30/04/2010

Workers' Memorial Day Lecture Dundee

According to the STUC, every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don't die of mystery ailments, or in tragic "accidents". They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn't that important a priority. Workers’ Memorial Day commemorates those workers.

Worker’s Memorial Day is held on 28 April every year, all over the world workers and their representatives conduct events, demonstrations, vigils and a whole host of other activities to mark the day.

The day is also intended to serve as a rallying cry to “remember the dead, but fight like hell for the living”.

Earlier today in Dundee, I attended the eighteenth Workers' Memorial Lecture. This had been organised by Dundee City Council in conjunction with Workplace Chaplaincy Scotland. Each year a guest speaker is invited to address an audience representing all sections of the community on a general health and safety theme. This year's lecture was delivered by Professor Annie Anderson, Professor of Food Choice and Director of the Centre for Research into Cancer Prevention and Screening at the University of Dundee. Her informative and wide ranging lecture was entitled 'Food Futures - the health of the population and the planet'.

Don't Put the Economic Recovery at Risk












(Dundee picture left to right: Jim McGovern, Iain Gray MSP and Katrina Murray)

This afternoon, on the waterfront in Dundee, Scottish Labour unveiled a new poster highlighting the choice that Scots face in the upcoming election. The poster highlights the shallowness of David Cameron which poses a risk to the economy, compared with the experience and substance of Gordon Brown who is putting jobs first.

Speaking earlier today, Labour's Scottish Parliamentary Leader Iain Gray said:

"Next Thursday people in Scotland will be asked to make an important choice.

"They will be asked who they want to run the country and who they want making the important decisions that face us over the next five years.

"The reality means that on May 7 only one of two people will walk into Downing Street and become Prime Minister - Gordon Brown or David Cameron.

"Other parties will tell you that they can win but Alex Salmond isn't even standing in this election and Nick Clegg is never going to become Prime Minister.

"In fact we could even be faced with the very real prospect of the SNP or the Lib Dems or both actually supporting David Cameron as he walks into Number 10.

"So the real choice is whether you want Gordon Brown or David Cameron as Prime Minister.

"Gordon Brown's performance on the debate last night showed that when it comes to substance, experience and economic judgement, he towers over David Cameron.

"Gordon Brown knows what questions to ask. David Cameron didn't know how to answer them."

Last Minute Measures Confirm Secondary Schools not Ready for Curriculum for Excellence

This morning, Mike Russell the Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning in the SNP led Scottish Government, tried to shore up the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence. He announced a number of hastily assembled proposals to try to win over the substantial proportion of secondary teachers who are sceptical they are ready to introduce the new Curriculum for Excellence in mid August when the new school year begins. Amongst Mike Russell's panic measures is to charge two educational experts with the task of summarising the blizzard of guidance that has been already issued to schools and teachers; in fact more than 900 pages so far. With only nine more weeks until the end of term, time is running out. These last minute measures, far from spreading confidence, in fact confirm the worries that have been voiced nationally.

The scale of unease of secondary school teachers was confirmed independently by a recent Ipsos-Mori survey conducted for the Scottish government. The results showed that only 25% of secondary teachers say they have had good training on the new curriculum. Three in four secondary teachers also said they were not confident about delivering lessons for senior pupils.

When I have raised my concerns about the readiness of our schools in Dundee to implement Curriculum for Excellence, Elizabeth Fordyce, the Education Convener has said I am being negative. Perhaps now that the Scottish Government's own research confirms a crisis of confidence amongst secondary teachers, our SNP led council can join with the reasonable voices of those who argue that the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence should be postponed for a year.

27/04/2010

Meeting of Eastern Primary School Parent Council


Earlier this evening I attended a meeting of the Parent Council at Eastern Primary School.

The items discussed included a review of recent fund raising projects led by parent members of the Parent Council. It was reported that £2448 net profit had been raised by the Spring Fayre. At the end of the summer term, a 10km sponsored walk has been planned.

Head Teacher, Katherine Barclay, reported that she was proposing to adopt the use of Read, Write Inc in Primary 1 classes. Read Write Inc is a synthetic phonics programme that ensures early success in reading, writing and spelling. It provides a systematic approach to teaching reading, writing and comprehension, with lively pupils’ resources which include phonics storybooks, all supported by teacher resources and a full training package to ensure its implementation. Teachers reported on visits to schools in Dundee where they that had already adopted Read Write Inc. and had measured significant pupil progress.

Harris Academy Rebuilding To Be Procured by Hub


At the Policy & Resources Committee on Monday, the City Council approved a report recommending the council's participation in one of five Hubs being set up in Scotland for clusters of public bodies in Scotland to jointly procure new buildings, and run public facilities and services. Our cluster will include, for example, Tayside Health Board, Tayside Police and Angus Council. According to the Scottish Futures' Trust, "The hub model has been structured to give the potential to deliver a wide range of facilities to improve the provision of community services. Projects could include community health centres, dental surgeries, doctor surgeries, debt and citizens’ advice facilities, employment advice and a range of other community services, primary and secondary schools and police and fire service facilities." The council has been informed that the Hub will be the mechanism for procuring the rebuilding of Harris Academy. The original ministerial decision on the funding of Harris Academy was announced on 28 September 2009. While this means that the rebuilding of Harris will now progress, the next step may be delayed by the process of negotiating and setting up the Hub, which is essentially a new Joint Board, and then setting up an arms length development company, HubCo with a single preferred private sector developer.

At the meeting on Monday, I made the following contribution to the debate:

"Convener, I am delighted that the rebuilding of Harris Academy is a step closer. This is good news for parents, carers, teachers and pupils associated with Harris Academy. It is also good news for the building industry in Dundee. I hope that the contract to rebuild Harris Academy can be our Council's initial project to put through the procurement Hub. My welcome however is qualified by a number of concerns.

Firstly, the Hub is essentially a Joint Board on which two members of Council staff will sit with delgated authority. They and colleagues from the partner authorities and a private sector company will set up a HubCo. This seems to exclude the involvement of elected members and potentially might undermine democratic accountability and proper scrutiny.

Secondly, the HubCo will engage with one main private sector contractor. The scale of joint capital (building) projects under the auspices of the HubCo would seem likely to favour larger UK contractors and therefore exclude small and medium sized local contactors who are more likely to employ local building workers.

Thirdly, the projected savings of 1.5% need to be offset against the start up costs of £1.4 million. This would mean that savings to the public purse would only appear when the HubCo had progressed projects with an overall value in excess of £150 million.

Fourthly, the rebuilding of Harris Academy has already been subject to delays. It is disappointing to remember that in May 2007 the SNP promised in their manifesto to 'match labour's school building programme brick for brick'. Three years into an SNP minority led government at Holyrood, and not a single school in Dundee has been procured by the Scottish Future's Trust. This is compared with the Labour led adminstration's PPP programme that delivered two new secondary schools (St Pauls and Grove Acaedmy) and six new Primary Schools (Craigowl, St Andrew's, Downfield, Rowantree, Claypotts Castle and Fintry). I hope that a start on the rebuilding of Harris Academy can be made before the end of the financial year as programmed in the council's capital plan.

Firefighters pass vote of no confidence in Convener and Vice Convener of Tayside Fire & Rescue

Firefighters at Balmossie Fire Station that was saved from downgrading last month have passed a vote of no confidence in the Convener and Vice Convener of the Tayside Fire & Rescue Board.

Fire Brigades' Union members at Balmossie say they are angry with convener Ken Lyall for the way he handled the proposal to cut night-time cover and shift one of the crews to Forfar.

They accuse him of "belittling" the firefighters and the councillors who voted to keep full-time staffing.

The crews have also passed a vote of no confidence in vice-convener Christina Roberts, saying they no longer feel able to trust or respect her.

Full story

26/04/2010

Parkinson's Coffee Morning in The Ferry


On Saturday, along with my colleagues, Marlyn Glen MSP and Katrina Murray, Labour's Dundee East Parliamentary candidate at the general election, I attended a fund raising Coffee morning at the YMCA in Broughty Ferry. This very well supported event was organised by the Dundee and Angus branch of Parkinson's as part of Parkinson's Awareness Week. Parkinson's is the UK support and research charity which for more than 40 years has been working to find a cure and improve life for everyone affected by Parkinson's. Subsequently Katrina, as a parliamentary candidate, signed up to support the 3 pledges for Parkinson's which highlight areas where politicians can make a big difference to the lives of people affected by Parkinson's.
The coffee morning raised the magnificent sum of £1,1000 to help finance the work of the local branch providing services in Dundee and Angus.
Their next fundraising event is Big Fun Run Dundee on 17 July 2010. This 5km fun run will be staged in Camperdown Park. Register on the Big Fun Run website
Well done to a very effective local branch of the charity.

25/04/2010

New Kingspark School almost Ready

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting of the Kingspark Project Board. The board have been supervising the building of the replacement Kingspark School for children in our city with disabilities. The Board met in the conference room in the new school which is built on one level to facilitate access. After the meeting there was a tour of the campus featuring a 20 metre swimming pool, a hydra therapy pool with sound and music, a sports hall and a sensory garden in the quadrangle behind the main entrance. The completed building is about to be fitted out with classroom equipment prior to the move from Gillburn Road scheduled to take place between the summer and autumn terms. I am proud to be part of the former Labour led administration of the council that brought this proposal forward and subsequently commissioned the building of this new school.

22/04/2010

Katrina Murray joins Beach Clean Up at Grassy Beach

Earlier today, Katrina Murray, Labour's general election candidate for Dundee East joined me and ten other volunteers in the litter pick at a very breezy Grassy Beach. This was organised by the Broughty Ferry Beach Management Group as a contribution to the Beautiful Scotland National Spring Clean Event.

Katrina Murray said:
"I was delighted to join the enthusiastic and energetic band of volunteers in their clean up of Grassy Beach. I know that the beach and the combined cycle path and walkway between Douglas Terrace and the Stannergate is a really valued place for recreation in The Ferry. I appreciate the valuable work that members of the Broughty Ferry Beach Management Group are undertaking to protect and enhance the environment. And no this was not like Mrs Thatcher's famous televised clean up in Hyde Park when the rubbish was put out for her; you can see that Laurie and I donned protective gloves and wielded litter pickers to collect a sack load of real litter that had been washed up on the beach and deposited on the grass."

20/04/2010

100 days to the start of digital TV switchover

There are only 100 days to the start of digital TV switchover in Dundee when the analogue signals are switched off at the Angus transmitter and replaced with digital channels.

This will affect all viewers watching TV programmes broadcast via the Angus transmitter and its relays.

If you know of a neighbour, friend or relative who lives in one of the 6% of households who have not already converted their TV to digital, please get them in contact with Digital UK for advice and help
via their website or by telephoning the helpline on 08456 50 50 50.

The Switchover Help Scheme can also practically help householders make the switch to digital TV if they are:

  • are aged 75 or over;
  • get or could get Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Constant Attendance Allowance or mobility supplement; or
  • have lived in a care home for six months or more; or
  • are registered blind or partially sighted.

16/04/2010

Ash Monday: Are our schools prepared?


While the volcanic ash from the erupting Icelandic volcano is airborne in UK airspace, there will, apparently, be severe continuing disruption to journeys by plane to and from airports in Scotland. When the ash flutters to earth, that is not the end of our problems because there are mounting concerns about the potential health risks were ash particles inhaled; especially by those with existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

I am concerned about the capacity of all the city schools to cope on Monday, because of a significant number of teachers stranded abroad, unable yet to fly back to the UK from their Easter holidays. I am also concerned about the preparedness of schools and nurseries to take reasonable precautions to protect pupils, especially those with vulnerable health, from being exposed to the dangers from inhaling volcanic ash particles.

I think parents and carers would like to be reassured that there are contingency plans in place. Firstly, they will hope that they will not be hearing news of partial school or nursery closures on Monday morning. Secondly, I think parents and carers will want to be doubly reassured that their children will be protected from exposure to the dust particles while at school or nursery.

08/04/2010

Red Letter Day for Broughty Ferry

On Saturday 3 April, the Sports and Recreation facilites at Grove Academy were openend to the public for the first time. This was, I think, a red letter day in Broughty Ferry.

The opening of the swimming pool fulfills a commitment made in the 1913 Act of Parliament that annexed Broughty Ferry to Dundee. While this long overdue pledge may have been forgotten, the need for accessible sports and recreation facilities in the heart of the ferry is nonetheless keenly felt by today's residents. I am delighted that the Labour led council's PPP school building programme has delivered these outstanding new facilities for Broughty Ferry. They are available for the pupils of Grove academy every school weekday and now for residents in the evenings, at weekends and during the school holidays. I am sure they will make a significant contribution to enhancing our recreation and health.

As more adults pass through the school's main entrance into the sports wing, week by week, I hope it will strengthen the relationship between the community and its outstanding comprehensive school.

Click here to find out more details on the new swimming and sports facilities at Grove Academy.