Paying For The Schools Our Children Deserve

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

After a tragedy such as the death of Keane Wallis-Bennett, the immediate and only thoughts are with the family and friends of Keane.

Even with a daughter of my own of the same age, also in S1 at a neighbouring school, I can only glimpse the deep grief and pain everyone will be feeling.

As initial numbness gives way to understandable anger, all councillors have a duty to do everything we can to prevent such a tragedy happening ever again.

Exactly what went wrong in Liberton High School, we will know in due course. But, more generally, it has been clear for some time that there is a long-term problem of investment in and repair of school buildings.

For decades the school estate in Edinburgh has been neglected, so the decision to commission surveys for the whole school estate was both brave and necessary.

The staff who took that necessary step should be thanked for facing up to that long-term neglect and laying out the simple facts for all to see.

The level of investment needed is stark: £90.6 million. The repairs and maintenance bill is £29.1m and improvements are costed at £61.5m.

However, this year’s budget was agreed with only half of the funding for improvements identified over the next five years. Even more glaringly, the council’s budget has only £4.2m per year for maintenance and planned work across the entire council estate, while £8m is needed just for schools and related buildings for each of the next two years, as part of that £29.1m total bill.

So the current annual budget of £4.2m is only half of what is needed for schools and children’s centres, never mind libraries, depots and other public buildings.

This is why officers have warned that the current repairs budget is so under-funded that it ‘will impact little on required works’.

The council also needs to adopt planned preventative maintenance programmes for schools. As anyone who has to maintain a home knows, the rapid downwards spiral that results from neglect is a false economy. We have been warned.

Back in March, as a member of the council’s audit committee, I asked for school repairs and conditions to be closely examined by the committee and will press for this to happen as soon as possible. That should help secure consensus about what needs to happen.

So, crucially, how much do we need? And how do we get it?

An additional £10.5m a year would allow the repairs backlog to be addressed in full and fund the additional borrowing needed to improve schools.

£10.5m is £1 a week extra on council tax. I propose that the city council goes to the Scottish Government and makes the case for this as a special school repair and improvement levy. £1 a week, earmarked only for schools, and sitting outside the terms of the council tax freeze.

£1 a week: surely a small price for a well maintained school estate: no less than Edinburgh needs and future generations deserve.

This post originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.

Leisure Centre can kicked down the road again

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

It was no surprise that Midlothian councillors decided this week not to accept officers’ recommendations that Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre be demolished. Given the overwhelming publicity in the media and opposition by MSPs Alison Johnstone and Colin Beattie, to do so would be electoral suicide for councillors voting for it, not to mention the prospect of images of people chained to the building as the bulldozers arrive featuring on national television (a very real possibility, according to my sources). (more…)

Trams For Leith: Gain For The Pain

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

When I lived in Augsburg, Bavaria, between 1998 and 2000, I took the tram for granted. It was quick, reliable and affordable. Augsburg has a population around half the size of Edinburgh yet has 6 separate tram lines stretching for over 25 miles. Other continental cities are the same: trams are a normal part of a modern public transport system.

And yet trams in Edinburgh have become a byword for financial and administrative mess. The budget is overspent, the construction is late and the roadworks have seemed never-ending. The handling of the trams project has embarrassed the city.

Leith has suffered all the pain but, as yet, has none of the gain. Businesses have suffered and some may have gone bust as a result of the tramworks.

Some of my constituents want an immediate end to the pain: Leith has suffered enough. We should reinstate Leith Walk to its previous state as soon as possible and should not even entertain the prospect of trams coming to Leith, they say. I’ve been critical of the horrendous mismanagement of the tram project and share the anger of these residents and businesses.

But many more of my constituents (a majority of those who contact me about this issue) say they want to see a benefit from all this pain and disruption. They want to see trams come to Leith. And I agree with them. Leith deserves the high-quality public transport system that many cities of our size take for granted: a clean, efficient tram system.

We need to be realistic about when this can be achieved. There is no prospect of work being funded by the current council or the current Scottish Government in the near future. We should, of course, learn the lessons of the tram line that is currently undergoing testing, from the airport to St Andrews Square and should wait until this line has completely bedded in. But I will continue to argue for investment in high-quality modern public transport systems and all the benefits it brings. Benefits such as local environmental improvements, better mobility for citizens, especially those without access to a car, and the investment that the tram has recently brought to some sections of the airport – city centre route.

The tram project has brought the city seven years of pain. I believe we are now about to see the gain. And that should include Leith as well.

This post originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.

Community Empowerment? The reality, as Bonnyrigg is discovering, is very different.

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

I’m calling on Midlothian Council to rethink plans to demolish Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre.

Community campaigners trying to save the centre received my support last summer but it has emerged that councillors will be invited next week (Tue 25 Mar) to approve demolition. (more…)

Ofcom Decision Is An Insult To Scotland

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Ofcom’s decision to grant UKIP priority status in May’s European elections is an insult to Scotland, writes Patrick Harvie. (more…)


Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Last week, The Trump Organization announced it was withdrawing its planning application to build a second golf course at Menie and has abandoned its scheme to construct a large golf resort at the site.

This is not a huge surprise, given Mr Trump’s track record elsewhere. For the last few years, the very slow pace of progress on the Menie development, the procrastination and delay, have strongly suggested Mr Trump was seeking an exit strategy – but wanted to be able to blame someone else for his decision not to proceed. His way out has been to blame the Scottish Government.

Mr Trump has now used the First Minister twice. Back in 2007, to help progress his planning application. Now, as the scapegoat for his decision to stop work on the development. Mr Salmond has been played.

Mr Trump is claiming the proposed wind farm in Aberdeen Bay is the reason for his decision. It has been suggested by some that the proposed wind farm should have been moved or abandoned to appease Mr Trump. Firstly, the turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay will not be an ‘ordinary’ wind farm, but a test centre crucial to developing the renewables industry in the North-east, and so of great economic importance to the region. Secondly, Mr Trump has been making threats and unreasonable demands from the start. You don’t appease an arrogant, irrational bully. It doesn’t work. They only come back wanting even more.

Mr Trump’s tendency to change his position and contradict himself, means we cannot be sure that he will not say something quite different next week. But I do think this probably is Mr Trump walking away from continuing work on his Menie development.

Of course, the Scottish Government should never have stepped in to grant Mr Trump planning permission in the first place. We have lost an important and beautiful natural area that was legally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Our duty, as I saw it, was to hand this natural heritage over to following generations intact, so they could enjoy it and wonder at and better understand nature. Instead, it has become a golf course. The justification for allowing this damage to the environment was the jobs and economic benefit the proposed golf resort would bring. While the scale of the economic benefit promised by Mr Trump was clearly ridiculously exaggerated, there is no doubt that, had the resort gone ahead, there would have been some job creation and economic activity as a result. As it is, the North-east has got the worst of all possible worlds. We have lost our irreplaceable, natural, mobile dune system – for negligible economic return.

Mr Trump, clearly, should never have been given planning permission.

Three Reasons For Yes

Friday, February 14th, 2014

This is the text of a speech given by Fabio Villani at the Lossiemouth Independence Information Meeting on 7th February 2014


Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen … thank you very much for inviting me here tonight.

It’s great to see so many of you willing to come out on a this bright but chilly February night to discuss the future of Scotland. (more…)

Equal Marriage passes at Holyrood!

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The Scottish Parliament has just voted same-sex marriage into law 105-18! We are absolutely delighted – Greens all over the world have been campaigning for marriage equality for decades.

You can join us in celebrating equal marriage on Twitter and Facebook by changing your avatar:

Silhouette of Scotland in rainbow stripes, overlaid with the word 'equal.'

It’s been a long road to this historic achievement. Patrick Harvie made his first speeches in Parliament demanding marriage equality a decade ago, before there were even civil partnerships. Here he is speaking almost exactly two years ago, at the start of the campaign for the law Holyrood passed today:

And you can read his speech in the first Holyrood debate on the new Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill, and watch it below (begin at 28 minutes 55 seconds):

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This morning, Patrick said:

“Holyrood may have taken a little longer to reach the final stage today, but for once we’ve ended up with better law as a result. The rights of transgender people as well as same-sex couples are being respected, and I’ll be delighted to see the Bill pass with a substantial majority.”

We’ll have the video and transcript from his barnstorming speech this afternoon up here as soon as it’s available.

Council Tax: The Path Not Taken

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

When the SNP took up the reins of government in 2007, one of its flagship promises was to freeze council tax.

Since council tax is a local council responsibility, this was a promise that Scottish Government had no direct means to deliver. It had to persuade councils to freeze council tax through making an annual payment or “holdback”, which, in Edinburgh, is just short of £7 million. (more…)

Building On Edinburgh's Transport Strategy

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

At Transport and Environment Committee this month, Edinburgh City Council adopted its Local Transport Strategy for the next five years. It may not be on everyone’s must-read list, but it is important in that it sets out the transport policies which the Council hopes will contribute to its ‘vision of Edinburgh as a thriving, successful and sustainable city.

And there is much in it to commend, in particular the efforts to reduce the need to travel, encouragement of the use of alternatives to the car, the push to reduce emissions from motorised travel, and the prioritisation of walking, cycling and public transport.

However, there are also considerable gaps in it and areas where I believe the Council could and should have gone much further.

For example, it sometimes feels that the city is simply juggling one set of pressures against another, within an overall unshifting or even growing volume of traffic. So I would have liked to have seen much greater efforts to reduce road traffic volumes, with a fixed target and timetable.

There’s clearly an appetite for the introduction of physically segregated cycle paths, to enable cycling to go beyond just confident on-road cyclists and to ensure that everyone from 8 to 80 feels safe enough to travel anywhere in the city by bike. I’ve called for 20-mph zones as standard with exceptions on a case-by-case basis, together with greater physical traffic-calming measures and genuine and consistent enforcement.

I’d urge proper integration of land use and planning with a lowering of parking provision in new developments and greater support for local shopping facilities; and enhanced priority given to pedestrians over road users, to allow them to cross and move around with ease; and concerted action on air quality.

In other words, although progress will undoubtedly be made over the next five years, the Council’s vision could have been much more far-reaching and delivered greater improvements to our beautiful but sometimes fragile city which is still blighted by heavy vehicle traffic and has many shortcomings for pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility problems.

The Local Transport Strategy points in the right direction, and I’ll be seeking to make sure it delivers on its modest aims; and, just as importantly, builds on them.


This article originally appeared on the Edinburgh Greens website.

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