Tuesday 24 March 2009

Exciting news from Dundee

"Friends as you know I’m not long back from Washington D.C. and I said to people there that I couldn’t stay long, because I was off to Dundee.

And they asked Dundee Michigan, Dundee Illinois or Dundee Oregon?

I said the original Dundee.

They asked what state was it in?

It’s in a great state, I replied.

It’s got a Labour council."

Gordon Brown, Labour Conference Speech, 6th March 2009

Since the SNP's emphatic win in the Maryfield by-election on the 12th of March, negotiations have been ongoing to remove the Labour/LibDem/Tory administration from Dundee. There will be a special full meeting of Council on the 30th of March, but ahead of this the tension appears to have gotten too much for the Labour Lord Provost John Letford, who has stepped down from the Labour party to go independent.

Provost Letford said in the Courier “I have been trying to persuade my ex-colleagues for nearly two years to recognise the fact that, in the interests of the city and fair play, Dundee City Council committee conveners should be compiled from all parties... It is ludicrous to believe all the political talent required to run a city is only available in the administration and exclude half of the councillors”.

That doesn't sound like a group in a great state, never mind a Council. The anti-democratic anyonebuttheSNP administration in the city has most recently been criticised for the condition of it's Council housing. When I went up to lend a hand during the by-election campaign I spoke to plenty of scunnered Dundonians who were desperate to kick the administration out of office. I also found out how unhappy some Dundee Council employees are with those in control. What's needed isn't a rainbow coalition - it's a wind of change.

The make up of the Council is now:
14 SNP
8 Labour
3 Conservatives
2 Liberal Democrats
2 Independents

Friday 6 March 2009

If you're a teenage mum, who can you ask for help?

I would guess, if you're a teenage mum living in Glasgow South, Tom Harris MP is certainly not who you're going to go to for a sympathetic listening ear. The outburst on his blog has attracted a lot of media interest from across the left, right and religious spectrum.

I wouldn't deny that there's a problem in society when young teenagers find themselves having sex and young girls end up pregnant. Dealing with unexpected and unwanted pregnancy isn't a situation any of us would want to find ourselves in. Whatever choice teenage mums have to make, that choice is never going to be easy, and they will live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of their lives. If there is no commitment from their partner, or support from their parents, that decision has to be made alone.

Tom Harris is a male, married, middle aged, middle class, educated and well paid Member of Parliament (incidentally, with sons rather than daughters). In his blog post, he almost manages to put himself in the position of the father of a teenage mother. Almost. The father may well be hopping mad, in denial, disappointed, and fearful, but what good would showing that do to his daughter? They've probably had that fight already. Summoning pride and hope in support of a daughter who may well be terrified herself is surely better than arguments and recriminations; once the baby has been born, that moment has long past.

I wonder if he has tried to put himself in the postion of the daughter. Fear. Panic. Worry. Hope. The coming realisation that no matter what they do, they are now tied to live with the child they brought into the world. Education, work, relationships are all bundled up into that.

I've heard from friends that recently had children - married people, as it happens - about how challenging the whole parenting thing is. How much harder must that be on your own?

There are education programmes being developed to give young people a better chance of understanding their bodies, and learning the self esteem to be able to make decisions in their own best interests. I hope that Sexual Health and Relationship Education (SHARE) will make the difference to the generations growing up today. Parents are intended to be part of this education, and they need to feel able to encourage their children in a positive way.

I hinted at the difference between attitudes to boys and girls by their parents earlier. There are very different attitudes to sex and relationships by gender, and this needs to be tackled as part of young people's development. Put simply, girls don't get pregnant on their own.

For those who have had their babies, we need to assist where we can. Offer childcare places and routes into training and employment. Offer parenting classes where they are needed, or just finding ways to lend a hand. There are ways of preventing or breaking the benefits cycle and these are better to be carrots rather than sticks.

The teenage mums who have visited my surgeries aren't looking for handouts. They're looking for the best start they can give their children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. If that happens to be a warm, secure home, then fine. It's a start, and when their home life is on track, I believe other things will eventually follow.

It's not my job to judge the people who ask for my assistance - as an elected representative it's my job to do my best for each and every one of my constituents. With his moralising patronising tone, Tom Harris risks alienating the constituents who need him most.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Recycling in the East

It was chilly yesterday, but there was a great turnout of press, local school pupils, and a few politicians for the opening of the new state of the art recycling centre at Tesco Shettleston, the first automated recycling centre in Scotland. The pupils were from the Eco-Committee at Wellshot Primary, with one pupil having designed a great poster which graces the outside of the recycling machine.

The centre is a bold statement, and represents a considerable investment by Tesco of £150,000. The automated recycling machine designed by Tomra of Norway crushes and granulates materials on site, reducing the number of times it has to be emptied by lorry, and improving efficiency in recycling.

A wider range of items can be recycled on site than before -
glass bottles and jars, steel and aluminium food and drink cans, plastic bottles (such as milk containers and soft drink/ water bottles), yoghurt pots and plastic food trays. Being Tesco, you even get Clubcard points for what you recycle!

The Scottish Government's recycling targets are ambitious, and Glasgow has had a historically poor record of recycling. I know staff in Land and Environmental Services are keen to improve, and much is being done. Assistance from business is important in the bigger picture to reduce waste and improve our recycling performance; as they say, every little helps...

Breaking new ground

I was pleased to attend Thenew Housing Association's groundbreaking ceremony for a new housing development in my ward, on land at the triangle formed by Baltic Street, Albany Street and Dunn Street. Staff were telling me that, while they've taken on the ownership of existing housing in the area, these were the first houses they were building themselves in this part of the city. A lot of the cases I get at my surgeries are housing - related, so these twenty four extra homes will make a difference.

It was also fascinating to hear from one of Thenew's committee members who remembered the street when it last had homes on it back in the 1960s.

Thenew were also having a drop in for people in the Calton later that day to show their plans for new housing on London Road and Green Street. I've heard some constituents are uneasy about one aspect of these plans, a purpose-built unit to be run by Aberlour Child Care Trust. I've visited one of their projects, and was very impressed by the safe and secure service they provide. I appreciate local people might be concerned and uncertain about this; I'm happy to meet up with them to discuss the plans further.