The threat to Colinton’s Public Toilets may be real, but it has no justification.

The City of Edinburgh Council currently has a consultation underway where the public are asked how our capital should deal with the £106m of cuts it faces over the next 4 years.

The Evening News has reported that everything from cutting the number of classroom assistants to charging for music tuition is being considered.  One reported cut which has particular resonance in my ward is a proposal to close almost all of Edinburgh’s Public Toilets, including those in Colinton.

The Council Leader (Cllr Adam McVey, Leith Ward) claims 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. The village enjoys a relatively new building which is fully accessible and well used (not least by bus drivers). Council Officers have confirmed to me that there are no problems with them, and the Police have told me they can find no record of crime or anti-social behaviour linked to them.

It is an accepted fact that older people, people with disabilities, people with carers, women and children all have their lives limited by the current lack of public toilets in Edinburgh. Given that there is no shortage of these groups in Colinton, it is hard to understand the basis of the closure.

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

These cuts are driven by political decisions made by the Scottish Government. They have chosen to disproportionately target local government, and ensure Edinburgh has Scotland’s lowest per capita funding settlement.  That is their prerogative, but when the point is reached where the most vulnerable in society fall victim to their cuts it is surely time for a rethink.

That’s why I am delighted that Colinton Community Council has decided to run a campaign to save the village’s public toilets and I look forward to giving it my full support.

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Briefing: The 2018/19 Flu Jab Programme has Started

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Below is a briefing on the Winter 2018/19 Flu Jab Programme. There is some confusion this year as the “Fluad Jab” is only available to over 75s in Scotland (over 65s get it in England). However, all other eligible people (see table below) will get the usual jab as normal. That includes people like my wife (she’s a nurse) and myself (I have a cardiac pacemaker).

 

Briefing

Flu had a major impact on the lives of many in 2017, with an increase in both the number of reported flu cases and hospitalisations due to flu. The impact was felt in all walks of life and is one of the most unpleasant illnesses today, and in some cases, particularly for our most vulnerable can be fatal. Flu has a financial impact with days lost to sick leave impacting on business productivity and services reduced

As a result, this year’s campaign, commencing on the 1 October 2018 is focused on highlighting the serious nature of flu, urging those eligible for the vaccine to act early to ensure they are ready for flu ahead of winter.

By ensuring we vaccinate as many of the population as possible we can break the chain, protect the population and reduce the impact.

Eligible groups for the free vaccination include anyone with a health condition, people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and children from age 2 until the end of primary school.

Honda

 

 

 

Myths and facts about flu

Myth – Only old people get flu
Anyone of any age can catch flu – but certain people are more at risk of serious side effects. This group includes older people, who are at risk because of their age, but also people of any age even if they feel fit and healthy who have certain long-term medical conditions like heart, lung, liver or kidney problems or lowered immunity due to disease or treatments. Pregnant women are also at greater risk. People of all ages are seriously affected by flu every year.

Myth – The flu vaccine hasn’t been tested, it’s not safe!
A complete myth – All vaccines, including flu vaccines, have to be tested before they can be licensed in the UK, and they have to be licensed before they can be used. Also remember that flu vaccines have been in use since the 1960s, and around a million doses are administered every year in Scotland alone – it’s one of the most commonly administered medicines. Like all medicines, some patients will experience side effects to flu vaccination but these are generally mild and usually resolved without treatment.

Myth – There’s mercury in the vaccine
There is no mercury present in the vaccines used in Scotland. One vaccine may have a tiny amount of ethylmercury or ‘thiomersal’ left in it from the manufacturing process but, ethylmercury is completely safe. You would get more mercury from a single tuna sandwich than from the flu vaccine.

Myth – It’s dangerous for pregnant women and their babies to be vaccinated
When you’re pregnant, your immune system changes, so women are at greater risk of complications from flu, such as having a miscarriage or going into premature labour. The flu vaccine will protect you and your unborn child and it can also protect your baby for three months after birth providing extra peace of mind during that crucial first stage. The vaccine is offered free to all pregnant women and is endorsed by the Royal College of Midwives as well as Scotland’s Chief Medical and Chief Nursing Officers.

Myth – Flu is just a bad cold
Colds and flu are caused by different viruses and the effects vary hugely. Colds come on gradually (runny nose, then sore throat then a cough) but flu hits you straight away and most commonly with a fever. Flu is a much more dangerous virus which can lead to serious infections and illness. It’s a contagious disease of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) that can lead to complications including pneumonia, bronchitis, meningitis and encephalitis. It can cause worsening of chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

Amongst even healthy people flu can disrupt your work and social plans for up to two weeks and you can expect to have a fever, headaches, extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches.

Myth – Antibiotics can cure flu
Absolutely not! Antibiotics kill bacteria. Flu is caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics. Sometimes people who experience complications as a result of flu can be given antibiotics because they develop a secondary bacterial infection (such as bacterial pneumonia) – but this is not flu itself, instead, it is the result of the body being weakened by the virus and letting bacteria take hold. The best way to protect yourself against flu is to get vaccinated as early as possible.

Myth – The flu vaccine protects you straight away
It actually takes about ten days for you to be protected against flu after you get the vaccine – so theoretically you could be immunised and then pick up flu before you are fully protected. That is why it is best to get the vaccine as early as possible and before there are lots of flu viruses circulating.

Myth – The flu vaccine will stop me from catching a cold
No, it won’t. The flu vaccine protects you against flu viruses. Colds are caused by other less serious viruses that are completely different from flu. You may still get winter colds after getting the flu vaccine, but you’re much less likely to get flu itself, which is potentially a much more serious condition.

Fact – Coughs and sneezes spread diseases
Flu viruses are spread by spluttering, sneezing and other ways of sharing your germs. In fact, one sneeze from someone with flu can project between 2,000 and 5,000 particles of virus-filled droplets at a speed of 100mph. Anyone within 30 feet of that sneeze is unlikely to avoid those droplets and therefore could become infected.

Visit http://www.nes.scot.nhs.uk/flu/hcw for more myth-busting facts.

 

 

 

Message to Cllr George Gordon: I won’t stop standing up for education.

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The comments made by SNP Councillor George Gordon  on education in the Evening News are outrageous (Letters, 12/10/18). Cuts to education funding in Scotland have led to a national decline in standards in absolute and relative terms. Indeed, the SNP Government response to news that Scotland was falling down international educational league tables has been to pull out of them!

The reasons for this decline should be easy for a man of George Gordon’s intellect to see. Cuts implemented by his party have seen 4,000 teaching jobs lost. These cuts, a 24% real terms pay cut since 2008, and the bungled introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scottish schools has led to unacceptable stress levels in the body of teachers that remain.

It’s no wonder that the EIS is balloting on strike action.

On top of all this, Edinburgh now faces a further £106m of cuts and reports suggest education is in the sights of the SNP led administration. Indeed, SNP Council Leader Adam McVey tweeted yesterday  that Nicola Sturgeon was focusing on “partnership between national & local government”. For the SNP, this is a partnership where council budgets are slashed and those that oppose cuts to education are attacked in the Evening News by nationalist Councillors.

Councillor George Gordon could have stood in solidarity with teachers in his ward. He could have asked Adam McVey, the SNP Finance Convenor or the SNP Education Spokesperson to publicly oppose cuts to Edinburgh’s budget because of the impact they would have on a whole generation of Edinburgh school children. He chose loyalty to his party, not our city.

Instead, he chose to wage a personal attack on me for opposing these cuts. Worse than that, he also tried to blame the cuts on Edinburgh’s Education Convenor simply because he’s a Labour councillor. It would be the easiest thing in the world for Councillor Ian Perry to walk away from the education brief and hand it to the SNP, but he knows he’s the last line of defence against the cuts Edinburgh faces.

George Gordon needs to quit defending the SNP Government, and start defending our schools.

Edinburgh needs funding to make the most of the potential closure of Redford Barracks

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One of the best things about being the Councillor for Colinton\Fairmilehead is how the military is interwoven into local history. From listed buildings to the remains of the mock battlefield created during World War One for training, they are part of what defines the wider area. When cycling to work, I regularly pass troops running en mass or see them in Tesco when shopping.

Indeed, they were a welcome sight during the “Beast from the East” when they helped clear Colinton Primary School of snow, and they also ensured older people living in the area were warm and well provisioned.

The downside, however, is that too often they are used by Edinburgh’s nationalists to attack the “British State”. In his recent opinion article (02/10/18), Gordon MacDonald MSP rightly highlighted that the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year found that 20% of service family homes across the UK were lying empty. MacDonald demanded that “the MoD must ensure that they are making proper use of the homes they have at their disposal.” Citing the two Barracks in my Ward as an example, he claimed the MoD is “failing in this duty”.

If he had bothered to pick up the phone to the Barracks, he would quickly learn that any empty MoD residential properties in the area are being put on the market for rent.

MacDonald rightly points out that many service men and women do have a tough time when they leave the armed forces and some end up homeless. The MoD does have a duty of care for these people – indeed, we all do. Given that housing falls firmly within the remit of the Scottish Government,  however, I do wonder why MacDonald is so quiet about their record?

Perhaps he knows that the year-on-year cuts to Edinburgh’s budget he has enthusiastically supported makes it harder for the Council help the well over 1000 people registered as homeless in Edinburgh?

There is, however, an opportunity for him to act. Although Dreghorn Barracks is safe, there is a chance Redford Barracks will close in 2022. Will he be demanding that the Scottish Government gives the Council the funding needed to invest in at least part of the site to both help solve the affordable housing crisis in the area, and also provide homes and employment for former service personnel?

Redford Barracks – The Community must have their say.

Scott Arthur WEB017If all goes to plan, Redford Barracks will close in 2022. Although I hope this decision is reversed, I have been quietly concerned about how the Council has been developing its plan for the site.
 
Specifically, I have been anxious about the lack of an opportunity for the community to have a voice (whilst a local MSP is claiming 700 homes are planned for the site!).
 
If we only build homes on the site, it will be a massive missed opportunity – I’d love to see one of the fantastic listed buildings converted to a hotel (that would bring jobs to the area and stimulate the local economy).
 
Whatever we do, we must ensure infrastructure is in place to support the development (roads, schools, GPs, etc)
 
I therefore last week wrote to the Chair of the Working Group overseeing the site making the points below.
 
I am happy to report that I have now been promised a community consultation event before the end of the year.
 
Let me be clear, however, just inviting Community Councils will not be enough.
 
Scott
 
 
==+==
1. Elements of the local community are showing significant interest in how the plans to manage the future of the Barracks are progressing and they want to be involved. I think, at the very least, we should now be thinking about how we update them – particularly on affordable housing and economic development opportunities (and the infrastructure needed to support it).
 
2. Outside what is locally considered to be Dreghorn & Redford Barracks, there are large areas of MoD land – most notably woodland and housing. Can you clarify the future of these areas?
 
3. Can notes/minutes from the July workshop that looked at the development opportunities/challenges be circulated? Were any elected members invited to contribute to the workshop?
==+==

It’s time Edinburgh’s hardcore nationalists joined the progressives that are standing up for our capital.

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Last week in the Evening News I quoted an independent report by Scottish Government civil servants.  This detailed how that in the 5 years since 2013-14 funding for day-to-day council spending from the SNP 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 greater – £226 per person.

I urged people in Edinburgh to oppose these politically motivated cuts to funding for local services.

Fraser Grant responded by suggesting none of this was correct (Letters, 08/10/18), but oddly failed to provide any alternative analysis. Indeed, where education is concerned he thinks we have never had it so good – claiming that the Scottish Government had handed £120m to head teachers.

Perhaps Mr Grant has missed recent editions of the Evening News and the fantastic work it is doing to highlight the crisis our capital’s schools face. In recent weeks we’ve heard that crumbling schools in deprived areas can’t be replaced (06/10/18), teachers are using their own money to buy pencils (01/10/18), and that Edinburgh’s SNP led Council plans to cut classroom assistants and increase class sizes (20/09/18).

Mr Grant’s obfuscation, does not hide the fact that the SNP council leader and his Education Spokesperson have been silent on these cuts. I won’t be because they are a disgrace.

Rather than acting as the SNP’s apologist, Mr Grant should join progressive people in Edinburgh and  demand that our capital is treated fairly.

I applaud veteran SNP Councillor Norrie Work, on Friday he used social media to demand of the SNP Government: “Can Queensferry get some attention please? That’s a popular tourist site as well and needs some investment”.  Green Councillor Mary Campbell has also spoken out about her party’s habit of enabling SNP cuts, she took to social media to talk about the “impossibility of creating a balanced budget with the cuts facing councils if the Scottish Government continue on the current Local Government funding model” which her has party supported.

It’s time Edinburgh’s hardcore nationalists joined the progressives that are standing up for our capital.

Why Steve Cardownie is quite optimistic to expect cuts to education in Edinburgh to be ruled out.

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As education takes up around 40% of the Council’s budget, it can’t avoid the cuts unless they are amplified elsewhere.

Steve Cardownie is quite optimistic to expect cuts to education in Edinburgh to be ruled out (Column, 03/10/18).

When the Evening News first published details of the “drastic cuts” facing Edinburgh schools, SNP Council Leader Adam McVey did rush on to social media to make a vague claim that the report in “no way reflects” his plans to implement the £106m of cuts facing Edinburgh. He then declined to say much more on the subject.

Indeed, when pushed on the issue by the Evening News’s Euan McGory all he would say about the cuts he has planned for education was “you’re asking me to confirm each budget line but I don’t think that’s helpful at this stage”.

The cat was, however, let out the bag at the Finance and Resources Committee the next day. The SNP Finance Convener, Alasdair Rankin, point blank refused to rule out any of the education cuts reported by the Evening News and was even unwilling to say any were “ill-informed”. Worse than that, he said he would not be “entirely ruling them” out and the Council “inevitably faces hard choices”.

Councillors Rankin and McVey know that as education takes up around 40% of the Council’s budget, it can’t avoid the cuts unless they are amplified elsewhere.

As stark as the funding crisis is, we should not accept that the cuts are inevitable.

We know that in the 5 years since 2013-14 funding for day-to-day council spending from the SNP Government has decreased by 7.1% but the UK Government only cut the Scottish Government’s revenue budget by 1.8%.

It’s time that the Scottish Government’s attacks on council funding ended – that’s the only way to protect education in Edinburgh. Rather than making vague assertions on social media, our capital’s Councillors should all be standing up for Edinburgh.