Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Carol Concert St James Church

The annual Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Carol Concert took place at St James Church earlier tonight. A large congregation packed the church to sing carols and to hear the Christmas message through a series of well chosen readings.

The programme was enhanced by beautiful singing from the Choir of Eastern Primary School. The photograph caught some of the actions and movements from the children during their lively and spirited performance of 'Must be Santa' which received the heartiest round of applause.

Undoubtedly, the congregation also gave generously to the funding of the lifeboat which tonight was not called out to a rescue but tied up on its moorings just beyond The Lifeboat Church.

Over 700 sign petition to keep night cover (at Balmossie)

Over 700 sign petition to keep night cover

"OVER 700 people braved the wintry conditions on Saturday to sign a petition against proposed changes to full-time night cover at Balmossie fire station."

Read the full story in the Dundee Courier


Don't Downgrade Balmossie Fire Station

Towards A Safer Tayside 2010/11, the forward plan for Tayside Fire and Rescue, has recently been issued for public consultation. One of the key changes proposed is the downgrading of Balmossie Fire Station which serves Broughty Ferry, Monifieth and their landward areas out to Monikie. One of the fire crews and one of the two fire engines currently based at Balmossie will be redeployed to Forfar. The consultation period will close on Monday 8 March 2010.

This morning Katrina Murray, (Prospective Labour Candidate for Dundee East Westminster Constituency), Councillor Brian Gordon and I joined members of the Fire Brigades' Union at Campfield Square shopping Centre in Barnhill where we helped to collect 350 public responses to the Tayside Fire and Rescue Board's consultation.

In a press release:

Katrina Murray said:
"The reasons why its wrong to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station are just as valid this year as they were last year. These proposed cuts will affect the day to day safety of not just the people served by this fire station but all of the folk in Dundee and Carnoustie whose fire and rescue crews will need to cover this loss. I can't think why the four SNP councillors from Dundee, who attended the Fire and Rescue Board on 16 November, voted in favour of reducing fire crews at Balmossie. I encourage voters in the area served by Balmossie fire station to make their voices heard through the consultation. I shall work hard to reverse this ill conceived and dangerous proposal."

Laurie Bidwell said:
“Withdrawing the full time crew on night shift from Balmossie will mean that there may be unacceptable delays in getting a fire crew and fire engine to a night time fire. Waiting for retained crew members to get up from their beds at home and make their way to Balmossie will delay this vital emergency service getting to the scene of a fire, road traffic accident or inland flood. I think most constituents in The Ferry find it reassuring that there is a 24 x 7 full time crew at their fire station ready to turn out in an instant to protect their lives and property.”


Tour of Grove Academy

This morning I was invited on a tour of Grove Academy who moved into phase two of their new school buildings last month. The school has fully removed from the old Grove and is now accommodated in, and enjoying, their impressive new accommodation built as part of Labour's PPP programme in the city. I am sure these will facilitate enhanced teaching and learning and through this higher levels of attainment and achievement.

The school has many additional facilities not contained in their previous building including an assembly hall, dance studio, fitness suite and swimming pool. These outstanding facilities are contained in a wing next to the school's main entrance on Claypotts Road carefully designed for dual use by the community. From March/April 2010, Dundee Leisure will take over managing these facilities out of school hours. After six pm week nights, over weekends and during school holidays members of the public will be able to use the gyms and swimming pool. Interestingly, the opening of the swimming pool will fulfill one of the long outstanding conditions contained in the agreement for the annexation of Broughty Ferry into Dundee in 1913. Well done Dundee City Council!

Baldragon Academy Christmas Concert

Earlier this evening I enjoyed attending the annual Christmas Concert at Baldragon Academy in Dundee. The programme included many fine performances from pupils and staff. I was particularly impressed with the proportion of boys singing and playing instuments in a variety of combinations. I especially enjoyed the percussion ensemble whose 'Hey ya!' was played on varying lengths of plastic tubes. The music department is to be congratulated for the wealth of musical talents it has fostered and coached to an entertaining standard. Very well done Baldragon!


Grove Academy Top Dundee Comprehensive School in Herald League Tables

Congratulations to staff and pupils at Grove Academy for their position as the highest performing Dundee Comprehensive School in The Herald's League Tables of Secondary Schools in Scotland. They are comfortably placed at 37th in Scotland's top 50 performing schools. These league tables have been calculated by comparing the higher exam results from each school on the basis of S5 pupils gaining 5 or more Highers at one sitting. 19% of Grove pupils achieved passes in 5 or more Highers in the SQA examinations in May/June 2008. Without detracting from their performance, league tables like this do come with a health warning.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, quoted in The Herald today said:
“Once again, we have the annual ritual of trying to give parents information which helps them choose a school, but what we end up with is often very misleading because what league tables tend to show you is the affluence of the catchment area, ­rather than the input of the schools or the effort of the teachers. Exam results give you no indication of how much value is added. If you were trying to measure what a school does you need to measure what level a young person is when they enter the school and compare that to where they are when they leave, and exams do not do that – they give no indication of the contribution the school has made.”

For that reason, when I was Education Convener of the City Council (May 2007 - April 2009, I encouraged the Directorate to work with our schools to collect the data to also publish 'valued added' tables that can measure the difference between a pupil's starting points on entry into primary one and secondary year one and their exit level of attainment on leaving secondary school. Jim Collins, Director of Education, should clarify whether the Council has now collected the data to be able to publish value added tables for our schools. The new Education Convener, Liz Fordyce (SNP), should clarify whether she is willing to publish these results.


Towards A Safer Tayside 2010/11 November 2009 Out for Consultation

Towards A Safer Tayside 2010/11, the forward plan for Tayside Fire and Rescue, has recently been issued for public consultation. Residents in Broughty Ferry should study these carefully. One of the key changes proposed is the downgrading of Balmossie Fire Station that serves, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth and their landward areas out to Monikie. One of the fire crews and one of the two fire engines currently based at Balmossie will be redeployed to Forfar. The consultation period lasts until early February. Don't say you haven't been warned. Protest and survive!

View or Download Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11 Consultation November 2009

Fill in the Response Questionnaire online

Request a printed copy of the "Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11 Consultation November 2009", a comments/response sheet and a reply paid envelope from:

Tayside Fire and Rescue
Fire and Rescue Headquarters
Blackness Road

Tel: 01382 322222
Fax: 01382 200791


Dundee Choral Union - Caird Hall Sunday 13 December 2009

I attended Dundee Choral Union's Christmas Concert, earlier this evening in the Caird Hall. The programme comprised:
  • Serenade For Strings by Elgar
  • Gloria by Rutter
  • Choral Fantasy by Beethoven and
  • Mass Of The Children by Rutter.

The performers included:

  • Dundee Choral Union - comprising 34 sopranos, 38 contraltos, 11 tenors and 23 basses
  • National Youth Choir of Scotland
  • Chloe Marger, Pianist
  • Soprano and Baritone Guest Soloists and the
  • Orchestra of Scottish Opera.
Tonight's performance did not disappoint. In fact it was a wonderful musical preparation for Christmas.

The Choral Union, established in 1858, 'to practise and execute chiefly sacred music' is, I think, one of our most enduring and outstanding cultural organisations in the city.


Carol Singing at Douglasfield Mecca

This afternoon, I enjoyed singing with staff and pupils from Baldragon Academy who were caroling in the vestibule of Mecca bingo in Douglasfield. We were also very appropriately accompanied by four well behaved dogs as the group were raising funds for the Brown Street dog shelter. Bingo players arriving enjoyed the singing and gave generously. The School hope to raise more than last year's total of £70.

Education Cuts & Commitments in Dundee Must Be Declared to Early Meeting of Education Committee

The Education Department of Dundee City Council has, I understand, been asked to identify a 2% budget reduction for next year, a reduction of close to £3 million. In a budget mainly spent on teaching staff, this will mean fewer teachers or a drastic reduction in other budgets. At the same time, Mike Russell, the new SNP Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Scottish Government realises he cannot afford to pay for the SNPs big electoral promises on class size reduction, free school meals and increasing teacher numbers. He wants to scale down the SNP promises and renegotiate the Concordat between the Scottish Government and local authorities.

Our Council is being asked to respond by Christmas to these new Concordat proposals which will, if endorsed, mean that class size reductions are focused in a minority of city council schools. But which schools will benefit and which ones will miss out? Free school meals for P1-3 primary classes will only be provided in some Primary Schools. But which children will benefit and which children will miss out? What will be the effect of the combination of class size reductions in some P1-3 classes, some additional free school meals and the planned £3 million budget cuts? Does this mean that some schools will not only lose out on the smaller class sizes and free school meals as well as taking the brunt of the planned cuts? Will some primary schools who receive extras teachers to reduce class sizes perversely lose access to specialist support for learning teachers, classroom assistants and visiting specialist teachers of physical education and music?

Parents and carers in Dundee will expect that this magnitude of chopping and changing should not be dreamed up behind closed doors and quietly put in place in the next school session. They would expect that important issues like this are carefully scrutinised by the Education Committee. I call on Education Convener Liz Fordyce and Leader of the Council Ken Guild to agree to hold an emergency meeting of the Education Committee before Christmas to debate these issues before signing up to a new concordat that commits the Council to actions that may have a perverse effect on primary schooling throughout our city.


West End Schools' Site – Qualified Approval from Scottish Government – Time to Consult

I am pleased that Ministers in the Scottish Government have now made their decision about the West End Schools' site, which has been conveyed in a letter from the Schools Directorate in Edinburgh. The letter contains qualified approval for the site for the planned twin campus primary schools for the West End to replace the existing Park Place and St Joseph's Primary Schools. I note that the letter finishes by politely but firmly urging the Council to consult with and reassure the community on a number of contentious issues:

'I would ask that the Council acts on the three recommendations of HMIe (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education) by sharing and discussing its detailed plans for the joint campus with parents, by reassuring them regarding the two specific matters mentioned and by making clearer its plans and commitment for dedicated use of part of Victoria Park as playing fields by the two schools.'

It is clear from the government letter that there are now detailed plans not previously shared with elected members nor with parents and teachers. Parents, teachers and the Education Committee should be consulted and involved without delay.

Labour West End Councillor Richard McCready said:
"I welcome a decision being made, now it is time for the council to work with local people to deliver a solution which suits everyone. Clearly the report by the HMIe leaves a number of issues unresolved and makes the case that parents need to be engaged in the process. I hope that the Education Department set out a clear time scale which engages parents and the local community in bringing forward these proposals. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Leisure and Communities Department to discuss the impact of the proposals on Victoria Park. Victoria Park is a popular local park and if PE lessons are held there regularly this will change the nature of the park. Recently I asked the Director of Leisure and Communities about plans to use Victoria Park in this way and he stated that he knew of 'no such plans.' There is a need for joined up thinking if this proposal is to be brought forward. Overall the message is clear. If the Education Department want to bring this project to fruition, it must engage much more effectively with parents at all the schools in the West End and demonstrate that their concerns have been addressed.”


Chancellor's Pre-Budget Report December 2009

Earlier today, Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his Pre-Budget Report to the UK Westminster parliament. I think he has managed to skillfully combine investment to support economic recovery with measures to reduce the national debt while enhancing social protection for those most vulnerable to the negative effects of the recession. There are also green measures to enhance energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint.

I think the following proposals will be of interest to many of my constituents:

- Windfall tax on excessive city bonuses.
- Bingo duty to be cut from 22% to 20% for next year's Budget.

- Basic state pension will rise by 2.5% in April, a real-terms increase of nearly 4%.

- Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme for bank loans to small businesses to be extended for a further 12 months, guaranteeing a further £500m of loans.
- The Time To Pay scheme allowing firms to spread tax payments will be extended for as long as needed.
- Empty property relief threshold to be extended so that 70% of all empty properties will be exempt.

- Support for mortgage interest payments for the unemployed to be extended for a further six months.
- Minimum number of hours those over 65 need to work to receive Working Tax Credit to be reduced.
- Government to guarantee that anyone in work will always be better off than they were on benefits, with extra cash help from the Government if needed.

- Benefits linked to inflation, such as Child Benefit, will rise by 1.5%% in April.

- Government to double its commitment and finance four carbon capture and storage demonstration projects.
- New scrappage scheme to help up to 125,000 homes replace inefficient boilers, and changes to be made to the Climate Change Levy, company car tax and fuel benefit charge.
- From April, people with a home wind turbine or solar panels who send power back to the National Grid to receive an average tax-free payment of £900 a year.

- Electric cars to be exempted from company car tax for five years, with a 100% first year capital allowance for electric vans.

Update from Monday's Housing Committee

On Monday evening, at the the meeting of the Council's Housing, Dundee Contract Services and Environment Services Committee, I raised the issue of a complete absence of planned affordable housing developments in Broughty Ferry. For full details see No New Affordable Homes to Rent Planned in The Ferry in the Council's draft Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2010-15. My views received a sympathetic hearing. I am delighted to acknowledge that Director of Housing, Elaine Zwirlein and the Convener of Housing, Jimmy Black agreed to look constructively at proposals for affordable housing in Broughty Ferry when sites and resources are identified. I invite potential developers to contact the Council if they have any proposals for housing developments in Broughty Ferry which potentially include affordable housing including low cost home ownership and homes to rent.


Commemorating the Broughty Ferry Lifeboat Disaster - Tuesday, 8 December 1959

The Lifeboat Mona
(Peggy Seeger)


Remember December of fifty-nine

The howling wind and driving rain

Remember the gallant men who drowned

On the lifeboat, Mona was her name

The wind did blow and the sea rose up

Beat the land with mighty waves

At Saint Andrew's Bay the light ship fought

The sea until her moorings gave

The captain signalled to the shore

"We must have help or we'll go down"
From (Broughty) Ferry at two a.m.

They sent the lifeboat Mona

Eight men formed that gallant crew

They set their boat against the main

The wind's so hard and the sea's so rough

We'll never see land or home again

Three hours went by and the Mona called
The wind blows hard and the sea runs high

In the morning on (Carnoustie) Beach

The Mona and her crew did lie

Five lay drowned in the (Chalon) there

Two were washed up on the shore

Eight men died when the boat capsized

And the (eighth) is lost forever more

Remember December of fifty-nine

The howling wind and the driving rain

The men who leave the land behind

And the men who never see land again

Panmurefield Planning Appeal Decision

The planning appeal by developers for outline permission to build 20 detached houses in Panmurefield in the open space to the south of the Dighty and north of Inchcape Road in Broughty Ferry has been refused by a Planning Reporter. This appeal was initiated by the developer following the original refusal of outline planning consent by the City Council. In his summary, the Planning Inspector, wrote: "All of the site is designated as open space and as a wildlife corridor. The Development Plan presumes against the development of such land. Greenfield sites such as this are only considered for development where (unlike in the case of the appeal proposal) this has been demonstrated to be essential in order to provide adequate effective development land. ... I also consider that it would be inappropriate to accept the principle of developing this site when this would necessitate alterations to a listed building of which no details are known. The lack of information on the site access (which is likely to be unacceptably at risk of flooding) adds weight to my conclusion that the appeal should be dismissed."


No New Affordable Homes to Rent Planned in The Ferry

Later today, the Housing Committee of the City Council will be considering the adoption of the Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2010-15 in which no new affordable homes to rent are planned in The Ferry ward for the next five years.

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:
"I am concerned that the aspiration of many people in Broughty Ferry for an affordable home to rent is unlikely to be realised because the new Strategic Housing Investment Plan does not recognise them as a priority. As it stands, none of the 1000 new homes in the city over the five year life of the plan will be built in The Ferry. This is very disappointing news for people on the waiting list for an affordable home. This is also very unfair. The Ferry ward has the lowest proportion of social rented housing in Dundee and lengthening lists of new applicants and transfer applicants for housing. Many of the council and housing association homes built here over the years have been purchased under the 'right to buy' so there are a declining number of homes to rent from the council or a housing association. While there are many good quality owner occupied houses in The Ferry, not everyone wants to buy their own home or can afford to do this. This isn't just an issue for Ferry folk because many housing applicants in other parts of Dundee aspire to live in Broughty Ferry and are currently on the waiting list. For these reasons, I will be raising this at the Council meeting and demanding that, like the West End ward, new homes to rent in Broughty Ferry should be included in the plan. The announcement on Friday, by the Scottish Government of a £70 million lending facility offered by the European Investment Bank to five housing associations, including Home Scotland and Sanctuary Housing Associations who operate in the city, should mean more cash will be available than anticipated when the Strategic Housing Investment Plan 2010-15 was drafted. I hope that will mean that some of planned investment can be deservedly spent in Broughty Ferry without diverting cash from meeting housing needs in other parts of the city.


Home Scotland & Sanctuary Housing Associations to Benefit from new Lending Facility from the Euopean Investment Bank

According to Scottish Government sources, eight Scottish housing associations, will have access to an additional £70 million lending facility offered by the European Investment Bank through the Housing Finance Corporation. This is an alternative private lending source helping to support new affordable home developments and jobs in the house building sector. Of the eight associations, two, Home Scotland and Sanctuary are currently active in Dundee.
Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:
"I hope that some of this additional investment will come to Dundee providing a boost to building affordable homes and through this creating and sustaining skilled jobs in the construction industry."


What Next After PPP Primary Schools in Dundee?

A celebration like the official opening of Rowantree Primary School today, is also a time to look back and look forward. How did we get here? How are we ensuring that more communities in Dundee can also celebrate the opening of their replacement new or refurbished Primary School? Rowantree Primary School could not have been built without the foresight and commitment of the Labour led administration of Dundee City Council. The form of funding available from the then Scottish Government was to finance school building through a Public, Private Partnership (PPP). Had we listened to the then Opposition SNP Councillors in Dundee, no progress would have been made and this school and the other five Primary Schools and two New Secondary Schools in our city would not have been built. While we were waiting for the successor school building programme from the SNP government in Hoyrood, we did not sit back on our laurels. We commissioned the building of a number of schools using prudential borrowing:
  • Replacement Kingspark School for pupils who have learning difficulties (nearing completion on a new site on Clepington Road);
  • Replacement school for Whitfield (detailed design work underway);
  • Replacement twin campus schools for Dundee West End and
  • Replacement twin campus schools (2) for Lochee Charleston.
    (Note: both sets of twin campus schools were progressed by the Labour led Administration of the Council; they are now on pause awaiting Government decisions about the sites selected prior to consideration of planning applications and detailed design work)
Parents and carers living in communities in Dundee not benefiting from these school building programmes, may well be wondering what plans are in place for their local schools. Now the SNP run both the government in Edinburgh and the Council in Dundee, this is a pertinent question for Liz Fordyce, Convener of Education in the city and Mike Russell, the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning in Edinburgh. In the May 2007 elections for the Scottish Parliament and Local Councils, the SNP promised to match Labour's PPP programme brick for brick. Furthermore, they claimed that they would introduce a cheaper way of financing school building under the auspices of the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT). After a delay of over two years finding out what detractors forecast; that the SFT wouldn't work, a decision to partly fund the refurbishment of Harris Academy in Dundee with an anticipated start on site in 2012/13 was announced in Edinburgh at the end of September. This is I think likely to be the extent of new investment in school building in Dundee by the SNP led Scottish Government 2007-11. A slow down in school building in Dundee will have serious consequences. Firstly, and most obviously it will lead to more pupils and teachers consigned to learning in existing school buildings some of which were not designed for the twentieth century let alone the twenty first century. Secondly, it will also condemn many construction workers in Dundee to unemployment. I have asked the Liz Fordyce, the Education Convener about her ambitions for commissioning new schools in Dundee. At the last meeting of the Education Committee, she was unwilling to reply to my question about her school building legacy in Dundee. I think she was loathe to admit that she will be presiding over another SNP failure to deliver on their electoral promises about schools.”

Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop, Demoted in Cabinet Reshuffle

Earlier today, First Minister Alex Salmond admitted, "education needed a fresh look" when he announced a mini reshuffle of his ministerial team. Fiona Hyslop, the under pressure Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning was demoted. She is to be replaced by Mike Russell, previously the Culture and External Affairs Minister. Fiona Hyslop takes over the role Mike Russell is giving up.

Laurie Bidwell, Labour's Education Spokeperson in Dundee said:

"Today's move follows a dificult time for Ms Hyslop, who has been under fire for months over not delivering on the SNP's manifesto commitments. More particularly, not reducing primary school class sizes in years 1-3 ; not cancelling higher education student debt and not matching Labour's PPP school building programme 'brick for brick'. It will however take much more than a reshuffle of his pack to make some impact on the issues where Fiona Hyslop was not making much headway. The reason why local authorities were finding it difficult to follow her tune was down to tightly restricted resources. If her successor is more persuasive in Cabinet and commands more cash for schools some progress can be made reducing class sizes and building more schools. Ironically, to achieve that, Mike Russell will need to squeeze wasteful public spending such as the National Conversation, Scotland's most expensive blether, which until today he was promoting in his former role."

Another Success from PPP Building Programme Celebrated at Opening of Rownatree Primary School

Laurie Bidwell, Labour’s Education Spokesperson on the City Council in Dundee said:
“Earlier today, I was privileged to attend the official opening of Rowantree Primary School. Today was principally about celebrating the emerging identity of this new school which is the result of the merger of Mossgiel and Mid-Criagie Primary schools sixteen months ago.

The children entertained us with recitations of poetry, singing, dancing and music making. The thoughtful programme featured a fine blend of tradition and modernity, interweaving the songs and poems of Robert Burns with songs by the Proclaimers and Dougie MacLean. The opening celebrations also included playing by the staff band who demonstrated that, like their pupils, they were a very talented team.

The new school is built to barrier free design with outstanding facilities for teaching and learning that will help staff deliver the new curriculum for excellence. I am sure that this school will serve the communities of Linlathen and Mid-Craigie as a place for children to enjoy learning and celebrate their achievement and attainment. In addition, its provision of a Community Room, Sports Hall and external all weather pitch will mean that this school has the potential to develop into a resource for parents, carers and other adults to engage in community learning and recreation."