Monday 27 April 2009

My small piece of tarmac

I recently asked Land and Environmental Services if there was anything they could do about the state of the access footpath from the Gallowgate down into Camlachie.

The rutted surface had made getting a buggy or wheelchair across very difficult, and it would also be a hindrance to those not so steady on their feet.

I use the path almost every time I go into the area, as I tend to walk or take the bus to go to things in my ward.

I was delighted that LES very quickly came up with a solution (so quickly I suspected someone else must have asked!), but they confirmed they'd done it after receiving my email. I'm sure you'll agree, it looks good! As I'd raised a few issues about the area, they're also doing a litter pick, and are looking into improving the local environment.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Labour goes a bit saggy

Mildly amusing news today of underwear entrepreneur Michelle Mone withdrawing her support from the Labour Party. As one of those who signed the "union list" back in 2007, I wouldn't imagine she'll jump to the SNP, but it is interesting that she's joining an increasing list of high profile business people who are backing away from Labour. Could this be signs of a developing political cleavage?*

* TM Byron Criddle, University of Aberdeen, 2000-2004.

School closures... now I've calmed down

I've waited until now to post so I could do so with a clear head. I was incandescent on Thursday, angry, upset and frustrated at the way in which Labour behaved in the Council meeting. If I had posted straight away, I'd almost certainly have been carted off to the Standards Commission. I am still incredibly disappointed at the stage management of the Labour Group, where they were permitted to move against closures in their own wards, but obliged to support closures everywhere else. This was particularly ludicrous when some of the arguments in each case were so similar.

The way in which Labour acted does a huge disservice to those who campaigned, marched, occupied and petitioned. I spent time in Wheatley House reading each and every response for St James' Primary, Queen Mary Street Nursery and Mile End Nursery. I was moved and impressed by the responses, and they strengthened my resolve. I know from the sign-in sheet in the reception that not many Councillors bothered to read these. As far as I could see, no Labour Councillor had done so. This is a huge derogation of their responsibility to their constituents and the people of this city.

By contrast with my feelings about the callous way Labour Councillors acted, I was very proud of my colleagues in the SNP, and fellow opposition members from the Greens, Lib Dems, and the Conservative. We challenged, we reasoned, we let the world (or at least the public gallery) know why the proposals were flawed and wrong. I've since had emails from those in the gallery, and I know how they saw things. The Save Merrylee Nursery website has a good synopsis.

I met with some staff and parents from St James' Primary on Friday morning and the sense of betrayal was palpable. They know how damaged their community will be; this blow is the last thing Calton needs. The challenge now is to see pupils through to the end of term and ensure their education doesn't suffer as a result of this decision.

I know that all SNP politicians are now looking to find some way of appealing and overturning these decisions. The guidelines for this are narrow, but if there's a way, we will find it.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Closure vote today

The Council will meet at 1.30 this afternoon to discuss and vote on the closure proposals. I remain hopeful that enough Labour Councillors will see the error in some of the proposals to change their minds.

I've had a lot of emails from parents from different schools and nurseries across the city, and I've been hugely impressed by the very reasoned and researched points they have made. They know that these proposals, and this process is flawed, but they've stayed determined. I am sure your views will be put across in the chamber this afternoon. It could be a long day.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Participation or manipulation?

Sorry for leaving you hanging over the weekend. I did see the consultation responses, but I've been mulling over whether to reveal my thoughts on what I saw. I think I've found the 4% who supported the closures.

Flicking through the responses, there were a large number from children at recieving schools. I've no problem with young people giving their views and being involved, but it has to be meaningful. I don't think this was true of younger children.

One child wrote:
1. I like my school
2. I like sooperman and spiderman
3. I like football

This will sit alongside the most well-researched counter-argument as an equally valid response.

The consultation responses are being held in a room in Wheatley House, and members of the public can view them on weekdays between 9 and 4. I recommend you take a look.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Consultation Response Update

I'm deeply disappointed that the establishments in my ward, St James' Primary, Queen Mary Street Nursery and Mile End Nursery have all been recommended for closure.

The consultation responses and their appendices (where the interesting stuff is buried) have now made it on to the Glasgow City Council website. I have heard that the Lib Dems got a rougher deal than the SNP Group, not having received the information on the responses before lunchtime. The Greens may have had them by mid-morning. Nice that we're all treated consistently...

The Evening Times
reports that;

Despite 96% of those who responded being against the proposals, the ruling
Labour group on the city council voted 31-6 to press ahead with the proposals.

All parents in the City should make a point of speaking to their Labour Councillors, and demanding to know how they voted, and why they failed to persuade their colleagues. They should also double check the lists of respondents in the appendices to see whether their Councillors put in an objection to these closure plans.

450 responses were received by the Council for St James' Primary, 251 for, 188 against and 11 unclear. It's deeply interesting that the receiving school, Alexandra Parade Primary, had 280 responses filled in by pupils. They will receive £75,000 towards improvements to accommodate the pupils from St James'. I'm going over to Education shortly to see the responses for myself, and am sure they will make interesting reading.

145 responses were received by the Council for
Queen Mary Street Nursery, but parents have told me that a 20 page petition was also submitted. This isn't mentioned anywhere, and I'm very concerned at the thought that this could go missing.

I'll post another update later, once I've seen the responses in the flesh.

School closures -rumours abound

Rumours are flying around the office this morning about which schools Education have proposed to save. We knew Labour were being briefed yesterday afternoon, and the SNP were due to have the proposals for 9am this morning. At 9.56, these have still not arrived. The Evening Times has a scrolling banner headline saying they have the details, and we've got any news we have through them.

This is totally unacceptable behaviour by the Labour administration, aided and abetted by the Education Department. We meet with Education officials at 10.30, by which time the early editions of the Times will be hitting the streets with no chance for us to comment.

The worse thing about this is the abuse of democracy. The full meeting of Glasgow City Council will take the final decision on these proposals next Thursday. I am appalled at the way this has been spun to make it look like the decision - which lies in the hands of democratically elected Councillors, not Education officials - has already been taken. Labour majority or not, that is wrong and makes a mockery of democracy in this city.

Education Consultation Responses to be Released

Big day today in Glasgow City Council; the responses to the schools closures consultation will be released on the web at 9am. This will give some kind of indication of those still on the closure list, and if any will be saved. I hope to give an update during the day.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Things I do...

I tend to walk a lot in my ward. I'm not sure whether a lot of Councillors do, but I think it's important because you pick up a lot of details on your way.

Some of the things I notice aren't really that exciting. They're problems with litter, cracks in the pavement, potholes, blocked drains and bricks that have come loose from a wall. I know that these things matter to people, and affect the way we feel about our communities. I take a photo if I can* and report the problem the appropriate department of the Council, often Land and Environmental Services. They fix what they can, and send me a reply, then I check that it's been done.

I don't know if people notice the difference, and there's certainly no sign to say Councillor Thewliss got that fixed for you. Trying to make things better is a big part of what I do, and I've put a few of the recent ones below. I hope they helped someone!

Bellgrove Street
I was doing my recycling here when I noticed there was no bin for people to put used poly bags in. Instead, people were stuffing them down the sides of the bins and they were getting loose and blowing about. I asked for a bin to be placed here so that people could dispose of their bags and other rubbish more easily.

Bridgeton Cross
I'd been out to meet with a group, and noticed the huge puddle outside the station. I reported the blocked drain to Land and Environmental Services, who investigated and cleared an obstruction from the outlet pipe to the main sewerage system. The gullies along London Road are also going to be checked.

Ogilvie Street/Canmore Street
I don't have a picture of this, but I noticed there was a lot of litter in the area. I've asked for it to be cleared up, and I hope this will be done in the next week or so.

Bluevale Street at Inglis Street
There's a persistent problem with fly tipping here; it's a real eyesore. I've asked Land and Environmental Services to clear it up and try harder to prevent it happening in future.

Duke Street down from John Wheatley College
There's a three consecutive street lights not working here, so I asked LES to get them fixed.

* I now have the most incredible selection of photos of potholes, graffiti and litter!

Monday 6 April 2009

Timing is everything, and this isn't it

I get a fair amount of email dropping into my inbox every day at work. Some of it is from constituents, some from my colleagues, and some of it is unsolicited and gets deleted after I've had a quick swatch. Late yesterday afternoon, I received a mass email addressed to all Council staff that surprised me so much I had to read it again. Here it is:

I'm sure we all have our own special memories of life at school - some good, perhaps some not so good. But when was the last time you were actually in a school? How much has changed since you walked out of the school doors for the last time?

When you were at school, did you have Interactive Whiteboards, Media Suites, Social Streets? Or are you reading this and thinking "what are you talking about"? Well here is your chance to find out for yourself. A new exciting initiative is being offered to staff in 2009. Education Services are organising a number of 'Back To School' events, open to all Council staff and staff from the Councils' Arms Length External Organisations (ALEO's).

Glasgow's School Estate

The Council has radically improved the condition and quality of its education estate in the past 8 years. Since 2002 the Council has invested approximately £550m to ensure that children, young people and staff have high quality, vibrant learning and teaching environments that support the core objectives of raising attainment and achievement. A high number of schools in Glasgow have been transformed. Project 2002 resulted in Glasgow's secondary schools undertaking the biggest rebuilding and refurbishment programme ever seen in the United Kingdom. Project 2002 underlined the commitment of the City Council to investing in education. The end result of the project was 11 brand new secondary schools and 18 secondary schools totally refurbished, some with major extensions built.

The Council recognised that the reform could not be restricted to the secondary sector and therefore brought forward the Pre 12 Strategy. We are currently in Phase 4 of this project - full details are available at -

Education Services want to increase awareness throughout the Council of the positive impact of the investment in 21st century schools. So we are 'opening the gates' to our schools to allow council colleagues the chance to visit and see for themselves classrooms of the 21st Century. These proposed visits will also allow colleagues to have an increased awareness of the educational opportunities now on offer to our children and young people.

How to Apply for a Tour

Full details of this exciting new project, along with an application form for anyone interested in visiting a school, are available on Connect.

Tours will commence at 10am in specific schools and will finish off just before midday with a complimentary meal in the 'Fuel Zone' - the catering service provided by Direct and Care Services that has revolutionised catering in all primary and secondary schools - This will allow you the chance to compare school meals today with yesteryears delights such as mince, semolina and lumpy custard!

Staff will also have the option of making their own way to the school or alternatively Land and Environmental Services will arrange for transport to and from the school - leaving from, and returning to, Wheatley House on the day of the visits.

This message has been authorised for all Council distribution by Margaret Doran, Executive Director of Children and Families.

For a significant number of Council staff, it's part of their job to know what's going on in our schools. Some Council staff may get access to schools as parents, and will have an idea of what they're like. As an elected member, I'm in the schools and nurseries in my ward on a regular basis and I try to keep a handle on what's going on.

For the rest, I wonder what value a trip round Glasgow's schools will bring.
Will staff will get time off their work to go on this jolly outing? Why not wait for Doors Open Day? The campaigning parents of St Gregory's and Wyndford Primaries certainly didn't need an invitation!

I'm less than convinced that in these times of austerity what is needed is Education spending money on an open invitation to all Glasgow City Council employees to come and wander around school buildings. It sounds like there will also be cost implications to Land and Environmental Services for the minibuses and DACS/Cordia for meals.

The point of this exercise clearly isn't to give staff a true impression of the conditions children are taught in. It's not about nostalgia or letting staff go back to school. The schools that have been selected aren't among the five "Category D for Dangerous" school buildings, or even among the Cs and Ds. These tours won't show flaky paint, leaking roofs, pitted playgrounds, or point out the foliage sprouting from the gutters. Visitors won't get the chance to sit in drafty classrooms with their coats and mittens on to keep them warm.

They'll be visiting these selected schools:

Primary - 22nd April

  • Ashpark Primary
  • Avenue End Primary
  • Castleton Primary
  • Merrylee Primary
  • St Maria Goretti Primary

Secondary - 23rd April

  • All Saints Secondary
  • Drumchapel High
  • Knightswood Secondary
  • St Andrew's Secondary
  • St Thomas Aquinas Secondary

I don't seek to do Glasgow schools down by this post. The effort and high standards of the vast majority of teaching staff in sometimes difficult circumstances is admirable. The new schools Glasgow has invested in are impressive. For older schools, however, basic maintenance has been skimped over years. In some cases, we don't need new schools; we just need to look after what we have.

For me, the timing is pretty tactless. In a matter of weeks, Councillors in Glasgow will decide whether to close dozens of schools and nurseries across the city. This
a diversionary PR exercise, nothing less.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Norwegian generosity

I noticed amongst my news feeds during the week, while the G20 were fretting over the future of the world economy and the UK Government starts to consider calling the IMF, there was a small article on Reuters which gave an indication of where some of this bailout money was coming from.

Oil-rich Norway said on Saturday it was ready to offer up to 30 billion crowns ($4.56 billion) to support the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and called for the fund to play a bigger role in supervising financial markets.

Fancy that. Labour have been gleefully gunning for the arc of prosperity, but here we have cast iron evidence of how a small, oil rich nation can contribute to the world. Norway have invested their oil wealth, rather than squander it across the decades. $4.46 billion is pocket money in a fund worth $300 billion. Remarkably, this generosity comes at a time when their oil fund isn't even in the peachiest of health.

How much better off would we be as a nation if North Sea oil had been invested in this way? What do we have to show for striking black gold? As a Scottish Nationalist, you would expect me to argue the It's Scotland's Oil case. And yes, it's ours. The McCrone revelations showed that our only mistakes were underestimation of our potential wealth, and stopping our campaign too soon. I believe that we have been incredibly lucky to have oil. The majority of nations have not been so fortunate, but not having oil hasn't hindered their independence.

I have heard the SNP accused by unionists of various political persuasions of being selfish and greedy for even trying to ask for our fair share of our oil revenues to spend or invest. Who's to say that if we had taken a truely prudent approach back in the seventies that we wouldn't be able to give our neighbours a helping hand?

Norway's example of how to make the most of a finite resource should be an example to the UK government. It's not too late.