raising, I know that people are concerned about the cost; about whether this will merely move the problem; about whether they can get visitors or deliveries; and about the impact on local businesses. I will certainly be expecting the report on the consultation to include these matters.


My message to the people of the West End is clear - make your voice heard - tell the council what you think about this important issue.

Tayside Fire & Rescue Board Meeting

On Monday morning I attended a meeting of Tayside Fire and Rescue Board.  The main focus of the meeting was looking at how we move towards the national fire and rescue service.  It is important that Tayside Fire and Rescue keeps its eye on the ball in the run up to the new national Fire and Rescue service and ensures that people in Tayside continue to receive an excellent service from Tayside Fire and Rescue Service.

One of the items reported was on the campaign supported by Tayside Fire & Rescue on the danger of fires in wheelie bins particularly in tenemental areas.  I raised some issues about this; namely that it is really important that Tayside Fire & Rescue and other partners deal with this issue.  I raised my concerns that it is important that this campaign is aimed at students and at landlords.  It is important that landlords take their responsibilities seriously.

16/11/2012

Support for UK City of Culture Bid

As Dundee Labour's Culture spokesperson I have  today expressed my support for Dundee's bid to become UK City of Culture and hopefully in the fullness of time to become a European Capital of Culture.  I've been campaigning for Dundee to apply for the City of Culture title since 2009 and has been disappointed at the lack of progress before now.  I'm delighted at the change of heart by the SNP-led Administration of Dundee City Council.  Council.  I've set up a website www.dundee2017.org.uk to allow people to register their support for the bid.
 
I am delighted that the council is proposing to support a bid for Dundee to be the UK City of Culture.  I have been disappointed in the past at the lack of support for these proposals.  It is important that the council fully backs the bid and pulls out all the stops to win this title.
 
Dundee has a wide range of cultural venues and a vibrant local arts and cultural scene, it is important that this bid is about the whole city and that it includes and enhances the great work done in all of Dundee's communities by the many cultural agencies working in the city.
 
People who live and work in Dundee know that Dundee is a great place to live in and work in; we have got to do all we can to convince the rest of the country to have a look at what is going on in Dundee.  This bid has to be about promoting culture but it must also be about bringing regeneration and investment to Dundee.
 
I hope that people will show their support for Dundee being the UK City of Culture in 2017 by visiting the website which I have set up to promote this campaign.
 
It is important that everyone in Dundee unites behind this important campaign and puts petty party political issues to one side to deliver what is best for the people of Dundee.

 

Cllr Richard McCready supports Dundee bid for UK City of Culture 2017 from West End Labour on Vimeo.

15/11/2012

Fairtrade Forum AGM

On Thursday evening I was delighted to chair the Annual General Meeting of the Dundee Fairtrade Forum.  It was good to reflect on the work of the forum over the last year.  The main achievement of the forum over the last year has been to ensure that Dundee City Council updated its Fairtrade policy. You can read the council's Fairtrade policy here and the picture here shows one of the fruits of that policy, namely signage at the entrances to the city of Dundee which proudly proclaim the city as a Fairtrade City.

It is important that Dundee plays it part in making Scotland a fairtrade nation.  I hope that Scotland is declared a Fairtrade Nation before the end of the year.

The AGM was very well attended and included a very healthy representation from students at both Dundee University and Abertay University.  There was a great selection of fairtrade stalls and good to see Abertay's Save the Children Society raising money by selling Fairtrade cupcakes.

It was good to watch very interesting video from New Zealand on Fairtrade coffee which looked at the production of Fairtrade coffee in Colombia.  You can see the film below.

07/11/2012

Perth Road Traders Meeting

Over the last couple of months I have been very supportive of moves by  businesses in the Perth Road to set up a Perth Road Traders Association.  As a local resident I know how important the shops on the Perth Road are.  I will try to do what I can to promote the Perth  Road as a district shopping centre within the city of Dundee.

It is good to see a group of traders try to get together to join forces to promote their local area.  I think that the City Council could offer some support to traders in the area; there is scope for a lot of help in kind from the council.  What is needed is a means to focus to promote the area and this is what the traders association would offer.

The Perth Road Traders could make a real difference to their area and could be a very effective voice for their area, I wish them well for the future and look forward to the traders association being formally set up in the new year.  Promoting and protecting the district shopping centre in the Perth Road is very important.

06/11/2012

Scotmid donation to Dundee Russian School

On Saturday morning I was pleased to go along to Harris Academy to visit the Dundee Russian School.  Dundee Russian School teaches Russian language and culture mostly to the children of Russian immigrants living in Dundee and the surrounding area.  As a member of the North Regional Committee of Scotmid Co-operative I was delighted to present the Dundee Russian School with a cheque for £300 for musical equipment.  It was really interesting to hear about the work of the Dundee Russian School.

This donation was part of Scotmid's work in the communities in which it works.  I know that many companies make charitable donations but I think that in showing a concern for the local community Scotmid demonstrates the difference that being a co-operative can make.  The video below shows how democracy works in a co-operative.  The last few years have demonstrated that the traditional capitalist model of shareholder owned businesses does not have all the answers.  I think that now is the time for the co-operative model. 

Progress on Living Wage - Could go further


Living Wage 6 November 2012 from West End Labour on Vimeo.

I welcomed progress towards the Living Wage by Dundee City Council but I am concerned that the council needs to go further. The City Council agreed a report on the Living Wage last week which I successfully amended to ensure that the council looks for ways to make contractors and arms-length companies the Living Wage; my amendment also means that Dundee City Council will be responding to the consultation on the Living Wage (Scotland) Bill proposed by John Park MSP.  I have been calling for
action on for some time.  I was glad to see progress on this, after the policy was agreed in principle back in March.


The report agreed by the City Council is good in as far as it goes. I am glad that council workers are to receive what is effectively a pay increase in time for Christmas as I have been calling for.

I do think that we need to take a lead though. The City Council should be saying to employers right across the city that we think that they should be paying the Living Wage. I think that we should be saying to arms-length organisation and also to those contracting with the council that we think that people employed by the council should receive the Living Wage and also that those indirectly employed by the council through arms-length organisations or contractors should also receive the Living Wage.


There is a consultation on a Members’ Bill in the Scottish Parliament proposed by John Park MSP which if passed would require private sector employees working on public sector contracts to be paid the Living Wage and which would also require the Scottish Ministers to prepare and report on a strategic plan to promote the Living Wage. I am glad that the council will respond to this consultation and I think the council should respond positively. We should take the moral lead saying that in-work poverty is unacceptable in Dundee.


We have an important duty to take a lead and say what we think is right and also put those words into actions. In so doing we could make a real difference to the lives of people in Dundee and deal at least in part with ‘in-work’ poverty.

Click on the video above to hear me talking about the Living Wage on Wave 102.

05/11/2012

Laying of the Crosses Ceremony

On Saturday I was happy to able to take my place at the Laying of the Crosses ceremony at the War Memorial outside the City Churches.  Once again I placed my cross in memory of my great-uncle Private David McCready of the HLI, (the Highland Light Infantry), who was killed in an accident whilst serving during the Second World War.  I also remembered other great uncles who served in the Arctic Convoys and in the Desert at El Alamein.  I thought about all those who have given their lives in war and those who have been injured.  It is important that we look after those left behind and those who were injured and that we remember the service that has been given.  We should support the work of Poppy Scotland.  We should also look for ways to prevent conflict in the future.

Here is a video about the work of Poppy Scotland.

Hurricane Sandy

Like many people I was very sorry to see Hurricane Sandy cause problems in the Caribbean and in the United States last week.  I hope that people will support the Red Cross's efforts to alleviate some of the suffering experienced throughout the region.  I was also sorry to see that some of the problems caused reached as far as Dundee's twin city of Alexandria in Virginia.  I will be suggesting to the Lord Provost, who is visiting Alexandria soon, that we make sure that Dundee offers any help that it can.  The picture here shows a tree which has fallen onto a house in the outskirts of Alexandria.

31/10/2012

Make your voice heard on Residents Parking Scheme

Today I have called  for everyone in the West End to make their voices heard on the proposed West End residents parking scheme. The City Council has today written to local residents seeking their views on the scheme.  The map above gives some idea about the proposed area to be covered.


It is clear that the availability of parking spaces in the West End and at times inconsiderate parking are major issues in the West End. The council is proposing a residents parking scheme which would cost £80 per year and would allow parking in the area which is roughly from Blackness Avenue to the University of Dundee. If there is to be movement on this it is essential that everyone in the West End makes their voices heard and gives their view.


I am disappointed that progress on this has taken so long but now that the formal consultation process is underway people must make their views known. Local people must be clear about whether they support these plans and the associated costs, noting that a residents parking scheme in Menzieshill costs £5. I am seeking a meeting with officers to make sure that every effort is being made to ensure that there is a high response rate to these proposals.


I will also be writing to the City Development Department to ensure that businesses in the West End have their say over these proposals.


As a local resident I am aware of the parking problems in the West End and I think that the council and local residents should be looking for ways to solve these problems.


If the people of the West End believe that this is the way forward for them then we should move forward quickly on this, if not the council should move on and look at other measures to help deal with parking problems.

Kemback Street Resource Centre Decision

Monday evening's Social Work and Health Committee saw the SNP Administration bring back a report on the closure of the Kemback Street Resource Centre and Out and About Support Service which they pushed through and which means that this service for adults with learning disabilities will now be closed.

The committee heard from three deputations, firstly from George Stewart and Eileen Laing from the centre's action group, secondly from Moira Leck of Down's Syndrome Scotland and finally from Ian Hood of the Disability Alliance Scotland.  These deputations in their own ways spoke eloquently, movingly and strongly against the proposals from the Administration.  Mr Stewart and Mrs Laing were particularly strong on the impact these proposals have on the service users and their families.  They also highlighted that despite claims to the contrary in the report that a number of service users had not been consulted on what services they will receive once Kemback Street closes.  Neither the Convener nor the officers were able to prove that Mr Stewart or Mrs Laing were wrong in their assertion that not every service user knew what services they would receive.  Indeed, the report claimed that only two service users were in this situation but in answer to questions this figure appeared to rise to four and then six.  With this level of uncertainty and misinformation it was wrong for the report to even go before the committee in my opinion.

Some of my colleagues asked why the Equality Impact Assessment was not available for the report presented on Monday evening.  Eventually we were told that no new equality impact assessment was necessary since nothing had changed since a report to committee in January and an equality impact assessment carried out in December.  This seems very unlikely to me, and clearly goes against a recent briefing for councillors on equalities from the council's equalities officer.  I do wonder whether this would stand up to a legal challenge?  I am worried that equalities are not being taken seriously enough by the Administration and by officers; we were dealing with a very vulnerable client group with this report and we did not take seriously the diverse impacts these changes will have on this client group.

The report before us stated at paragraph 6.2 'An Equality Impact Assessment has been carried out and will be made available on the Council website ..'  It is a pretty strange use of the English language to say 'will' and then when challenged say it was done in December of last year.  But this is the report where 'reprovision' means 'close' and only 'close' not reconfigure or change as it might just be stretched to mean.

I think on the basis of the deputations and on the basis of inconsistent and less than transparent report and answers from officers that this report should have been withdrawn, unfortunately a decision was taken to plough on regardless.

I then spoke against the report, I started off by congratulating Councillor Jimmy Black on at least having the humanity to admit that the council could have done better in the way that the whole issue had been handled.

We heard the views of carers, service users and their representatives.  I thought that we should listen to them.  We are talking about parents who are still the main carer for their children when they are in their sixties or seventies.  We should not be thinking about making life harder for these people, we should be thanking them for their commitment to their family and their service to the community in Dundee.  Just as we should thank the staff who work at Kemback Street

I am in favour of the whole personalisation agenda; this is clearly where social work, and indeed other council services should be.  But we cannot impose personalisation on people.  For some of the service users from Kemback Street the service that they would choose for themselves would be the service at Kemback Street.

Service users are clearly saying that they have not been properly consulted on this move.  The Convener has told us time after time that this policy is not about saving money.  If it not about saving money them there is no reason why the policy should have been forced through.  Although I do see references to £766,000 in the report.  We should have stopped the process here; we should have a full consultation about what is really being proposed. As the Administration were not prepared to do that then I fear that the unavoidable conclusion is that this is all about money and that this is a saving.  

I congratulate the parents, carers and service users from Kemback Street who have with great dignity made their points and stood up for what they believed was good for their families.  It is a sad day for this committee if all of us did not listen to them this evening.

Unfortunately, every member of the Administration voted through these proposals and every other councillor voted against which meant that the report was agreed.  I hope that service users and their families will find a service which suits them but I remain very disappointed about the manner in which this report was pushed through.

30/10/2012

Michael Marra

I was very pleased that at last night's meeting of Dundee City Council that the Lord Provost opened the meeting by paying tribute to the late Michael Marra.  This was a very nice touch from the Lord Provost and I could only agree with him that 'Michael's songs will live on as will his memory.'  On behalf of the Labour Group I paid tribute to Dundee's 'bard'.  I also pointed out that this might well be a great loss to the artistic community but it is more importantly a great loss to his family.  I also said that I thought that it would be appropriate for there to be a lasting memorial to Michael Marra in the city of Dundee.  I noted that the Marra family have set up a trust in his memory and that they would like to see the El Sistema project come to Dundee.  This would be a fitting tribute in my opinion.

It was more than appropriate that the City Council concluded its tribute with a round of applause for someone who has written and sang so eloquently about our city.

25/10/2012

New West End Schools Open

The new West End schools finally opened for business yesterday I was pleased to join pupils from St Joseph's and  Victoria Park Primaries and Balgay  Hill Nursery walking to their new schools from their old schools yesterday morning.  It was great to see the excitement of the young people as they went to their new school.  It was good to see the new campus open after a process which has had its ups and downs.  I hope that Victoria Park, St Joseph's and Balgay Hill are successful in their new homes and I wish them all the very best in their new schools.

I was pleased to see that the various traffic measures which were to be implemented had been.  I had sought an assurance about this from council officers in September and I am glad to say that they delivered on their promises.  As I said at that time I will be keeping a very close eye on road safety in the area.  If anyone has any concerns about this I would be very grateful if they could raise them with me and I will seek prompt action from the City Council.

Michael Marra RIP

I was very sad to hear of the death of the man described by today's Courier as 'Dundee's Bard' Michael Marra.  I would like to offer my sympathy to Michael Marra's family and friends.  His death may well be a loss to the artistic community but it is a great loss to his family at a young age.

Michael Marra wrote many excellent songs which spoke eloquently of Dundee and of his life experience.  I am particularly fond of his work at Dundee Rep on the Mill Lavvies.  The song above comes from that play and is one which I particularly like.  I also liked the way which many of the locations of songs he wrote were in the West End of Dundee.  As an adopted Dundonian I hope that I am also able to draw attention to his song 'Mother Glasgow' which speaks about the city I was born in.

I was thinking that there should be a lasting tribute to Michael Marra in the city that he wrote so movingly about, and I was thinking about what it could be.  I was therefore pleased to see that his family are setting up a trust fund to help bring the 'El Sistema' music project to Dundee.  El Sistema is an intensive music tuition programme for children and young people I would certainly like to see it in Dundee and if it did come about I am sure that it would be a fitting tribute to a man who brought great joy with his music and who also made people think with his writing.

I hope that Michael Marra's contribution to the culture of Dundee, of Scotland, and indeed the world will be marked in a fitting manner and that in so doing some comfort will be given to his family.  R.I.P.