Briefing – Princes Street Screens

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Below is a briefing I received on the now infamous screens erected along Princes Street to prevent people from seeing concerts in Princes Street Gardens for free. 

You will no doubt be aware of the recent concern around the screens on Princes St erected as a public safety measure as part of the Summer Sessions concerts. You may know that these were removed yesterday in response to public concern.

Discussions between the Council, Police Scotland and the event organisers have taken place yesterday and today. In all these discussions, public safety has been of paramount importance, particularly with respect to the potential for crowds gathering on Princes St to try to view the event from outside the ticketed arena. Following further advice from both Police Scotland and Public Safety officers today, the following have been agreed as a set of measures which achieve the balance of respecting the setting and public amenity, whilst putting public safety first:

  • Pedestrian barriers will be erected after 14:30 halfway across the southern pavement;
  • The screen will be erected no earlier than 16:00 on the day of a concert (subject to review by Police Scotland and Council officers);
  • The screens will be completely removed immediately after each concert;
  • The screens will be mounted on the stone plinth of the railings meaning they will be lower than previously.

The screens will be therefore be lower than they were before and, importantly, they will be removed immediately after each performance. The benefit to this approach is that both sides of the Princes Street will be accessible, meaning minimum disruption for passers-by, maximum public safety precautions and clear views of the Gardens and the Castle at all other times.

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Why are hard-core nationalists doing Vladimir Putin’s work for him?

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A few days ago Russian Human Rights activists used an event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to attack Alex Salmond for taking money from Russia Today – Vladimir Putin’s propaganda TV channel.  They said: “I think it’s awful… All the Russian propaganda TV channels are not working to provide information, but to provide hatred”.

Rather than echo these views and help a former First Minister of Scotland be less of a national embarrassment, Lesley Riddoch used her column in the Scotsman (13/08/18) to attack the BBC for apparently not reporting recent pro-independence marches.

Of course, this is “Fake News” from Riddoch. A quick search finds the BBC did report these events with headlines like “Independence supporters stage Glasgow march” and “Thousands take part in Scottish independence march in Inverness”.

Bizarrely, Riddoch also spends a good deal of her article defending the pro-SNP Government blogger Stuart Campbell (he rund). This is a man who makes a lucrative income out of using the worst kind of language to attack those that dare to question the SNP. Of Ian Murray MP he once said: “I hope an aeroplane delivering dirty needles to an incinerator crashes onto Ian Murray tonight”.

Lesley Riddoch’s article shows us only one thing, hard-core nationalists in Scotland aim to move the public away from trusted news sources like the BBC and on to so called “alternative” media like Campbell and social media. In that domain, people like  Vladimir Putin thrive as they can control content to deliver their agenda. The fact that Russia Today is now supplying “exclusive” material direct to Campbell is no coincidence.

Of course, the BBC News is not perfect but when looked at as a whole it does a pretty good job. That simple fact is why hard-core Nationalists don’t like it. They’d rather Scotland was a place where the media only reports good news about the SNP Government. The problem is that this attitude results in the kind of news output people enjoy in Russia where, ironically, many turn to the BBC for their news.

The end of the school holidays means an end to hunger for some.

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Edinburgh’s children will soon be heading back to school with memories of what was almost certainly the hottest and driest summer they have ever experienced. For many households, however, recent days would have been dominated by trying to find the time and money to equip Edinburgh’s future doctors, engineers and carers with a school uniform. The financial challenge this poses many in Edinburgh is a reminder of the inequality present in Scotland’s capital.

I am hugely proud that my motion in Council this year resulted in Edinburgh’s school clothing grant no longer being one of the worst in Scotland. I am really disappointed, however, that despite a further top-up from the Scottish Government, Edinburgh still can’t offer the very poorest households the £129.50 charities say is needed. Indeed, the £100 Edinburgh offers does not compare well with the £135 available in neighbouring Labour run West Lothian.

I know from my own upbringing in Kirkcaldy that the school holidays can be grim affairs for low income families as money must be found for school uniforms and to fill the space left in stomachs normally filled by free school meals.

I had hoped that our Capital could emulate Labour run North Ayrshire and provide free school meals right through the summer. Unfortunately, my proposal to do this was not funded. Instead, a more targeted scheme branded “Discover!” was trialled in Oxgangs Primary School in my Ward and also elsewhere in the city. This targeted the most vulnerable households in a way that went well beyond just providing free food.

At city level, I know that this scheme supported families with a range of problems – from mothers who were victims of domestic abuse to armed forces families struggling to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although I still hope that Edinburgh will next year follow in the footsteps of North Ayrshire, I hope “Discover!” is not lost as when I visited the Oxgangs Primary School I have never been so impressed by the commitment of Council staff, or so proud to say I am an Edinburgh Councillor.

When I was there I saw parents sharing their experiences,  lonely children building friendships and everyone coming together to share a filling plate of cheesy pasta (see image). I was proud that our capital is using what little money it has to help those in most need, but I can’t help wondering what more we can do if the Council was better funded.

 

Edinburgh is facing a primary care crisis manufactured by the SNP Government.

 

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June 2018 in Scotland’s Capital City – A vulnerable man is forced to wait for two hours in road for ambulance.

 

Sometimes I wonder what Edinburgh has done to upset the SNP Government. In addition to insults like cutting the Capital’s budget more than elsewhere (£226 per person compared to a Scottish average of £148) and ignoring us on things like the Tourist tax, the latest insult will see ambulance staff replace GPs in some instances (report, 23/07/18).

I don’t doubt the dedication and professionalism of Edinburgh’s paramedics, but their training is no match for that of a GP. Providing healthcare on the cheap like this in our capital will no doubt put lives at risk.

It’s not only training that is an issue, we know that the ambulance service in the Lothians is stretched to the limit. Last year alone, 2,000 people had to wait over an hour for an ambulance. Indeed, there were 15 call-outs in 2017 where paramedics took longer than five hours to respond. Furthermore, we know that average response times in Scotland have increased from just under eight minutes in 2013-14 to over 15 minutes in 2017-18. 

Anyone that doubts the pressure the Scottish Ambulance Service is under should remember that Jeane Freeman MSP, the new SNP Health Secretary, was recently urged to review ambulance provision across Scotland after it was revealed that the number of minibuses responding to 999 emergencies had trebled in four years.

It’s bonkers to think the GP recruitment crisis the SNP created can be resolved by loading even more pressure on our already stretched paramedics.

The only meaningful way to take pressure off GP’s in the short-term is to recruit more practice nurses to work in partnership with them under the same roof. The problem with that is that nurses have been in short supply since Nicola Sturgeon ignored the RCN and cut nurse training placesagencies are now getting up to £1,900 a shift for nursing staff.

We now have a perfect storm where the SNP’s strategic decisions on nurse training, GP recruitment and the funding of the Scottish Ambulance Service are putting lives at risk in our Capital.

Ian Blackford’s complicity in implementing SNP cuts in Scotland must be exposed.

 

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I was delighted to read that the SNP’s leader in Westminster is going to demand that the Tory Government “abandons their austerity agenda which is doing so much damage” (report, 10/07/18). Indeed, I expect Ian Blackford MP will highlight how since 2013/14 the Tories have cut the Scottish Government’s revenue budget by 1.8%. What he won’t say, however, is that his party in Holyrood cut Edinburgh’s budget by 7.1% over the same period – that’s a whopping £226 per person in our Capital.

Admittedly, £226 is not a lot of money for Mr Blackford – he earns just under £50,000 per year from his two “second jobs” outside Westminster. Indeed, he even takes money from Westminster to pay a family member that works for him.

Whilst Mr Blackford is protected, the impact on Edinburgh of these cuts is, however, there for everyone to see. Our streets are potholed. Our litter bins are overflowing. Our community centre opening hours are being cut. The latest insult is that we are being charged £25 to have our garden waste collected.

In the past week we have learned that the income of the richest 1% in Scotland has soared by 89% since 2010 and, under the Tories and the SNP, income inequality has widened.

Whilst Blackford has every right to attack Tory austerity, his complicity in implementing SNP cuts in Scotland must be exposed. With the income of Scotland’s super rich soaring, his party’s income tax changes simply tinkered around the edges, putting only a penny on the rate for those earning over £150,000 per year.

The combined impact of SNP and Tory policy is cuts to public services and squeezed living standards for working class people in Scotland, with over 400,000 people in Scotland earning less than the living wage.

Only Labour is willing to take an argument to the country that says fighting inequality is in everyone’s interest. We will take action to end austerity, not simply blame others when we hold the powers to act.

Edinburgh’s Tourist Tax – Should Councillor McVey follow Councillor Graczyk?

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Councillor Graczyk should be congratulated for leaving the Conservative party in response to their sustained indifference to those living with disabilities in Edinburgh (report 04/07/18).

Just a few weeks ago the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report that detailed how 650,000 people with mental and physical health problems are officially destitute in the UK – that means being so poor, they can’t afford to heat their homes or have regular meals. Tory social security changes werefound to be a key cause.

Its reports like that which forced Councillor Graczyk to speak out. They question is why are Ruth Davidson MSP and Councillor Whyte, who leads Edinburgh’s downsized group of Tory Councillors, being so quiet?

It is not just the Tories who should be explaining themselves. In the past year we’ve see how Council cuts imposed by the SNP on Edinburgh have been felt by many residents in our capital living with a disability.

Indeed, I have a blind constituent who already must pay the Council to cut his grass. On top of that he’s now being asked to pay £25 to have the clippings collected.

To help mitigate these SNP cuts, the nationalist Councillors in Edinburgh have backed Labour’s call to give our capital the right to set a modest tourist tax on hotel stays.

After going cap in hand to his party’s elite, Edinburgh’s SNP Council Leader Adam McVey announced boldly on Twitter that “In the next 12 months our plans for a tourist tax will be ready for implementation”.

However, a mere 32 minutes later Fiona Hyslop MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Tourism) slapped him down saying: “So let’s be clear – you have no shared plans, no tourist business consultation and no agreement with the Scottish Gov.”.

It appears Edinburgh and Councillor McVey need to know their place!

I was left wondering if Councillor McVey should follow Councillor Graczyk and leave his party in order to stand up for the people of Edinburgh?

Speaking out against rising child poverty in Scotland’s capital city.

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Well done to Councillor Cammy Day (Opinion, 02/07/18) for speaking out against rising child poverty in our capital. I grew up in a workless single parent council house in Fife during the miners’ strike, so I know first-hand about the impact poverty can have.

My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD. It breaks my heart, therefore, that children are still facing the same challenges I did 40 years ago but the escape route via education I found is simply not there for so many youngsters.

Almost one in four (230,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty – this is higher than in many other European countries. The SNP blame Tory Government for this, and the Tories blame the SNP Government. The truth is that both are to blame.

The Tory assault on the welfare system has contributed to the number of UK children living in poverty rising by 200,000 in 2016 alone.  The Tories have also cut Scotland’s budget by 1.8% since 2013/14, but the SNP Government amplified this austerity by cutting Council funding by 7.1% – the equivalent in Edinburgh of £226 per person.

Whilst the SNP and Tories in Edinburgh remain silent on these cuts, our education and social care services are being starved of the cash they need to help the very poorest households.

Edinburgh needs all its Councillors to stop defending their party’s governing elite and start working to ensure the UK and Scottish Governments deliver secure employment, adequate social security benefits, affordable housing, affordable childcare and fair access to education.

More than 96% of the richest Scottish school leavers go on to a so called “positive destination”, the figure is just 85% for the poorest. Closing that gap by raising the attainment of the poorest is the only way to tackle poverty, but our capital can only do it if it has the funding it needs.