Cuts to Home-to-School travel for children with additional support needs.

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Braidburn School is at the heart of my Ward. Like any other school, the kids gain qualifications there but to make the most of it the kids have to arrive stress free. The image was taken in school’s 10th birthday in 2015.

Data produced in 2017 shows that the City of Edinburgh Council spends just under £6.5m per year on home-to-school transport. This is a substantial sum of money, so does come under some scrutiny withing the context of the cuts the Scottish Government is forcing on our capital.

Under the Education Act, free home-to-school transport must be provided for children of school age: under 8 living 2 or more miles away; and, children aged 8 and over living 3 or more miles away, from their catchment school. The Council implements this as:

  1. 2 miles or over for primary aged children (some of these kids will be over 8)
  2. 3 miles or over for secondary aged children.
  3. Where there is no safe walking route.

These rules, particularly at primary level, mean most children are not eligible for free home-to-school transport. The main schools where children are eligible are Roman Catholic Schools; those in the more rural parts of the city (largely west Edinburgh); and, and schools with very large catchments due to their specialist nature: Edinburgh Music School and Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce (Gaelic Medium Education). The Scottish Government prevents Edinburgh from means-testing free home-to-school transport.

In addition to this, the Council has Special Schools where the education is specially suited to the additional support needs of children. Indeed, a quick glance at the “top 20” most expensive home-to-school transport schools shows that those for children with additional support needs dominate – they take up over two-thirds of the £6.5m budget.

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The 2017 “top 20” most expensive home-to-school transport schools

Within this context, in May this year Councillors  from all parties on the “Education, Children and Families Committee” unanimously backed a report entitled “Assisted Travel Policy and Guidelines – Home to School“. This report noted the Council “has a duty to implement Best Value for assisted home to school travel” and took the allocation of home-to-school transport out of the hands of headteachers in Special Schools, and gave it to a group entitled the “Travel Allocation Panel”. This approach does have the benefit of providing more consistency across the city, but it does also place more pressure on parents.

In the past few days I have been contacted by a number of parents with children at Braidburn School in my Ward who have had their home-to-school transport support removed or fear it will be. Yesterday I supported one parent’s appeal in the strongest possible terms after home-to-school transport for her son was removed, despite his very significant support needs, just a few weeks before term starts. She does not drive and her son has a developmental age of under 3. She told me she wants him to become more independent, but “he will refuse to walk or expect to be carried and I physically cannot lift him for that length of time.” and “I was offered £4 a day to get the normal bus which is as much of a walk to the school and completely pointless. Apparently this is a life lesson for our children as they grow that transport is not reality.” Braidburn School is 450m from the nearest bus stop.

I have spoken at length with the home-to-school transport team about this and they understand the pressure families are under. They are looking at other ways to cut costs such as bringing services back in-house (already proven cheaper) and reducing the need to hire coaches/taxis by asking Lothian Buses to adjust their routes. In West Edinburgh the safety of walking/cycling routes will be improved to reduce the need to issue bus passes or hire coaches/taxis.

The problem the Council faces, however, is that it has very little discretion over who has access to home-to-school transport, but there is flexibility where Special School are concerned. However, I think most people in Edinburgh feel that services for children with additional support needs should be the very last things that are cut. If we can’t stop Scottish Government cuts, we should be shaving every spare penny off other schools’ home-to-school transport budgets before we force mums to carry their children to school.

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Project Apollo took us to the moon, now let’s tackle Climate Change “for all mankind” #Apollo50th

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Using the Lego Lunar Module to amplify concerns people in my Ward have about the state of roads and footpaths was a bit of fun, but Project Apollo does have a strange hold over me. I was born just a few days before Apollo 11 was launch and grew up when it and the other missions were still very much spoken about.

In 2017 I visited the Apollo 11 launch site to see another rocket being launched, and really was struck by the scale of what was achieved after JKF said “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” in 1963.

When I returned from Florida I read a book by Gene Kranz called “Failure was not an option”. This was not a fiction book, but it did tell the amazing true story of how around the time I was born in 1969 approximately 400,000 people worked together to build the 2,800 tonne Saturn V rocket that took men to the moon (there were no women astronauts then!).

That book told me that when we work together, we can achieve anything. Potholes don’t need a “Project Apollo”, but tackling poverty and climate change does.  We need to take Apollo’s “For All Mankind” slogan, and use it to challenge humankind to tackle these things – not because they are easy problems, but because they are hard.

Edinburgh should be leading on fighting child poverty, not following others.  

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Me attending the 2018 Discover programme in Oxgangs Primary School

There can be no doubt that child poverty in the UK is rising. Under the Brown/Blair Government it fell dramatically as  a result of very significant additional spending on benefits and tax credits. Since then, however, things have gone backwards.  The number of children living in poverty is set to hit to hit 37% this year – that is more than 1 in 3 children. This exceeds the  previous high of 34% recorded in the ‘90s, and should shame us all.

The causes of child poverty are complex and the impact long lasting, but right now the combined impact of wage stagnation, high rents, unemployment and welfare reform are combining to create the perfect storm in Edinburgh.  Indeed, the ongoing Tory leadership race suggests matters may be about to worsen, as it is has already been shown that Johnson and Hunt’s tax proposals will increase child poverty.

Scotland is little different to the rest of the UK where child poverty is concerned, but but it does have the power to be more different. The Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 places a duty on the Scottish Government to eradicate child poverty by 2030. Holyrood also has significant welfare powers, but have chosen to  delay using them. Indeed, the Nationalist Government appeared until recently quite unwilling to use their welfare powers as a tool to tackle child poverty.

Many people in Edinburgh supported the Poverty Alliance’s calls for the Nationalist Government to increase Child Benefit payments, and ultimately forced this to act one year earlier (2021) than planned for those under six. However, that is almost two years away and children over 6 will have to wait a further year – this is apparently “bold and ambitious“!

Whilst kids in poor households wait for this benefit to reach their mum’s purse, poverty will manifest itself in many ways.  Recently the Edinburgh Trade Union Council (ETUC) wrote to a cross-party group of Councillors raising concerns about “holiday hunger” in our capital.

I know from my own upbringing in Kirkcaldy what holiday hunger is. 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. For many households in Edinburgh, this is a tough time of year.

The Council’s is, however, trying to address the issue via income maximisation (making sure families claim what they are entitled to) and via the excellent “Discover!” programme. This complements the diverse range of work being undertaken across the city by charities, community groups and, no doubt, grandparents. It is estimated, however, Discover! will reach less than 10% of those eligible for free school meals – and it operates only 3 days a week from just 4 hubs in our capital.

I had hoped when I was first elected  that our Capital could emulate Labour run North Lanarkshire and provide free school meals to everyone that needs it – this tiny Council operates their “Club 365” from 23 hubs. Unfortunately, my proposal to do this was not funded. Instead,  “Discover!” was trialled in Oxgangs Primary School in my Ward and also elsewhere in the city in the summer of 2018. This targeted the most vulnerable households in a way that went well beyond just providing free food.

I raised the Club 365 experience as part of the discussion stimulated by ETUC, and was appalled to see a Nationalist Councillor was silent on Council cuts and the Scottish Government’s intransigence on welfare powers, but instead focused the blame on the UK Government. I accept that the UK Government is the key driving force behind rising child poverty, but I cannot accept the Council and the Scottish Government can’t do more. Why else would the Scottish Government have a target to end child poverty? Why does the City of Edinburgh Council have the Edinburgh Poverty Commission?

Instead of considering doing more to help the poorest children in Edinburgh, the Nationalist Councillor shared this thought:

It won’t surprise you that I believe to have a truly compassionate Scotland where we are able to invest in our public services, end austerity and provide support to our most vulnerable citizens we must become an independent country – able to make our own decisions about our priorities and reject the agenda of tax cuts for the rich while public services and our poorest citizens suffer.

In other words, rather than act now she hopes independence is the answer. This is despite no independent economist saying we’d be wealthier as a nation and their economic blueprint being labelled as a “continuation of austerity” by the IFS.

We have to do much more than grandstand if we really want to deal with child poverty in our Capital. As someone who grew up in a deprived household I know how difficult it can be for parents to feed their children over the summer break. I find it frustrating that some Councillors in Edinburgh publicly claim to want a “truly compassionate Scotland”, but behind the closed doors of the City Chambers repeatedly block attempts to call both the UK and Scottish Government to account on the issue like the 2 Child Cap.  For them child poverty is a political tool, and they are happy for other Councils to take the lead on this.

Once the summer recess is over, I hope to again bring a motion to Council which will ask that we learn from Dumfries and Galloway CouncilNorth Lancashire’s “Club 365”, North Ayrshire’s “Wrap, Run and Fun”  and “Fife’s “Cafe inc“. Edinburgh should be leading on fighting child poverty, not following others.

In the build up to this, I have created a poll on my Facebook page and also Twitter:

Drain Man – Blocked Gullies in Oxgangs, Colinton & Fairmilehead Ward

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After the flooding in Edinburgh a week or two ago, last weekend I was prompted to check on the progress the Council had made on a number of blocked drains (gullies) I reported for a constituent on the 18th of May.

Between Fairmilehead crossroads and Colinton Mains Tesco (3km), I counted 36 blockages. If the Council are serious about mitigating the impact of #climatechange, they have to manage their assets way better than this.

Since reporting these again (1st of July), I received the response below from the Council on the 4th of July:

I have now investigated the matter and have arranged for the gullies between Fairmilehead Crossroads and Colinton Mains Tesco to be prioritised for attendance. Some were attended last night with the remaining to be carried out shortly. Gullies not accessible due to parked cars will require a temporary parking restriction order to be promoted.

I would reassure you that the reporting system is monitored and faults/defects/gullies will be attended to. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to address issues quickly due to resources but they will not be ignored. I would still encourage your constituents to continue reporting blocked gullies or any gully related issues via section of the Council’s web-site, at the following link.

There are over 55,000 gulleys adopted and maintained by the Council and there is a rolling programme of inspection and maintenance. We do prioritise sensitive locations that we become aware of, through inspections and reports from members of the public.

Briefing – Registration for the 2019/20 Edinburgh “Garden Tax” Opens Tomorrow.

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Below is a briefing on the 2019\20 “Garden Tax” – registration is 26th June to 7th August, for a service which will start in October.  

There is no doubt that Edinburgh’s “Garden Tax” remains unpopular in many households. However, now that it is in place it is proving to difficult to remove. It is clear that the majority of Edinburgh’s Councillors oppose it, but finding the money to return to the old “free” system is proving difficult. A recent Tory\Green proposal to end the “Garden Tax” had to be withdrawn as they were unable to fund it. 

 

MEMBERS BRIEFING NOTE: GARDEN WASTE REGISTRATION
21 June 2019
What’s happening?

  1. Since the new garden waste service started last October
    67,500 properties have signed up for the service
    73,200 permits have been registered
    Over 9,000 tonnes of garden waste have already been turned into compost.
  2. Permits for the current garden waste service year expire on 6 October. To receive collections after this date residents will need to renew their permits, or sign up to the service, by 2pm on 7 August.
  3. Registration opens on Wednesday 26 June at 9am (in locality offices and phonelines) and 10am for online registration.
  4. Registration will be open until 2pm on Wednesday 7 August.
    Permits will be sent out 6 – 8 weeks after this date.
  5. We’re writing to existing customers and properties which use the kerbside recycling and waste service to ask them to renew their permits or sign up to the service. This is being supported by a communications plan to help raise awareness.
  6. Residents can sign up to receive fortnightly garden waste collections for £25 per brown bin.
  7. The next service year will run from 7 October 2019 – 4 October 2020.
  8. We’ll empty brown bins once every two weeks, except over the festive period when there will be no collections between 16 December 2019 and 14 January 2020.
  9. Residents who renew their permit or sign up during this registration window will be sent a permit in late September that will be valid from 7 October 2019 – 4 October 2020.
  10. There will only be one more opportunity to sign up to the new service year (in January 2020) but the payment will remain at £25 and permits will be valid until 4 October. Residents who sign up during the January registration window will be sent their permit 6 – 8 weeks after the window closes.

 

How to register

  1. The quickest and easiest way to register and pay is on our website. A one-off payment of £25 (per brown bin) will be taken by debit or credit card. (New customers will need to set up a my.gov account first, which they can do from our website).
  2. If they don’t have access to the internet they can use the self-service kiosks at one of our five local offices (they’ll need to have registered for an online mygov.scot account first or have access to email on a mobile).
    North East Office, 101 Niddrie Mains Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4DS
    North West Office, 8 West Pilton Gardens, Edinburgh, EH4 4DP
    South East Office, 40 Captain’s Road, Edinburgh, EH17 8QF
    South West Office, 10 Westside Plaza, Edinburgh, EH14 2ST
    Customer Hub, 249 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1YJ
  3. Local libraries also offer free internet access.
  4. Alternatively, residents can pay by debit/credit card or cash at our Customer Hub (High Street) or South West (West Side Plaza) locality offices only.
  5. Payment can be made over the phone by calling 0131 608 1100 (press option 1, then option 9, then option 1), however, we expect phone lines to be busy and there may be long waiting times. Phone lines are open Monday – Thursday, 8.30am – 5pm and Friday 8.30am – 3.40pm.
  6. We don’t accept cheques. If any cheques are sent to you please send them on to waste services who will return them (Waste and Cleansing Services, Level 3, Waverley Court, Edinburgh, EH8 8BG).

 

Does everyone need to pay?

  1. Residents who receive Council Tax Reduction (formerly called Council Tax Benefit) don’t need to pay for the service but they do need to register to receive it. Other exemptions, such as single occupancy discount or garden aid, don’t qualify for free garden waste collections.
  2. A small number of properties in the Colinton area have their garden waste collected by the Tiphereth charity and they also need to register and pay to continue receiving the service.
    o Tiphereth customers receive weekly collections of their bagged garden waste.

 

How does the service work?

  1. We’ll empty brown bins once every two weeks, except over the festive period when there will be no collections between 16 December 2019 and 14 January 2020.
    o The festive break in service allows us to divert resources to other recycling and waste streams during the busy festive period.
  2. Residents need to renew their permits every year before they expire to continue receiving the service.
  3. The new service year runs from 7 October 2019 – 4 October 2020 and registration for this closes at 2pm on 7 August 2019. There will only be one more opportunity to sign up for the new service year (in January 2020) but the payment will remain at £25 for a permit which will be valid until 4 October 2020.
  4. Permits are not prorated for residents who sign up in January.
    Once a resident has signed up we will send them a new collection calendar and permit sticker 6 – 8 weeks after registration closes.
  5. We’ll only empty brown bins with valid permit stickers.
  6. There is no limit to how many garden waste bins a property can have but there will be a charge of £25 per bin.
  7. Residents can share a bin with their neighbours, but they’ll need to agree on one resident acting as the lead for booking and paying for the service. If there are any service issues with the shared bin (eg a missed collection), this must be reported against the address that registered for the permit.
  8.  If a resident moves to a new house they can transfer their permit to their new address. They’ll need to give us six weeks’ notice to update our system and take their brown bin and permit sticker to their new address.
  9. Terms and conditions will be available on our website

Why we’re charging for garden waste collections

  1. Our costs are increasing and more people are using our services, whilst our income is reducing. The £25 per year charge was agreed by the Council at a meeting in February 2018 and it’s estimated it will save £1.4 million each year and allow us to provide a more frequent service.
  2. As garden waste collection is not a statutory service and with reducing budgets and increasing costs, we can no longer afford to provide the service for free.
  3. Over 40% of councils in the UK charge for a garden waste collection and some have stopped the service altogether.
  4. The £25 charge is lower than many other councils and works out at around 50p per week.
  5. Any changes to garden waste collections being a paid for service would be made at full Council as part of budget consultations.

Further information, including the terms and conditions are available on our website.

Firrhill & Boroughmuir – Two Great Schools Fast Running Out of Space

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The May 2019 “Education, Children and Families Committee” will consider a report entitled “Item 7.2 – Future Statutory Consultation Requirements” which sets out the need to consults on a number a key school projects in our capital – Replacement of Newcraighall Primary School; New Maybury Primary School; Edinburgh Park catchment review; New Builyeon Road Primary School; and, Kirkliston (future primary and secondary provision).

The report also, however, touches on rising secondary school rolls:

“The schools where options exist to address capacity pressures through statutory
consultations are Broughton High School, Firrhill High School and Craigmount High
School. The School Estate Planning Team will begin an engagement process with
these schools and if statutory consultations are required, draft papers will be
presented to a future Committee for consideration. “

Of key interest to me here is inclusion of Firrhill High School as it serves a large part of my ward.

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Firrhill HS is fed by 5 primary schools, 4 of them are in my Ward: Bonaly, Colinton, Pentland & Oxgangs (part of the catchment is outside my Ward).

Firrhill has a notional capacity of 1150, but currently has 1180 pupils enrolled and will rise to 1222 next year. Potentially a review of Firrhill’s catchment could conclude transferring one of the feeder primaries to another high school catchment would solve the problem.

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Firrhill’s catchment adjoins that of 6 other high schools: Currie, WHEC, Forrester (just), Tyncastle, Boroughmuir and Gracemount.

The options for a transfer, however, are limited and we know from last year that school communities don’t always embrace attempts to tinker with catchments.

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Whilst Firrhill is overcapacity, the prediction is for only limited further growth. Boroughmuir, however, will expand significantly in the coming decade.

The elephant in the room with the Firrhill roll is Redford Barracks. This facility is scheduled to close in 2022 and it is likely at least some of the site will be redeveloped as housing over the following decade (on average every 100 houses generates 23 secondary school pupils). It’s therefore right to look seriously at  Firrhill’s capacity.

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Firrhill’s capacity has been exceeded, but remains relatively constant. The situation is different at Boroughmuir where significant growth is predicted.

Data published by the Council suggests that WHEC, Forrester & Tynecastle all have spare capacity to take part of Firrhill’s catchment. Forrester must be excluded, however, as future development in its catchment will consume much of its spare capacity. Nonetheless, by 2028 WHEC and Tynecastle combined will have spare capacity of 535. Indeed, Tynecastle or WHEC alone  could easily accommodate Longstone pupils to help Firrhill return to its notional limit until the Redford development comes online.

 

Running in parallel to this Boroughmuir – a new school that was full the day it opened which now has an extension planned which will also be full the day it opens. Again, Tynecastle could take the pressure off Boroughmuir after its extension opens.

Using Tynecastle or WHEC in this way may not be popular, but it will save the Council money and help it meet its climate change targets (construction consumes a lot of energy). However, that may be balanced by increased travel costs and road safety issues.

The big uncertainty remains Redford Barracks – this may prove to be the catalyst for real change. There are only two real options to deal with this as far as I can see:

  1. The creation of a new school to accommodate Buckstone, Pentland & Oxgangs Primaries. This would leave the existing Firrhill building to accommodate  Colinton PS, Bonaly PS, Longstone PS &  Redford Barracks. This would solve the problem at both Firrhill & Boroughmuir. 
  2. Converting Firrhill to a “super school” to accommodate  Redford Barracks in addition to the existing catchment (and perhaps even Buckstone PS).

Again, these options would not be universally popular and both would need significant space (and funding). If only a building was nearby with a listed parade ground which could be converted to a fantastic school…

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Redford Barracks – The building is listed as well as the playground, sorry, parade ground.

Conclusion

I don’t have one. Whatever happens next, it is important that school communities are consulted and we have to respect the fact that school catchments have evolved over time to become an important part of what defines our neighbourhoods.

Dealing with graffiti in Edinburgh (and elsewhere)

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It is estimated that the UK spends £1 billion per year cleaning up graffiti. In London alone £100 million is spent, with £10 million of that being accounted for by London Underground. Nationally, Network Rail spends £3.4 million annually.

Of course, Edinburgh has no shortage of graffiti with the Council receiving hundreds of complaints per year.  The Council will, however, deal with graffiti on property it owns. If you see any, please report it here ASAP. The Council will remove racist or offending graffiti withing 24 hours, everything else is dealt with within two weeks.

All other graffiti must be dealt with by the owners of the property (but the Council can force some types of private land owners to act).

Therefore, if you see graffiti you are concerned about, please contact the property owner directly and ask them to take action. I tried this with a spate of graffiti on my Ward (on Woodhall Road) and I was impressed with the outcome – details below.

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SP Energy Networks – Just call 0800 092 9290 with details of the exact location. 

OR

BT Open Reach – Just Call 0800 023 2023 and select option 1. Most BT boxes are clearly marked. 

Virgin Media

Virgin Media – Just Call 0330 333 0444 with the exact location. Virgin Media boxes often have a small logo at the end.