South West Schools – What’s Next?

The news that the proposed merger of Currie Community High School and Wester Hailes Education Centre has been binned is fantastic. This decision only impacts on a tiny part of my Ward, but it is hugely important for the children that live there (now and in the future).

Abandoning the ill-considered merger and investing in the schools at their current sites is right because it means everything that is special about them can be protected, but we can invest in making them even better.

The focus now must, however, be on reimagining WHEC to ensure every child in its catchment can reach their full potential. Rebuilding WHEC alone won’t do that, we have to invest in nursery and primary education feeder routes, and establish links with the college and university on its doorstep.

This partnership is important as the attainment gap can’t be solved in high school alone – that was the folly at the heart of the argument for the doomed merger.  Early years and primary education is where the real work needs to be done. We should be using high school to amplify those gains, and I feel working with local colleges and universities is key to that. Indeed, I’ve already had informal chats with an Edinburgh university about how they can work with WHEC.

Although protecting CCHS and WHEC was always the right decision, reaching that point has taken longer than needed and caused more upset than necessary. The hard part, however, is finding the money to regenerate these schools and others in Edinburgh like Liberton High. The Scottish Government have delayed releasing funds again and again – the latest is that an “announcement” may be made at the end of the year, but there is still no guarantee of funding.

I have therefore written to every Councillor in Edinburgh asking them to have their party’s MSPs stand up for Edinburgh and make the case for investing in our schools – not least Gordon MacDonald MSP who represents the Currie / Wester Hailes area. I have also asked that all the Edinburgh Council Group leaders write as one to John Swinney demanding that funding be made available.

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Crime Briefing – South West Edinburgh Drug Supply Initiatives

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Below is a briefing on drug crime in South-West Edinburgh. 

Introduction
At the last Locality Committee meeting (April 2018), Chief Inspector Carson reported that drug supply activity in the locality accounted for over half the drug activity in the city.

Concerns were raised that this was indicative of a disproportionately high drug misuse problem relative to the rest of Edinburgh.

This briefing provides context around the relatively high statistics, compared to elsewhere.

First and foremost, it is worth re-iterating that tackling drug and alcohol misuse is one of the 6 key outcomes of the Community Safety section of the Locality Improvement Plan (LIP). Whilst more detail is provided in the LIP, the local approach is based on enforcement and support, both of which are reliant on the ongoing and valued support of a significant number of the key partners identified.

The following sections provide a brief summary of the drug supply activity in South West Edinburgh, and the ongoing plans and initiatives to address those issues.

 

Overview
The Crime Statistics for 2017/18 indicate a significant proportion of Supply of Drugs offences occurring in South West Edinburgh.

Analysis conducted by the E Division Analyst Unit has identified 4 key themes in South West, relevant to the supply of drugs in the locality.

Residential properties, The Royal Mail Sorting Office and HMP Edinburgh account for the main locations for crimes of drug supply. This is indicative of the pro-active nature of drug enforcement activity.

In addition, the fourth aspect relates to on-street / open space drug supply. This is relatively low when compared to other localities in terms of the percentage of drugs supply offences that are on-street / open space (the lowest in fact compared to other localities).

While the South West locality accounts for the highest proportion of total drug supply crime for the city, it accounts for the lowest proportion in terms of possession in terms of other localities.

Cannabis is the drug most typically found in crimes of possession and supply, in South West Edinburgh, followed by heroin/diamorphine.

 

Private / Residential Locations
36.7% of drug supply (including possession with intent to supply) offences occur within private space. This relates predominantly to dwelling homes.

The response to this aspect is heavily reliant on information received from members of the public, which is invariably passed to police in the form of intelligence.

That intelligence is then used to crave and execute warrants at relevant addresses.

Response: There are both Divisional and Regional Units dedicated to targeting the supply of controlled drugs. Those units enforce Misuse of Drugs Act Warrants across the city, particularly when the enquiry might provide complex on account of, for example, ward / locality / Divisional boundaries.

Locally, the majority of drug enforcement activity is undertaken by the Initiative Team (LAVRU) based at Wester Hailes Police Station, supported by the Community Policing Team.

The focus is on those individuals / groups / families whose behaviour blights local communities. The recent phase of Operation Aftermath saw the execution of warrants in the locality, leading to the recovery of over £65,000 of controlled substances and £4,500 in cash.

 

Street Dealing
Drug supply offences occurring in public spaces account for 13.9% of supply / possession with intent charges in South West.

This is often the ‘end of the supply chain’, but is nevertheless often found in areas that experience associated crime and disorder.

Response: Operation Aftermath is designed to not only identify named individuals, but also problematic areas, where the identities of those responsible are often unknown.

The last phase of Aftermath targeted specific locations identified – directly and indirectly – by the public, using an array of tactics.

In addition, we recognise the significance the physical appearance and structure can have on the behaviour of individuals in communities. As such, we are supporting the regeneration of Westside Plaza with a view to tackling drug misuse and ASB there.

Environmental surveys will assess how the landscape can be adapted, lighting improved, CCTV, signage and generally making areas less welcoming for those who are intent on causing criminality, disorder or otherwise contributing to the fear of crime.

Officers will continue to receive briefings to empower them to stop and search individuals who have either (a) been identified through intelligence, or (b) behaved in such a manner in an identified hotspot.

 

HMP Saughton
The prison is accountable for 20.1% of drug supply / possession with intent to supply charges in South West.

Drug misuse within prisons is a significant challenge to authorities, but the relationship between E Division, and specifically South West, and prison staff is second to none.

Prison Liaison Officer PC Tracey Gunn continues to play a pivotal role in that relationship and makes a vital contribution to preventing and detecting illegal activity within the prison estate.

It is worth noting that the offence of bringing / attempting to bring drugs into prison is a separate offence and not included in the breakdown of figures outlined in this report.

However, as the locality with geographical ownership of the prison, we plan and undertake operations at the prison to prevent and detect persons trying to get drugs into prison. Similarly, we investigate reports from the prison of offences of this nature.

PC Gunn liaises with colleagues at prisons around the country to ensure we are abreast of trends and challenges within the prison.

 

Mail Centre
The Royal Mail Centre at Cultins Road is another entity of significance to recorded drug supply in South West.

Presently, the intended recipient is not relevant in terms of the location of the offence – the Mail Centre is recorded as the location.

As such, the Mail Centre accounts for 29.5% of recorded supply charges for the Locality.

This may skew what would be perceived to be a true picture of drug activity in South West and this particular recording standard is being reviewed by Scottish Crime Recording Standards. In future, the locus for such an offence may be recorded as the intended recipient.

Similar to the prison, joint working and partnership relations are strong and efficient. Staff at the centre are well versed in procedures, and technology is such that detections of attempts to get controlled substances into the city are on the increase (173%).

This area is an example of one in which we receive support from Divisional units in relation to investigation, and we continue to support staff at the centre in the detection of offences.

 

Prevention, Intervention & Support
Enforcement is clearly a reaction to the criminality discussed above, and the commitment to that aspect is evident.

However, we fully recognise the need to address the source of the problem also. That’s why we will work with partners to try and impact on demand, and prevent people choosing to misuse dugs. Equally, when they have, we will focus on supporting them get out of that lifestyle.

As such, the CAP will incorporate victim support for those afflicted by drug misuse. The work of the CAP is documented in this month’s Area Committee report.

In addition, events such as ‘The Slide’ have been introduced in schools, and the Choices for Life event involved inputs and engagement with over 60 youths in the area. These both show children how the decisions they make can affect their lives. Individuals with lived-life experience are highly credible and effective and are excellent at sharing their experience.

 

Summary
The content of this report is intended to break down drug supply – and associated challenges – into 4 main themes.

Whilst recent crime figures highlighted that South West Edinburgh accounted for the highest proportion of supply offences in the city, that is not to be interpreted as the locality having a disproportionate problem with drug misuse.

Two unique entities – HMP Edinburgh and the Royal Mail Centre – are situated in South West and contribute to recorded crime levels on that basis.

The locality enjoys a great deal of intelligence in relation to drug misuse and supply, and in a local Initiative Team ably supported by Community Policing and Divisional resources, are able to act on that intelligence.

The Locality Improvement Plan outlines the plan to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and, significantly, acknowledges the importance of support and intervention in addressing the problem.

Briefing on the delayed garden waste charging scheme

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Below is a briefing from the Transport & Environment Convener  (Cllr Lesley Macinnes, SNP Councillor for Liberton/Gilmerton Ward). My previously stated view on the plan is here

Garden Waste Service
Following the decision at Council in February to introduce an annual £25 charge to collect garden waste every two weeks, work has been carried out in preparation for the roll out of the new service. Waste services have been working closely with customer, ICT, CGI, Oracle and partners, communications, finance and strategy and insight to ensure a joined-up approach to the development of the registration and payment process is put in place. To date, the following key actions have been
completed:

  1. Garden waste policy written and approved
  2. On-line registration form created and tested
  3. Terms and Conditions agreed
  4. Merchant codes set-up and ready to take payment online and over the phone
  5. Communications plan developed which includes awareness campaign and direct
    contact via mailing to 245k households
  6. Liaison with other services to agree entitlement for customers receiving Council Tax
  7. Reduction Scheme or Garden Aid
  8. DPIA has been reviewed and responses to risk mitigations agreed and approved by
    the Information Asset Owner
  9. Integration Impact Assessment drafted

Registration process
Residents will be able to sign up for the new service from 18 June – 22 July on our website. Residents without access to the internet at home can use the self-serve kiosks at our locality offices, internet at libraries or register by phone. For online registration, residents will need to register for a MyGov account first if they do not already have one.
We are expecting a high demand for registration and additional web server capacity and extra staff in the contact centre are being put in place for six weeks.

The registration period will be supported by a five-week awareness campaign and we will also write to residents during this time to inform them of the changes and what they need to do.

Registration uptake will be tracked and monitored daily. Frequently asked questions will be reviewed and updated on our website daily as required. Information for residents is available on our website.

Residents who choose not to sign up for the new service are being encouraged to continue recycling their garden waste by taking it to one of our recycling centres for free or by composting at home. If they no longer want their brown bin they will be able fill out an online form in October and we will arrange to collect their bins. The bins will either be re-used or recycled.

Bin permits and calendars
Once registration closes on 22 July the waste and cleansing team will create the new garden waste collection routes. Once completed new calendars will be created and sent to customers along with their permit sticker two weeks prior to the service to put on their bin. We will only empty bins with a valid permit sticker.

There will be another opportunity to sign up later in the year, but payments will not be prorated.

Checking the small print on Scotland’s proposed pavement parking ban.

pavementparking

I was delighted to read that the Scottish Government is at last considering giving Scotland’s councils the powers to deal with Pavement Parking and Double Parking (Report, 12/06/18).

Pavement Parking in particular is a real problem across our Capital. As well as causing problems to people with mobility issues and parents with buggies, it also causes significant damage to our footpaths. Based on the regular correspondence I receive from constituents on this issue, I expect the ban will be warmly welcomed by many in Edinburgh.

It is worth looking in more detail, however, at what is actually being proposed. Like any rule, there are exceptions. Unsurprisingly, the Police and other emergency services are exempt.  It also appears that the Royal Mail, AA, RAC and bin lorries are also worthy of special consideration where there is no “reasonable” alternative.

Most surprisingly, Subsection C of Clause 6 on Page 58 makes provision for exemption where vehicles are “parked for no longer than is necessary for the delivery, collection, loading or unloading and in any event for no more than a continuous period of 20 minutes.” This basically means that vehicles of unlimited size can continue to cause a hazard to pedestrians and damage to the pavement as long as goods or people are being loaded or unloaded.

It appears the only targets of this Bill are householders.

Of course, the “reasonable” test is important. It is, however, rather subjective and has to be viewed within the context of a culture where  everyone who currently parks on footpaths feels it is reasonable to do so – even where it is outside a primary school!

An issue secondary to these exemptions is the cost of enforcement and the associated public education campaign. Budget cuts mean the city is already struggling to enforce the current parking regime, so let’s hope these new powers come with the resources to enforce them.

 

 

Being honest about who is cutting Edinburgh’s budget

service-cuts

Of course, SNP Council Leader Adam McVey is correct to highlight the impact “Tory Austerity” is having on Edinburgh (Opinion, 11-06-18). Their ideological squeeze on public spending combined with their assault on the welfare system makes it harder for Edinburgh to be all it can be.

That, however, is only part of the story. We know that in the five years since 2013-14, funding for day-to-day council funding from the Scottish Government has decreased by 7.1% but the UK Government only cut the Scottish Government’s revenue budget by 1.8%. On average across Scotland, the SNP have cut Council spending by £148 per person but in Edinburgh the cut has been even bigger – £226 per person.

It is within that context that services in Edinburgh are being cut, charges are rising, projects are delayed, services are failing and that people in our Capital will soon be forced to pay to have their garden waste collected. This should anger us all.

Edinburgh’s Labour Councillors have responded by spearheading the debate on introducing a modest “hotel tax” to help fund services for visitors and tourists alike. This has massive public support, but the SNP and the Tories continue to oppose giving Edinburgh this power – they are hand-in-glove on holding us back.

This is not the only area where the SNP Government is holding back Edinburgh. On everything from Airbnb to Uber, they simply will not give out Capital the powers to act.

The SNP spent their conference in Aberdeen last week spouting the tired old line about being “Stronger for Scotland”, I just wish their Edinburgh branch office would stand up for our Capital. The first step in doing that must surely be to be honest about who is cutting our budget.

Housing: We can complain about the Scottish Government’s indifference but we can’t afford to sit back and wait on them to act.

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Andy Wightman MSP is right that where housing is concerned, our Capital has become a city of haves and have nots.

At a time when the Council is dealing simultaneously with Scottish Government cuts and a housing crisis,  our capital has witnessed a rapid expansion in Airbnb type lets – It is estimated that there are 9,638 in Edinburgh. This sector of the economy is largely unregulated due to the Scottish Government’s unwillingness to bring forward legislation to ensure owners act responsibly and provide safe accommodation. Along with Sheila Gilmore, Convenor for Housing 1999-2007, I have therefore setup a petition to force the Scottish Government to listen to Edinburgh on this, readers can sign it at: ABetterEdinburgh.org

There is much the Council can do right now, however, to improve the housing situation in Edinburgh. Every chance I get, I make the case for the city buying back former council houses at the market rate and making them available to families that need them.

I have also spent time looking at Edinburgh’s empty home problem. There are around 5000 empty homes in the city at any one time. The vast majority cause no problems and are empty for no longer than 6 months. Others are empty for longer periods and do result in problems – overgrown gardens, vandalism etc. One near where I live in Buckstone has remained empty for 20 years!

Each year around August the Council produces a report on empty homes. This year for the first time, after a bit of pestering from me, it will cover problematic empty homes like the one in Buckstone. It is hoped it will also outline a policy for the use of Compulsory Purchase Powers to deal with them. If it does not contain that policy, the Labour Group will ask for it and systematically use it to bring homes back in to use.

So yes, we can complain about the Scottish Governments indifference but we can’t afford to sit back and wait on them to act.

Charging for garden waste in Edinburgh has been delayed until October.

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Below is a briefing from Council Officers on the issue:

In February this year the Council agreed to introduce an annual £25 charge per brown bin to collect garden waste as part of the budget proposals. It was also agreed to increase how often the bin is emptied from once every three weeks to once every two weeks all year round and to change working patterns for waste crews to four days a week for the kerbside collection services.

The new garden waste service will start on 8 October. This will allow:

  • the service to align with the new four-day week working pattern
  • allow us to minimise the number of times we need to contact residents about changes to their services
  • provide sufficient time for
    • residents to register and pay for the service
    • new collection routes to be built and calendars created.

Residents will be able to sign up for the new service from 18 June – 22 July. The registration period will be supported by an awareness campaign and we will be writing to residents to inform them of the changes and what they need to do as part of the campaign.

Residents will continue to receive free collections throughout the summer until 5 October.

The service expects to meet the proposed budget saving.

A further briefing will be issued next week and information for residents is available on our website.