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.