Thursday, 31 October 2013

Neighbourhood Watch & Derby Success

....talking of Police, I attended the AGM of Currie East Neighbourhood Watch the other night at the Gibson Craig Hall. A seriously impressive turn out of around 30 people duly ratified the accounts, constitutional changes and then elected their office bearers for the year ahead. It's good to see such interest in community activity (I suspect the glass of wine at the end may have boosted the attendance!) and this particular group, although Neighbourhood Watch and community safety are their primary purpose and concern, they also take an interest in the wider community and this is to be welcomed. Thankfully Currie East is not a high crime area but this can partly be attributable to the work of these volunteers maintaining the vital communication links locally to ensure that people take all the relevant measures to keep themselves safe. I look forward to working with them and providing whatever support may be required.

Meanwhile....., last night I headed for Easter Road more out of a sense of duty than any optimism or expectation. After 20 minutes we could have been 4-0 down and thoughts were turning to a possible return to the pub to dull the pain. However, Hearts didn't concede, held on, and clawed their way back in to the game. Ryan Stevenson scored and Hibs never looked like the same side after that. A famous 1-0 victory takes us to the semi finals and, more importantly, a confidence boost for the league games ahead.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

'ello, 'ello, 'ello...

A sign of things to come ?
The consultation on Police station public counter closures finishes later this week. Balerno, currently open 9-5, Monday - Friday, is one of those proposed for closure. I've picked up some concern from the local community who, although they agree they may not pop in to the local cop shop on a regular basis, believe its closure will add to the feeling of public services being reduced or withdrawn. Since the creation of Police Scotland there's been a bit of debate about how local priorities are set and delivered under the new force. There is a perception in some quarters that the centralisation has seen a diminution in community Policing and an imposition of Scottish wide Police policies. We've received reassurances that this isn't the case and that local priorities will prevail. I've also received reassurances that there are (currently) no plans to completely close Balerno Police Station. I await the outcome of the consultation and further developments with interest.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Revolution will be Improvised

"Old" Craigmillar
Had a very interesting visit to the new East Neighbourhood Centre office in Craigmillar this morning. A beautiful new building, it provides a base for around 400 staff from various public sector agencies including the Council, NHS, Police, Fire and Rescue, the voluntary sector and community groups. The ground floor in particular is a welcoming and well used space. The reception area leads on to a community space and also to the café which is adjacent to the library and internet access section, and on to the youth and younger children's spaces. Numerous small meeting rooms also provide a suitable environment for staff to meet local residents to discuss any service or personal issues. It also leads to an attractive outdoor garden with a concrete table tennis table !

Upstairs are two floors of fairly standard, but open and bright, modern office accommodation, where I met and talked to members of staff who are taking a pioneering approach to the Total Neighbourhood concept. Inspired by the Christie Commission report, staff here are building real partnership working across organisations and informed by community and service users views with the intention of improving outcomes for local people, particularly those who need the most help and who may not have had the most productive relationship with public services in the past.

There is a cautious optimism that this approach is beginning develop and establish trust and sound working relationships across various organisations and the community. Much of the joint working may appear to look like common sense but perhaps we've all been guilty in the past of promoting "partnership working" but not pressing forward or challenging some of the barriers that have limited progress.

The new "East office" in Craigmillar
Jim Hunter and his team at the East office are doing some great work and are, by necessity, having to be bold and experimental in testing this approach. Of course a building doesn't necessarily guarantee good services but I sense that the excellent new facility has provided an ideal springboard for a lot of good ideas to take off and flourish. Because there is no instruction manual on how Total Neighbourhood should work, or any additional funding to make it happen, they've adopted the motto "The Revolution will be Improvised". That's a refreshing attitude in my view and I look forward to seeing further positive progress and hopefully an opportunity to extend this elsewhere in the city.

Friday, 18 October 2013

"New" Currie Community Council

Having been appointed as the Returning Officer for the Currie Community Council election process I was delighted to chair the first meeting of the newly re-established CCC on Monday and oversee the confirmation of new elected members and appointment of the new office bearers. A number of long serving community activists had chosen to stand down prior to the elections, having given several decades of stalwart service to the local community, so this is something of a transformational period for community representation in Currie with new people coming forward. I was a little anxious that people may be reluctant to get involved, voluntary service isn't always an attractive option for folk who already have busy lives, but I'm pleased to say that sufficient worthy souls have come forward to re-establish the community council and represent their local area. My heartfelt congratulations go to new chair Allister McKillop and his new team, there are plenty of important issues on the horizon and I look forward to working with them now and in the years ahead.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Consulting on setting the rent

As the largest landlord and housing provider in the city it's important for the Council to consult widely before setting the rents for Council house tenants. In 2007 the previous Council agreed to a strategy of annual rent rises of inflation plus 2.7% for the five years up to 2015. The added income supported an investment programme that is delivering Scottish Housing Quality Standards, through new bathrooms and kitchens etc. It's also contributing to plans to build new Council houses. The time has come to review that strategy and investment priorities looking forward another 5 years and considering what is reasonable, and affordable, in the short to medium term for Council tenants. This report, to the HWH Committee last month, agreed to start a consultation exercise and so yesterday saw a joint Council / Edinburgh Tenants Federation conference that began the consideration of rent levels and priorities for future investment. One of the risks to future investment is the impact of Welfare Reform and the Bedroom Tax. The Council can only use income from rent to invest in Council houses and our housing service so any reduction has a knock on effect to investment and service, not to mentions jobs and regeneration. Rent arrears are increasing and this remains a serious concern. However, it was an interesting session yesterday and the consultation will continue until we get a further report with some recommendations early next year.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Weekly Update

Blog Neglect is a serious accusation and one I'd find difficult to defend so, after being a bit lazy in recent days, here's a wee update.

Last week saw a meeting with a delegation of retired Swedish trade unionists, interested in pensioners rights and care services for the elderly. A very interesting discussion, through an interpreter.... My Swedish is a bit rusty these days. Wednesday was a meeting of the NHS Lothian Board with a slightly amended way of dealing with the Agenda that allowed us to focus consideration on a few higher priority items. Thursday was the full Council meeting, a full set of papers / reports can be accessed on this link.

Capt Danny Wilson & Gary Locke
Last Friday I was delighted to accept an invitation to the unveiling of a bronze plaque outside Tynecastle that commemorates the date on which the entire Hearts first team joined the army to fight in the First World War. The Haymarket Clock and the cairn at Contalmaison are now joined by a fitting memorial to these men who were photographed on the day they signed up at the back of the new stand in 1914. Captain Danny Wilson and the 2013 team then fought out an entertaining 0-0 draw with Dundee Utd on Saturday. Frustrating to have a perfectly good goal disallowed but a draw was probably a fair result.