The cuts to Edinburgh’s community health groups show a cut to council funding is an attack on vulnerable people.

 

December marks the end of the year. By this point in the month we are looking forward to Christmas and the hope that a New Year brings. However, December 2018 also marked a turning point for many of the most vulnerable people in Scotland’s capital.

In their draft budget the  Scottish Government took the decision to cut Edinburgh’s budget at least 5 times more than was expected. Bizarrely, Edinburgh’s SNP Council Leader claimed “it looks like the Government has managed to protect council funding”.   One has to wonder how big the cut has to be before he will speak out against his Holyrood masters.

Two days later Edinburgh’s “Integrated Joint Board” met to agree which communities would fall victim of their latest round of cuts. The meeting began with the SNP member absenting himself due to a conflict of interest, and Edinburgh’s SNP Council Leader failing to find an alternative.

With no SNP Councillor willing to defend their own party’s cuts, there then followed almost two hours of heartfelt pleading from community health groups supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Edinburgh. This included a scathing attack on the Scottish Government by Cllr Cammy Day who spoke on behalf of the Pilton Community Health Project.

Councillor Day was clearly distraught when talking about the loss of a unique service supporting female victims of domestic and sexual abuse – “Women Supporting Women”. I hope he’s wrong, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to predict what will happen if “essential life-saving services” fall victim of SNP cuts.

Quite bizarrely at the same time as these moving testimonies were being made, outside the City Cambers the SNP’s Ben Macpherson MSP was protesting against the cuts he’d voted for without a whimper of concern in Holyrood. Some say the designer scarf he was wearing covered a brass neck.

So whilst we all look forward to Christmas, let’s hope 2019 is a year where the Scottish Government recognises that a cut on local government is simply an attack on vulnerable people.

Pro Poor

This graphic shows where councils spend their funding – a cut to council funding is an attack on the poorest people in Scotland. 

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My Reply to Colinton Community Council on their letter about the threat to the village’s Public Toilets.

 

I was copied in to the above powerful letter from Colinton Community Council to the City of Edinburgh Council on the threat to the villages’ public toilets. Below is my reply. 

 

Firstly, the Community Council should be congratulated for standing up for Colinton residents on this important issue. This is exactly the kind of activity community councils should be leading on.

Much is said in Holyrood about the impact of UK Government “austerity” on the Scottish Government finances. The reality is, however, that the Scottish Government has chosen to specifically target these cuts on councils. In a report published just last month, COSLA revealed that “In the last 5 years, the Scottish budget has reduced in real terms by 0.4%. Local Government budgets have reduced 10 times that much by 4%”. Worse than that, Edinburgh has one of the worst funding settlements in Scotland. Indeed, the total budgeted funding (revenue & capital) for Edinburgh in 2011/12 was £872.5m, whereas in 2017/18 is was just £790.3m!

Despite the severity of these cuts, Edinburgh is expecting to have to make £106m  of “savings” (around 10% of its annual budget) over the next 5 years and we have a Council Leader who is simply unwilling to oppose them. Indeed, he welcomed the budget settlement last year despite the dark picture it painted for councils.

Although Edinburgh can’t avoid cuts imposed by MSPs, as a Councillor I feel that we all have a duty to ensure the most vulnerable people are protected from their impact. Over the past few months we have seen how the cuts driven changes to waste collection have brought significant distress to some of the most vulnerable people in Edinburgh – we have a duty to ensure that unintended consequence is not repeated in the 2019/20 budget.

Within that context, like you, I have concluded that closing public toilets across Edinburgh will be felt most by older people, young families, people with disabilities and those with certain health conditions. These are exactly the people we should be protecting from the Scottish/UK Government’s cuts.

The Council Leader recently claimed that public toilets are generally in need of substantial investment and are the focus of crime. He has clearly never had to “spend a penny” in Colinton. As you know, the village benefits from a relatively new purpose built facility which is fully accessible and well used (not least by bus drivers and tourists). Council Officers have confirmed to me that there are no problems with them, and the Police have also informed me they can find no record of crime or anti-social behaviour linked to them.

The reported proposal to close the majority of Edinburgh’s public toilets may only be equivalent to  ~0.025% of the Council’s budget, but the true cost to our Capital will be huge.

Rather than slashing public toilet budgets, we should be improving these facilities across the city. I’d much rather Edinburgh was a place that was known for having clean and fully accessible public toilets where nature’s needs can be met and babies can be changed, rather than a place where men (mostly) were too often seen urinating in public.

Last year I was able to work with others to have cuts which would have had a significant impact on my Ward removed from the budget (not least a significant reduction in Library opening hours) and have the impact of others lessened. I shall take the same approach to dealing with the threat to public toilets. Whilst I agree that a full consultation is needed before any cut is considered fully, I hope that this proposal is simply flushed away long before that.

I am more than happy to work with Councillors from the four other political groups on this important issue as I recognise that normally 2-3 parties are needed to block/pass any motion.

Please let me know if you don’t receive a satisfactory response to the questions you have raised.

Council Briefing Note – Coping with Winter Weather in Edinburgh.

SNOW

Below is a briefing I received from Council Officer in their preparations for “winter weather”. 

TOPIC:  WINTER MAINTENANCE SERVICE (gritting and snow clearing) 2018/19

Date:   20/11/18

The City of Edinburgh Council has a statutory duty (under Section 34 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984) to take such steps as it considers “reasonable to prevent snow and ice endangering the safe passage of pedestrians and vehicles over public roads”.  The intention of this duty is not that the Council will take immediate and simultaneous steps to clear and/or treat every road whenever ice or snow exists.  It is recognised by the Courts that this would be impossible and beyond the limits of available resources.

 

WINTER WEATHER ACTIVITY – IN NUMBERS

  • 14,000 tonnes of salt stockpiled for use across the city; initial resilience of 38 days of continuous heavy treatment
  • 19 mini-tractors, based at depots across Edinburgh, used for high ground pavements, city centre routes, cycle paths and local priority routes.
  • 12 up to date hired gritting and snow plough lorries
  • 10 CEC multi use gritting and snow plough lorries
  • 1050km of priority 1 road network
  • 300 kilometres of priority pavements and cycleways
  • 96 Edinburgh Roads Services staff working three shifts to treat roads and park and rides
  • 60 staff from across the Council working three shifts to treat priority footways and cycle routes with mini-tractors
  • Place Management staff to treat Local Priority routes

 

Edinburgh Road Services (ERS) leads the Winter Maintenance Service for the City of Edinburgh Council in conjunction with other teams within Place Management.  The purpose of this service is to allow pavement, cycle way and road users’ safe movement over Priority routes during wintry weather.

 

MAKING THE TREATMENT DECISION

ERS receives weather forecast information from the Met Office on a daily basis.  This includes a detailed 24-hour weather forecast and a 2 to 5 days weather forecast for planning purposes.

Detailed current and historical information on road conditions, at selected points on the network, are received by means of a web-based road monitoring system.  Road Sensors record road surface conditions (such as road temperature and residual salt levels) as well as air temperature and wind speed/direction.

The Met Office forecasts and roadside information are analysed and modelled against the thermal maps of Edinburgh’s road network. This is then presented on a web platform that displays the minimum forecast road surface temperature and the likelihood of ice forming.

The Duty Manager makes a treatment decision at mid-day each day with later updates if required due to forecast changes. The decision could be for no action, a pre grit starting at 17:00 or treatment all night. Later decisions may call for treatment at 05:00 or all day treatment.

Following thermal mapping and route optimisation, Duty Managers are now able to make route based decisions. Following the forecast with the map image above of 26 October, 4 priority 1 road routes were required to be gritted. Prior to thermal mapping, the forecast information presented would have led to a decision to treat the whole city; on this occasion 80% of variable resources were saved.

If you would like a demonstration or further explanation of thermal mapping and route based decision making, please get in touch (contact details below).

 

GRITTING

 ERS has 12 hired in, fixed body gritter lorries and 10 CEC owned multi body gritters (the body can be changed to eg a flatbed) available for the treatment of roads and snow ploughing.

Mini-tractors and pick-up/3.5t trucks are available for the treatment of cycle paths and pavements both on the priority 1 network and Local priority routes.

Standby arrangements ensure that staff are available 24/7 throughout the winter months.  ERS also has a Contract with a local Farmer, for the treatment of roads in the Balerno area.

As part of a Plant Framework Agreement, ERS can access additional gritters with drivers to supplement the in-house resources.

Priority 1 routes will be covered within 4 hours of treatment starting, although ERS aim to complete them in around 3 hours. Weather conditions, traffic and technical issues will impact timings. When possible, surfaces will be treated before it freezes. This is not always possible and the public MUST be aware that at times, a Priority 1 surface may have ice on it for up to 4 hours before it can be treated.

Only Priority 1 Pavements, Cycleways and Roads are treated outside normal working hours.

CEC has mutual agreements with the adjoining Lothian Councils for the treatment of roads that cross the City boundary, to ensure full coverage of the road network.  The Scottish Executive’s agent for the maintenance of the trunk road network (A720 City Bypass, M8 and M9) including the slip roads is Amey.  CEC has an agreement with Amey for the treatment of roads that interface with the trunk road network

 

SALT BINS

To enable people to carry out self-help treatment of roads and pavements, salt bins are positioned throughout the City.  These bins are checked and refilled, based on area treatment decisions, throughout the winter months.  Requests for new bins or reports of empty bins can be made to Clarence on freephone 0800 23 23 23 or through the Council website.

In an ‘emergency’ situation the Council will deploy a number of 1tonne bags of salt at strategic points throughout the City.

Go to http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/homepage/239/gritting_and_salt_bins for:

  • Gritting routes and grit bin locations
  • Advice on clearing snow/ice
  • How to report an empty, damaged or missing grit bin
  • How we prioritise which streets get gritted first
  • Request a new grit bin

 

EXTREME WEATHER

When severe ‘emergency’ weather is forecast, the Resilience Team will call a meeting with key staff from across the Council and Partners to consider the possible impact on the City and to draft a probable first stage action and resource plan to address potential needs and demands.

A move from ‘normal’ to an ‘emergency’ situation will be taken by a member of the Council’s Management Team.  This decision will be communicated to the Council’s Winter Weather Silver Commander who will advise key staff.

This prompt will result in the Council’s Silver Command team becoming established and this team, under the control of the Council’s Silver Commander, is responsible for the Winter Maintenance response until the situation reverts back to ‘normal’.  The Silver Command team has a base in Bankhead depot alongside the ERS Duty Officer.

The Council has a Contingency Framework Agreement for contractors who can be contacted in the event of Edinburgh experiencing a spell of severe winter weather.  This agreement makes provision for an emergency 4-hour response and for Contractors to carry out severe weather operations 7days a week and through holiday periods.  This supplements the Winter Maintenance Service provided by Council Services and is managed through the Council’s Silver Command structure.

Go to the Severe Weather page www.edinburgh.gov.uk/winterweather for:

  • Emergency road closures due to weather warnings
  • Gritting routes, grit bin locations and guidance on clearing paths
  • Realtime updates on traffic and travel delays
  • Support for older, disabled or isolated people
  • School closures due to severe weather or other emergencies
  • What to do to be prepared in case of a storm
  • Report a flood or find out who to contact for help
  • Current delays to rubbish and recycling collections

 

The apologists in Edinburgh’s City Chambers

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John Smith closed his last speech with these words: “Thank you all very much for coming here tonight and helping us perhaps partly to achieve that objective. We will do our best to reward your faith in us, but please give us the opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask.”

In his most recent article in the Evening News Daniel Johnson MSP labels Edinburgh 16 SNP Councillors as “the apologists in the City Chambers” due to their failure to oppose the cuts our Capital is facing (Opinion, 26/11/18).

Their actions are in stark contrast to the words John Smith was fond of repeating – “What’s the point of being in politics, if you can’t speak up for the people who can’t speak up for themselves?”.

Despite the rising concern about the unwillingness of Edinburgh’s SNP group to stand up for Edinburgh, last weak their leader took their intransigence to new levels. He actually mocked everyone who has ever protested outside Holyrood in order to have their voice heard.

He said – “I can assure any one of the activists or Labour Councillors who think that standing outside the Scottish Parliament with a sandwich board is better than being in the room meeting the minister, in my experience that is not the case. It is better to be eyeballing the person…”.

The argument he makes is that cosy undocumented chat’s with his party’s elite in Holyrood are better than standing in solidarity with those that rely on Council services.

The problem is that reality suggests this approach is failing. The Council is currently consulting on cutting it’s spending by £106m and the Council Leader has refused to rule out cuts to schools. Indeed, these cuts come on top of the silent slaughter of Council services in recent years which COSLA say is 10 times greater than Tory austerity.

The night before John Smith died he closed his speech saying – “We will do our best to reward your faith in us, but please give us the opportunity to serve our country. That is all we ask.” Every single Labour Councillor takes that duty of public service seriously. If needed, we will stand outside Holyrood opposing these cuts with a “sandwich board” alongside the public and Council staff.

We know, however, that if the cuts do come the SNP Council leader will be quick to support them just as he did last year.

Why Refunding Edinburgh’s Garden Waste Charge Won’t Solve the Fundamental Problem.

I am still against the so called Garden Tax. A clear majority of Edinburgh’s 63 Councillors are in exactly the same position. Indeed, many of those that voted for it did so only because it was combined with a package of more positive measures.

Despite this strength of resistance, Edinburgh’s “opposition” parties  have been unable to coalesce around any sort of viable alternative and force the minority SNP led administration to do a u-turn. Indeed, although many Councillors were rightly critical of the ongoing waste collection crisis our Capital is facing, I was the only one that raised any questions about what was planned when details were presented in the City Chambers several months ago.

Perhaps if more questions had been asked, many of the problems faced could have been avoided – not least the stress the garden waste registration system has caused many older and vulnerable people in Edinburgh.

Indeed, there have only really been two substantive developments since the Garden Tax was first proposed. Firstly, Labour managed to mitigate the impact of the original SNP proposal by arguing that the poorest households should be exempt.  Secondly, the Liberal Democrats managed to have the Council consider the possibility of a refund for those that have suffered collection delays (report, 23/11/18).

Although I am delighted that a refund is at least being considered as it’s a tacit admission that the performance of the service has been unacceptable, I do wonder where that money will come from and how it can be efficiently processed. After all, the chaos in Edinburgh’s waste collection system is a direct result of the  cuts the SNP is forcing on our Capital – 10 times the level of Tory austerity since 2013. Given that these cuts are set to continue with the support of the SNP council leader, where will the refund cash be found? I have asked the Liberal Democrats repeatedly, but so far they have refused to answer.

They know that services are failing because budgets are being cut to the bone and that refunds won’t solve that fundamental problem.

 

Briefing for Councillors – The closure of COMAS /Serenity Cafe

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Below is a Council briefing on the closure of Serenity Cafe.

Officers supporting the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drug Partnership were informed by email on 2 November 2018 that COMAS, a third sector organisation supporting people in recovery, had made the decision to liquidate the company following a recent financial review. The email stated that the Board and CEO had considered all options including administration, Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and other funding solutions but given the overall financial position there was no alternative but to cease trading.

COMAS staff were also informed of the decision on 2nd November and then issued with redundancies on 6 November, with the premises (Serenity Cafe and Comas HQ) closed on the same day.

EADP was not made aware of the extent of financial difficulties COMAS was experiencing and received no prior indication the Board was considering this course of action. In fact, the EADP had recently supported COMAS to find new accommodation for its social enterprise, the Serenity Café.

COMAS received funding of £60k per year from Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP).

Services provided by COMAS included:

  • Serenity Café – a social enterprise providing a safe drug and alcohol free social space open to members, volunteers and the public alike.
  • Access to trained volunteer recovery coaches and financial inclusion workers.
  • Support including learning programs, social/hobby groups as well as recovery support groups
  • A specific women’s project – Womanzone

The closure of COMAS leaves a gap in support for people in recovery but the EADP will engage with the drugs and alcohol community to see if there are options to retain elements of the services previously provided by COMAS or provide alternative supports.

 

Full Details – Redford Barracks Placemaking Workshop

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Below are details of an invite only workshop which will consider the future of Redford Barracks. I have ensured that community interests are well represented at the event – we should see everyone from Community Councils to Parent Councils & GPs there!

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has stated that Redford Barracks is to close by 2022 as part of a wider rationalisation of the MOD estate. The nearby Dreghorn Barracks will remain open, with some of the functions from Redford Barracks being relocated there. Council officers have been engaging with the MOD to support the development of a masterplan that could transform the Redford Barracks site into a successful, sustainable residential-led community.

This placemaking workshop will focus on the surrounding communities of Redford, Colinton and Oxgangs, and look at opportunities which may arise from the redevelopment of Redford Barracks, seeking to agree a view on how this area could be different. The workshop outcomes will inform future investment planning in the local area, including both the brief for the Redford Barracks site masterplan and the Council’s City Plan 2030.

The first part of the workshop will explore the key issues and priorities in the wider Redford, Colinton and Oxgangs area, both from a Council service provision and community stakeholder perspective. This will include considering how people currently view the area, and what would make the area better.

The second part of the workshop will focus on placemaking scenarios and consider opportunities that the redevelopment of the barracks will offer around a number of different themes e.g. housing, transport, amenities, services, environment. This will identify opportunities for shared investment and community-led aspirations for the site which will inform future plans for the area, including the redevelopment of the Redford Barracks site.