Opening of Fintry Primary School – Questions for Keith Brown, Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning in the Scottish Government

Today (Thursday 28 January 2010) is primarily about about celebrating the opening of the new Fintry Primary School; the sixth 21st century primary school built by Labour's PPP school building programme in the city. The new school is built to barrier free design and accommodates the school, the language unit, which caters for pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties and the nursery. It has 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 community of Fintry as a place for children to enjoy learning and celebrate their achievement and attainment. In addition, its provision of a Community Room and Sports Hall 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.
A celebration like this 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? Fintry 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 Scottish Government was to finance school building through a Public, Private Partnership (PPP). Had we listened to the carping of 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. If you live in a community in Dundee not benefiting from this programme, you may well be wondering what plans are in place for your local schools.
Today is also a good opportunity to ask questions of Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, who will be joining us for the official opening of Fintry Primary School. 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 was announced when Keith Brown was last it the city for the Education Department's Focus on Achievement Awards in September. Can Keith Brown confirm this is the extent of new investment in school building in Dundee by the SNP led government? Furthermore, will he confirm that work on Harris Academy is unlikely to begin before the May 2011 elections to the Scottish Parliament? Does he agree that, important though the rebuilding of Harris Academy will be, in practice this commitment will fall far short of matching Labour's PPP programme of two secondary schools and six primary schools? Finally, does he agree that his government's delay in getting on with a school building programme will consign many pupils and their teachers in Dundee to learning in worn out and unsuitable school buildings?


Council Decides to Support Retention of Bamossie Fire Station

Last night's meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee considered Dundee City Council's response to the consultation document 'Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11'Tayside Fire and Rescue. It is this consultation document that includes the proposal to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station. The Policy & Resources Committee heard two deputations. The first deputation from Neil Ritch, Fire Fighter serving at Balmossie and Jim Malone from the Fire Brigades' Union and the second from Fire Chief Stephen Hunter and Depute Fire Chief Alasdair Hay. After a long series of questions to the deputations, the Committee agreed, without a vote, that their response to the consultation would be: issued by "This Committee supports the document 'Towards a Safer Tayside' with the exception of the proposals for Balmossie Fire Station".

In last nights debate, Fire Chief Stephen Hunter was apparently unable to convince any Dundee Councillor that it was a good idea to downgrade Balmossie and thereby reduce from eight to seven the number of fire crews and fire engines based in the city and that somehow this cut would enhance community safety in Dundee. Just as I predicted, 'it is inconceivable that any City Councillor should support a reduction in this vital emergency service' (reported in the Courier on Monday), there was cross party support last night to indicate emphatically that Dundee City Council does not support the downgrading of Balmossie Fire Station. I think the change of heart of some Councillors was undoubtedly because of the mounting evidence of significant public opposition; especially the more than 3000 people who have already registered objections. Unfortunately, Councillor Christina Roberts (SNP Dundee East End) Vice Convener of the Fire and Rescue Board did not indicate last night whether she is now persuaded to change her vote when this issue returns to the Tayside Fire and Rescue Board. I think she should publicly clarify her position.
Fire Station and thereby reduce from eight to seven the number of fire crews and fire engines based in the city and that somehow this cut would enhance community safety in Dundee.

While I think the City Council's decision on Monday night is an important milestone in defeating this ill conceived proposal, I don't want constituents to think that they no longer need to bother responding to the 'Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11' consultation and registering their views. Until the Fire and Rescue Board decide at their March meeting, after the consultation period closes, we cannot assume that our fire and rescue service at Balmossie is safe from the proposed damaging cutbacks.

Parking Initiative Extended to Barnhill and Forthill Primary Schools

I am delighted that the parking and dropping off at primary schools initiative that I introduced in my time as Education Convener is now being extended to all the primary schools in the city. In an email from the Director of Education, it has been provisionally agreed that this scheme will be introduced at Barnhill and Forthill Primary schools during the summer term. Eastern Primary school was one of the two school's involved in the pilot programme last year. This showed that a coordinated approach, involving, Parents, Pupils, School Staff, Police and the Parking Team, can bring some order to the sometimes chaotic and inconsiderate parking at our school gates in the morning. I know that the Parent Council in Barnhill and Forthill regularly discuss safety issues arising from car parking and dropping off children outside the school gates. I am sure that these active and engaged parents will want to be involved in the planning and launch of this initiative to help make it a success and thereby improve the safety of children at their schools.


Balmossie Fire Station - Response by City Council

On Saturday I met many of my constituents from The Ferry at the Fire Brigades' Union stall outside Sainsbury's Supermarket. Over 400 hundred folk recorded their opposition to the proposal to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station. Taken together with the signatures collected on Saturday 19 December at Campfield Square in Barnhill and Saturday 16 January in Brook Street Broughty Ferry, I think that's more than 1500 electors from The Ferry who have already completed letters of objection.

While most constituents in The Ferry are clearly indicating their opposition to halving the fire service at Balmossie, this has implications for the other parts of Dundee. Withdrawing the full time night time fire crew taken together with withdrawing the day time 'retained' (on call) fire crew and their fire engine from Balmossie will mean there is one less fire and rescue crew and one less fire engine to respond to attend fires, road traffic accidents and floods in Dundee. In fact this will mean that there will be a reduction from eight to seven fire engines and crews stationed in Dundee.

On Monday evening, the Policy and Resources Committee of the Council will consider their response to the Tayside Fire and Rescue's consultation, 'Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11'. It is this document that contains the ill conceived proposals about Balmossie Fire Station. I shall be bringing forward a motion that the Council's response to the consultation is to indicate their opposition to the downgrading of the fire and rescue services based at Balmossie. It is inconceivable that any City Councillor should support a reduction in this vital emergency service, especially when retaining it will not impose extra costs on council tax payers in Dundee.


Historic Signal Box to be Part of New Restaurant at Broughty Ferry Station

On Monday evening, the Development Quality Committee of the City Council approved two linked planning applications for a restaurant development at Broughty Ferry station. The new restaurant will reuse the existing Broughty Ferry station buildings on the south platform and incorporate into the development the old signal box (see picture) which had been closed in 1995 and subsequently dismantled. Planning conditions attached to the approvals will, I think, protect the station's historic features. This is important because the Victorian station buildings and the old signal box are part of what makes Broughty Ferry distinctive.
The re-erection of the signal box has been a matter that many local interest groups have campaigned for. I want to particularly thank the Broughty Ferry Community Council and its Planning Secretary, David Hewick, for persistently highlighting this issue and constructively pressurising for the sympathetic resiting of the signal box. I trust that the developers will be able to start the conversion work soon.


Map of Council Grit Bins and Priority Routes for Winter Maintnenance

There is now a useful map on the Council website which details the location of all the Council grit bins and Priority Carriageway and Footpath Routes for winter maintenance.


Education Committee Hampered by Only Having Half the Picture

In early December, I called for an emergency meeting of the Education Committee to consider the target schools for the potential reductions in Primary years 1-3 class sizes and the target schools for free school meals. I also asked that at the same time we examined the proposed cuts in primary education that would form part of the council's budget for 2010/11. I am glad that the Education Convener has brought forward the plans for class size reductions and free school meals but I regret she has not brought forward the planned reductions in Education at the same time.

On Monday evening the Education committee will be hampered by only having part of the financial and educational picture spelled out. What I can reveal is that the Chief Executive has confirmed that the Education Department has been asked to identify savings of 1% of its budget which amounts to £1.3 million. The details of what reductions in service have been targeted will remain confidential until the budget documentation is released. The Director of Finance confirmed on Thursday last week that the budget volume is likely to be ready to be circulated to elected members later this week. It seems pointless to improve some aspects of services with one hand and remove them with the other and not consider the overall impact of these combined changes on the education of all of the children in our nursery, primary and secondary schools at the same time.

I shall be asking the Director of Education and the Education Convener the following questions at the meeting:
Firstly, with regard to the targeted 13 primary schools for class size reductions, what changes to class teaching will also happen at the same time? I understand that to keep the cost down, more children in Primary years 4-7 will be taught in composite classes (containing children from more than one year group).
Secondly, what is the timescale for the roll out of this policy to the remaining majority of primary schools in the city? Many parents in our city will be wanting to know how long their children will wait for this.
Thirdly, how will some of these thirteen schools who receive more money for extra teachers to reduce class sizes feel the effect of the £1.3 million budget cuts in Education yet to be revealed?
Fourthly, what is the projected overall teacher count for Dundee for September 2010? Will there be more or fewer teachers than in September 2009?
Fifthly, what will be the implications on the council's plans to drive up attainment and achievement in our schools from the combined effect of these class size reductions and budgetary cuts?

Save Your Balmossie Fire Campaign in the Ferry

I enjoyed meeting numerous constituents at the Fire Brigades' Union stalls outside Marks and Spencers and Woolworths in Brook Street Broughty Ferry on Saturday. Over 900 hundred folk defied the miserably
cold weather and recorded their opposition to the proposal to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station. Over 95% of those I talked to were against this proposal. The pressure of public opinion against this unreasonable and ill thought out proposal is mounting. I hope members of the Fire and Rescue Board are receptive to hearing and responding constructively to this level of criticism?


Severe Winter Weather Emphasises Importance of Full Time Night Shift Fire Crew at Balmossie Fire Station

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 call out. 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. This is especially likely to be the case when there is snow and ice on the roads. 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 whatever the weather.

I am pleased that Ken Guild (SNP Ferry Councillor and Leader of the City Council) has seen sense and says he is no longer of the view that Balmossie fire station should be downgraded. It is a pity of course that he didn't do his homework before the Fire and Rescue Board meeting in November. Perhaps this was inexperience in his role as Leader of the City Council or being distracted by the SNP's ambitions for independence? Will Councillor Guild now assure his constituents in the Ferry that his colleague, SNP Councillor Roberts, Vice Convener of the Fire & Rescue Board, will have a have a change of heart when the results of the current consultation are considered by the Fire and Rescue Board in March?


Dundee SNP Councillors on Fire Board need change of heart

“I am pleased that Councillor Ken Guild (SNP Ferry Councillor and Leader of the City Council) has seen sense and says he is no longer of the view that Balmossie fire station should be downgraded. This is all very well but Ken Guild is not a member of the Fire and Rescue Board. It was the votes of his colleagues, Dundee SNP Councillors, which were decisive at the Fire and Rescue Board meeting in November. They voted as a block to include downgrading Balmossie in the current consultation. They also voted as a block to exclude from the consultation document the wider range of statistics that Councillor Guild now says have persuaded him to change his view. Will he now assure his constituents in the Ferry that his SNP colleagues will have a change of heart when the results of the consultation are considered by the Fire and Rescue Board?"