Tag Archives: edinburgh council

SF: How will we pay for it?

Scotland's Future Yesterday, the Bank of England announced that interest rates would not rise from the historic low of 0.5% at least until 2015, as the Bank “believes the UK economy is running at around 1.5pc below its potential, and said it would need to make up more lost ground before it would consider raising rates”: that “productivity was much weaker than expected, while surveys pointed to less slack in the economy.”

Austerity is stifling the UK economy. The Tory/LibDem oft-repeated claim that there are more people in work than ever before is technically true but says nothing about the real state of the economy: people in part-time work, work on minimum wage, work below minimum wage: more people than ever before in work but claiming benefits.

What of the Scottish economy?

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Filed under Economics, Indyref White Paper, Politics, Scottish Politics

Swimming against the tide

Most of learning to swim is confidence in the water.

I struggled to learn to swim without that confidence: once I had it – the surety that I could – I went from struggling with a buoyancy ring to underwater somersaults in what, looking back, feels like months, not years.

A group of scientific researchers in Australia have shown that participation in swimming lessons is benefiting the over all health and well-being of children. Early results of a study at Griffith University in Queensland has revealed that children who learn how to swim at a young age have physical, social, intellectual and language development advantages compared to the non-swimmers. Professor Jorgensen said this study was the largest of its kind in 30 years and stated: “We’ve only just done the first year of the study but already the indicators are suggesting that the children who have been in longer periods of time in early swimming do appear to be hitting those intellectual milestones, those physical milestones, earlier than children who aren’t doing swimming”. – Blue Wave Swim School

Leith Victoria is a nice swimming pool: I like it and I swim there regularly. But it’s a pool designed for people who already can swim. Two lanes are standard for people who want to swim regular lengths without interruption from adults and children splashing about, and so a child who can’t swim yet is confined to a quarter of the pool at most during regular public swimming hours. That’s normal for most pools.

Leith Waterworld was a treasure: a pool designed for all children, for disabled adults, for family use. Closing it down means fewer children will be swimming regularly, learning to have confidence in the water, discovering they love to swim. It’s ironic that this should be Edinburgh’s Olympic & Paralympic memorial: closing a pool that fostered the love of swimming.
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Filed under Children, Disability, of Edinburgh, Olympics, Scottish Politics

Money money money

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain’t it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me

If you have a car, you’ll have noticed your petrol costs have been going up. When you do your shopping, food costs are terrible these days. Everything’s more expensive, money just doesn’t seem to go as far as it did.

Ian Bell wrote on 30th June
:

So who still believes that the cost of petrol, food or credit, for nations or individuals, rises or falls because of the pure, dispassionate action of market forces? Speculative attacks, such as “aggressive tax avoidance”, are hardly in the spirit of the thing; the fiddling of interest rates is another malignity entirely. It strikes at the heart of capitalism. When prices cannot be trusted – for such is the effect – there is no free market.

In the case of Barclays, and perhaps 20 other household names trading on the public trust, that was the whole idea. The London interbank offered rate (Libor) and its European equivalent were supposed to act as guarantees that bankers’ claims matched reality, that they described accurately commerce between banks and, by extension, the wider world. For the sake of their bonuses and their bank, traders at Barclays decided to dispense with annoying, unhelpful reality. Time and again, for years, under the alleged instruction of “senior management”, they lied.

You don’t need to understand how Libor is constructed as a global benchmark, with highest and lowest figures discarded and averages compiled, to grasp what was done. Bankers were taken at their word. Instead of regarding this as a solemn responsibility, they took it as an opportunity, offered by suckers. The simple analogy is discovering, after a day at the races, that every nag was doped. Forget the casino economy: these characters were controlling the roulette wheel.

Do you remember the Occupy movement? I don’t know why I say “do you remember”: it’s not so long ago that they were camped out on the steps of St Pauls in London, the small area of the Square Mile that is owned by the Church, not Mammon: not so long since the tents disappeared from Charlotte Square in Edinburgh, where they were a daily reminder of the banks that own so many of the buildings around them. They were wild-eyed radical tent-dwelling hippies, who’d listen to them?

But they were right.

Ian Fraser, writing on 5th December 2011 in QFinance:

What disturbed me the most about the November 1 session was the regulators’ seeming nonchalance about criminality in the UK’s banking sector. At times, using the tortured and obfuscatory phraseology, the financial regulators almost seemed to want to pretend that criminality and fraud didn’t, or couldn’t exist in the domain they are supposed to police. This struck me as very strange.

When I wrote “Helicopter Money and Stephen Hester“, it was meant to be an account of what happened to the rich instigators and their victims – to describe the links between Paula Daly, who became homeless after the bank foreclosed on her business in September 2008, and Jeffrey Verschleiser, head of the sub-prime mortgage operations at Bear Stearns, who had just booked a 93-room luxury hotel for a family weekend.

Despite sub-prime mortgage operations having led to a wave of criminal repossessions across the US (including, quite literally, a special court system so that fraudulent and predatory loans could be resolved in the lenders’ favour and the houses attached to them sold again with clean paperwork) Jeffrey Verschleiser wasn’t worried he might get prosecuted any more than he had money worries. I noted this in passing, citing Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?, which opens with Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone, and a former Senate investigator in a Washington bar in January 2011:

“Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail,” he said. “That’s your whole story right there. Hell, you don’t even have to write the rest of it. Just write that.”

I put down my notebook. “Just that?”

“That’s right,” he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. “Everything’s fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there.”

A fortnight ago, Matt Taibbi wrote about the conclusion of the first criminal trial which has sent Wall Street staff to jail: Continue reading

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Filed under American, Corruption, Currency, Economics, Housing, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Politics

Voting matters

Today is the last day to get registered to vote on 3rd May.

www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

You have until 5pm.

All parties want a high turnout in elections because the lower the turnout the fewer votes their candidate can receive.

There are 17 wards in Edinburgh, 129 candidates standing, all wards will return 3 or 4 councillors: some wards have only 6 or 7 candidates standing. Even a few votes can make a difference.

Whichever party you support: whatever your priorities are for the next four years: these next couple of weeks before 3rd May are the time when the candidates who want to be councillors have to pay attention to you. Make the most of it. Get registered. Vote.
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Filed under Elections, Public Transport, Scottish Politics

An equal council for Edinburgh

On Thursday 3rd May, Edinburgh goes to the polls to elect a new council for the first time since 2007.

In 2007 we had the guddle of the ballots, and in the five years since the last set of councillors took office, we’ve had an economic crash, LibDems propping up a Tory government, the tenement statutory repairs scam come to light, a serious effort by the Tory, LibDem, and SNP groups on Edinburgh council to privatise our city parks and services (foiled when the SNP group switched sides to vote with Labour and the Greens), and of course… the trams.

Normally you can look at the previous elections and have a fair idea how things are going to go this time. But no one should take the 2007 election results as a guide. All we can be really sure of is that this time as last time, most of the councillors on 4th May will be men.
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Filed under Elections, Women

Edinburgh: Ban Chuggers

No one likes chuggers. Everyone has a preferred tactic of dealing with them. (Mine, if I can’t dodge them completely, is to say flatly and at once “I never give out my bank details on the street” and walk on. Occasionally they try to argue with me, but I’m not stopping for that.)

Andrew Napier claimed in 2002:

I’ve found that humour helps. ‘Do you want to hear my joke for the day?’ usually gets people to stop. If they listen to my lame, cheesy joke, they’ll usually hear me out about the charity as well.

Of course there’s a bit of flirting sometimes, but it’s a matter of definitions. If I talk to a guy, it’s conversation; if I talk to a girl it could be called flirting. Although I did go out for coffee with someone once…

Stavvers’ reaction in 2011:

“You’ve got a pretty smile,” another says with a creeping grin. “Come and talk to me.” He tries to grab my arm. I walk away, as fast as I can.

These interactions happen on a regular basis. Often it’s the usual, the leery-beery tiresome street harassment of daily life, the drunks, the creeps, the men who want to make women feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes, they are not. The men in the incidents outlined above are wearing bibs and told to harass women in the street by major charities. The techniques employed are identical. The objectifying icebreaker. The assertion that they “only want to talk”. The unwanted contact, the grabbing, the following.

The only differences between “chugging” and bog-standard street harassment is the bib, and the fact that you know exactly what it is that the chugger wants.

In Glasgow, from the end of April, chuggers will be restricted to 13 locations (half in the city centre, half elsewhere), a maximum of five at any one location on any one day, and will be out chugging only two days a week at any one location. The timetable and locations are listed here, to give you fair warning and blank them. This is the first regulatory agreement signed with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) in Scotland.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“The issue of street-fundraisers is a source of annoyance to many shoppers and visitors to Glasgow. However we recognise that charities have the legal right to fundraise on our streets, but we must ensure that people working, living and visiting Glasgow are not inconvenienced by this practice.”

But really – is there any reason to tolerate chuggers at all?

A former chugger who wanted to remain anonymous told the Telegraph it was a lucrative job:

“I got £7 an hour, plus £30 for every sign-up you got after the eighth, which meant that the better fund-raisers were on a stupendously good wage. Continue reading

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Privatisation by surplus?

At the end of January, it was reported that Edinburgh Council had managed by good financial management and totally not as a pre-election ploy for May, that they’d spend £2m on pothole repairs, a “spring clean” of Edinburgh’s dirtiest streets, some kind of tramwork measures, even new bus shelters, cycle parking, and road safety initiatives.

Councillor Robert Aldridge said:

“The Edinburgh Spring Clean will give us the opportunity to target some problem hot spots with extra trained staff drafted in on a temporary basis, through an existing contract. This money has been made available through careful financial management and will ensure that Leith and city centre residents, visitors and businesses will notice a real improvement quite quickly.”

Aldridge was one of the Lib Dem group on the council who were defeated on what they called the “Alternative Business Model”, what everyone else calls privatisation. (Bill Ness, who was involved in developing the “alternative business model”, was suspended at the end of 2011 for other reasons and has since left his post.)

What Aldridge means by “extra trained staff drafted in on a temporary basis” is privatisation Continue reading

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Filed under Economics, Elections, Scottish Politics

Tapas eaten by landlord

Just round the corner from Eildon Street, on Inverleith Place, there was a little general grocers. My late great-aunt lived on Eildon Street; she couldn’t walk as far as the big Tescos (and didn’t like it much anyway) or the shops at Goldenacre, and she hated letting other people do her shopping for her. The couple who ran the shop got to like her and she them and they’d order items specially for her if she needed them.

Then suddenly a refrigerator with beer and wine appeared. As the couple were devout Muslims, this surprised my great-aunt. They told her that they didn’t have a choice – the landlord had told them their profits weren’t high enough, they had to start selling alcohol.

The shop was burgled. The beer and wine were all stolen. The shop was insured against theft, of course, but the insurance premiums went up. The couple protested again about having to restock the cabinet, but the landlord insisted. Because the exterior of the building was listed, they couldn’t put a metal shutter up. The shop was burgled again. The landlord instructed them to restock. The insurance premiums were too high. The shop folded.

While it may get into the news when Edinburgh Council, acting as a private landlord, raises the rent on commercial properties and drives out business, they are far from the only landlords that do that. Tapa on Hanover Street has closed down now, and they identify a legal wrangle with their landlord as the problem.

I know of no details in the Tapa Hanover case, but the pattern I have heard about businesses in Edinburgh is that all too often, the landlord of a commercial property will offer it at initially quite a reasonable rate: a new business moves in.

If the business is doing well, profits are up – the landlord may even make explicit instructions about putting the profits up, the landlord renews the lease at a higher rate of rent to claw back back more of the profits. The business owner puts prices up, if they can – tries to win more custom, if they can – but even if they can, the more profits come in, the higher the landlord raises the rent. Eventually the business collapses. The landlord once more has an empty property to rent – beginning at a low rate to draw in the next sucker.

In this system, no one wins except the landlord.

There is solid legal protection for residential tenants against a landlord unreasonably raising the rent. You can even take your landlord to the council to have the value of the property reassessed, which can result in a considerable drop in rent.

But where is the protection for small businesses against predatory landlords?

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I love libraries

I have been trying all day to think how I would write about libraries.

There is too much.

Why do we love our libraries? This is why…

The libraries of Edinburgh, I love them.
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Filed under Books, Photographs, Scottish Culture

Edinburgh Council: Save Our Services

Edinburgh Council were calling it an Alternative Business Model, but in plain English it was privatisation of public services.

The plan to privatise began two years ago, and continued with maximum discretion and minimal consultation until a small group of concerned locals and trade unions started a campaign to save our services. At two previous council meetings in 2011, the SNP had been moved from pro-privatisation to anti- and joined Labour and Green councillors to vote down the plans for privatisation.

Update: For more about the campaign, see Alyson MacDonald’s blog about it at Bright Green Scotland:

It might feel as if this doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes we win. And when we do, it’s amazing.

One interesting aspect of this was that the same man who was involved in developing the “alternative business model”, the former head of corporate property, Bill Ness, was suspended at the end of 2011 over the repairs scandal – and apparently he has since left his post. I wrote about this ten days ago as the Edinburgh tenement council tax. The investigation into that bit of dirty business is now costing the taxpayer £1.8M.

The last tranche of public services that had been slated for privatisation was to be voted on today.

I wrote to my councillors:

I see that the council is minded to privatise (1) schools meals, (2) commissioning services, (3) the Council’s helpdesk and (4) the elected members enquiry service.

To deal with them all in turn:
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Filed under Economics, Housing, Scottish Politics