Councillor Roberts Provides More Reasons Why She Should Resign

In the Evening Telegraph yesterday, Councillor Roberts rejected my call for her to quit the Tayside Fire & Rescue Board. In so doing I think she has provided more evidence of why she should do the right thing and resign.

Firstly, SNP Councillor Christina Roberts has clarified that,
"I am not on the (Tayside Fire & Rescue) board to represent Dundee" .... she believed "the proposals for Balmossie were in the best interests of the wider Tayside area." I wonder how many votes Councillor Roberts received from residents in the wider Tayside area in the May 2007 elections to the city council? Perhaps she is planning to stand for the SNP in Angus next time? Significantly, the East End area often has a fire and rescue crew and fire appliance from Balmossie deputising at Kingsway East when their crews have been called out.

Secondly, later in the article it was reported that:
She said she did not accept claims that fire cover at Broughty Ferry would have been adversely affected if he change had gone through. "I don't believe the Chief Fire Officer would have brought this forward if that had been the case," she said. This seems to be overly deferential to the authority of a chief officer. This has been referred in two Audit Scotland reports. In their report, Tayside Fire and Rescue Authority – Audit Scotland Performance Audit report 2006, they wrote:
"2 Board members and the senior management team demonstrate commitment to the modernisation agenda, however robust challenge is not currently evident throughout the Board structures." (page 3)
In the very recently published Best Value 2 pathfinder audit Dundee City Council, they reported on page 10, "The council has many of the key elements in place to ensure good governance and accountability. However, elected member scrutiny of decision-making and performance needs to improve."

I think her responses strengthen the validity of my claim that she should resign as a member of the Fire & Rescue Board. The City Council can easily identify another councillor who will appreciate what it means to represent Dundee on the Fire and Rescue Board.


Buses, Brushes, Bobbies & Bleach - Barnhill PS Show

On Monday evening it was the turn of Barnhill Primary School to put on their P6/7 school show. They presented a lively and amusing performance of Buses, Brushes, Bobbies and Bleach. This was performed in the assembly hall of the New Grove Academy which is much better equipped and accommodating than the school hall in the primary school. It's good to see a primary schools in the Grove cluster already drawing on the outstanding facilities available in Grove Academy.

The show was built around short bursts of conversations around the breakfast table between a family group of two parents and their two children about to depart for work and school. This preceded musical and dramatic scenes on the main stage which took a light hearted look at life in school. I was impressed with the inclusiveness of the production involving all of the pupils in P6 and P7 as well as the enthusiastic dancing and singing and the clear diction of the pupils with speaking parts.

Staff at Barnhill Primary School are to be congratulated on reestablishing a P6/7 school play, which increasingly is a rite of passage prior to going up to Secondary School. I am sure many happy primary school memories will be made of this.


Balmossie Fire Station Saved - Thanks to Thousands of Active Citizens

This morning the Tayside Fire & Rescue Board met in Perth and decided, by ten votes in favour and eight votes against, not to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station.

I welcome this decision, which is a victory for common sense. I want to thank the thousands of active citizens in Broughty Ferry who submitted objections to the proposals and made Councillors on the Fire & Rescue Board think again. That is no bad thing in a democracy.

I understand that Dundee's SNP Councillor Roberts voted to downgrade Balmossie ignoring the decision of the City Council's Policy & Resources Committee and the remainder of her Dundee Councillor colleagues on the Board. I think she she should resign her position as Vice Chairperson of the Board. Who does she think she is representing on the Board?


We'll Meet Again an Entertaining Show

On Thursday and Friday evening, P6 and P7 pupils from Eastern Primary School presented We'll Meet Again to packed audiences at the Bonar Hall in Dundee. This was a musical involving every pupil in the top two years of the school. Not content with the challenge of such an undertaking, the school circulated the main parts on each night.

We’ll Meet Again
is entertainment as well as a learning experience for its cast of pupils and its audience. They share the opportunity to explore in drama and music what it might have been like to be an evacuee during the Second World War; both the fun and opportunities as well as the pain of separation in uncertain times without a mobile phone and email.

In the course of preparing for the production, pupils met members of Broughty Ferry Local History Group who had been researching and sharing their own experiences of growing up in Broughty Ferry in the 1930s. The programme notes also included extracts from the Eastern Primary school log in 1939/40 when its then pupils were evacuated to Brechin.

The solo and group singing was impressive and entertaining. The pupils, staff and helpers are to be congratulated for such an engaging and rewarding performance and learning experience.


Dundee Schools' Orchestras and Bands - Caird Hall

The annual performances by the Dundee Schools Orchestras and Bands once again demonstrated the wonderful depth of musical talent we have amongst our young people in our schools. It was also a reminder of the quality of the music teachers in our schools, and the gifted and dedicated team of peripatetic music teachers that coach our young musicians in their own schools and in the orchestras and bands that practise at the Bell Street Music Centre.

I attended the Wednesday evening concert with my wife Rowena. I enjoyed the wonderful variety of musical styles from the Rock Band, the Junior String Orchestra, the Concert Band to the Symphony Orchestra. Our Schools' Music service is, I believe, a service of which Dundonians should be proud. It would be criminal if such a well established and talented team of staff was subjected to the same treatment as the team of visiting drama teachers in our Primary Schools whose posts are to be discontinued through budget cuts by the SNP Administration.


Concern over cut to award-winning scheme

Labour's education and Leisure, Arts and Communities spokespeople on Dundee City Council, Councillor Laurie Bidwell and Councillor Richard McCready raised their concerns that there will be budget cuts to an award winning scheme. The Peer Education Project recently won a Gold Award in the tackling health inequalities and improving health category at the COSLA Excellence Awards. Funding changes pushed through by the SNP-led Administration will result in a budget gap of £37,000.

Councillor Richard McCready said,

"I have been fortunate enough to visit the Peer education Project on a number of occasions and I have always been very impressed by the work that it carries out. I was delighted when I heard that the project had won a Gold Award from COSLA recently. This is a very impressive project and it provides excellent value for money for the City Council. I know that it makes a real difference to the lives of young people. I am concerned that there have been cuts which result in a budget gap in £37,000. Along with my colleague Laurie Bidwell, I will be writing to the Director of Leisure and Communities seeking reassurance about the ability of this project to maintain its current high standards."

Councillor Laurie Bidwell said,

"I have also seen at first hand the excellent work of the Peer Education Project in the city's Primary and Secondary Schools. For example, peer educators from Craigie High School, have been working with pupils in P7 in their former primary schools to help make the transfer to Secondary School more positive. The beauty of peer education is that it not only benefits the young people who receive the peer education but the peer educators gain in confidence and self esteem as well. This is a win-win. Unfortunately the capacity of this project to maintain its current levels of activity will be undermined by the cuts imposed by the SNP Administration. This will be disheartening to the staff of the programme whose work has deservedly just received national recognition. These cuts will obviously put on hold plans to involve more schools in the Peer Education programme."


Lets talk about "Education" at The Education Committee

Last week I put some questions to Elizabeth Fordyce, the Education Convener, via the pages of the Courier. I wanted to know about progress in our schools in Dundee preparing for the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence in August. I asked whether we are ready for this in Dundee? I think this is my duty as a Councillor passionate about improving the attainment and achievement of our children and Labour's Spokesperson on Education. I think it is not negative to enquire about the most significant change in Education in a generation. Very important changes are afoot including the replacement of Standard Grade examinations in our secondary schools. Is there anything else that might help the smooth and successful introduction of Curriculum for Excellence in our schools in August?

Some readers may wonder why this debate is going on the pages of the local papers and not in the Education Committee of the Council. If they were to look at the Agenda of the meeting tonight, they they would find a single item which invites members of the Education Committee to give the go ahead to three tenders for minor building works in three schools. I have no doubt that the upgrading of the toilets at St Ninian's Primary School, the renewal of corridor fire doors in Braeview Academy and the removal of small amounts of asbestos from the Frances Wright Pre- School Centre will be most welcome in each of these establishments. Readers can be assured that members of the committee will want to know that tenders for these works offer value for money for council tax payers and that the removal of minor amounts of asbestos from the Frances Wright Centre will be by a specialist contractor and at a time when children and staff are not in the Centre. If Convener Fordyce wants to have a constructive debate about education, and not just buildings, she should bring forward a progress report about the Introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence to the Education Committee. Lets talk about teaching and learning at The Education Committee and not just toilet upgrades, and replacing corridor fire doors.


Save Balmossie Rally

On Saturday, more than three hundred fire fighters and supporters gathered at Castle Green to march around the centre of Broughty Ferry and then converge on the St Aidan's Halls for a rally. These events concluded the Fire Brigades' Union campaign to oppose the downgrading of Balmossie Fire Station. More than 5000 letters of objection have been gathered in support of retaining two fire and rescue crews and two fire appliances at Balmossie 24x7.

Labour's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dundee East, Katrina Murray said:

"5000 voters can't be wrong! Their overwhelming and united voices are opposed to the dangerous and ill conceived proposal to downgrade Balmossie Fire Station. Councillors on the Tayside Fire and Rescue Board should drop this proposal immediately when they meet next Monday to consider the public response to their fire and rescue strategy, 'Towards a Safer Tayside 2010/11'. Having reprieved Balmossie Fire Station from a 50% cut, they should then agree not to return to this issue again next year."

Labour Ferry Councillor Laurie Bidwell said:

"About half of the 5000+ written letters of objection generated by this campaign have been collected from folk living in my ward. Constituents in 'The Ferry' are very clearly opposed to the downgrading of Balmossie Fire Station. They appreciate that if the full time crew on night shift at Balmossie is removed, it would 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 level of response shows that constituents in The Ferry demand the continuation of 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."


Save Your Balmossie Fire Station March and Rally - My Speech

Thank you for asking me to speak at your rally today.

Firstly I want to acknowledge the initiative of the Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) for alerting the community to the likelihood of Balmossie Fire Station being on the hit list once again. This was well before the launch of the consultation by the Fire & Rescue Board in late November 2009. Once again your members have stepped up to the plate and shown their commitment to maintain our fire and rescue cover as well as protecting their jobs.

Secondly, I want to say how privileged I feel to have stood with your members and supporters in solidarity, and it has to be said in the cold, at the three street campaigning events you held in my constituency, and of course on the march through the Ferry today. From Barnhill Shopping Centre in December to Brook Street, Broughty Ferry and Sainsburys in January.

Thirdly, I have been delighted to provide my support and reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of my constituents. Clearly people in Broughty Ferry appreciate the peace of mind that comes from having a properly resourced Fire and Rescue service to serve their community. It's one of our essential emergency services. Interestingly that must have been in the minds of the former members of the Broughty Ferry Burgh Council, who wisely insisted, nearly a hundred years ago, that one of the conditions for agreeing to the annexation of Broughty Ferry into Dundee was the provision by Dundee Council of a fire station in Broughty Ferry. This was enshrined in the 1913 Act of parliament that led to the inclusion of Broughty Ferry in Dundee. I think that 21st century residents in Broughty Ferry have shown that they have no intention of letting the successor authority, Tayside Fire and Rescue, off the hook.

Finally, I am pleased that there are politicians here today from outside the Ferry and the immediate area served by the fire station. Cynics might say that this is just because a general election is imminent. But I think it indicates very powerfully that it is now recognised that this is a Dundee not just a Broughty Ferry issue. Because if you reduce the number of fire appliances and fire crews based in the city, and Balmossie is based within the city boundary, you reduce the fire and rescue capability of the city as a whole. As well as primarily serving our area here in Broughty Ferry, our fire and rescue crews serve the wider city as 'super subs' when fire and rescue appliances are called out from other fire stations in the city.

So as the campaign comes to end and we await the decision of the Fire & Rescue Board, be assured that my Labour colleagues on the Fire & Rescue Board will continue to vote against any proposal that would downgrade Balmossie.

I think the public of Dundee East have shown that they recognise the vital importance of the Fire and Rescue service in their lives.

Stephen Hunter and the obdurate members of the Fire and Rescue Board should be in no doubt that the Broughty Ferry public, whom I represent, have demonstrated more than conclusively that this is not Save the FBU Balmossie Fire Station but Save OUR Balmossie Fire Station.

So as Obama would have said had he had time to join us today:
Can we save our Balmossie Fire Station? Let's hear it!

Yes we can!


Consultation Dates for Proposed Wind Turbines in Dundee Port

Forth Energy is preparing to submit a planning application
for two wind turbines at the Port of Dundee. The maximum height of the wind turbines would be 127 metres to the blade tip, which is similar in scale to the wind turbines at the Michelin factory (see picture on the right). They would have a electricity generating capacity of between 2 megawatts and 2.5 megawatts each. This would be equivalent to the electricity needs of approximately 3500 homes. As part of the pre-application stage for their planning application, the developer will be holding a public exhibition of their proposals for the two wind turbines on Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th March between 11:00 am and 7:30 pm at Craigiebank Church, Carlochie Place, Dundee DD4 7LX. Further information available at Forth Energy website.


Community Opposition to Planning Permission for Grove Offices

Monday evening's Development Quality Committee (15 March 2010) of the City Council considered the 'Grove House' Office development. On a vote, the Council granted itself planning permission for this substantial office development. This will see more than 350 council staff relocated to converted offices in the buildings formerly used by Grove Academy on the south side of Camperdown Street. These premises were vacated by the school when they moved to their new buildings on the opposite side of Camperdown Street in November last year. The relocated staff, chiefly from Education and Social Work are concerned with staff training and quality improvement in schools and social work services. It follows that many of the staff based at Grove House will be coming and going to establishments all over Dundee in their day to day work.

The Committee heard from two deputation of objectors and had before them over a dozen written representations from residents opposed to the development. Objectors were chiefly those living in the vicinity of the new offices and anticipating more competition for on street parking. There were also serious concerns expressed about road safety, especially for the 1000+ pupils attending Grove Academy.

Much of the debate turned on whether measures to reduce journeys by private car proposed in two reports by external consultants were feasible and practicable. A flaw in the consultants' reports was they omitted to consider the considerable number of journeys generated to and from these premises by staff (other than those based at Grove House) attending training events and meetings. The plans clearly indicate the provision of space for training and meeting rooms.

I was disappointed in the undue haste of the Council as developer and planning authority wanting to push this planning application through. Had the developer (The Council) come forward with more thoroughly developed proposals, backed up with resources, to reduce the negative impacts of this development on environmental quality and road safety, I would have been prepared to support the motion of the Development Quality Convener, Rod Wallace. While councillors on the Development Quality Committee are meant to come to the meeting and make up their minds individually on the balance of all of the evidence presented, I did notice that Leader of the Administration, Ken Guild (also a Ferry Councillor) and all of his SNP group of councillors voted unanimously to support the proposal.

I assure my constituents that I shall continue to represent their views about road safety and parking at the working group that will be established to monitor progress introducing travel plan measures connected with this development. While I appreciate the wider community benefits for the shops and services in Broughty Ferry from more potential customers working in the area and the retention of the Centenary Sport Hall as a recreational facility, I hope this will not need to be at the undue expense of the residents living in the streets close to the Grove Offices. Primarily, I hope these changes will not need to be at the cost of a decline in the road safety of our young people attending Grove Academy.

Rhinopatch Filling Ferry Potholes

Tayside Contracts were in Broughty Ferry today filling in potholes. The picture shows work people using a Rhinopatch machine in Douglas Terrace.

This is a proprietary infra-red road repair process. It is a permanent and sustainable process that can be used for all types of surface repairs up to 100mm depth including joint failures, trench reinstatements, pavement defects, around ironwork and potholes.

The four stage process heats the existing surface with an infrared heater (the square metal box in the picture) before a rejuvenating ingredient is added to the surface. If required, additional material is then added to the area before it is compacted and preservative applied.

This cost effective technology also minimises disruption to the road user and as no jackhammers are used it is safer for operatives and relatively quiet for off peak working.


Are Dundee Schools Ready for Curriculum for Excellence in August?

In recent weeks in the Scottish Parliament questions have been asked of Mike Russell Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning as to the whether he believes Scotland is ready for the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in August. Doubts have been raised by Scotland’s teaching unions, especially over the introduction of a replacement for Standard Grade examinations which has not yet been settled. Mike Russell has stated that he will listen to teachers and the CfE’s management board, which is overseeing its implementation, if they tell him another delay is needed. He has promised a decision before the summer but warned he will not implement a 'delay for delay’s sake' because teachers are finding the changes difficult. The CfE, is designed to change the way pupils are taught. It encourages subjects to be combined to deliver classes, rather than being taught in isolation.

But is Dundee ready for the most significant change in Scottish Education in a generation? It seems careless to begin its introduction in our Secondary schools in August when the examinations for which pupils will be preparing, and to which teachers will be teaching, is still not in place. Alarmingly for parents and carers whose children enter our High Schools and Academies in August, their children will be the guinea pigs sitting these new examinations instead of Standard Grades. My oldest son was in the year group that took Standard grades in the year they were introduced and I know how much uncertainty and challenge that brought; but this is a more significant set of changes.

In my conversations with teachers, it is usually conceded the it will be easier for Primary and Nursery Schools to put CfE into practice and in fact it is already being tried out with sections of the new curriculum being introduced this year. However it will be more challenging for our Secondary Schools. Secondary teachers are mostly subject specialists used to teaching rigid timetabled classes. It will be a real challenge for them to make the change towards delivering more thematic and cross curricular teaching and learning in S1 to S3.

Is the Education Convener, Elizabeth Fordyce, convinced that everything is in place in Dundee schools for implementation of the CfE in August? Is she sure that this can be achieved without disadvantaging our children about to enter secondary school? Will she join those voices calling on Mike Russell to stop dithering and announce a delay to the introduction of CfE until August 2011?


Improving the Use of Assets and Resources

Tuesday was a training day for me. I attended a Master Class for Councillors in Scotland about our role and responsibility in improving the use of council assets and resources. This was organised by The Improvement Service, which was set up in 2005 to help enhance the efficiency, quality and accountability of local public services in Scotland.

This master class was led by
Colin Mair, the Chief Executive of the Improvement Service and Walter Foster, a former Director of Property with Fife Council. I found their input most enlightening. I also appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues with elected members from other councils. All in all, this was a most valuable use of my day.

As the improvement service is directly funded by the Scottish Government, there is no fee levied on the City Council for my participation in this seminar and the other events in
the series. The only call on funds from the City Council is to reimburse my travelling expenses to this event.


Road Works to Close St Vincent Street

Dundee City Council propose to make an Order under Section 14(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 for the purpose of facilitating drainage works adjacent to the railway bridge which crosses the north end of St Vincent Street. The Order is expected to be in force for two weeks from 15 March 2010. Its maximum duration in terms of the Act is eighteen months.

The effect of the Order is to prohibit all vehicular traffic in St Vincent Street in its north most section between Brook Street and Queen Street.

Access will be maintained for the affected residents of St Vincent Street.

An alternative route will be available for southbound traffic via Queen Street, Gray Street and Brook Street and for northbound traffic via Brook Street, Gray Street and Queen Street.


Magnificent McManus Galleries

On Tuesday, I visited the recently reopened McManus Galleries: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum. I think Dundonians will appreciate that the long period of closure for the comprehensive refurbishment of the building and the reorganisation of displays has been thoroughly worthwhile.
The refurbished museum and gallery now opens onto the south side of Albert Square which has now been fully pedestrianised. We now have a world class city museum which visitors to Dundee will appreciate and will go out of their way to visit. Be prepared to be impressed by the quality of our hidden gem of a museum and gallery. It is now fully accessible for people with disabilities. Dundee can be justly proud of its magnificent 'new' museum and gallery.


Grove Pupils Impress at Official Opening

Yesterday the new Grove Academy school buildings were officially opened by First Minister, Alex Salmond. While the new facilities are superb, the outstanding impressions from my afternoon in the school were from the pupils. The quality of their singing, dancing and instrumental performances during the opening ceremony were exceptional. The volume of pupils who performed, demonstrated the strength in depth of pupil talents and the continuing excellence of the Music Department in the school and the quality of the visiting instrumental teachers. The three sixth formers that showed our party around their new school were intelligent, engaging and well informed. Head Teacher, John Hunter, delivered an impressive address. He acknowledged that working through the school's refurbishment had been, at times, frustrating but Grove now had 21st century facilities. He had anticipated that it would be a challenge to maintain the school's SQA examination results with the accompanying distractions from the adjacent building works during the construction phase. In fact, the school had improved its exam results during the last two academic sessions. He thought that the challenge now would be to capitalise on the excellent new facilities for teaching and learning and continue the upward trend of pupil attainment.