21/12/2014

No more false dawns at Baldovie

I am keen that the plans  for a new operator at the Baldovie Waste-to-Energy plant succeed.  It is important that Dundee City Council finds a long-term solution for the problems faced at the plant and that solution must not be an open-cheque from Dundee's hard-pressed council-taxpayers.  Everyone on the council is very keen that this new deal works for the people of Dundee.

There have been a few false dawns at Baldovie in terms of what has happened previously. I would hope that this is a model that would work.  It needs to be clear what is expected from the taxpayers and that the new operator won’t be coming back for more on a regular basis, which is effectively what has happened in the past.

Dundee needs to improve its recycling rate and I hope that these plans add to potential for improving recycling rates.  I am not opposed to joint working with other councils but I do have some worries that these joint-working relationships often operate with a democratic deficit.  It is important that openness and transparency remains a key part of the governance structure.  When we are talking about spending public money there should be no question of hiding behind legal structures to restrict openness and transparency.

Disgraceful theft from Camperdown House

I am appalled by reports in the Evening Telegraph that there have been extensive thefts of lead from the roof of Camperdown House.  It is disgraceful that this theft from Camperdown House has taken place. I hope that whoever did this is caught and I would urge anyone with information about this theft to contact the police.


 
It is also disgraceful that there is no long-term sustainable use for Camperdown House. I have said before that I think it falls between several stools and what is needed is a concerted effort to get a sustainable, long-term use for Camperdown House. This is an item that has been crying out for action by the City Council for a number of years and I think that now is the time for action.   I will be trying to bring all the interested parties together in a meeting to try and get a clear route forward for Camperdown House.

10/12/2014

Scrutiny Committee

Today I chaired the Scrutiny Committee of Dundee City Council.  There were a number of very interesting reports on the agenda.

The first substantive item was on the Review of Scrutiny arrangements.  This report had previously been to the Policy & Resources Committee.  I echoed the disappointment of my colleague Councillor Kevin Keenan that the report had gone to the Policy & Resources Committee with no reference either to the Convener or the Committee, this would not have happened in any other committee of the council.  Either Scrutiny is taken seriously, and Councillor Keenan is given the support afforded to any other convener of a council committee, or it is not.  I believe that officers accept that this was wrong and the message has been heard and future events will tell if this is the case.

I also drew the committees attention to the report which highlighted that the committee could make formal representations to service committees (like Education or Housing).  I think that to some extent the committee has achieved its goal by officers saying that they will take items on board or that they will provide further information to the committee, perhaps we need to be more formal.

I also raised the issue possibly broadening the remit of the committee.  We react to external evaluations but we do not always react to the views of those who should be most important to us, namely the people of Dundee.  I think that we should consider adding to our remit the possibility of dealing with petitions.  This is something that I will be engaging with officers on in the future.

There were a number of inspection reports placed in front on us for services which were very good, excellent or good for East Port House, the White Top Centre, and Turriff House.  I asked the Chief Executive to write to each service concerns highlighting the committee's appreciation of the reports and the hard  work of staff who have helped the council achieve these results.  I especially drew attention to the report on the White Top Centre which has shown consistently high performance in Care Inspectorate inspections.  Of course, I did have to add the caveat that there is no room for complacency!

The fourth item was a report on complaints received by the council.  It is good that Dundee City Council takes complaints seriously and reports them to the Scrutiny Committee.  I am concerned about the increases in the numbers of serious complaints upheld in the last quarter and while I accept that there are small numbers involved it is still an issue worth investigating.  By it very nature the complaints procedure deals with people who are unhappy with the council but we should be concerned with the figure that says 30% of respondents were very dissatisfied with that their complaint had been taken seriously.  I was pleased to hear from officers that this was an item that they take seriously and that there was a commitment to try and lower that number.

The Council should have nothing to fear from a robust complaints procedure which listens to the citizens of Dundee and allows the council to deliver better services.

Item 7 on the agenda included a number of very interesting reports.  The most troubling one was about delays in the time taken to hold an initial Child Protection Conference.  Only just over half (53.5%) take place within the targeted 15 working days.  We were reassured that this was not an issue about resources but that it was about ensuring that all the relevant people were able to attend.  We also sought a reassurance from the Director that no child was put at risk as a result of these delays.  We were told that the full powers of the council in child protection would be used if it was felt to be appropriate.  Whilst I was satisfied with the reassurances which were received I would still like the council to try and comply with the target number of days on a much bigger proportion of cases.

I also was concerned about the rates of new business start-up in the city.  I agree that this is an important indicator of economic performance and that more businesses should lead to more jobs.  This is an item which I am looking for more information on as I think providing jobs is crucial to the future of Dundee.  There was also some very interesting comment on this in the Courier today and I think that this indicates that politicians no matter what your constitutional views need to look to work together and bring jobs to Dundee.

09/12/2014

West End Community Council

Tonight I attended the December meeting of the West End Community Council.  The meeting was the AGM of the Community Council and I was pleased to chair the part of the meeting where the committee was elected.  Congratulations to those re-elected.

The main item for discussion was a presentation from the Principal of the University of Dundee Professor Pete Downes on the relationship between the university and the local community.  It is important that the university is a good neighbour to the West End and it was good to hear Professor Downes recognise this.  It was good to hear about the progress which the university is making and how it is world-leading in areas like life sciences, and about the excellent work being done at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, as well as the good work in departments like history.

A few local residents raised issues about the impact of the university on housing and car parking across the West End.  Professor Downes was clear that the university is not responsible for the behaviour of students who are adults and how they behave outside the university.  He did, however, say that the university is keen to ensure that students behave well in West End. 

I think that the university should look for ways in which it can engage with residents in the West End in a regular way.  One way would be through representation on the Local Community Planning Partnership.

I was really pleased to see the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University (in effect the Chief Executive)  come and speak at the Community Council.  I think that this is a very welcome step by the university.

Consultation on School Changes

The SNP Administration of Dundee City Council is proposing a number of changes to schools in the city.  The one with the biggest impact on the West End is the proposal to close Menzieshill High School with most pupils moving to Harris Academy.  The Administration brought forward these proposals to last night's Education Committee.

The Labour Group has, on two occasions, attempted to get the council to give far more detail than they have done so far on these proposals on both occasions SNP, Lib Dem, and Tory councillors have voted down our proposals.

With regard to the proposals that impact on Harris Academy my biggest concern is that these plans should have been included when the plans for the new Harris Academy were on the drawing board.  I find it hard to believe that the council has only just come up with this solution.  Indeed if it was not looking at what they claim will be good for Menzieshill pupils then they are guilty of having taken their eye off the ball.  It is does rather suggest that the main driver of this policy is financial rather than educational.

We have a situation now where a new school is being built and more pupils are being added to school.  I know that people in the West End have benefited over the past couple of years from not having the large number of traffic movements and parking issues which were associated Harris Academy on the Perth Road.  We now have a situation proposed where there will be more staff and more pupils, some travelling some distance and possibility requiring more buses.  None of this has been included in the planning stage of the new Harris Academy.  I look forward to Harris Academy returning to the Perth Road, it is just a shame that it may well return with even more traffic and congestion issues than there were before the new building.  I will certainly be keeping a close eye on this.

The result of last night's vote at the Education Committee means that there will be a consultation on these proposals from 12th January until 27 February next year I would urge anyone with an interest in education in Dundee to look out for this consultation and take part in the consultation.  I am always interested in the views of parents, pupils and staff in our schools and would be happy to hear from you.

27/11/2014

Feast of Christ the King

On Sunday I joined a number of council colleagues and others from Westminster and Holyrood and from the world of academia at a Mass to celebrate the Feast of Christ the King at St Andrew's Cathedral in my ward.  This is an annual event and this was the first time that Bishop Stephen Robson has presided at the event.

As ever it was a beautiful service, with some fantastic singing from the choir. It was also good to get the chance to meet so many constituents amongst the congregation.  There is always a very warm welcome given at the Cathedral.

Bishop Stephen preached on the Gospel of the day which was Chapter 25 Verses 35-45 of Matthew's Gospel.  This is passage about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and visiting prisoners.  This is a passage that I hold very dear and which I hope influences my actions as an elected representative.  I think that this passage is a challenge to politicians (whether they are Christians or not) and sets a standard which we should aim for.  Bishop Stephen certainly set out a number of challenges for everyone listening on Sunday.  As ever we were thanked for our service as councillors which is very nice, but which is not something that I look for or expect.

26/11/2014

Make Renting Right

Private rented housing is a big issue in the West End and right across Dundee and Scotland.  It is important that people who rent in the private sector are treated fairly and that standards in the private rented sector are improved.

I deal with constituents on a regular basis who are suffering from problems in the private rented sector.  It is important for the West End that we create a regulatory framework which works in the best interests of tenants (and indeed their landlords) in the West End and beyond.

I was pleased to support Shelter Scotland's Make Renting Right campaign.  This campaign calls for
  1. Stability for people wanting to make rented housing their home. A stable private rented sector would be good for both tenants and landlords, as it would ensure that renting privately is seen as a positive choice for all. If tenants feel more secure in their homes, they can play a bigger part in their community whether that’s children settled in school, local initiatives or getting to know neighbours. Security, from the fear of eviction for no reason, will help build a valuable, trusting relationship between all landlords and tenants. And landlords benefit from more secure and guaranteed income.
  2. Flexibility for people to stay in their home as long as they need.
    The private rented sector is changing. Current demand suggests that while some people want the option of a tenancy that lasts for as long as they need it, others want flexibility if they need to move.
    We want a tenancy regime that can respond to people’s needs and work for both landlords and tenants. For tenants, it is about striking the balance between being able to live as long as they need in a property, with due consideration given to the landlord in terms of adequate notice when they want to leave.
  3. A modern tenancy that gives security and flexibility for tenants AND landlords.
    To meet current and future demand in the private rented sector, we need a modern tenancy agreement which works for both tenants and landlords.
    That means a more secure tenancy for people who need it and modernisation of the processes and timeframes for landlords, should they need someone to leave their property.
    A modern tenancy regime for private renters should reflect that the sector is growing and need to work for different individuals and families.
  4. A fair system for sorting out renting problems when they occur.
    When problems do occur, we want to see a better way of resolving them.
    The introduction of the Private Rented Sector Tribunal, a formal dispute resolution process, where both tenants and landlords can have easy access to help resolve issues, will help achieve this.
  5. Predictable rents for tenants and landlords.
We want to see a private rented sector where rents are fair and a system where any rent increases are proportionate and structured so tenants can prepare for changes in their rent.
A new, modern tenancy regime should formalise this process.

I will be looking for the Scottish Government to make a real difference and hope that their consultation on tenancies in the private sector will make a real difference to people's lives. 

I share the concerns raised by my colleague James Kelly MSP that the Scottish Government blocked plans by Scottish Labour to stop tenants being ripped off by landlords charging excessive rents.

James Kelly MSP  has commented on this:
"The SNP cannot continue to ignore the need for rent reform. It has now become clear that we need to create a system that works for tenants.

 

“Too many families in Scotland are choosing between heating and eating. Too many families in Scotland are living from pay cheque to pay cheque, and too many families in Scotland are trapped in the private rented sector, unable to access social housing or get a foot on the property ladder.

 

“The SNP were wrong to side with the Tories and rogue landlords to block rent reform. They have a chance this week to do the right thing, work with Scottish Labour and deliver a system which will offer some protection and security to over 100, 000 Scots who live in poverty in the private rental sector.”
 
Please support Shelter Scotland's important Make Renting Right campaign.

25/11/2014

Tayside Hindu Cultural & Community Centre 30th Anniversary

The picture shows some of those attending on Friday night (thanks to my friends in Dundee SNP for the picture)
On Friday evening I attended the celebrations to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Tayside Hindu Cultural and Community Centre.  The centre is in Taylor's Lane just off the Perth Road.  I was delighted to join with all those present including Joe FitzPatrick MSP and my ward colleague Councillor Vari McDonald.

Dundee is a diverse city and it is a city which is built on a history of immigration.  I was happy to pay tribute to those members of the Indian community who have made their homes here in Dundee.  I am proud as a Labour councillor in Dundee to follow Dr Jainti Saggar who served as a Labour councillor in Dundee from 1936 until 1954.  Dr Saggar was the first black or Asian councillor in Scotland and along with his family he made a real contribution to the history of Dundee and this is why Saggar Street in the Pentland estate in my ward is named after him.  Dundee is also a religiously diverse city in which people live together and share in each others festivals and respect each others traditions.  It was good to see members of the Christian and Muslim communities at the celebrations.

It was good to get the opportunity to hear about the work of the centre and to learn more about Hindu culture and religion.  It was great to listen to the traditional songs and see the traditional dances.  It was also great to the chance to taste some authentic food.

Readers of the Courier will be aware that the Tayside Hindu Cultural and Community Centre is currently re-negotiating its lease with the city council.  I have made representations to officers making it clear that I think there should be a solution which makes everyone happy.  It makes no sense for the council to evict this group which adds so much to the cultural diversity of the city. I am clear that a compromise should be found which allows the centre to remain and which allows the council to receive some income for the property.

It's Not Fine - Unfair Charges for parking on Private Land

http://www.cas.org.uk/about-us/campaigns/its-not-fine-campaign-unfair-private-parking-charges
A number of constituents have raised concerns with me regarding unfair charges which are charges for parking on private land.  One example of this in the Lidl supermarket at the West Port.  The Courier recently reported the case of a man who was sent a Parking Charge Notice for parking there he was asked to send his bank statement to prove he had in fact shopped at the store.  This would have left him open to identity theft and highlights the lack of regulation of this industry in Scotland.

I find this absolutely unacceptable.  It makes it clear that there is a real need for regulation of these private parking charges. They have little or no legal basis in Scotland.  I’m not advocating that people just park anywhere, or parking on private land with no consideration to the owner, but there is a need for regulation. It’s obviously silly that there isn’t a way of organising these things that doesn’t look like a form of extortion.  I will be writing to the Scottish Government to take action.

Citizen's Advice Scotland has produced a very interesting report on this.  The report It's Not Fine makes some very sensible recommendations.  These include stopping the parking industry attempting to mislead people into thinking that they have actually been fined when this is not the case.  There should also be an independent third party appeals service in Scotland.  The Scottish Government should legislate to regulate the operations of the private parking industry.  Retailers should also remember that it is their customers who are being penalised unfairly here and work to find a better way of operating car parking at their premises, a way that doesn't feel and look like extortion.

10/10/2014

New Minister for Logie & St John's (Cross) Church

On Wednesday evening I was really pleased to get the chance to attend the induction service of Rev David Gray as the new Minister at Logie & St John's (Cross) Church.  This church which is at the bottom of Blackness Avenue is a hub of a lot of community activity.

It was good to meet so many local people there to welcome their new Minister to the parish.  I would like to wish David and everyone associated with Logie & St John's (Cross) all the very best of luck as they move forward into this new phase of their life as a church community.

07/10/2014

Fuel Poverty in Dundee - community owned renewable eneregy - a solution?

http://www.solarcitiesscotland.org.uk/
I was pleased to get the chance to attend a seminar at Dundee University where Helen Grayshan from Solar Cities Scotland spoke on the topic of Fuel Poverty in Dundee - Community Owned Renewable Energy -  A solution?

There are high levels of fuel poverty in Dundee for a variety of reasons.  The reasons for fuel poverty include our relatively cold climate, the high proportion of older houses and flats in Dundee and the relative poverty experienced by a number of people in Dundee.

You can read the main points which Helen made here.

I welcome this contribution to the debate and I think that it is something that Dundee City Council should look to support.  I am particularly attracted to the idea that the people of Dundee could set up and run an energy co-operative and take control of their own energy supply.  I also think that the idea of finding ways to utilise derelict urban sites for solar panels is one that should be followed up.  I know that new council buildings such as the new Olympia do have solar panels on the roof but I think we should look for ways to maximise this across the city and across the public sector.  If by doing this we also contribute to helping deal with wider issues around fuel poverty then that is also good.

I will certainly be seeing what Dundee City Council can do to allow these initial ideas to go forward.  I know that as part of their move towards being a Co-operative Capital Edinburgh City Council are looking at a similar idea.

Pine Court 20th Anniversary Celebrations

I was delighted to be able to get along to Pine Court in Logie Gardens  to take part in the celebrations for their 20th anniversary.  Pine Court is a sheltered housing complex which is primarily aimed at members of the Chinese community.  It was good to see so many members of the Chinese community present as well as other local residents and representatives from Home Scotland.  It was a good chance to speak to local people and listen to their concerns as well as celebrate their milestone.  I was pleased to witness the rather noisy letting off of firecrackers, I do hope that the neighbours didn't mind too much. 

01/10/2014

Discovery Centre

Balloons were released to signify the opening of the Discovery Centre
Today, as the local councillor I was delighted to attend the opening of the Discovery Centre at the University of Dundee.  This centre will add to Dundee's excellent reputation for life sciences research.  It was good to listen to the Nobel-laureate Sir Paul Nurse speak about the  importance of turning life sciences research into treatments which make a difference to the lives of many people.

The strength of life sciences research in Dundee is important to the economy of the city.  I think that the universities and the council should be looking for ways in which we can ensure that these economic benefits derive to all parts of Dundee. 

I hope that this new centre plays its part in the continuing success of life sciences at the University of Dundee. 

30/09/2014

Mills Observatory

At last week's Scrutiny Committee (page 366 of the pdf) I was very disappointed to see a decline in the numbers of visitors to Dundee's museums.  I was surprised to say the least to see this decline attributed to the decision to restrict the opening hours of the Mills Observatory.  I was surprised because when that decision was made we were told that the impact would be negligible and all those who visited over the summer months would continue to be accommodated. Both of these statements cannot be true.

I am awaiting further evidence of what is responsible for the decline in numbers visiting Dundee's museums.  I want to get the bottom of this.  I also want to be reassured that there is a plan to ensure the long-term future of the Mills Observatory.  It used to be the case that Dundee's proud boast was of the Mills Observatory as the UK's only full-time public observatory.  Well we can't say that any more.  I think that Dundee is lucky to have a facility like the Mills and that we should be looking for ways to secure its future and ensure that people from Dundee and beyond get the chance to visit this unique museum.

26/09/2014

Camperdown House

Camperdown House is the forgotten gem of Dundee and faces a bleak future unless someone in the city council grasps the nettle and finds a sustainable use for the historic building.
 
I have been calling for something concrete to be done for a number of years now.  I think that it is time for the council to decide how it is going to make changes happen at Camperdown House.


 The most recent report on the future of the A-listed Camperdown House seems to be gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, despite almost £1 million having been spent on major roof repairs three years ago.

The neo-classical mansion is one of Dundee’s glories. However, apart from the occasional large-scale event, most notably the annual Flower and Food Festival, the stately home remains closed to the public.

Part of the problem now is that no one department seems to be interested in taking responsibility for promoting the building.  It’s a crying shame that it’s closed nearly all the time and only opens for the Food and Flower Festival. A lot of people do express interest in Camperdown House when they see it being used for that.  It’s not controlled by Leisure and Culture Dundee and the environment department don’t have an agenda for it, neither does city development, so it falls between three stools.

I think there is scope for the possible use of it as a restaurant/cafĂ© or a hotel of some sort. I’d like to see that if there is any kind of private use for it that there was also a way in which the public could be given access to the artworks and the exhibits.  There should be an exhibition about the history of the house and the background in the Battle of Camperdown.


Something must be done about it because there was a lot of money spent on roof repairs recently and the public are having to pay for the continuing maintenance of a building that’s empty most of the year. It needs someone to grasp the nettle and take it forward.

15/09/2014

Police, Fire and Community Safety Committee

Tonight I attended a meeting of Dundee City Council's Policy and Resources (Police, Fire and Community Safety) Committee.  I asked a question about the issue of malicious fire alarm calls.  I was pleased to hear about the efforts which the fire and rescue service put in to ensure that this is dealt with.  It is important that this issue is taken seriously, every time a fire engine leaves a fire station the lives of fire-fighters and members of the public are put at risk.  Therefore it is essential that false alarms, especially malicious ones are kept to a minimum.

In terms of the police part of the committee meeting it was good that the committee followed the lead of my colleague, Kevin Keenan, and take a stance against the routine arming of the police.  I think that it is wrong that the police should be armed routinely.  It is one of the things that pleases me about living in the UK is that the police don't normally carry arms.  It is clear that it is a major change if our police carry arms regularly.  I don't want that and I would certainly say that it is crucial that any change to that is made through a decision by democratically elected politicians.  I fear that this has not been the case so far.

I was also pleased to hear more about the excellent work done by colleague, Councillor Georgia Cruikshank, in supporting the police's work against what is mistakenly called 'legal highs.'  It is disgraceful that people are selling these substances in our city and I want to see strong action taken against it

10/09/2014

Eradicating Poverty - Priority for Dundee City Council

On Monday evening at the Policy and Resources Committee there was a very interesting report put forward which looked at the Dundee fairness strategy and child poverty, (Pages 61-85 of the pdf).  This is a good report in that it highlights the problems faced by people in Dundee, it is an disgraceful report in so far as it highlights a situation that has no place in twenty-first century Dundee.  The report recommends that councillors and a wide range of others get together and form a Fairness Commission for Dundee. I welcome that although I want to be reassured that this commission will include people who live in poverty and that this process will follow the principle of nothing about me without me.  Tackling poverty should not be about officers or councillors, no matter how well intentioned, doing things to or for people it should be about respecting the innate human dignity of each individual and empowering them and their communities.

I was a little disappointed when Councillor Jimmy Black brought forward an amendment to his Administration's own report which basically said that independence is a magical cure-all and that it is the only way to solve these problems.  I know that Councillor Black cares passionately about poverty and I respect him for that and I know that he can do better than this.  There are competing visions of how we solve poverty but merely by changing the flag we will not eradicate poverty.

Our colleague Independent Labour councillor, Bailie Ian Borthwick was right when he said, 'There is a deplorable situation in the city. It is a situation that is happening all over Scotland and all over the UK.  Contributions (made by SNP councillors) serve to diminish this report and the efforts of our officers.  Does the tone of this debate really encourage people to join together to tackle poverty? We should be focusing on the people who are actually suffering rather than turning it into a sham debate.'


I respect the strongly held convictions of other councillors including those who think that independence is part of the solution to poverty.  I am clear in my own view that it isn't and I am also clear that it certainly isn't a magic cure-all.  As councillors in Dundee we have an important duty placed upon us by the people of Dundee.  Of course, over the next week or so we will all make our views known about the Referendum.  However as councillors our job is not to talk about constitutional solutions, it is to do our best for the people of Dundee. We need to make Dundee a fairer place to live. Every political party represented in the City Chambers has made mistakes that have led to the disgraceful statistics.  If we try to indulge in  a pointless blame game we are not helping a single person living in poverty in the city.  Our job is to try to find a solution to these disgraceful problems. We need to make this city a better place and we would do well to remember we need to work together to deliver on that.

I think the report before us gives councillors and others who want to make a difference to Dundee a real opportunity to work with communities across Dundee to change Dundee for the better.  Turning the report into a petty party political squabble does a disservice to the people we should be trying to serve.

I become involved in politics to make the world a fairer place and to eradicate poverty (or at least give it a very good go!) and I am prepared to work with anyone to do just that to make Dundee a better place.

09/09/2014

West End Community Council

http://www.dundeewecc.com/
Tonight I attended the September meeting of the West End Community Council. The main item discussed was about HMOs in the West End after recent publicity about problems.  There was a good discussion about this and it was good to listen to the views of local people.  As a local resident I know about some of the issues which HMOs bring.  I think that there is a need to look at the situation.  I am clear that we need a balance in the West End so that it is not HMOs everywhere.  I know that some people are anxious when they hear about HMOs in their area.  I would say that I understand that anxiety but would also say that HMOs bring improved standards in theory at least.  I would argue that we should tighten up the rules for privately-rented flats currently excluded from the HMO regulations.  Whilst, problem tenants are not all students I do think that Dundee's universities should have a look at how they can help the communities in the West End and elsewhere by looking at how they can encourage, cajole or even make their students behave well in their flats.

I am always happy to deal with any issues which people might have because of problem tenants and I also want to hear the views of people in the West End about privately rented houses.  Are there problems?  What could be done to deal with t.hose problems?  Please get in touch with me if you have any views

It is always good to listen to the concerns of the local community and the Community Council gives that opportunity.

08/09/2014

Dundee SNP - The Blacklister's Friend

Tonight at the council's Policy and Resources Committee I was very disappointed that the SNP Group on the council joined with the single Conservative councillor in Dundee to force through an item which means that the preferred bidder for the V & A Dundee contract is a self-acknowledged blacklister in the shape of BAM Construction.


Those who follow what Dundee City Council does will be puzzled by this.  On a number of occasions I have moved items which commit Dundee City Council to opposition to blacklisting and state that we would not give contracts to companies which have operated a blacklist and who have not taken remedial action.  The SNP Group said that they had legal advice that told them that they couldn't block BAM Construction.  This is a remarkable tribute to Dundee City Council's legal department.  Those who have been watching the Referendum debate will be aware that the SNP are prepared to defy legal advice on a wide range of issue such as the future of the pound, whether Scotland could join the EU, whether Scotland could join NATO and a range of other issues.  In doing this they have defied the views of a wide variety of eminent lawyers.

Blacklisting is a disgraceful practice which impacts on the life of those who are blacklisted.  Dundee City Council should have spoken with one voice against blacklisting.

I was shocked that the SNP hid behind legal technicalities.  The council has a clear policy on blacklisting, officers said that we might not have been able to apply it retrospectively since this process had begun a couple of weeks before the council's policy on blacklisting was agreed in August 2013.  Morally we were clearly committed to blocking blacklisters.  I think that we should have stood up for what we believe in (or at least said we believed in) and said to the council we want to block blacklisters, tell BAM that if they want to get this contract they need to take remedial action and compensate those who suffered as a result of the blacklist operated by BAM.

It is a disgrace that Dundee City Council has allowed this unwanted, unnecessary and pernicious practice to go unpunished.  Nobody should be in fear for their job because they are a trade unionist or they campaign for improved health and safety in the work place. 

You can read my speech moving my amendment below:


I want to start by saying that I have been and remain a strong supporter of the V & A Dundee project.  I fully expect to be told that I am jeopardising this project while frankly I reject that point.  I am trying to get this project to deliver on the council's stated policies.  What we are being told here this evening is that we have no option other than to agree to this, that is not what we were elected for.

 

This council has taken a stand and said that we are opposed to blacklisting.  Unanimously we took that stand on 19th August 2013 and reiterated it and made it stronger on 21st April 2014.  Even at the last meeting at the end of August we decided that we should strengthen our stance on procurement.

 

Our decision on 21st April 2014 meant that we adopted the Scottish Government’s Procurement Policy Note 4/2013.  The key point to that policy note is this and I quote

 

‘any company which engages in or has engaged in the blacklisting of employees  or potential employees should be considered to have committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business and should be excluded from bidding for a public contract unless it can demonstrate that it has taken appropriate remedial steps.’

 

We have a real problem here tonight, BAM Construction admit on their website and in the briefing note that has been circulated that they have taken part in blacklisting.  They have not yet taken remedial action, therefore it is clear that the policy of this council and of the Scottish Government is that they have committed an act of grave misconduct and should be excluded from tendering for public contracts.

 

I want to give you just one more quote with regard to the Scottish Government’s guidance.  The quote is this

‘This guidance makes it clear that firms which have engaged in blacklisting have committed an act of grave professional misconduct and should be excluded from public procurement, unless they can demonstrate appropriate remedial action.’  This quote is for 9 August this year and those are the words of the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

 

We have a dilemma before us this evening, colleagues.  Do we implement our policy or do we admit that we either didn’t understand or didn’t agree with a policy which we passed unanimously at least twice in the last 13 months.  Do we want to live in a city and a country which protects the rights of workers or one which takes the side of big business?
 
We are being asked to hide behind legal technicalities which may or may not apply.  We have asserted a moral position to oppose blacklisting previously it would be disgraceful if we did not apply that position when given the chance.

 

The V & A is an excellent development for our city, and I look forward to this great British institution opening in our city.  It would be better to know that it had been procured in an ethical manner and that the highest standards had been maintained and that this significant investment of public money in our city followed the council’s policies and ensured the maximum social, economic, environmental and community pay back.

 

I hope that you will support the council’s stated position this evening.  To some extent the question here tonight is are we on the side of the workforce or are we on the side of big business.

03/09/2014

Roseangle Playpark - Bank of Scotland Community Fund

Sharon Dickie from the Roseangle Play-park group discussing their plans with me last year
The excellent people who have been campaigning to get the Roseangle Play-park upgraded are in line for some more funding.  This time they are up for an award from the Bank of Scotland's Community Fund, the fund is offering £3000.  There is a vote the details of which can be seen here.  Please support the Roseangle Play-park project which is under the name of Friends of Magdalen Green.

The local residents who are leading this campaign are doing a  great job of improving our community.  I am very happy to support them.  I would also be interested to hear from any other local residents who have ambitious plans to improve their local areas in a similar way.

Community Spirit Action Group

Tonight I was delighted to attend the September meeting of the Community Spirit Action Group.  I was pleased to listen  to the real concerns of local people about air pollution, recycling, parking issues and the state of local parks.  Funnily enough nobody raised any constitutional issues.

I gave my report and reported on my call for the council to take effective action about pollution at the junction of Cleghorn Street, Lochee Road and Rankine Street.  Time after time this is reported as one of the most polluted streets in Scotland and I think that it is high time that action is taken.  I am calling for a summit of the all the interested parties including the council, SEPA, the Scottish Government, TACTRAN, local bus companies and importantly local residents to discuss what can be done.

I also pointed out that the council has pushed through the proposals to bring in 'fortnightly' bin collections.  I agree that the city must improve it recycling record.  Dundee used to be at the forefront of recycling, thanks to the work of council officers, local residents and Labour councillors such as the late Julie Sturrock and George Regan.  The area covered by Community Spirit (the northern part of the West End ward) includes mostly tenements and other flatted properties and will be among the hardest parts of the city to implement the council's policy.  I will be asking how the council is going to do this.

29/08/2014

Procurement Policy

This week Dundee City Council considered a very worthy procurement policy (pages 39-50 of the pdf).    I have often made the point that the council should recognise the economic power it has through procurement and use the collective power of Dundee citizens' money to achieve social, economic, environmental and community benefit.

Over the last few years we have passed a number of policies on important issues like Fairtrade, the Living Wage, against Blacklisting and in support of more training and the promotion of health and safety.

I generally welcomed the policy presented to the council but what I was concerned about was how do councillors know that the policy has been applied.  I am concerned that we talk the talk but essentially that procurement decisions are only made on the basis of cost.  Cost and value for money for the council-taxpayer is important but it should not be the only criteria on which contracts are let.

I put forward an amendment to the council's policy which says that officers will now have to show how they considered the impact of the tender on the social, economic, environmental and community goals of the council.  I was pleased that my amendment was agreed to and I will be looking to work with officers of the council to ensure that the most rigorous standards are applied on this.  As they say the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

Energy Policy

On Thursday we were lucky to have a visit from Caroline Flint, the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change.  It was good to get the opportunity to discuss energy policy with her.  Whilst she was in Dundee she launched a Labour campaign to highlight Labour's promise to freeze energy prices after the next General Election.  This is a pledge that others don't want to match, partly it seems to me from fear of upsetting big business.

Away from the campaigning side of the visit I was pleased to join Jenny Marra MSP and Caroline on a visit to the excellent Sun City Eco Demonstration House.  it was great to hear about the work of Solar Cities Scotland.  I know that they are doing a great job promoting energy efficiency and carbon reduction in the West End and in other parts of Dundee.  It was good to hear Solar Cities outline their work and highlight what their problems are and where there should be more support.  A key issue is about how we create schemes which deal with fuel poverty but which also tackle carbon reduction.  There is a lot that could be done at local government, Scottish Parliament and House of Commons level and all three of these need to work together to deliver real changes which will make a difference to people living in fuel poverty and which will also deal with carbon emissions.  This is a real challenge.

I would urge people to have a look at the work of Solar Cities Scotland and also if they can to visit their Eco-demonstration house during Dundee Doors Open Weekend 13th & 14th September.

27/08/2014

Greater Balgay Park Stakeholders Meeting

Tonight I was pleased to attend the Greater Balgay Park Stakeholders Meeting.  This meeting allows the Council's Environment Department, listen to the views of people such as the Friends of Balgay and the West End Community Council as well as local councillors.  As a local resident I know what a great resource the park is for local people.  It is important that the council recognises that Balgay Park, along with the other parks in the city, belongs to all the people of Dundee.  It is important that the council listens to the views of local people about the park and takes action on their concerns.

I would like to pay tribute to the late Dr Hilda Spear who did  a great job in keeping local councillors on their toes and ensuring that her beloved Balgay Park is maintained.  I know that the Friends of Balgay will ensure that her legacy lives on. 

I think that over the last few years this meeting has made a real difference to the management and maintenance of the park and that is good news for everyone.  If you have any questions or concerns about Balgay Park or the other parks in the West End please get in touch.

26/08/2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

I was absolutely delighted, honest, when I was nominated to take the ice bucket challenge.  I was pleased to be able to raise awareness of the need to take action against Motor Neurone Disease.  Please consider donating to MND Scotland especially in support of Gordon Aikman

19/08/2014

Sam Galbraith RIP

As regular readers will know I was born and brought up in the west of Scotland.  I lived in a place called Milton of Campsie at the foot of the Campsie Fells.  In the 1980s our MP was the excellent Tom Clarke whom I am proud to count as a friend and colleague today.  I went to school in the next town which was Kirkintilloch  and at this time the MP there was the Tory Michael Hirst.  This did mean that teaching unions targeted schools in his constituency for industrial action which meant that we got a few extra days off school!

In the summer of 1987 I became involved in some of my first political campaigning.  I didn't do a huge amount but I did deliver a few leaflets in support of Sam Galbraith.  I was delighted when he was elected at that election in Strathkelvin & Bearsden.  I was really proud to have done my bit in that election.  I met Sam Galbraith a few times over the years and I wouldn't say that I knew him well, but it is clear to me that he made a major contribution to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.  He had a remarkable career, especially when you consider the poor health which he suffered from over a number of years.

I was really sad to hear the news of his death today.  I share the views of Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband amongst others about Sam's contribution to politics.  Obviously, his death will be a very sad loss to his family and I would like to add my condolences.

18/08/2014

Development Management Committee

This evening the City Council held its first meeting after the end of the summer recess.  We had a meeting of the Development Management Committee.  There was a very brief agenda with the only item seeking planning permission being an application for houses to be built on the site of the former Hillside student residences in Menzieshill.  This application was approved unanimously and I think that people will be happy to see some redevelopment of this location.

29/07/2014

Action needed on Toxic Streets



As Labour's Environment spokesperson on Dundee City Council I am calling for action on toxic streets in Dundee.  Research by Friends of the Earth Scotland showed that Seagate, Lochee Road, Meadowside and Whitehall Street were amongst the most polluted streets in Scotland.  I'm calling for Dundee City Council to take the lead and work to eradicate these problems.  I've written to the Chief Executive asking him to convene a meeting of all interested parties to get a plan of action to deal with this problem.


The research which names these streets as amongst the most polluted in Scotland has been repeated over a number of years.  It is time for effective action.  I am calling on the City Council to get all the relevant parties round the table and to make sure that something is done.  It is not good enough to leave Dundonians exposed to dangerous levels of pollution.


I think that we have a duty to make sure that we take appropriate steps to make sure that these problems are dealt with.  The City Council should take the lead but there are others in the public, private and even voluntary sectors who have something to contribute to a solution to these problems.

19/07/2014

Nelson Mandela International Day

http://mandeladayscotland.org/
Friday 18th July was Nelson Mandela International Day.  Mandela's birthday was 18th July.  There were a number of events which took place across the country.  In Dundee I am pleased to say that my trade union the GMB were collecting books for children in South Africa.  Dundee's Libraries, which are run by Leisure & Culture Dundee which I am a trustee of, were also collecting books.  Well done to these organisations.  It is important to remember Mandela.  He lived a remarkable life. His importance was recognised by the city of Dundee even before his release from prison when he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dundee.  We need to build on these links and find ways in which continue to be inspired by the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela.

03/07/2014

Community Spirit Meeting

At WestFest I was pleased to hear about Solar Cities work
On Wednesday evening I attended the July meeting of the Community Spirit Action Group.  Community Spirit serves the community in the northern part of the West End ward,  The meeting  heard from Solar Cities on their work on carbon reduction and energy efficiency in the West End.  I will be looking for the council to take action to ensure that the private rented sector provide the most energy efficient properties possible.

I think that Solar Cities do a great job and their website is well worth a look.  Recently at WestFest on Magdalen Green I was delighted to discuss their work with them as the picture shows.

17/06/2014

Call for Scotland to Play in Dundee

Action from the Scotland v Hungary under-21 match at Tannadice in March
I've written to the Scottish Football Association calling on them to give serious consideration to staging a Full International Match in Dundee.  I've been calling on the SFA to do this for some time and I was very pleased when Scotland played a friendly under-21 match at Tannadice back in March.  It has been widely reported that the SFA are considering moving matches away from Hampden Park after 2020.

 

I was astounded when I found out that Scotland had not played an full international match in Dundee since 1936.  In recent years Scotland have played matches in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and even in Kilmarnock.  They have also played at Ibrox Stadium and Celtic Park.  I think that it is right that the national team does play in places other than Glasgow from time to time.  On reflection, despite it not being ideal I do think that Hampden is the home of Scottish football and that bigger matches should be played there.  However, it is clear that it is not always practical to play at Hampden and therefore I think that serious consideration should be given to playing in Dundee.  As part of the review which the SFA is undertaking at the moment they should set out criteria for those matches which will be played away from Hampden.

 

I think that Dundee should certainly be included in any list of venues for possible international matches.  The recent under-21 match in Dundee against Hungary proved that there is an appetite for Scotland matches locally.  Indeed the problems at that match were due to the fact that it was more popular than the SFA expected.  There have only been 4 full Scotland internationals played in Dundee and the last one of those was in 1936.  If the SFA is looking at changing where they play international matches then surely it is time for Dundee to get a chance.

 

Playing an international match in Dundee would be good for football fans as they would get the chance to see the best players playing locally.  It would also be good for Dundee because it would bring visitors to the city and international attention to the city which would be good for the city's economy.  I hope that the SFA listen positively to my suggestion.

16/06/2014

Development Management Committee

On Monday evening I attended the June meeting of the Development Management Committee.  There were only three planning applications on the agenda.  The one which attracted most attention was one by Sainsbury's where they wished to increase the percentage of non-food goods that they sell from 20% to 30%.  I voted against this proposal because I felt that it is important that we protect local shopping areas and that we should be wary of allowing large supermarkets the ability to effectively do as they please.  Supermarkets are popular and just about everyone uses them but we must also work hard to protect independent stores and also variety and diversity in shopping areas. 

11/06/2014

WestFest organisers deserve praise

I was appalled to read in this morning's Courier that there had been vandalism and thefts at WestFest.  I was at WestFest on Sunday and it was a great day.  Everyone was having fun and enjoying themselves.  It is disgraceful that the organisers were subjected to any form of abuse.  Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. I hope that they do not spoil this great event for everyone else.

The organisers of WestFest do a great job and they deserve praise rather than abuse.  WestFest is a great community event organised by a hard-working group of volunteers.  As a West End resident I want to thank them for their hard work.

West End Community Council - Fortnightly Bin Collections

On Tuesday night I attended the June meeting of the West End Community Council.  The main item was a presentation on the changes to bin collections in the city.  The presentation was very interesting and made clear the need to change and improve the recycling record of the city.

As with everything the devil will be in the detail.  I maintain that the efforts that are now starting to inform and consult with the public should have happened in advance of the final decision being made and not after it.  The presentation was in quite general terms and it is important that the next stage of the consultation gives people the actual details of what will happen at their property.

In the West End, and elsewhere in the city, the biggest issue around recycling is about how to deal with tenements and other flats.  This will be a major challenge.  It is important that a great effort is made to ensure that recycling is made available to people who live in flats.

I hope that Dundee improves its recycling record and it is important that the council's communication and consultation gets it right and makes sure that people understand the scheme and have bought into it.  Much of the West End (including where I live) will be in the first phase of the new recycling scheme.  I'll be keeping a close eye on this and ensuring that the council listens to the concerns of local people.

10/06/2014

Sheltered Housing Review

Monday evening's Housing Committee saw the SNP Administration at long last bring forward their proposals for Sheltered Housing.

I want to start by saying that I know that tenants in the West End greatly value the service they receive in Sheltered Housing.  I know that wardens do a great job supporting older people and often go the extra mile for them.

The Sheltered Housing Review has acquired almost mythical qualities, everyone had heard of it we were just unsure whether it actually existed or not.  Even SNP councillor Jimmy Black admitted that it had moved at a 'snail's pace'.  This has been a major concern to me, the length of time which this review has taken has only added to the concerns felt by tenants and staff and has not been good for anyone.

I welcome the fact that the report was brought forward but I cannot understand how the report could not even mention the Care Inspectorate inspection which took place on 21st February of this year.  The Care Inspectorate have published a draft copy of that report by mistake, but it was widely reported in the media that the report was not good.  It beggar's belief that we were asked to rush through a report, which has taken far too long to produce in any case, without any reference to a report which is likely to be published soon and which may well be critical of the service.  There has been no hurry over the last three years why is there a hurry now?

It is just odd that a service receives an inspection and then makes no reference to that inspection whilst proposing major changes to the service.  I was very disappointed that the Convener was so dismissive of genuine concerns. 

I am particularly concerned that the overall impact of Sheltered Housing has not been considered in this report.  Sheltered Housing and the regulations around it clearly cause the leadership of the council problems but we should have been looking at a much bigger picture. The Christie Commission said that we should be looking at the overall costs to the public purse.  I am convinced that the work of Sheltered Wardens keeps older people living in their own homes in the community for longer than may otherwise have been the case.  The alternative care settings cost an awful lot more than Sheltered Housing and often do not have the same beneficial outcomes.  I hope that the council did not push through a policy that will be detrimental to the care of older people in our city.

09/06/2014

Welcome U-turn on Hogmanay

At Dundee City Council's Policy & Resources Committee I was pleased that the leader of the council has had a change of heart and brought forward a plan to fund Hogmanay celebrations in Dundee.  There is cross-party support for some form of Hogmanay celebrations and it was disappointing earlier in the year for Councillor Guild to rule out support for this.  I want to pay tribute to the efforts of Councillor Jimmy Black who has been influential in achieving some financial support for Hogmanay celebrations.

I was also happy to join my colleague Kevin Keenan in calling for none of the £18,000 being made available today to be spent on alcohol.  We were accused of being 'puritans' as a result of this but I think that it is important that we recognise the damage that Scotland's poor relationship with alcohol does to our city and our country.  I think that we need to change the culture in our country and make the case the you can have a good time and celebrate major occasions without recourse to alcohol.

The £18,000 is welcome but it is clear to me that people in Dundee need to use this money and look at ways of developing Hogmanay celebrations.  I want any celebrations to have a focus on being family friendly.  It will be interesting to see what proposals come forward.

08/06/2014

WestFest

Blue skies over Magdalen Green at WestFest
I was delighted to be present with so many local people at WestFest's Big Sunday on Magdalen Green this afternoon.  It was a great day and I am sure that people enjoyed themselves despite the occasional shower.

WestFest has certainly come a long way since we had a meeting in Blackness Library back in 2009.  The hardworking committee do a power of work.  I would like to thank the committee for their work. 

Expenses


Dundee City Council recently published the expenses return for councillors for 2013/14.  You can see the returns here.  I receive the basic pay for a councillor, this figure is decided upon nationally and I have no influence over what I am paid.  The council gives me a mobile phone which cost just over £200 in 2013/14.  The council pays this directly and I received no money for my mobile phone expenses.

I am happy to answer any questions which constituents may have on my expenses.

22/04/2014

Fortnightly Bin Collections


At long last the SNP Administration brought forward their plans for fortnightly bin collections on Monday evening.  I was hugely disappointed that the SNP Administration was not prepared listen to the views of any opposition councillors.
 
I moved a motion which would have meant that there was a consultation before a decision was made rather than the rather strange idea that now a decision has been railroaded through there will be now be a consultation.
 
I want to see the council get this policy right but it is clear to me that we should have listened to the workforce and their trade unions and to the people of Dundee. 
 
You can read some of what I said on Monday evening below:
 
'Every time these plans have been mentioned I have made clear that I am not opposed to the concept of fortnightly bin collections.

 

But I have made clear that I believe that with such a major change to a core service provided by the council requires there to be a major consultation process with the public of Dundee.

 

That is why I was happy to support you, Convenor, in June 2013 when you brought forward report 18-2013.  That report brought showed the many problems that we face and highlighted the need to include a wide-ranging consultation in this work prior to their being a final decision.

 

‘I also want to make sure that as many people from our communities can become involved in this process and that their views can be heard.’  Not my words Convener, that is what you said in a News Release issued by the Council PR Department on 3 June 2013.

 

Convener I want you to be successful in your ambition to improve recycling rates in this city.  That is why you should agree with my motion this evening.  I want the public of Dundee to have a say in how this is brought forward.

 

I trust the people of Dundee, we should outline to the people of Dundee the issues before us give them some realistic options and ask for their views.  What do we have to fear from the people of Dundee?

 

Offering a so-called consultation after the decision has been taken is perverse.

 

I am calling for a full and transparent consultation with the people of Dundee about the future of a service which impacts on every household in the city.  It is important that we get this right, to do that let’s hold a consultation.

Stronger Action Against Blacklisting


At Monday evening's Policy & Resources Committee I was pleased that the council supported a motion which I put forward which called for stronger action against blacklisting.  I was pleased that we spoke with one voice giving greater protection to workers.
 
Back in August last year this committee approved an item put forward by Councillor Gordon and myself which made it clear that the council was opposed to blacklisting.

 

Since last August the Scottish Government has issued Scottish Procurement Policy Note 4/2013 entitled the exclusion from public contracts of companies which engage in blacklisting.

 

This is stronger than the position that we adopted last year and I think that we should follow the lead given in this Scottish Government policy note.

 

The key points of the note are as follows:

·       any company which engages in or has engaged in the blacklisting of employees or potential employees should be considered to have committed an act of grave misconduct in the course of its business and should be excluded from bidding for a public contract unless it can demonstrate that it has taken appropriate remedial steps;

This is an issue of fairness, it is an issue about ensuring that no-one is excluding from earning money on a contract funded by Dundee City Council because of their trade union membership or because they are concerned about health and safety.

 

This is about treating workers with respect and ensuring that we get value for money from public contracts and that they maximise the economic and social benefits which they bring.  I am glad to say that the  council again spoke with one voice on Monday night and supported the motion put forward by Councillor Brian Gordon and myself,