Friday, 25 May 2012


Not enough days in this week but I suspect I might be saying that for a wee while. Was successfully appointed as the new Convenor for Health, Social Care and Housing at yesterday's full Council meeting. Now getting to grips with some of the very real issues and expecting to be handed a chunky list of commitments to deliver from the recently signed coalition partnership agreement. Was also nominated yesterday as the Council's representative on NHS Lothian's board. Not a role I had anticipated up until a few days ago but given the obvious cross over between many of the Council's care services and the NHS it makes sense. Apparently my appointment has to be ratified by the Cabinet Secretary for Health so better not make any definite plans until official say so has been received.

Productive afternoon, following a constituent visit in Balerno I headed to Ratho Library for a coffee and a chat with some of the local staff and mums while youngsters played computer games and pulled long balloons into embarrassing shapes. Then on to the Bridge Inn where Cala Homes are showing an exhibition of their plans to replace the previously agreed care home with 14 houses at the Freelands Road site. There is a rationale for this but I suspect there will be a little unease locally at the loss of such an important element in the development.

Remember the blog post I did in February after planting two apple trees in the garden ? Well the photo above is the rather impressive progress being made following a somewhat mixed few months of weather. Not expecting a bumper harvest any time soon but am delighted to see that they seem to be healthy and developing well.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Getting Real

Another eventful week. Our new Administration is beginning to feel real, office moves are underway, new support staff have been allocated, our new Councillors have been provided with phones, desks, computers and email addresses so that they can get cracking. And, to cap it all at Thursday's full Council meeting Andrew Burns was appointed as Council Leader and our new Labour Lord Provost, Donald Wilson took the chain of office and made a contribution that was dignified, humourous and moving. He will be an excellent LP.

On Wednesday night I was delighted to accept an invitation to be guest chair of the Wester Hailes Community Council AGM. Pleased to report it was well attended and all four office bearer posts were successfully filled and an additional 7 people volunteered to become members of the CC. A positive start to the year ahead and its certainly time that Wester Hailes found its community voice again. Since the demise of the Rep Council WH has struggled a little to raise and pursue issues with same effectiveness as was once the case.

Now, just the small matter of the biggest ever Scottish Cup Final to deal with. I hadn't really felt very nervous this week about the game. Until now.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Big Job

The Labour Group tonight has nominated me as Convenor of Health, Social Care and Housing which is a massive responsibility (as well as a long job title !) and one that I will take extremely seriously. Covering everything from care homes to home helps, criminal justice social work, help for adults with disabilties, direct payments, adaptations, housing and all its facets and challenges, I reckon my diary will be fairly full for the foreseeable future. Also a great honour that my colleagues have the faith in me to be reasonably competent with such an important group of services. Really pleased too that the Labour Group have nominated Cllr Cammy Day as vice-Convenor. Cammy's got good skills and a significant amount of experience in these areas so I'm convinced we'll be a pretty effective team. All this of course has to be endorsed by the full Council meeting on 24th May but I'm keen to get started and can't help thinking about what lies ahead. The Partnership Agreement that underpins our Labour/SNP coalition contains no fewer than 50 commitments for the city, many of which are related to the Health, Social Care and Housing brief so we'll certainly have a clear agenda to work to. Now, off to Balerno to hopefully catch the end of the Balerno Village Trust AGM.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Longest Week

The longest week, beginning with the closing few days of the election campaign leading to Polling Day itself and then the Count, followed by three days of intense negotiation that resulted in our Labour/SNP coalition, finally concluded last night with a visit to Frank Boyle's exhibition launch at the Scottish Story Telling Centre on the High Street. Frank has moved on from the football cartoon show a few weeks back to his political work, appropriate given the timing. As said before his work is superb and you can see more of it at Live entertainment was provided by the Sensational Alex Salmond Gastric Band, (left) satirical Scottish songwriting at its best. You can get more info on facebook here .

Outwith the City Chambers Thursday night saw a visit to the management committee meeting of Juniper Green Village Hall. They're still pursuing the disabled access and toilets provision and I'm pretty sure we can see this through to a successful conclusion.

This morning the Balerno Farmers Market was in full swing, spent a small fortune on sausages and cakes ! Should have been golfing this afternoon but the course is closed after all the rain. Oh well, the garage really does need to be tidied out. Joy.....

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A New Dawn ?

20 seats
Well, an agreement has been reached to work with the SNP Group to run the Council. Andrew Burns will be an excellent Council Leader and we shall also nominate the Lord Provost.

After extensive and exhaustive talks over many hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday our attempt to create an "Administration of all the talents" as per our manifesto, failed to progress because most of the other parties were unable to commit to the proposals we put forward. To cut a long story short that left only one realistic, viable option, a Labour/SNP coalition. Unusual ? Yes, but not unique and although we are normally sworn enemies, there does a come a time after the votes have been counted and the dust settled, to work with others in the interests of the very people who put us where we are. I'm pretty confident we can do that and look forward to the hard work ahead.

One important and optimistic footnote to this tale is that at last night's meeting of the five party negotiating teams, although agreement couldn't be reached on a cross party alliance, virtually all commented that they'd welcomed the dialogue and believed there was an opportunity for more joint working and openness going forward. Don't worry, that doesn't mean an "all-party love-in" with everyone agreeing with each other all the time. Of course there will be division and robust political debate, but perhaps there was a feeling that we could and should work harder at involving each other in our policy and decision meeting process.

The picture above shows a trial set up in the Council Chambers for full Council meetings and the 20 seats that will be occupied by Labour bums on Thursday 17th May.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Count

I'm absolutely delighted and very proud to have been re-elected and able to represent the Pentland Hills ward again for another 5 years. Also chuffed to bits to increase our share of the vote by a massive 9% ! Details of the full result can be found here .

Many, many thanks are due to the small but perfectly formed and energetic band of activists who worked so hard for the last few months delivering material and knocking doors. Also thanks to the hundreds of local residents who took a few minutes to talk to me, raise issues, debate and sometimes argue about the main issues in their area. And thanks too to the 2293 who voted me as number 1 and the many others who gave me other preferences. It really is most appreciated.

A final, and most important thanks to my wonderful agent who steered us through the campaign and applied a firm hand when it was needed and coaxed and cajoled when necessary...

Looking forward to working with my new colleagues, Bill Henderson (no relation) and Dominic Heslop. I'm sure we'll work well together.

Special mention too to Mike "Professor Pongoo" Ferrigan. He polled a very respectable 444 votes and has a great deal to offer the local community. I hope his skills and commitment to the area are tapped into in some way.

We're now the biggest party on the Council with 20 seats so that obviously gives us some authority in discussing future arrangements with others but we have to be conscious that all groups have their own priorities for the future and I'm sure talks over the next few days will be conducted sensibly and maturely with any and all that have Edinburgh's best interests at heart.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Polling Day

Polling Day has arrived ! Out early this morning with the A boards and did a stint at Ratho, Balerno and Gibson Craig Halls polling stations. Not a huge turn out yet but certainly a steady trickle of people throughout. Good banter with the other parties and was pleased to bump into Mike "Professor Pongoo" Ferrigan. Disappointed that he wasn't in costume but he may be persuaded later in the day. Right, time to get back out there. 

See you at the Count !

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

SAMH Redhall Walled Garden

Managed a brief door knocking session last night and a visit to a constituent before heading for the Ratho Primary Parent Council meeting. 

This morning was a fantastic (and slightly humbling) visit to Redhall Walled Garden, run by SAMH , which helps people who are dealing with mental health problems rebuild their confidence and self esteem through working in the garden and associated IT suite. It's a wonderful facility and they undertake a vast range of tasks which help people to look forward to the future and take responsibility for their own lives after periods of illness. After an extensive tour of the garden we adjourned to the meeting room for a cuppa and a scone and a chat with several volunteers and staff members. On a very simple level SAMH support people to hopefully build a better future for themselves but lying behind each individual is often a complex history of illness and issues, sometimes homelessness, alcohol or drug porblems, dismissal from employment and woven through each tale is a constant battle to try and find the most appropriate support and advice which is often necessary before even considering taking on the tangled web that we call the Benefits System.

It was very very clear that much more needs to be done. Services have been cut just at the time when more people are likely to need them and ultimately this will be false economy as increased numbers experience more severe problems with a greater impact on the lives of themselves and their families as well as wider society. The Welfare Reform Act won't be much help either. In fact, it may make the situation much worse. 

I don't like to strike a negative note as there were so many positive personal stories but obviously there are still some major challenges ahead. If I'm still a Councillor this time next week I've offered to meet again to see if we can progress some of the more local issues.

I believe that all Councillors and candidates were invited to today's event but only myself, from the Labour Group and the Greens were represented. I'm sure the other parties do care about these services but must have been too busy today to get one person each to attend.

PS - Redhall Walled Garden's next Open Day (with plant sales and cream teas) is on Sunday 20th May (12-5pm), See you there !