It is long overdue, but the Council has now published plans to invest almost £4m in Oxgangs House. This will transfer the block into modern looking efficient Council homes. Privately owned homes will not have to take part in parts of the upgrade, but the owners will have to contribute to the costs of the improvements to the shared elements. Grants will be available to help owners with costs.
A survey has confirmed that the building is structurally sound but requires significant planned investment of up to £3.5m with the cost of essential and medium-term repairs estimated at £1.6m. This estimated budget cost would be confirmed by tendering the proposed works.
The report recommends common works which include repairs to substructure walls, roofs structure and covering, render replacement to external walls, repairs to walkway ceilings, balustrades and handrails in common areas, external drainage, external window and doors and common area lighting. Additionally, the survey report recommends significant works to upgrade the mechanical and electrical installations within the properties.
The Council will be delivering a newsletter to all doors at Oxgangs House this week, and will follow up with the first direct letters to owners in the next two weeks.
If you live in Oxgangs House, please get in touch if you have any questions.
Quite a few people have been in touch asking what the Council’s response to Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is. I can now confirm that next Thursday in Full Council the Council Leader will propose we confer the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh on Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in recognition of their Leadership and heroism.
Throughout the crisis I have recognised the value of symbolic demonstrations of solidarity, but I have also been urging that the Council takes real action to support Ukraine. On Thursday my group will table a motion condemning the horrific and illegal attacks on the independence of Ukraine and its people. We will also commend the Ukrainian people for their “heroic defence of their land in fighting the illegal invasion”, and we will also ask that the Council agrees:
to withdraw all support and cooperation and will withdraw and decline any future invitations to and from the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh with immediate effect.
to write to the Russian Ambassador, advising that the Russian Consul is no longer welcome in our Capital and write to the UK Foreign Office to request the expulsion of Russian diplomatic staff from the City of Edinburgh until Russian troops vacate Ukraine.
to ban all Russian Government-supported arts and cultural events and performances in Edinburgh Council-owned venues and encourage other venues in the City to do the same.
write to the UK Home Office encouraging unrestricted refugee visas and agrees to work locally to source host families to house refugees, with a focus on those with cultural and language understanding to best support unaccompanied children, families and individuals. Following emails to me from a Buckstone resident, will be proposed that this should utilise Positive Action on Housing’s “room for refugees” programme and other organisations.
to publicise the DEC appeal through Council communication channels and encourage financial donations as the best way the people of Edinburgh can help.
to allocate up to £100,000 to help coordinate local efforts of humanitarian aid with the Edinburgh Partnership to maximise supplies to Ukraine and support local infrastructure within Edinburgh to facilitate donations and transport supplies to distribution centres in Poland and other locations.
to write to the MOD to request access to any unused temporary accommodation for those travelling to Edinburgh from Kyiv and wider Ukraine in the knowledge that those people will overwhelmingly want to return to their Country when the war is over.
to make preparations to ensure that schools are prepared to continue Ukrainian children’s education who are coming to Edinburgh and work to prepare other support services to support those fleeing the conflict.
Following a conversation I had with a Russian mother in Edinburgh this week, we will also ask that the Council acknowledges the protests in Russia of brave citizens opposing this war and those Russians within Edinburgh who have stood with Ukraine in making clear this is not in their name.
These proposals will be debated by Edinburgh’s 62 Councillors on Thursday – all will have a chance to speak and amend them. As part of the debate I hope to pay tribute to the work Ukraine’s neighbours have done to deal with Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II – particularly Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia.
Door Cutting Briefing The City of Edinburgh Council are considering all options in regards to CO2, ventilation and fire safety in our classrooms in relation to COVID-19.
Before any works relating to the cutting and removal of the bottom of any doors, there are a number of factors that would need to be considered before carrying out such works:
Can ventilation improvements be introduced through less invasive changes?
Is it safe and practical to support additional ventilation by leaving the door open, particularly during peak occupancy or to purge the air in spaces in between use?
Adaptation or keeping a door open will only help with ventilation where the space it opens onto is ventilated.
What doors should be cut to meet the requirement?
Are the doors in question Fire Doors?
What are the clearances below the door before making the cut?
What should the overall minimum/maximum clearance distances be – from base of door to floor covering?
Does the door contain any asbestos?
Is the an entrapment risk of hands/arms for small children?
Is there now an acoustic issue from neighbouring spaces?
Will cutting the door impact the structural integrity of the door?
Are there better alternative options that could be employed? i.e. intumescent grills
Will this affect the fire strategy for the premises?
To date the City of Edinburgh Council have not carried out any works to doors that involve the cutting or removal of the bottom of any doors, fire or otherwise.
The City of Edinburgh Council have also been proactive throughout the pandemic carrying out easing of windows were required to increase ventilation in schools. Local authorities are directed through Scottish Government guidance to ensure their schools and Early Learning Centre settings have access to CO2 monitoring, whether via mobile or fixed devices. This is in order to support the goal of all school buildings, including all learning and teaching spaces, being assessed regularly for ventilation issues with a view to remedial action being taken where required.
The City of Edinburgh Council are working to ensure that appropriate strategies for continuing effective CO2 monitoring are in place, with a particular focus on supporting schools to achieve good ventilation balanced with the requirement for user comfort and warmth.
I received indication last month from the Council that they intent not to use Buckstone Primary School as a Polling Station, but will switch to Charwood. This is because (1) parents had previously complained about the school being used and (2) there has already been enough disruption to learning over the past 2 years.
I welcome the change as it will reduce the impact on the kids at Buckstone PS (it is also slightly closer to my house in Buckstone, and parking will be better at Charwood for those that have to drive), but I accept it will be the second change in 5 years or so.
I collected feedback on the issue via my Facebook page, and raised a few questions with the Council about operational issues as a result. This was the response:
I have been on site at Charwood to view/discuss the space available, including access arrangements and their plans on the day. It is the restaurant’s intent to remain open for normal business. We would be using only their events space to the rear, which on the day of my visit was prepared for a funeral tea, something they would not be able to offer on the day of poll or the afternoon before due to the polling set up. The impact of their loss of business for this space over these days is already reflected in the fee they seek. Were we to ask them to close entirely, the venue would not be financially viable to us. Their events space does have its own designated access to the south east side of the building, located by five parking bays, which in the main would keep voters and diners well apart.
While ideal for the majority of voters, this entrance is not suitable as a disabled access point. As is the case with other polling places, disabled access would be at another entrance, in this case via their entrance on the south west face of the building. This would involve disabled voters passing though the restaurant’s reception area while the restaurant is open which is not ideal, but manageable by poll staff on the day, including a roaming information officer whose role it is to direct and assist access to and from the stations within. Attached is a photograph taken within the event space proposed. The doorway on the left in the teal coloured wall recess is the access through to the restaurant reception area which in the main would not be opened until such time as disabled access were to be required.
Based on the feedback I received from local residents, and the above response from the Council I was happy to support the change – it has now been agreed. I’m really grateful to Charwood for helping with this.
Following feedback from local residents, below is a summary of proposed changes to the Hunters Tryst roundabout (junction of New Swanston & Oxgangs Road). The work will start on the 14th of February.
Update from Senior Engineer, Traffic Signs I had a meeting with CEC Road Safety Tuesday this week and Hunter Tryst roundabout was discussed further.
[To protect the privacy of those concerned, I’ve removed details of an incident which took place just after 3pm on Monday, April 26 – the cause appears unknown]
The following highway maintenance work is required to be carried out in due course and will bring the junction up to current ‘well maintained highway’ regulation standards however, the maintenance work required to be carried out is not considered to be a contributory factor of the road traffic accident:-
Road Operations to ensure any faded road markings are refreshed and consider the installation of ‘slow’ road markings on all approaches if not so already.
Traffic Signs to ensure any faded sign faces are replaced (there would appear to be one faded roundabout sign at New Swantson junction approach but can still be read)
Lighting to ensure the x lights on the roundabout traffic signs and adjacent lighting columns are working.
Other issues raised and considered in the interests of public safety.
The installation of a warning sign on the Oxgangs Road south approach was considered but could not be justified as there is adequate driver visibility 45 meters in advance of the roundabout traffic sign at the give way line on Oxgangs Road south approach to the roundabout at Hunters Tryst.
There is no justification to consider any junction realignments taking account of the above information and nature of the road traffic accident.
Question – Taking account of current commitments when do you estimate the signs maintenance work will be carried out on site, please update Vivian direct thanks?
The signs work is being organised for week ending 18 February 2022- PK Traffic Signs
Last weekend I reported on my Facebook page that I had had a steady flow of complaints over the past few months about the continued closure of Oxgangs Library for Covid testing, but these had intensified recently.
I outlined how I had been raising concerns inside the Council almost every week, but the Scot Gov will not give up the building. I made clear that I even suggested they put a testing portacabin in the carpark, but they are not interested. My stated position is that when the contract with the Scot Gov ends on 31st of March, I shall oppose a renewal unless there is absolutely no alternative.
Following my Facebook post (and even more complaints from local people), on Monday I had separate meetings with both Sarah Boyack MSP and Cllr Cammy Day (Deputy Leader of the Council). Sarah Boyack MSP is equally concerned about the situation, and offered to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care (Humza Yousaf MSP) making clear the concerns of the community.
My meeting with Cllr Cammy Day was equally productive – he offered to write to the Chief Executive of the Council making clear that Oxgangs Library should now be returned to the community. Indeed, the press have become aware of this and it was reported by the Evening News today.
“Oxgangs library needs to reopen, but if they want to put a pop-up centre in the car park we’re more than happy to work with them on that.”
Cllr Cammy Day (Deputy Leader of the Council)
In his letter to the Chief Executive, Cllr Day says: “I ask that you now write to the UK and Scottish governments, advising them that whilst we remain fully supportive of the vaccine and test programs, we require the use of these libraries returned for public use with immediate effect. I would ask this is taken forward as a matter of urgency and I look forward to a plan of action.”
Following this, the Council’s “Head of Libraries, Sport and Wellbeing” contacted me making clear that in the interim she is “continuing to explore options for the provision of temporary library services at Oxgangs Library”. She has advised me that from next week there will be a temporary mobile vehicle service for Oxgangs on a twice weekly basis. The temporary mobile library service will be provided on the street at Oxgangs Bank, close to the Oxgangs Library site, and will be available every Monday evening (5pm to 7.30pm) and every Thursday (10am to 4.30pm). The provision will start on the 7th February and will provide the following services:
Customers borrowing, returning and reserving library stock;
Bus pass applications;
Hey Girls sanitary provision;
Hearing aid batteries;
Food recycling bags; and,
Lateral flow test kits.
In addition, the local library staff team will be on hand every Monday morning (10am to 1pm) at the Pentlands Community Centre, (on Oxgangs Brae), to offer access to a limited range of services. Residents are asked to call in advance to book a visit on 0131 445 2871.
All this is welcome progress, but we still don’t have the library back. People in my Ward deserve better than a limited range of books and services in a mobile library.
Oxgangs Library sits at the heart of the community, and is a friendly place where people come to meet, learn and relax. Lending books is only a small part of the benefits it delivers, it’s the support for children and young families that is missed most. With the exam season fast approaching, the study space it provides for young people living in overcrowded accommodation in Oxgangs and Firrhill is invaluable.
Oxgangs & Firrhill are acknowledged as areas of social deprivation where there is little for children and young families to do. Within that context, the continued closure of Oxgangs Library is having a significant negative impact on the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable young people in my Ward. We need to do all we can to find an alternative location for the testing facility, and reopen the Oxgangs Library to the community as soon as possible.
There has been speculation recently regarding rising pupil rolls at Boroughmuir High School and how this may force Buckstone PS out of it, and into a new School or Firrhill High School’s catchment. This is because Boroughmuir’s capacity will soon be 1,560, but this is likely to be exceeded in 2023 or 2024 (see table above). Four points on this:
If the projections are correct a new school will be needed or catchment changes will have to be implemented. This does not automatically mean Buckstone PS will be involved in this (other primary schools contribute to Boroughmuir too), but any change will be subject to two consultations.
Of course, I will support the needs of local people on the issue.
I live in Buckstone, and my kids were well served my Buckstone PS and Boroughmuir HS – so I fully understand the concerns people have about the future of these great schools.
I have discussed the issue with the Council’s “Head of Strategic Asset Planning”, and he gave me this reply:
The latest publication which has mentioned the issue of potential future catchment change for Boroughmuir is the Education Appraisal associated with City Plan 2030.
I have copied the relevant text (from page 16 of the document) below (note the links at the end to the relevant ECF reports):
“Boroughmuir High School Growth from the existing catchment population is the main contributor to the accommodation pressures experienced at Boroughmuir High School . An extension to increase the capacity of Boroughmuir High School to 1,560 pupils is currently under construction. Beyond this, the school cannot be extended further on its existing site. To accommodate all pupils forecast from population growth and pupil generation from new development it will be necessary to engage with the school community to consider the options available, including catchment change. The requirement to consider a catchment change to address long-term accommodation pressure was reported to the Education, Children and Families Committee in December 2018 and March 2020.”
I think the City Plan 2030 would be the most likely source of any recent discussion on this issue because the period of representations was from 7 November to 20 December 2021. The process for the City Plan moving forward can be found at this link.
At the moment we have no plans to take forward any engagement on these issues. However, we would engage with all the relevant secondary and primary school communities about potential options before any final proposals were suggested for a statutory consultation.
I hope this is helpful but please let me know if any further information is required.
So basically, there has been no change but the problem is not going away. My understanding, following my discussion with the Head of Strategic Asset Planning, is that the plan for a new school in south Edinburgh was contingent on Redford Barracks being available for housing over the next 5-10 years, but it now looks like any new homes (and pupils) from that site are 10-15 years away. Adjusting catchments remains a possibility, but this will involve first moving pupils to the north out of Firrhill HS and/or Boroughmuir High School (Gracemount HS is not an option). I touch on the feasibility of this here.
Conclusion It looks like the speculation was not well informed, but the problem still needs to be fixed. I expect no real action on the issue until after the election in May. At that point we will need a Council that takes the issue seriously, and the schools involved will need Councillors that stand up for local people.
NOTE: In 2012 I said the school site was too small in a Scotsman article – see here.
This short blog sets out why we want members to support us in our bid for election to our party’s Scottish Executive Committee (SEC) to represent the South Scotland and Lothian Regions. The ballot opens on Friday 28 January and closes on Friday 18 February, and you are being asked to elect two members to the SEC (one of which must be female).
The May 2022 Council elections will be a huge challenge for our party, but to make gains we must remain united and focus on taking our positive message to the electorate. We both feel that factionalism is a barrier to our party regaining trust in Scotland, so our approach on the SEC will always focus on unity.
We have both campaigned for the party and have played key parts in getting Ian Murray MP, Daniel Johnson MSP and several new Councillors elected. This has taught us that we must listen to voters and offer them a positive alternative to both the SNP and Tories. Voters want to understand what our priorities are, and we need to present them concisely.
Although confidence in our UK and Scottish Leadership is growing, there is more to do. We are both fully committed to improving accountability and transparency within our party. Within that context, we make these four key pledges to you:
Where possible, we will consult members on key issues before the SEC meets.
If invited, we will attend your CLP meeting to listen to members.
We will each provide a written report to members after each SEC meeting.
We will expect the General Secretary to investigate any leaks to the media from the SEC.
Our party needs to unite around the challenges today, not the divisions of yesterday. Voters will not forgive us if we indulge in infighting rather than having positive policies on the covid recovery, climate change and the housing crisis. We are committed to taking our party forward.
A message from Sheila Gilmore I have experience at nearly all levels of the Party: Branch Secretary, CLP Chair, Election Agent, Councillor (1991-2007), and MP for Edinburgh East (2010 and 2015).
I campaigned for devolution, and still feel there is much more we could achieve through it. The Party needs to be clear on our opposition to independence and develop a strong positive narrative on why we believe the people of Scotland benefit from remaining part of the UK.
Good policy is important, but we need to turn that into action through electoral success. I am Campaign Co-ordinator for my constituency and was Campaign Manager for Daniel Johnson in May, when we increased the majority and vote share. In 2017 I was election agent for Ian Murray when we substantially increased the Labour vote. While every constituency is different, and one size doesn’t fit all, we need to learn from where we win, including in local councils.
I support our current leadership team, but aim to be a ‘critical friend’ when it is needed. Leaders need constructive challenge. They need to hear what members are thinking and experiencing through active and well connected CLP representatives.
After years of opposition both in the UK and Holyrood, and with smaller representation in Councils, we often struggle to get our voice heard and have limited resources. We need to find ways to stretch those resources further and make them work more effectively.
My enthusiasm and commitment to the Labour Party remains undimmed through all the ups and downs I have lived through. It is those qualities I would bring to the Scottish Executive.
A message from Dr Scott Arthur We are now on our third Scottish Leader and third General Secretary since I joined the SEC, but I’ve never seen it more united, and I am committed to it staying that way – unity is strength. I’m keen to stay on the SEC to give members a say, but also to help Anas and Jackie take our party forward. I support them fully, but I take very seriously my job to give members a voice.
Additionally, I believe in transparency within our party at all levels. This is why I, unlike many SEC members, issue a report to party members after each SEC meeting and have attended several CLPs. Recent reports are here: https://tinyurl.com/ScottsSECReports (case sensitive link).
As a proud Labour Councillor, I never miss an opportunity to remind the SEC that winning in Local Government is the first step to us winning in Holyrood. That is why I stood in 2017 for election as a Labour Councillor – my Ward forms part of a strong Labour foundation in the Lothians where Labour Councillors work effectively with Ian Murray MP and our MSPs (Sarah Boyack, Foysol Choudhury Daniel, Johnson & Martin Whitfield) to take our party forward.
The May 2022 Council elections are key for our party and the people in our communities that need Labour in power. If re-elected to the SEC, I’ll ensure our party puts everything it has into working with the Trade Unions to win as many Wards as possible, and the support those Councillors after the election. From there, we can start the campaign for Westminster and Holyrood.
Bellow is a briefing from the Local Government Improvement Service in the rollout of “free” bus travel for 5-21 year olds resident in Scotland
Introduction I am writing to update you on developments with the Scotland-wide Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme for under 22s.
As you may know, from 31 January 2022 residents of Scotland aged 5-21 will be able to access free travel on bus services across Scotland with a new or replacement National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC.
Transport Scotland, with the support of the IS and other delivery partners, had planned to launch a national marketing campaign on 5 January 2022 to encourage applications. However, due to the rising cases of COVID-19, and current messaging which encourages people to stay at home as much as possible, the decision has been taken to pause the launch of the marketing campaign until the situation improves.
However, there are many essential reasons why children and young people might need to travel by bus and all delivery partners were keen to ensure that they could start benefitting from free bus travel at the earliest opportunity. Therefore, young people and children aged 5-21 years old will still be able to apply for their new or replacement NEC or Young Scot NEC from 10 January as planned, to access the scheme from 31 January onwards, but only those for whom bus travel is considered essential are being asked to submit their applications at this time. This will also help to minimise pressure on local councils, also impacted by the current situation with the pandemic, who will be responsible for processing applications and responding to enquiries.
Information about the scheme and how to apply is now available on the TransportScotland websiteahead of applications officially opening on 10 January. Messages will be shared through a network of delivery partners and stakeholders, and I hope you too will help get the message across using your channels. An information pack on the scheme is included with this letter.
If you have any questions about the scheme, please contact Transport Scotland at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Gadsden, Chief Executive, Improvement Service
Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme – information pack for elected members
Overview Free bus travel for 5-21 year olds resident in Scotland will be available from 31 January for those with a valid National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC. Children under the age of 5 already travel for free on commercial bus services and don’t need a card.
A national marketing campaign was due to launch from 5 January to encourage applications, giving full details on how and when to apply. However, given the current situation with the pandemic, it has been decided to pause the launch of the national marketing campaign – which proactively encourages bus travel – until the current COVID-19 situation improves.
All young people and children aged 5-21 years can still apply for their new or replacement NEC or Young Scot NEC from 10 January to access the scheme from 31 January. However, we are asking that only those for whom bus travel is essential apply at this time, because of work, education, health or care reasons, for example. Information about the scheme and how to apply is now available on the Transport Scotland websiteahead of local authority delivery partners opening applications on 10 January.
This approach will also help minimise pressure on local councils who will be processing applications and responding to queries, ensuring young people and children under 22 for whom bus travel is essential are able to access the scheme from 31 January. Everyone under the age of 22 and living in Scotland will be proactively encouraged to apply to access the scheme by the extensive marketing campaign which will now be launched nationally at a later date.
Why the scheme is so important At the same time, the introduction of free bus travel for under 22s will also reduce inequalities and advance equality of opportunity and outcome for young people and families as well as having the potential to help address child poverty by reducing household outgoings. Free bus travel supports the delivery of a Just Transition and removes financial barriers, giving young people more and better choices in work, education, health and social activities.
Research commissioned in October 2021 revealed nationwide support for the roll out of free bus travel amongst young people – with almost two-thirds (61%) agreeing that access to public transport will play a central role in the fight against climate change. One full double decker bus equates to removing 75 single occupancy cars from Scotland’s roads.
All delivery partners are committed to delivering the scheme in a way that is safe for children and young people and instils confidence in their parents and guardians. That is why parents or guardians will be required to apply on behalf of children under the age of 16 to ensure they can exercise their responsibility for their children’s safety.
Transport Scotland has also worked with Barnardo’s Scotland to make available additional training for bus drivers on child safeguarding in advance of the scheme’s launch.
Application process 5-21 year olds living in Scotland will need a valid National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot NEC to access free bus from 31 January.
Many young people will already have a NEC or Young Scot NEC but this will not allow them to access free bus travel. Everyone who is eligible will have to apply for a new or replacement card if they wish to use the scheme.
The Improvement Service and National Entitlement Card Programme Office (NECPO), together with local authorities, are responsible for handling applications and issuing National Entitlement Cards (NEC and Young Scot NEC) which are used to access the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme.
The scheme will use the existing application processes and will enable young people or their parents/guardians to apply either online or in person at council offices.
Applications open on 10 January. All eligible children and young people can apply but we are working through our network of delivery partners and stakeholders to get messaging out, encouraging children and young people to apply at this time if they need to make essential journeys by bus.
A number of different methods will be available for 5–21 year olds to get their card to access free bus travel: online at GETYOURNEC.SCOT or through parentsportal.scot if it is used by the child’s school; via a local council where it is not possible to apply online; and, in some local council areas, schools are coordinating applications on behalf of their pupils.
Young people aged 16-21 should apply themselves.
Parents or guardians will be required to apply on behalf of 5-15 year olds.
Children under the age of 5 do not need to apply as they already travel for free on commercial bus services without a card.
How you can support the launch:
Use your social media platform to confirm that the scheme will go ahead and that everyone who wants to use it will need to apply for a card but encourage only those with essential travel requirements to apply while public health restrictions are in place.
Respond to enquiries from the public, directing them to the Transport Scotland website which gives them information on the scheme and guidance on travel restrictions.
Let people know that the scheme supports the adoption of sustainable travel behaviours early in life, and will also improve access to education, leisure, work and other opportunities as soon as we come out of restrictions.
Below is a briefing from City of Edinburgh Council on its residential education plans in the coming year.
Residential Visits Residential visits are progressing; the Council is taking a proactive, incremental and proportionate approach aligned with its priorities of protecting Council staff, vulnerable individuals and essential services, including keeping schools open.
Step 1: camping expeditions promptly reintroduced in June. Offsite camping, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions, were permitted by Scottish Government in May and approved by CEC from June onwards. Permission was sought via the Council’s Service Resumption Group (SRG) process and a template risk assessment produced to minimise transmission risks. Health Protection Lothian was consulted regarding risk assessment, transport and general guidance. The financial risk was assessed to be minimal (low cost often self-led or delivered inhouse by the Sport and Outdoor Learning Team) and transmission risks could be managed initially through single occupancy of tents (in-line with Scottish Government policy). Several groups have restarted resulting in many Secondary pupils undertaking overnight camping excursions.
Step 2: reopening of Benmore and Lagganlia during the Autumn Term. I am sure you will be pleased to know that this has been very successful with over 1000 young people from Edinburgh undertaking an overnight visit. This has required an immense amount of planning. Decisions were made in May 2021 for the Autumn; we did not know what the Autumn SG advice would be nor the transmission rates. Budgets were updated, staff training undertaken and SRG approval gained in the Summer Term (all within a few days of SG approving residential visits).
Steps 1 and 2 are being used to understand the pandemic within a school residential context; developing resources through learning and partnership work with Health Protection Lothian. The Council has an enviable range of tools designed to assist schools (more info below).
Regarding Step 3, senior Council leaders will shortly be presented with a further SRG request linked to reopening specific UK visits to non-Council providers. This is a more complex step that has required the involvement and approval of colleagues from Insurance, Procurement, Legal and Finance.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Lorna French, David Bruce and Lynn Paterson for their leadership and support. We are very fortunate to have leaders who listen to staff and commit to an approach. Their proactive attitude means we have been able to progress with residential visits.
This proportionate approach is making sure we have the capacity to learn, manage outbreaks and develop/trial resources so the next step (Step 3), which will involve a significant increase in visits, will be achieved safely and staff/families feel reassured that the Council and providers are fulfilling their responsibilities. This in turn will maximise attendance. If this is not undertaken robustly, there is a substantial risk that we experience several outbreaks, resulting in the temporary pause of all residentials so that appropriate mitigations are put in place to minimise risks. The Sport and Outdoor Learning Unit has been in contact with several providers to request their latest information and to offer an update meeting. A number have not yet replied.
The primary reasons for this stepped approach are twofold:
Minimising transmission risks and managing outbreaks, and ensuring schools remain open to educate pupils. Residential visits are a higher pandemic educational activity risk due to the overnight component (national household guidance applies to higher risk contacts including dormitories). The Council has used the first two steps detailed above to liaise with Health Protection Lothian (HPL) to produce essential and rigorous tools to (a) minimise transmission risks and (b) to manage symptomatic persons whilst on the visit. This has included a checklist, template risk assessments (overnight and transport), process for monitoring Covid contexts before, during and after the visits and scenarios with appropriate actions. School residential visits within a pandemic context is relatively new and HPL value our work with them so they can develop their advice to us and other neighbouring local authorities (one of which is yet to restart residential visits). This has been essential work and we have seen at first hand when these resources have safeguarded people’s wellbeing. You will be reassured to know the Council has formed an enviable relationship with HPL, including weekly meetings dedicated to residential visits. As you know, we rely on the significant enthusiasm and agreement of staff to plan and attend residential visits. It is important that we put in place appropriate safeguards, so they feel reassured and are safe. Staff feedback regarding our resources and support has been extremely positive. Likewise, we also receive questions from families wanting reassurance about pandemic safety and arrangements e.g. repatriation. Our robust scenario planning and information sessions have been very well received and reassuring for families. This has all been created through a proportionate restart that has allowed us to learn and develop resources to deliver safe residential visits. We have had ‘Covid instances’ at the centres and these have been managed very well, ‘lessons learnt’ used to improve guidance/resources and the impact on school operations generally kept to a minimum.
Minimising financial risks / protecting monies. From October 2020, the Council like other local authorities no longer has pandemic cancellation insurance that caters for school residentials (prior to travel). This significant national barrier was highlighted early to Scottish Government. External providers have developed a range of ‘Covid guarantees’ in a variety of formats e.g. verbal assurances, email ‘pledges’ through to some modification and presentation of terms and conditions. These vary significantly in quality and detail, for example, some only seem to provide cover for the scenario of ‘Scottish Government not permitting school residentials’. In reality, there are a range of Covid scenarios that need consideration, examples include but not limited to postponement/cancellation/significant alteration due to (i) local outbreak management (local outbreak requires a single residential to be cancelled based on advice from HPL/Council); (ii) insufficient staff due to isolation, illness or redeployment elsewhere in the school to keep it open; and (iii) individuals identified as close contacts. Visits to Benmore and Lagganlia include comprehensive pandemic cancellation guarantees based on our learning from the pandemic in a residential context. Schools have received questions from parents/carers about how their contributions are protected and so our significant work in this area dating back to May 2021 is providing excellent standards of reassurance for our parents.
The forthcoming Step 3 SRG request includes a recommendation to create a central checking process managed by Council officers who have the capacity and expertise to scrutinise external providers’ terms and conditions, and pandemic arrangements. This allows School staff to focus on teaching and learning, and pupils’ wellbeing. I am sure Councillors, school staff and families welcome this approach. The proposed aim is to create a central approved list that schools can choose from. This would deliver consistency and capacity across the Council.
External providers are highly valued and form part of delivering sufficient capacity to support school residentials, particularly in the Secondary phase. Subject to clearance via the SRG process, we expect this process of approval to start in January 2022 with some trials before this. It is acknowledged there is always a lag between booking and delivery due to the planning required. Any future visits are always subject to the latest guidance, a risk assessment of transmission rates and local pandemic contexts.
You will be pleased and reassured to know that Council Officers have been invited to co-lead national working groups to look at national solutions and develop resources for use across Scotland; based on a number of those created by our Council. These resources should be ready for Step 3.
Regarding other local authorities, the picture varies across Scotland. Some local authorities have decided not to permit any school residential visits whilst they devise and implement processes (mainly due to pandemic transmission and financial concerns). Other local authorities are permitting residential visits, often with specific conditions and requiring the Head Teacher to check and evaluate provider terms and conditions and infection control measures. Several schools are reluctant therefore to procced due to concerns about financial risks and how to deal with outbreaks. This information comes to us via our membership of SAPOE (Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education) and is reliant on LAs submitting data returns. Regarding private schools, some have decided not to run residential visits to centres this academic year but reintroduce them in 2022/23. Conversely, others have decided to proceed.
Bonaly Scout Centre We are currently developing an offer for schools delivered by the Sport and Outdoor Learning Unit at Bonaly. Bonaly no longer has its own instructors. This includes a pilot ‘targeted transition day’ programme; shorter residentials for younger children; potentially some secondary school days and meeting any urgent needs to ensure all P7s are offered a residential experience this year (small number of schools).
As you know, schools and wider Council services are working hard to deliver outcomes in different ways throughout this pandemic and more recently via an increasing transmission rate. This includes day visits to achieve specific outcomes. Schools are being kept up to date via the Council’s Coronavirus Excursions Toolbox which allows us to interpret national general schools and specific offsite visits guidance into ‘local’ advice and practice.
I hope you consider this to be a useful and full explanation and can see how tirelessly and proactively schools and the Sport and Outdoor Learning staff are working within a very dynamic context to support all pupils. Our stepped approach means we are developing nationally recognised resources to support safe visits and the ability to check providers to ensure they have suitable and sufficient measures in place. This means that Edinburgh schools can focus on day to day operations, rather than be worried about checking terms and conditions etc.
We share the disappointment of any pupil missing a residential visit and thank school staff in trying to present flexible solutions within this ever-changing context. The work continues.