UPDATE – City of Edinburgh Council Budget

The Evening News headline claiming the Council Tax rise would be used to fund new schools in Edinburgh (Report, 10.02.20) is nothing more than a cynical piece of spin.  The reality is that Council Tax is going up and school budgets are going down due to Scottish Government cuts.

The Scottish Government has forced £590m of new commitments on to Councils, but have given them only £495m to undertake the work. Edinburgh has a £35m black hole to fill.

It is heart-breaking that the poorest people in Edinburgh will feel the impact of this most.  The Oxgangs area of my Ward alone will see:

  1. Over ninety-thousand pounds slashed from school budgets;
  2. A threat to nursery teacher posts;
  3. Community policing cut,
  4. Local library opening hours cut; and,
  5. The unfair Council Tax will rise by almost 5%.

The cuts in schools kids in my Ward attend are roughly as follows:

  1. Bonaly Primary – £17,000
  2. Buckstone Primary – £18,000
  3. Colinton Primary – £7,000
  4. Juniper Green Primary – £13,000
  5. Oxgangs Primary – £10,000
  6. Pentland Primary – £14,000
  7. St Mark’s Primary – £4,000
  8. St Peter’s Primary – £15,000
  9. Boroughmuir High School – £75,000
  10. Currie High School – £45,000
  11. Balerno High School – £45,000
  12. Firrhill High School – £70,000
  13. St. Thomas of Aquin’s High School – £45,000

A cut to libraries is a cut to education and well-being, and will only increase social isolation. When I was elected in 2017 I pledged to voters in my ward that I would protect library opening hours, and I don’t see that changing. 

How can the head-teacher at Firrhill High School in my Ward raise attainment when Scottish Government cuts will mean his budget is cut by £70,000?

The SNP Government must think again. Please write to your MSP and ask him/her to block this budget. For people in my Ward, that’s Gordon MacDonald MSP and he plans to back the cuts.

The draft Council budget overview is here.

The City of Edinburgh Council, and the“ethical manner” of Leonardo UK.

Formally known as Ferranti, Leonardo’s operation was established in Edinburgh in 1943 to manufacture Gyro Gunsights for the Spitfire,

The City of Edinburgh Council runs a scheme called the “Edinburgh Guarantee”. This scheme has matched over 3,400 young people with jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities with 550 employers since it started.

One of those companies is Leonardo. Formally known as Ferranti, Leonardo employs approximately 1,800 people in Edinburgh who specialise in “the provision of multi-role surveillance radars and countermeasure systems”. This includes radar for the Typhoon, Norway’s all-weather search and rescue helicopters, the US Coast Guard and for Saab’s Gripen Fighter aircraft.

Without any justification, it was alleged in Full Council yesterday that Leonardo had been  “condemned” (it was not said by who) for its role in the Yemen War and arms deals with Turkey. It was also suggested, again without any evidence, that Leonardo may not be providing the “right environment needed” to develop skills and “promote the  wellbeing” of its employees. The suggestion was that the Council should review Leonardo to ensure if behaved in an “ethical manner”, and consider preventing people working with them via the Edinburgh Guarantee. Indeed, in summing up his debate Councillor Alex Staniforth (Craigentinny / Duddingston Ward) used the word “evil” four times in one minute.

I accept that nations have a right to defend themselves, and that governments have a duty to stop weapons falling into the wrong hands, or being used in illegal wars. I was left wondering, however, what the aim of the discussion in Full Council was.

We know that the Scottish Government provides assistance to arms manufacturers (including those involved in the Yemen), but no concerns were raised about that. We know that Leonardo is a key part of the Edinburgh economy, but no concerns were raised about that. We know that the UK Government sets export controls and licensing for military and dual-use items (not the Council!), but no concerns were raised about that. Indeed, no link was made between Leonardo’s Edinburgh operation, the Edinburgh Guarantee and the awful conflict in the Yemen.

I would have backed the call if the review was to look at the wellbeing of staff in all the Edinburgh Guarantee employers, but that was blocked. Although I respect and understand the concerns people may have about companies like Leonardo, I fully expect they are a good employer who care about the wellbeing of their staff and how their products are used.

It was notable that many of those who backed the calls for Leonardo to be reviewed (including Councillor Alex Staniforth) are members of parties who backed Holyrood budgets which gave millions of pounds to arms manufacturers. Perhaps blocking that should come before limiting the career choices of young people? Or if the Council thinks Leonardo is not welcome in Edinburgh, perhaps it should just say so?

Briefing – Challenges in Recycling “Hard Plastics” in Edinburgh

Hard plastics are predominantly bulkier type items like storage boxes, kids toys, garden furniture, plant pots etc. Below is a briefing from the Council on the problems it faces recycling them.

Question (1) – Why has the Council stopped accepting “hard plastic” as a recycling stream?

Answer (1) – There are significant challenges with recycling hard plastics and the Council has been unable to find a reprocessing contractor willing to accept these materials. The hard plastic containers which had been located at Seafield and Bankhead Recycling Centres were removed over the course of December 2019 to January 2020. The hard-plastic container at Craigmillar Recycling Centre will be removed shortly. This issue is not unique to Edinburgh and other local authorities have made similar changes as a result of the difficulties in reprocessing hard plastics.

Question (2) – What implication does this have for plastic recycling for kerb side and communal bin collections?

Answer (2) – None. Whilst the council has in place various collection systems which directly collect materials for recycling or which otherwise divert materials, it is not always directly involved in selling to end use markets. Hard plastics are not collected as part of the kerbside or communal waste collection service. Until recently, hard plastics could only be recycled at the Household Waste Recycling Centres, where it would then go on to a reprocessor contractor who would clean and shred to sell as raw material. Hard plastics can still be put into general waste and will be converted into energy at our Millerhill Site.

Question (3) – What steps are being taken to increase the possibilities for plastic recycling for the Edinburgh public?

Answer (3) – Markets for plastics are ever changing. Council currently uses a contract which covers dry mixed materials and we encourage plastics recycling such as bottles or milk cartons. The Council will continue to monitor the demand for all plastics and will reintroduce containers in Household Waste Recycling Centres if there is demand for hard plastics and options for reprocessing become available. In addition:

  1. A Council officer will attend a meeting in February on an innovative scheme for recycling hard plastic materials, based in Perthshire. At present, there is no guarantee that this scheme will progress to market or that an outlet will be secured but progress will continue to be monitored;
  2. A procurement exercise is currently underway to secure a new supplier for dry mix recycling (i.e. plastics that are disposed of in green bins). The successful tenderer will be expected to maximise recycling all dry mixed recycling materials; and
  3. A campaign to improve the quality of the plastics which can be recycled (e.g. reducing the plastic materials which are deposited for recycling, but which are contaminated by food) is planned.

Briefing: Fire at Liberton Primary School

Below is a Council briefing on the devastating fire at Liberton Primary School.

LATEST NEWS: Fire at Liberton Primary School (not in my Ward)

Liberton Primary School will be closed for the rest of the week following a major fire at the school this afternoon (Wednesday 5 February).

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service were called to the school on Gilmerton Road just after 3.30pm to reports of a fire in a first floor classroom and spread to the roof space.
The fire started after classes had finished for the day and any remaining staff and pupils who were on the site were evacuated safely with no reported injuries.

Parents have been informed that the school will be closed tomorrow and Friday with next week being the half term February break.

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements for the return of pupils on Monday 17 February will issued to parents next week.

Education Convener Cllr Ian Perry said: “The decision to close the school has not been taken lightly however unfortunately this has been a major fire which has caused significant damage to a large part of the school.

“There have been no reported injuries and I want to thank the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Council teams for their swift response. We’ll update parents next week regarding contingency arrangements.

“We will work closely with the fire service to determine the cause of the fire.”

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements will be posted on the Emergency School Closures page on our website and on social media.

Further updates regarding contingency arrangements will be posted on our Emergency School Closures page.

All of Edinburgh’s 63 Councillors must do their best for our capital and the communities they represent within it.

All of Edinburgh’s Councillors were elected to stand up for our city, and should not be expected to stay quiet when the public want action.

If the Evening News pays Steve Cardownie for his column it perhaps should get a refund for this week’s error strewn edition focused on me.

First and foremost, Councillor Maureen Child is not the Labour Group Whip, that honour falls to Councillor Ricky Henderson and I can’t remember the last time an issue was raised against me.

Secondly, I am described as not being a team player has I hold “forthright views” about the SNP Government’s record in office. Cardownie would have a point if I were actually part of the Scottish Government, but I am not. Whilst he and his nationalist chums in Edinburgh are shy about holding the Scottish Government to account, I see it as my duty to stand up for Edinburgh on issues ranging from the crisis at the new Sick Kids Hospital to the under-funding of policing in our capital.

Thirdly, I am attacked by Cardownie for daring to raise concerns about Council Leader Adam McVey’s comments on a range of issues. It’s true that I have misgivings about his approach to dealing with the apparently out of control tourist economy and his failure to ensure Edinburgh is fairly funded. On these points, however, I am simply echoing the concerns of many Edinburgh residents. Nonetheless, I did defend him when thousands of Edinburgh citizens signed a petition demanding that he resigned over his alleged mismanagement of the Underbelly fiasco.

Lastly, Steve Cardownie makes the case for the 3 groups of pro-Independence Councillors working together (SNP, Greens and EPIC) as some sort of harmonious ideal. Is this really the best we can hope for as a city? Should Councillors being in favour of breaking up the UK really stop them from speaking out on Edinburgh’s homelessness crisis, the state of our roads, problems in social care, bins not being collected and Underbelly’s failings?

I’d suggest that it’s the job of all of Edinburgh’s 63 Councillors to do their best for our capital and the communities they represent within it. I know that’s what I am doing.

Briefing – Access to the Pentland Hills via the military access road just off Dreghorn Link

Below is a MoD briefing on access to the Pentland Hills via the military access road just off Dreghorn Link.

Thank you for your e-mail and request for an update on activity at the entrance to the MOD training area just off the City By-Pass.

By way of back ground there have been a number of major projects independently planned in the same area:

  • A new build on the south side of Dreghorn Barracks Apr 17-Mar 18
  • Scottish Water pipe line project cutting across the northern part of the MOD training area at Dreghorn parallel to the City by-Pass (affecting Swanston and Bonaly) Apr 18-Mar 20
  • Scottish Power replacing cables on the pylon lines traversing the northern part of the MOD training area at Dreghorn parallel to the City by-Pass (affecting Swanston and Bonaly) – starting Mar 20

All three projects required vehicle and equipment access to their respective sites via the slip road off the City By-Pass through the Dreghorn Training Area height restriction barrier. In order to manage the area safely, the traffic control measures through this one access point needed to be deconflicted with military users of the estate and members of the public accessing the area under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC). Therefore, for primarily safety reasons and duty of care I stopped public vehicle access under the barrier to the training area access road by lowering the barrier to 1m, keeping it to site traffic only. It has not affected pedestrian passage for those wishing to access the Pentland Hills.  

At one stage all three projects were going to happen concurrently. However Scottish Water deferred their start date until after the Dreghorn Barracks build and Scottish Power delayed until the start of this year. Scottish Water have finished their main project on MOD land but they still have some residual works involving tree felling and planting. I am hopeful this will be concluded soon but it will lead straight in to the Scottish Power project which will start shortly and is planned to go on until Aug/Sep 20. They too require access via the barrier, working on the pylon towers and positioning equipment near the entrance. We have just started the liaison and planning process this month and will know more once a programme of works is issued.

It is unfortunate that both Scottish Water/Power projects were delayed and ran on consecutively, stretching out the time and disruption to all concerned. Despite this, I am convinced the decision to restrict public vehicle access was correct as it was in the interests of public safety. As ever I will continue to consult with all stakeholders, namely the Forestry and Natural Heritage Service and Friends of the Pentlands, keeping them informed at all stages.

Members briefing: Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay 2019

There can be no doubt that concern about the impact of Edinburgh’s visitor economy has grown considerably in recent years. I share the frustration about the creeping privatisation of public space in Edinburgh, particularly how people are locked out of public parks and the lack of respect for our heritage. It feels like too many people in this city see profit in everything, and value in nothing.

Councillor Donald Wilson has already committed to leading a full review, and I hope the public and all 63 of Edinburgh’s Councillors will get behind that. The briefing below offers some background to this.

The review should be more fundamental than how we manage the status quo. There are really three key questions:

  1. What scale is right?
  2. Is the quality of what we’re offering positioning Edinburgh optimally?
  3. Who benefits?

Whilst we probably want different things from the visitor economy, it’s making a difference to the lives of residents than matters. For me the starting point is to understand what Edinburgh wants to gain from its visitor economy, and then we must deliver that.

The Briefing
Members will consider reports in the near future relating to the 2019/20 Winter Festivals and, later this year, the Council will launch a public consultation to seek residents’ views on how the Capital should celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay in future years. There is a recognised need for a full conversation with the city on the shape of our winter festivals going forward.

In light of this, and following significant press and social media attention recently on Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, please find below a briefing which addresses a number of key issues about both events, to enable Elected Members to respond to enquiries from constituents.

Issues Relating to Christmas and Hogmanay 2019
Edinburgh’s Christmas – Planning Permission and Building Warrant
As a result of the National Gallery of Scotland’s capital works programme, it became necessary to amend the layout for Edinburgh’s Christmas. The plans and temporary structures were approved after significant evaluation and assessment by both independent structural engineers and the Council’s engineers. Given the short timescale between approval of the plans and the opening of the events, a retrospective planning application was sought by the operator (Underbelly). This application is currently being processed with a likely determination date of April/May 2020.

Underbelly applied for a Building Warrant for East Princes Street Gardens and the warrant was issued by the local authority before Edinburgh’s Christmas opened, as is legally required.

The new structure in the gardens improved circulation space within the market and made it more accessible.

Edinburgh’s Christmas – Removal of the Norwegian Christmas Tree and the Nativity scene from The Mound
The Norwegian Tree and Nativity scene were removed in the days between Christmas and Hogmanay to allow for the screen on Mound Place, which is necessary for the Hogmanay Street Party and for safety announcements. The removal of the Tree was undertaken with the knowledge and consent of the Council and the Norwegian Consulate; and the removal of the Nativity scene with the knowledge and consent of the Council.

The Mound Christmas tree had been in place since 16 November; its removal from the Mound took place on the same date as the two previous years. The Nativity scene was relocated in 2019 from St Andrew Square where it has been located previously.

Edinburgh’s Christmas – Reinstatement of Princes Street Gardens
Every year, the Council appoints a contractor to reinstate East Princes Street Gardens following the departure of the Christmas market. The reinstatement is overseen by the Council’s Parks Team, delivered by a third-party contractor, and paid for entirely by Underbelly.

This year, work to reinstate the gardens has started earlier than usual. The reinstatement works are weather dependent and a target of Easter for full reopening is usually set. However, with good weather it is hoped that this can be several weeks earlier this year.

The redevelopment works by the National Galleries of Scotland were delayed and incomplete by the time Underbelly took occupation of East Princes Street Gardens. In recognition of this, a financial contribution towards the completion of the works has been agreed between the Council and National Galleries of Scotland. This work will be delivered alongside the Christmas market reinstatement works.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Resident and Business Access Passes
Residents and their guests have never been, and will never be, prevented from accessing their own homes during Hogmanay. The process of asking residents to inform the event organiser how many passes they require for their property is a process that was put in place many years ago.

The Street Party attracts over 60,000 people into Edinburgh city centre. A secure arena is erected to control numbers accessing the street (a recommendation from the review of the 1997 street party) and to ensure the safety of those attending. To assist residents and businesses within the arena, a system for access passes was established in the late 1990s. This year, tickets were replaced with wristbands to allow quicker and smoother access through security to resident and business properties. Reports show that this worked successfully. This year, 45 residences submitted requests for more than 6 wristbands compared to 24 in 2018. All requests were accommodated and no access was restricted or refused.

The Public Entertainment Licence granted for the Hogmanay events allows the event organiser to restrict access to the licensed premises – in this case, the Street Party arena. However, the Street Party takes place in a mixed residential and business area and access to these properties must be maintained at all times. Given the requirement to balance access against safety and security, the pass system is considered by all agencies to be the best solution. The communications around this will be reviewed for 2020.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Loony Dook
For safety reasons, primarily due to the narrow access route on a set of stairs and the size of the beach, there is a limit on the number of participants taking part at the Loony Dook in South Queensferry. The number, 1,100, is agreed jointly with the local community, the Council and safety advisors.

The price of the Loony Dook was set at £10 including a donation to the RNLI by the previous contractor, Unique Events, in 2016. Underbelly set the price at £12, including a £1 donation to the RLNI in 2017 and it has remained the same price since. Underbelly operates the event at a loss to itself of over £7,000: the income after VAT and the donation to the RNLI is £9,912 and the costs – stewarding, policing, safety and production – are over £17,000.

The South Queensferry Loony Dook has been part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay for some years now and is part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay at the request of the community as a result of the popularity of the event. It is still run in collaboration with some of the founders of the Loony Dook in South Queensferry.

Christmas and Hogmanay – Consultation, Review and Future
At Culture and Communities Committee on 18 June 2019, it was agreed that a review and consultation exercise on the future of the Christmas and Hogmanay events would be undertaken prior to the termination of the current contract in 2022. This would allow sufficient time for the consultation to be completed and to agree a means of delivering the outcomes of that consultation.

The format of the consultation is currently being developed and the proposed process will be shared with Members in the coming weeks. The key requirement will be to ensure that all voices within the city, and stakeholders beyond, are heard.

Factual inaccuracies reported in the mediaThe
re were several errors in media coverage over recent weeks, including in the Guardian/Observer and via the Press Association. These were highlighted as quickly as possible and subsequently corrected.

Key facts about Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

  1. The economic impact of Edinburgh’s Christmas is calculated at £113.2m on Edinburgh; £88.2m on Scotland (reported by BOP Consulting in an independent survey of 2018).
  2. Edinburgh’s Christmas is a significant draw for people into the city centre – 96% of local people said Edinburgh’s Christmas was an important reason for visiting the city centre; 58% of visitors (non-local) said Edinburgh’s Christmas was their only or main reason for visiting.
  3. Edinburgh’s Christmas directly employs over 300 local people.
  4. Edinburgh’s Christmas community benefits were valued at £534,000 in 2018/19 (including 26,741 free tickets).
  5. Edinburgh’s Christmas provides several free to access events including Winter Windows, 24 Doors of Advent, Light Night and Community Christmas, a new event for 2019 which took Edinburgh’s Christmas direct to 12 communities across Edinburgh over 12 separate days. The Winter Windows event had 1,680 entries from schools across Edinburgh.
  6. The economic impact of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is calculated at £39.2m on Edinburgh; £39.8m on Scotland (reported by BOP Consulting in an independent survey of 2018).
  7. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay directly employs over 500 people and, indirectly, an estimated 1,600 other people.
  8. The contract has delivered a £1m saving per annum to the Council for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and Edinburgh’s Christmas compared to the previous contract, which expired in 2017.
  9. Public funding now only makes up 27% of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay income (compared to 41% in 2016/17) (figures for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 18/19).
  10. The Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme delivers free to attend events including the First Footers Family Ceilidh on 1 January and Message from the Skies which runs to 25 January.
  11. In 2019/20 there was footfall of over 2.5 million through East Princes Street Gardens and more local people than ever used their 20% EH postcode discount, buying 196,656 tickets: a 23.9% increase on the same events in 2018.
  12. 2019/20 saw 18,000 free tickets given away to Edinburgh and Scotland-wide charities and community groups, an increase of 173% on the same events in 2018.