30/09/2011

Commenting on the False Alarms from Grove Academy to Tayside Fire & Rescue

During August and September there have been a number of maliciously activated fire alarms at Grove Academy. 


Activations of the Fire Alarm automatically summon an emergency response from Tayside Fire and Rescue.


I was disappointed to hear about such irresponsible behaviour from a small number of pupils at Grove Academy. 

False alarms calls to Tayside Fire and Rescue waste time and public money. More seriously, they run the risk of diverting firefighters and fire appliances on an unnecessary journey when they might be needed urgently at a real fire.
 


I have been impressed with the robust and comprehensive response by the Senior Management Team of School to these incidents. These responses include:

  • pupil exclusions, 
  • meetings with the pupils involved, their parents and carers together with staff from Tayside Fire & Rescue as well as 
  • fire safety talks by fire fighters for all the pupils.
These incidents should not distract from the outstanding performance of Grove Academy pupils in the SQA examinations this year and the school's commitment to promote positve citizenship.

28/09/2011

Jenny Marra MSP Recently Travelled to St John's High School on the No. 26 Bus to Highlight Concerns Over Recent Bus Changes in Dundee



I share Jenny Marra's concerns about the elongated school day for West End pupils who now have to take the No 26 bus on its circuitous route to St John's High School. The more direct bus route to the school has unfortunately been withdrawn.

27/09/2011

New Trains Services Calling at Broughty Ferry - Call for Improvements to Broughty Ferry Station

I welcome the recent announcement about improvements to the schedule of trains that will stop at Broughty Ferry Station when the new rail national timetable comes into force on Sunday 11 December. This includes four more trains a day going south and three more trains a day heading north.

I regret however that First Scot Rail have not comprehensively implemented what the Tayside and Central Scotland Transport Partnership (Tactran) recommended in their Tay Estuary Rail Study. A regular hourly timetable of services would have meant that potential rail users would have got the hang of the services that connected Broughty Ferry with Dundee and  heading north to stations towards Aberdeen. As it is, we will have trains with long gaps between services. For example, if you miss the 11:07 train to Aberdeen you will have a four hour gap until the 16:09 pulls in. Similarly, if you miss the O7:41 train to Glasgow, you would have to wait for the 10:43 train.

While there will be some more trains stopping, I have not heard about any plans for enhancing passenger information at the station. I have written to Scotrail to demand improvements in two ways. Firstly to make provision for at least a poster of the train timetable to be displayed on the up platform. Secondly, in an unstaffed station, it would be helpful and reassuring if there were a electronic display showing the upcoming arrivals and whether they are running late or are cancelled.

Imagine standing on the down platform on a Friday night waiting for the last train south (towards Dundee which runs on to Perth) due at just after half past midnight (00:33). This is a potentially useful service because the last bus for Dundee would have left hours before. It could be a lonely and worrying wait. The last train heading north towards Aberdeen would have stopped on the opposite platform more than an hour before so it’s pretty certain that there would not be any folk waiting or alighting on the other platform. So as you wait you are bound to wonder whether you have missed the train. Maybe your watch is running slow? It is only when the level crossing barrier drops that you are reassured that a train is on its way.

If an electronic display can be mounted in a bus shelter in the city to provide live updates on bus services, surely the equivalent should be supplied in our station?

Finally, the new services are, we have been warned, not a permanent fixture so it's either use it or we lose it."


Timetable of Trains running from Broughty Ferry
from Monday 12 December 2011

(Monday to Saturday unless otherwise specified)
Northbound Trains
06:31 to Inverurie
09:45 to Inverurie
11:07 to Aberdeen
15:09 to Aberdeen
17:47 to Inverurie (Existing Service)
19:00 to Carnoustie (Existing Service)
23:10 to Aberdeen
Southbound Trains
06:29 to Dundee (Existing Service)
07:41 to Glasgow
10:43 to Glasgow (Existing Service)
15:09 to Edinburgh
17:11 to Edinburgh
23:38 to Perth (Monday to Thursday)
00:33 to Perth (Friday Only)

26/09/2011

Shot Gun Wedding for Universities in Dundee Won't Lead to a Successful Academic Marriage


Recent events have demonstrated the determination of the First Minister Alex Salmond and his Education Secretary Mike Russell, to force Dundee and Abertay Universities to merge. 

In the space of a few weeks, the request by the Scottish Funding Council to Abertay to defer appointing a permanent replacement for retired Principal Bernard King has moved to a blunt instruction to both of our universities to begin discussing a merger. This all makes a mockery of the willingness of the Scottish Government to listen to views about their consultative report  'Putting Learners at the Centre – Delivering our Ambitions for Post-16 Education' launched on 15 September. Alex Salmond and Mike Russell have clearly made up their mind about this ambition of theirs.  

It is clear from the official responses from both Universities that this shotgun wedding is something that neither university seeks. I am sure the ensuing uncertainty will do neither University any good. With fifth and sixth form school students about to make their choices through UCAS and an application deadline for dentistry and medicine as early as 15 October and most other courses by 15 January, neither of our Universities and their staff will want this hanging over them.

My fear is that the diversity of courses offered by our two universities would be lost in a forced merger and that this would close rather than open doors to potential students. Since both universities are sought after destinations for many students from our schools, the Council has a vested interest in this issue. 

For future generations of ambitious students in Dundee schools, I am backing 101% the Courier campaign 'No to Merger'. 

24/09/2011

Queen Elizabeth II Portraits by Cecil Beaton - Exhibition Opens at McManus Galleries Dundee Fri 30 September 2011

VandA at Dundee 
An Exhibition

Queen Elizabeth II Portraits by Cecil Beaton at The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum 
From Friday 30 September 2011 - Sunday 8 January 2012
Admission Free

21/09/2011

Commenting on the Proposed Thirty Three Period Week in Secondary Schools in Dundee

Commenting on the item before the Education Committee of the City Council on Monday 26 September 2011, Consultation on the Implementation of the Thirty Three Period Week in Secondary School


I think a proposal that would lead to a change in the the start and finish time of the school day in all nine of our Secondary Schools will be of great interest to pupils and their teachers as well parents and carers.


In fact parents' and carers' first thoughts may be about the potential inconvenience of juggling working hours and out of school care and getting used to earlier finish times on two afternoons a week. 


I think we will all want to be convinced that the disruption from this change will have a worthwhile educational benefit. I met the Director of Education on Tuesday morning and gave him notice that at the Education Committee on Monday night I will have some questions for him about identifying the benefits and potential drawbacks of the proposed new timetable and its possible effect for good or bad on teaching and learning in our secondary schools.

I note that this is a proposal at this stage. The Director of Education is asking approval to go out for consultation throughout the Autumn with a report coming back to the Education Committee early next year. 

On Monday night, I shall also be proposing that we widen the consultation net. While I welcome the planned involvement of the City Wide Pupil Council, I think it would be unduly restrictive to exclude the voices of our 6000+ Secondary School pupils as well. I shall also propose the addition of a online survey for parents and carers.

World Alzheimer’s Day: September 21


World Alzheimer’s Day is Wednesday September 21.


Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.


Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. 
Symptoms may include:
  • loss of memory
  • difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying
  • difficulty in performing previously routine tasks
  • personality and mood changes
Dementia knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries. Although each person will experience dementia in their own way, eventually those affected are unable to care for themselves and need help with all aspects of daily life. There is currently no cure for most types of dementia, but treatments, advice, and support are available.
Further information on Alzheimers

20/09/2011

Four Weddings and a Funeral Not - Three AGMs and a Development Quality Meeting

Like weddings, there is a season for AGMs and for many of our local organisations in our community, September is when such a meeting is scheduled. During the last ten days, I have attended three Annual General Meetings as well as a meeting last night of the Development Management Committee of the Council. 


First the AGMs. These important meetings usually include not only elections/re-elections of committee members and adoption of annual accounts but also report on the progress of the organisation and provide some pointers about where the organisation wants to go during the next year. 


On Saturday morning 10th September, I attended the second AGM of the Broughty Ferry Development Trust held in Castle Green Leisure Centre. This relatively new organisation is making good progress with a number of admirable projects to enhance Broughty Ferry such as restoring the distinctive street lights on Beach Crescent. It's not a talking shop, it is making things happen and folk are clearly rolling their sleeves up. After the formalities, Roddy Isles from the V&A Making It Happen Project Team overviewed the progress of the project and then talked to the thirty odd members present about the potential opportunities and benefits for Broughty Ferry from the V&A. This stimulated a number of interesting suggestions such as boat trips from the V&A at its waterfront site doon the river to the Ferry. I proposed a vote of thanks to the Committee for their hard work throughout the year.


On the evening of Tuesday 13 September, I attended the AGM of the Parent Council at Grove Academy. The meeting re-elected Allen Thurston as Chairperson of Grove Academy Parent Council. With his background as a parent with children at the school, as a former Teacher in Dundee and as a Researcher working on school improvement, Allen is a a very well qualified person to carry out this role. I think Grove Academy Parent Council is a very effective organisation which has shown its support for and engagement with the school in a number of key ways over the last year.  For example, two parents on the Parent Council were members of the selection board for the appointment of a new Head Teacher for Grove. It was reported that a preferred candidate has been chosen and when the contractual formalities have been concluded by the Education Department, a formal announcement will be made. 


On a wet and windy Friday evening 16 September Broughty Ferry in Bloom held their AGM at Castle Green Leisure Centre. Stan Nutt the Chairperson reported on the award of a Silver Medal in the Beautiful Scotland awards which had been held in Rothesay on Monday 12 September (Silver Medal awarded to be an above-average entry that meets most of the judging criteria and objectives of Beautiful Scotland) . Broughty Ferry in Bloom  hope they that will strike Gold or Silver Gilt next year if we all collaborate by sprucing up our gardens and open spaces. A video of the hidden and beautiful gardens in the Ferry was also shown to the members and supporters who turned up.


Interestingly, if you are wondering about my title, yes there some parallels between Four Weddings and a Funeral and the annual meetings I have been attending. All the AGMs have featured a core of key folk who have undertaken a considerable amount of unpaid work and some of these active citizens appeared in more than one of these key meetings in our community. 


Finally, last night I attended a meeting of the Development Quality Committee of the Council. Of particular note was the detailed planning permission granted for the new Asda supermarket on the NCR site beside Kingsway West.

17/09/2011

Green Circular Ride Raises Over £390 for Charity


On Sunday 11 September, I enjoyed pedaling round the 26 miles of the Dundee Cyclathon in the company of hundreds of other cyclists. The route was mainly off road following the Dundee Green Circular.

The Abertay Rotary Club is to be congratulated on a well organised, safe and fun event. There were marshals at all the key junctions and refreshment stations every few miles. 

With the generous help from constituents, friends, family, and colleagues, I raised £393.50 in sponsorship. I was fundraising for Tushinde Children's Trust, a Scottish based charity that supports projects in Nairobi Kenya that provide education and nutrition for children living in in a highly populated sprawling slum called Mathare. When some final donations are recorded, I am hoping my target of £400 will be exceeded. It's not too late to donate via my fundraising page 



Much of my time as a Councillor is focusing on the education of our children in Dundee. I have found it humbling to be involved with a charity that focuses on meeting the needs of children in Mathare for whom access to school and one square meal a day cannot be taken for granted.

Read/download Dundee Green Circular Route Map East
Paper copies of the map are available free from Libraries and Cycle Shops.

13/09/2011

Broughty Ferry in Bloom AGM Friday 16 September 7pm at Castle Green Leisure Centre











Broughty Ferry in Bloom Annual General Meeting

Friday 16 September 2011 at 7PM Castle Green Leisure Centre


AGENDA

  1. General Business

·        Welcome/Apologies      
·         
·        Chairman’s report (including update on 2011 campaign)
·         
·        Treasurer’s report
·         
·        Election of Office Bearers

     
  1. Guest Speaker - Mr Colin Ainsworth, Beautiful Scotland Judge

  1. Garden Competition - Presentation of Certificates and Prizes

  1. “Hidden Gems of Broughty Ferry – 2010” and “Broughty Ferry in Bloom 2010-2011” - Short  films by Daphne Barbieri

  1. Refreshments.

Welfare Rights and Wrongs in Dundee

After nearly a year's deliberation, the Changing for the Future Welfare Rights Review Group on the city council have come up with a report. Unfortunately their report will not set the heather alight. 


This report will be considered by the Policy and Resources Committee on Monday evening.


In their strategy, the review group point out that:
 - many Dundee citizens are not claiming social security benefits to which they are entitled, 
- there are many 'Condem' government cuts to welfare benefits coming up over the next year or two and - that the combination of these factors already has a negative impact on the economy of our city. 
They also identify that many council staff might provide more comprehensive advice to the public and that better first time advice might reduce debts owed to the council in rent and council tax arrears. So far so good.


What  is inadequate is the level and range of responses by the Council. The report's preferred response is to redeploy our welfare rights advisers (based in the Social Work Department) to train other staff to improve their advisory skills. This small team of welfare rights staff are recognised as the elite social security  advisers in the city. If you had a social security appeal coming up, you would want one of these staff to advise you about the paperwork and represent you at the tribunal. These staff are also the only accredited advisers in the city in this particular field. So while this small and specialist team's resources are diverted into training others to provide better first level advice, the queue for help with the tribunals will just get longer. Additionally as more claims are submitted, it is inevitable that the volume of appeals in the city will grow. How will the already stretched Welfare Rights council staff and paid and unpaid staff in voluntary advice agencies manage? 

This report has nothing to say about these issues. 

More needs to be done to convince us that this strategy will really deliver. I think the existing specialist roles of the welfare rights service in the Council should be protected while also improving the quantity and quality of welfare rights advice in the city. 


At a time of continuing recession, economic insecurity and squeezed family budgets, Dundee deserves better.

12/09/2011

How Sustainable is the New Education Department Structure?.


The revised blueprint for the management of the Education Department will be considered by the Policy and Resources Committee of the Council on Monday 12 September. Significantly, it's another vital set of issues about schooling in Dundee that will bypass the Education Committee of the Council.


What are we to make of the new Education Department structure? At first glance it is clear that many posts have been lost by the non replacement of staff granted early retirement over the last year or two. This approach to the management of change seems to be characterized by shaking the education tree and seeing what falls off; then reorganizing around those posts and people you have left. 


The recent crop of education cuts has been focused mainly on reducing posts in the management of schools and the Education Department, particularly 'depute head teachers', 'directorate' and 'improvement and education officers'.  We have been warned that the Council's anticipated budget reduction for 2012/13 will be £10 million. When Labour led the coalition that ran the council up to April 2009, we protected Education from the full force of budgetary reductions. Judging by the SNP's apportionment of cuts this year, and the Education Department's share of the overall council budget, up to £5 million more may be removed from the Education Department's budget next financial year. It's difficult not to conclude that next time more teachers and other front line staff will have to go.


So this new structure, for the Education Department, may unfortunately be short lived. I fear that the attrition of cuts, year after year, will turn the management of education into last man or woman standing. This hardly inspires confidence we are really changing for the future. 

11/09/2011

Lest We Forget 9/11


Albanian Children More Likely to Enjoy Reading than Pupils in UK


The UK was ranked 47th out of 65 nations in a table based on the number of teenagers who pick up a book, newspaper or magazine on a daily basis.

In all, around four-in-10 teenagers in the UK fail to read for enjoyment outside school. Across the developed world, boys are significantly less likely to read daily than girls.

This is significant because better readers not only perform well in school, they grow up to become adults who use their reading skills to make sense of the world around them and continue learning throughout their lives.

These disclosures are revealed in a recent research report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This study pulls together data from the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a series of tests taken by students across the world in 2009. It ranked 65 nations by the proportion of pupils who reported reading for pleasure.

PISA finds that a crucial difference between students who perform well in the PISA reading assessment and those who perform poorly lies in whether they read daily for enjoyment, rather than in how much time they spend reading. 
Significantly, on average, students who read daily for enjoyment score the equivalent of one and a half years of schooling better than those who do not.

10/09/2011

'Open Doors to Heaven' - Rare Opportunity to See Fisherman's Graveyard in Broughty Ferry Tuesday 13 September 1pm


On Tuesday 13 September beginning at 1pm there will be a rare opportunity for a peek into the Fisherman's Graveyard in Broughty Ferry. A conducted tour has been organised by Friends of Dundee City Archives. There is no charge for the tour but booking is necessary.

For further information and to book telephone Dundee 01382 434494

Improving future access to the Fisherman's Graveyard is one of the projects currently being pursued by Broughty Ferry Development Trust.

06/09/2011

Rising Demand for Renewable Energy in Dundee Could Drive More Land Grabs in Developing Countries



Wood pellets for fuel
Rising demand for wood fuel worldwide, including in the UK, is helping to increase the number of foreign-owned plantations in developing countries, at the cost of food security, according to a new report from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

According to the report, projected demand for wood chips and pellets in the UK is likely to exceed - by five or six times - the indigenous supply of ten million tonnes a year.

This adds weight to the arguments against the proposed biomass power station in the Dundee Docks. The developers of that plant claim they will source their supplies from the Baltic and North America. The map below shows that already the growing demand for biomass supplies from countries in the north is extending to sourcing from countries in the south; encroaching on agricultural land and reducing food supplies where there is already food insecurity. 



Land areas under known tree plantations wholly or partly for biomass energy in the global South.

I hope SNP ministers in the Scottish Government will bear this in mind when they come to make the final decision about whether to approve this power station or not. While we already know about the health risks of those that will live downwind of this plant, this report from IIED makes it clear that the health risks will also be borne in developing countries through increased food prices and food scarcity.


A biomass power station in Dundee is neither healthy or sustainable for Scotland nor for countries where we will eventually end up sourcing the wood pellet supply.

03/09/2011

Temporary Road Closure as Strathern Road is Resurfaced

Starting on Monday 5 September for up to two weeks, there will be temporary closure of Strathern Road in The Ferry. There will be diversions in place and pedestrian access will be maintained for residents. 


Drivers should expect delays on Dundee Road and Arbroath Road as traffic from Strathern Road is diverted into those routes in and out of Dundee.


Deep ruts can be clearly seen on the north edge of Strathern Road close to the bus stop. This is most probably caused by the weight of buses waiting at the stop. It's potholes like this that will be fixed when this road is resurfaced.

Me and My Girl - Dundee Schools' Music Theatre

Last night I attended a most enjoyable performance of 'Me and My Girl' at the Whitehall Theatre. This was the last of the season of three shows by Dundee Schools' Music Theatre.


A large company of performers, drawn from our nine Secondary Schools, entertained us with a maturity that defied their youth. The dancing, singing and acting were all impressive and came together into an energetic and integrated performance. I especially appreciated the rumbustious performance of Lambeth Walk.


Let's hope that funding for this commendable programme is not withdrawn in the next round of cuts from the the Council's SNP administration.

02/09/2011

Next Meeting of Broughty Ferry Community Council

The next monthly meeting of Broughty Ferry Community Council will be held on Tuesday 6th September at Broughty Ferry Library beginning at 7pm 

01/09/2011

Sewage on Cedar Road: Residents Need Effective Action

David Hewick, Planning Secretary of Broughty Ferry Community Council has been complaining for months about the nasty sewage residues in Cedar Road near its junction with Forthill Road.  


After heavy rainfall there is usually flooding on the road which is inconvenient. When the water levels subside however it becomes obvious that it's not just surface water that has been gathering in a pool but water coming up out of the drains together with residues of human sewage.

I think that Scottish Water need to come up with a long term resolution of this issue. It's all very well sending out staff to clean up the mess, but while we are waiting for this, children are walking to school along these streets This is a public health issue. Residents in this areas deserve reassurance that the capacity of the drains will be improved to cope with regular downpours so that sewage isn't washing up on their streets week after week.



This is also an issue for the City Council.  I think this situation in Cedar Road is an indicator that our drains often do not have the capacity to cope with the outfall from our current number of households in Broughty Ferry. I think we need acknowledgement that any more new houses in the northern part of Broughty Ferry will require improvements to infrastructure like the drains.