Monday 23 February 2009

Public consultation

The consultation meeting at St James' tonight was ace. The place was packed - at least eighty people turned out to make their voice heard. Excellent questions were put, some of which couldn't be answered.

One which really had parents concerned was bus provision. There's no direct bus from the Calton to Alexandra Parade, so it had been suggested that buses might be provided to take pupils the 1.3 miles between the schools. Fine and dandy, you might think, until it was revealed that there would be no supervision of pupils on the bus (other than from the bus driver, who ought to have his eyes elsewhere!). Parents were understandably worried about their children - some as young as four - being left to their own devices for the trip, and made it quite clear that they felt that was unacceptable.

I was very pleased at the quality of the questioning; officials were left in no doubt why the community opposes this proposal.

Public consultation meeting tonight

Big night for the parents and friends of St James' Primary tonight - the Council's consultation meeting starts at 7pm. Come show your support!

Saturday 21 February 2009

Marching in the East

I'm going back... way back. I've decided to date this post from when I meant to blog it, which was last Saturday. Otherwise, the following posts won't make sense!

On the 14th, schools supporters from across Glasgow came together to show their opposition to the schools closures proposed by the Labour administration of Glasgow City Council.

On the 21st, supporters of St James Primary School and Queen Mary Street Nursery came together to march from Queen Mary Street to St James' to demonstrate their willingness to save their schools. Parents proposed to move the nursery to the primary to save what they have.

I only got a few pictures of the demo and march, but it was a great turn out, and massive credit has to go to the parents, especially Kelly and Angela, for their work to pull the march off. It was a great show of strength, and made the wider community (including the smokers standing outside every pub at Bridgeton Cross) aware of how important this campaign is.

More excellent photos are available here, taken by the SSP's Rikki Reid.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Purcell in the Times

I was very confused on reading this article in the Times today - which had the headline Glasgow schools 'being left to rot by SNP'. Had we suddenly become solely responsible for Glasgow's tumble-down schools? Had we fallen into some parallel universe where we, not Labour, had been the administration in Glasgow since time immemorial?

Of course not - it was just Glasgow's Dear Leader mouthing off to a helpfully placed Labour hackette,
harking back to the glory days of PFI. Cllr Purcell says;

“It depresses me when I look down south and see Public Private Partnership contracts being signed week after week.”

Well, it depresses me too. It worries me. PFI has been discredited, written off, and found to be a crap way of funding public works. Private Eye covers more of PFI's difficulties in the credit crunch era, and a quick google will turn up various examples of PFI's failings. The debacle over fixing poorly designed ventilation in Glasgow's PFI schools cost the Council some £8m - and set a precendent for future costs being borne by the Council, not the PFI contractor.

What Labour won't admit is that, only last week, they refused to consider the SNP's budget proposals which would have saved the Council around £20m and found money to transform Glsagow's five 'condition D' schools into buildings we could be proud of (for those with only fuzzy knowledge of schools condition surveys, a senior official in Education described 'condition D' to our group as "D for Dangerous"). Interestingly, one of the schools posing a risk to health and safety was in Steven Purcell's own ward.

SNP Education spokesperson in the Council, Patricia Gibson, found that her twenty minute telephone conversation with Ms Davidson didn't result in anything like partiality, so she is submitting the following letter to the Times. In case they neglect to print it, I got her permission to reproduce it here...

Dear Editor,

I have to say that I read today’s article on School Closures in Glasgow, Glasgow’s Schools “are left to rot by SNP” with utter disbelief.

At the Emergency Council meeting in Glasgow, Councillor Purcell stated clearly, and this was echoed by Councillor Gordon Matheson, Convenor of Education in Glasgow, that the Proposed Primary Estate Management Plan was not about money but about improving education in Glasgow.

According to the comments from Purcell as reported in this story, clearly this position has changed. The entire article focused on budgetary considerations.

Furthermore, to suggest, as he does, that this process is necessary since the schools involved are in a poor condition, is bewildering since the five Category D schools in Glasgow, which are not fit for purpose, are not included in these proposals at all, ie Stonedyke Primary School, St. Roch’s Primary School, St. Joseph’s Primary School, St. Mark’s Primary School and Thornwood Primary School.

To blame the Scottish Government for this state of affairs is laughable. The Labour Party has run Glasgow for 50 years. The Scottish Government has been in power for less than 2 years. This clearly smacks of cheap political point scoring by Councillor Purcell and his coterie and a refusal to take responsibility for failing to invest in education in Glasgow.

If this is about budgetary concerns, as Councillor Purcell appears now to be saying, perhaps he could explain why £60m was spent on the Glasgow Riverside Museum, or why £7m has been committed to the King’s Theatre or why £8m has been paid to private contractors to fix faulty ventilation systems in our PFI schools, since the original contract did not guarantee the work undertaken which then had to be paid for again in order to put right? That is a total of £75m on projects which clearly Cllr Purcell has prioritised over improving primary school buildings.

So instead of whinging and blaming the Scottish Government for decay and decline which has taken place under the 50 year watch of the Labour Party in Glasgow, he would be better served spending the substantial budget he has, which has increased under the current Scottish Government, on Glasgow’s schools instead of profligacy in other areas.

And it is further bewildering to hear that SNP led Fife Council is pressing ahead with six new or refurbished schools, since according to Cllr Purcell this is not possible.

It is time Cllr Purcell does the honourable thing and admits he has been utterly disingenuous throughout this entire matter with pupils, staff and parents across Glasgow and continues to dangerously play politics with education in Glasgow.

Glasgow’s children deserve better.


Councillor Patricia Gibson

SNP Education Spokesperson

Meetings and events

Today's going to be hectic - and very conversation-heavy. It sounds odd to my other half, who speaks mostly to computers, but a significant part of my job is listening to people. Speaking too obviously, but the listening's the really important part. Remembering what was said by whom and when, and what action I've to take when I get back to the office is a bit more challenging, especially when all the meetings are back to back.

This morning, I've got a meeting with parents from St James' and Queen Mary Street at 9.15, and a Royal visit to the opening of the Community Fire House at Calton Fire Station at 10.15. This afternoon, I've got the pantomime of Full Council at 1.30 and then casework to catch up on with several constituents to call back. I'm also still trying to get hold of some facts'n'figures for the school closure meetings next week.

If I get all my work done, I hope to go and see Motherwell play St Mirren tonight in the cup. Events have kept me away from the football for weeks, so it'd be great to make it along. It has the advantage of being able to switch the conversational part of my brain off for a wee while!

Saturday 14 February 2009

Schools on the march

Today saw hundreds of parents and children descend on to George Square for a city-wide demo against the Labour administration of Glasgow City Council's school closure proposals (or "modernisation strategy" as they prefer to call it).

For the parents from St James' Primary and Queen Mary Street Nursery in my ward, this is a bigger fight than keeping schools open - it's about protecting the community as a whole. Their 2 become 1 campaign aims to move Queen Mary Street Nursery into St James' Primary, which keeps the children in the community and safeguards the future of the school. The parents really did themselves proud today - I'm fairly chuffed too that the BBC have chosen to illustrate their closure coverage with a child holding a banner in support of this particular campaign!

There was a great turnout from the schools and nurseries in the city, despite the grim and overcast weather, and the march went well. I was left with the impression that people who came along were bolstered and strengthened for the fight ahead.

Parkhead closure goes ahead

I've taken some time to get over my anger that Parkhead Fire Station is set to close. I, and other SNP colleagues on the Fire Board, asked the questions that needed asked around safety and service provision. We criticised the public consultation, which had received suspiciously low responses from the public. We queried why those comments which were against the proposals got played down in the response to the consultation. Buried at the back, these included:

"I trust that you will not claim in your ‘full consultation report’ that this event and your ‘business plan’ has in any way the support of this community council - since the event was clearly designed to exclude any meaningful participation by working people in general and by this Community Council in particular."

"The FBU presented a petition with over 2000 signatures asking for the Board of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue to retain Parkhead Fire Station. The petition stated that a slower and less efficient service would be provided and no account was being taken of planned regeneration works. The premise of this petition was therefore misleading."

"Our overall conclusion, then, has to be somewhat guarded:
The Public Meetings did not demonstrate a widespread public opposition to the proposals – because they were poorly attended and because fire service personnel were so influential in articulating concerns that were taken up by others;"

In the end, we still got outvoted 17 - 6.

Credit must go to the FBU, who did so much work to raise awareness in the local community and told the other side story.

I got an assurance from the Chief Officer after the meeting that Parkhead will remain open until the new station is built. This may take around two years.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Indygal makes the news

Anne's blog has been making the news - not least because she's been thrust into the position of becoming Scotland's newest MSP in the saddest of circumstances.

Most reports on her blogging career have come in diary pieces, so I'm a bit concerned by the tone of today's article in the Daily Record.

Labour really are doing their best to smear a story out of nothing, and have been gleefully aided and abetted by the Record in this case. Glasgow's "eastender" has rather ridiculously called for an apology to Parliament. How she thinks that's even appropriate when the comment was made two weeks ago, I can't begin to imagine...

Anne has been blogging for nearly two years now. She's been a candidate, been to Sri Lanka, and updated the world with many aspects of her life. She's more open than most in her blog, and it's this frankness that makes her blog so readable. It's useful for her friends as well as her followers to know what's going on in Anne's life - everyone's so busy these days that blogging and facebook updates are often the only way of keeping up with what goes on in the lives of our friends.

Blogs are both serious and irreverant, they give an insight into people's lives, they give comment on events. I'm guessing this, along with freedom of speech in general, is something Labour just don't understand. By attacking bloggers in the press, they shut down debate and cause the more timid of us to get cagey about what we blog and when we blog. Labour's Kezia Dugdale has recently dipped her toes back in the water after being scared off; others have given up on the catharsis of blogging for a variety of reasons. The blogosphere needs many voices to make it worthwhile; I don't want to see someone so committed to blogging feel that all of a sudden they can't speak their mind.

Anne's "offending" post on the goings on on budget day was actually interesting. On the whole, we don't get to see things this way. Her photoblog (separate to her usual blog) was a fly-on-the-wall, behind the scenes account. It doesn't target any one party unfairly, and all the pictures of non-SNP politicans were taken in the public spaces of the Parliament (mainly the Garden Lobby, where any member of the public can access). The things she picked up on were of public interest, and illustrated how tense the day was. We get media comment, we get diary pieces, we get innuendo in Wholly Rude; it's up to bloggers to fill in the personal interest.

I don't know whether Anne will feel it appropriate to continue blogging as freely as she has done. I think it's understandable if she takes a step back; I would however love to hear where this next adventure takes her, and whether she gets over the loss of her car.

PS - don't know how the Guardian got the photo above, but it's mine. I took it and I'm not credited! For shame.

School closure update

Since I last wrote, things have moved on in the school closure campaign. I've met several more times with parents from St James Primary and Queen Mary Street Nursery, along with local ministers. The group has agreed a date for placard making - this Wednesday at 6.30 in Bridgeton Community Learning Centre - and arranged for two public demonstrations on the 14th and the 21st. The parents have set up a bebo site too, where local people are pledging support.

The parents have suggested moving Queen Mary Street into St James, which would keep both and save a little on the running costs of Queen Mary Street. I've been meeting also with my Labour ward colleagues, and we're starting to put together a business case. There are significant social and educational reasons for keeping the schools, particularly with the backdrop of health stats in the East End.

The details of the affected schools are on the Council website - if you have a view, please please make your voice heard.

Sunday 8 February 2009


I was in the pub on Friday night with the usual suspects, when Bill got a call from Sandra. He left us to answer it and came back to tell us Bashir had passed away suddenly. None of us could quite believe it. How could a man who had been out visiting constituents that very afternoon be gone?

The rapidity of customs in Islam meant that Bashir was buried yesterday less than twenty-four hours since he died. I can't begin imagine how traumatic that must be for his family and close friends, but I saw from the people at the funeral yesterday that everyone will support one another. The shock on the faces around me was plain to see. The funeral was packed; it was a great testament to Bashir that so many came to see him off.

It was so strange to see him in his casket - I couldn't get my head around how small he seemed. In life, he was a generous, kind gentleman, and always seemed larger than life to me. For me, it was the small things that he did that characterised this; dropping off boxes of mangos to the rooms in Glasgow East, making sure we were all being looked after at Osama's adoption. He inspired the next generations to join our cause, and for that we cannot give enough thanks.

Scotland and Glasgow will never be the same. He will be missed.

Monday 2 February 2009

Petition letters handed in

The consultation on the proposal to close Parkhead Fire Station closed on the 23rd of January, so I headed to Hamilton to hand in the hundred and twenty or so written responses I received from the people of Parkhead. There should be a decision in the offing soon, but I hope the efforts of everyone involved in the campaign won't be in vain.