RSS

Tag Archives: localism

Financial tricks..

Once upon a time there was a building, a rather splendid and imposing building which was named The Custom House. It was a building paid for by the local taxpayers and it served the various sea borne custom which came in and out of the fairly large docks close to it. Over a long number of years the building served the purpose it had been designed for, but as it is with many things, times changed, the docks were much less busy and The Custom House was closed.

The building lay empty for some time and after a few possible uses were discussed and then rejected a temporary use was agreed. A public organisation was given leave to use the building for storage whist a larger new facility was being for them. It wasn’t in ideal building for storage and neither were the items being stored but at least it was in use.

Once the public organisation using it for storage they were them granted ownership of the building. Now that’s a bit odd. They were given ownership of a building which didn’t really suit the purpose they were using it for.

When the time was right for them to begin to seriously plan to move out they put the building up for sale. Now isn’t that a bit strange? It was a publicly funded building, which had been given to them free, and now they were selling it?

The local community council were shocked and a group was formed to take over The Custom House so it could be turned into a local museum. But they only had a month to find over £600,000 so they could buy it back for the local taxpayers.

The local City Councillors wanted to help and be the saviours as is their want. They found a way to save The Custom House. They decided that they could use the Common Good Fund to buy The Custom House back from the other public body. Everyone was happy with that. (Not the taxpayers though).

Now at this point you will be looking for the “living happily ever after” ending. Alas no. Within a few weeks the City Council had changed their plans for the building. Yes it would be a museum but a museum which had a foot print the size of a single tennis court.

The City Council were now going to sell most of the building to developers. Isn’t that clever? Money coming from the Common Good fund, which could only be used for supporting the local community council, was used for buying a building, which had belonged to the public in the first place.

And here is the wee sting. The developers would pay a much higher price for the building, less the small museum space. And where would the money that the developers paid end up? Well, the City Council of course. Isn’t that a surprise?

What a slick wee scheme is it not?

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Edinburgh, Justice, The Environment

 

Tags: , , , ,

A new shiny Scotland – Part 3

As the title would suggest this is a utopian view of how a new Scotland following a successful YES vote in the independence referendum “could” develop. If you haven’t read Part 1 it’s here and Part 2 is here.

So carrying on our tale.

The A9 was made dual carriage way in record time also and potholes were attacked and dealt with all over the country. Road Tax no longer carried any sort of VAT or “environmental tax” and the duty on petrol was slashed by 60% with no VAT. There was a general drive to adopt a taxation system, which only taxed people once and at source of their salary or drawing etc. Again this was a great benefit to localism since most of the tax collected stayed in the area with a small amount sent on to the central government departments.

Obviously , Scotland needed a Navy/Army and Air Force albeit based on the stuff, which was deemed necessary by Westminster at the time of independence. Since then Scottish Governmenr has worked with other smaller countries to put together the ships, planes and equipment needed whilst also ensuring shipbuilding capability to sell and refit both naval and merchant ships etc.

Honesty was also brought to the tobacco and health debates. We now have a lot more pubs and hotels than we did during the attempt on smoking prohibition. Pubs, clubs, hotels etc. can now decide if they want to be smoking establishments. People are so more tolerant of others since they took more responsibility for themselves and are far more aware of the phoney science which was being pushed in the past.

The lies, which had been used by the stop smoking campaigners, were shown for what they were very soon after independence. The fact that there was not one single scientific study or paper, which could conclusively prove a link between lung cancer and smoking, surprised many.

The health system also jettisoned all the preaching, nannying and hectoring when it came to nutrition and alcohol.  Whilst there are still a ways to go things have also greatly improved and the much hyped obesity issue is being researched with a hope that gene therapy should be a significant positive solution. The fact that people have better jobs and have more money in their pockets automatically helps their health and again gene therapy is being considered for heart and cancer issues also. There is hope too that housing all over Scotland will be brought up to a much higher standard than ever before.

It all seems to good to be true does it not?

Well some things didn’t go quite as well. The nuclear base at Faslane is still there and negotiations have been stalled for a number of months now. There has been a change however, since there are so many good quality jobs on offer the base is beginning to suffer from manpower loss. The USA and England have been bringing in workers but they don’t have Scottish work permits and the base itself sits on Scottish soil and of course sea. The UN have been looking at the issue and it’s likely that the base will be closed although perhaps not as quickly as we would like.

The fishing fleet is growing rapidly because surprise, surprise the fishing grounds now belong to Scotland once again. A pretty good treaty has been sorted out with the Norwegians, Icelanders and Faroese so that fish stocks are preserved for the longer term.

 
 

Tags: , , , , , ,

New rules for post independent Scotland – Part 1

Part One.

In a newly independent Scotland there are a few rules I’d like to see adopted. Here are the first 5.

Windmills, solar panels and their like can stay but only if there are no subsidies and a band is in place for every last one to be used to demolition them. If you want one then buy it with no subsidies although you can make money from selling your surplus, which would be priced at an average price.

Politicians next up. In our new shiny Scotland we will need new and shiny politicians. They will be very different than now though. They will have to follow the instructions of the voters they represent. They won’t be subject to the “whip” and they will get paid a reasonable amount but not a huge amount. They won’t be able to take on any other employment all they will do is represent their constituents. They will also be required to behave correctly in the Scottish parliament. It is really essential that the debating chamber is just that, so no banging on desks, shouting and behaving like small children. Listening to what other politicians are saying and always be looking for common ground and agreement.

All prices for all products sold throughout the whole of our new Scotland will be the same. That means that someone on Orkney will pay the same for petrol as someone in the central belt. Same with all goods and services no more paying extra to cover delivery charges because people don’t live in the central belt. The supermarkets can set their own prices but they have to sell their goods at the same price all over Scotland.  They can charge what they want for what they sell but it’s at the same price nation wide. If they try to abuse their position they will have to answer to the Office of Trading in Scotland, which will have real teeth.

The police, NHS, fire brigade etc. will all be split up and made local once again. Probably similar to pre-regionalisation days, all the ridiculous legislation will be binned and again the power will lie with the local community through the local council with local councillors. People are far more accountable when they live and work within the same small area. If they make a decision they have to live with the repercussions and being accosted in the street by people who might not agree with them. The cost savings made by ditching all the silly regulations will result in a much cheaper local administration etc. and we won’t have any situations where someone dies because a bit of paper hasn’t been completed or no one has been trained on how to use a ladder.

Scots Law will also have to be re-instated. That means that we will retain corroboration and not proven etc. All the PC stuff, which we have had to put up with, will go instantly and we’ll revert back to the rule of the majority. Oh but you say that makes minorities vulnerable. That won’t be the case. Apart from the fact that we all find ourselves in the majority for some things we also find ourselves in the minority. The system will be much better than the present equality rules which are anything but.

That was part one then….

 

Tags: , , , ,

Achieving full potential within the entire education system.

This is another blog article which was previously posted at the Subrosa blog and it is reproduced here with permissions.

A New Year and an old topic, education. I can’t keep away from it. Mrs TT is a teacher and I am a great supporter of meaningful education, which is appropriate for the needs of our young people and our country.

Education itself actually causes many of the problems we have to face on a daily basis, be it education itself, or any other of the hundreds of other topics which take up our leaders and politicians time. Our leaders and politicians come either from independent schools or a comprehensive education background, which is fair enough as long as this does not also encourage elitism and division.

Then, far too many of them go to Oxbridge and are taught the same subjects in the same classes and come out with the same degrees. Sure they put a left or right spin on it but it boils down to the same thing. Very few of them have run a business, far too many of them have gone into marketing or the softer side of the business world. Armed with Oxbridge theories and precious little experience they attempt to run the world by becoming politicians and then leaders.

If we want a great education system in Scotland and the UK we really need to start at the beginning again. The Curriculum for Excellence looks good on paper but it seems unlikely to succeed at least at secondary level, the jury is still out. Maybe it could work and work well but there are a number of flaws; teacher training, council education departments, central government and teacher career paths.

Teacher training has been hijacked for political reasons. A level playing field for all pupils/students is never going to work, a lack of competition for pupils/students is never going to work and dumbing down the content of courses cheats every single person in our nation.

Education, if it is about anything at all, is about to ensuring that EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential. The current system does not allow this to happen. A teacher cannot give enough time to each pupil/student to ensure that this is the case. The system then is WRONG. The system has to reflect the core aim “that EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential”.

To achieve this “every student teacher has to achieve their full potential” and again the system of student teaching has to change to achieve this.

It would be difficult for the political left or right to argue against this. Obviously they would but this provides a further significant change to that part of the process. There is no place for politicisation in any area of education.

It would be difficult for the different religions to argue against this. Obviously they would but this provides a further significant change to that part of the process. There is no place for religion in any area of education.

This then would have an impact on the local council education department. The easiest way to achieve this is to reduce the size and influence of the local education department down to the lowest possible level to support schools.

In reducing the Education Department down to a much smaller size, significantly more resources could be provided directly to schools for schools to decide on what is best for their requirements. This would also require a different relationship with central government and the development of a much improved funding model used to invest in every individual pupil/student, student teacher, teacher and school.

A centralisation of teaching resources could then be developed and shared nationally to stop continual wheel re-invention and duplication whilst promoting best practice in line with the aim of every school and every teacher to ensure EVERY pupil/student achieves their full potential.

This would then require a different type of management to be introduced to schools. This along with other steps required to achieve the first five aims listed below will, be the subject of next weeks post and possible at least one further post to follow. Meantime please feel free to comment.

Identified aims –

  • EVERY pupil/student should achieve their full potential;
  • EVERY student teacher should achieve their full potential;
  • There is NO PLACE for politicisation within education;
  • There is No PLACE for religion in any area of education;
  • REDUCE the size and influence of local education department to the lowest possible level required to support schools.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Education, Politics

 

Tags: , , , ,

Houses fit for… people.

This post was originally published at the Subrosa blog and is reproduced here with permissions.

Last week Subrosa had post on the subject of housing and council housing in particular. I left a comment but this is a subject dear to my heart. I’ve had an involvement with Councils and their Housing Departments and with Housing Associations all over Scotland for more than twenty years. I am a huge supporter of public and housing provision, I lived in a SSHA house and then a council house for the first twenty years of my life. My first flat was financed by a mortgage provided by the local authority.

The credit crunch has caused severe hardship for a lot of people. The biggest disaster of course is that it is hugely more difficult to get a mortgage and even harder to get a first time mortgage when you are young. The level of deposit is out of the reach of the vast majority of first time buyers in particular. That being the case, they either remain at home or rent a flat or house from a private landlord, housing association or local council. The private landlord option is usually the most likely given that housing associations and the councils operate needs based points system and they consequently have long waiting lists.

Subrosas blog last week dealt with the sale of council houses which has recently been withdrawn for new council houses and new tenants. This has obviously reduced the number of houses available and has also reduced the overall quality of the stock given the best ones have been sold. The number of houses being reduced obviously means it’s harder to get a house. There are other reasons also.

The Scottish Housing Regulator works with Housing Associations to ensure they meet specific quality targets. Funding is also be provided from the Scottish Government to ensure that the Scottish Housing Quality Standard is met by 2015. This will ensure that all housing association properties have central heating, double-glazing, fitted kitchens and bathrooms. There are also environmental targets, which must be met which determine how energy efficient the houses are which is great news since it reduces energy bills.

Councils have also been asked to bid for funding which they can use to build new houses. There are new council houses being built all over Scotland. This is good news. They look good, they usually have front and back doors and gardens.

A blot on the overall performance of the councils and the housing associations is that of voids. Voids are empty houses waiting to be repaired and returned to lettable standard. Repairs can be as simple as a clean up all the way up to a significant structural repair. Houses are segregated into two categories; lettable and difficult to let.

Getting voids turned around quickly also requires the utilities to react quickly. This isn’t always the case and valuable time and money can be lost. This is an area which Central Government could become involved, probably through OfGEM or the OFT. Anyone can complain to either and I’d suspect either of them may well be keen to pick something like this up.

Both councils and housing associations are responsible for the way they let homes. They look closely at the potential tenants ability to afford the rent, they help them access financial support where available and they follow a sustainable tenancy policy, which ensure tenants are supported to remain in their home.

It doesn’t always work out for the best although efforts have been made to bring together councils, housing associations, the NHS and central government to create a more joined up approach to providing homes which are appropriate and suitable.

Our young people will mostly end up renting from a private landlord, paying more than they would if they had a mortgage. Some landlords are unscrupulous and this has been a growing problem with additional costs being added for credit checks, contracting, repair costs, holding onto deposits, reducing the amount of repayment of the deposits and threatening to provide references which are not good or not providing a reference at all.

I’d imagine that it will take quite some time for this state of financial affairs to be remedied. It’s far from ideal and we all want to see our children move forward and achieve more for themselves than we did, just as or own parents wanted the same for us.

I did some work for a particular housing association a couple of years ago. I was looking at void performance so I decided to go out with the manager responsible. We started out at an easy to let property, which required cleaning, a bit of tidying up and a few other improvements which would be carried out following the new tenants moving in.

The next one had been abandoned. A family had removed most of their belongings, locked the doors and disappeared. Local kids had broken in and caused some damage, which would also have to be addressed. Childrens toys had been left behind and there was a huge pile of mail behind the door. It was a home, people lived their lives there, and if they’d spoken to the association they could have kept their home.

The next property wasn’t in a great area but it was a substantial ground floor flat, the garden needed a bit of a tidy but it looked okay… from the outside. Inside all the doors and all the wooden facings had gone, the kitchen and bathroom had been completely stripped back to the bricks. A DIY project, which had grown larger than the tenant could cope with and had left a bill of several thousand pounds.

Next house, nice house nice area. Nice décor. Nice open plan room layout Nice kitchen. Nice views. Nice garden. I went up stairs and encountered an unusual feature. The top step was around 4-6 inches higher than the floor. I asked the manager if this was a feature of this type of house. Of course it wasn’t. The previous tenant had decided that open plan was the way to go. So he took out some of the walls downstairs, removing the structural integrity of not only this house but also the house next door. Cost to repair? £35,000 and counting.

The more efficient the turnaround of voids the quicker houses are let, the less money is lost and more people can be housed. Simple. Well not so simple or everyone would be doing it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 7, 2012 in General, Politics

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

The spirit of Christmas.

Previously this week I’ve written about Christmas parties, Christmas shopping and a Christmas film. The spirit of Christmas is, of course, supposed to be the moral and ethical side of things, the side that deals in generosity, selflessness and respect for others.

The case of the young chap who had too many shandies and boarded a train without the correct ticket or no ticket at all probably falls into this area of Christmas cheer.

The famous phone video shows what happened although there is also a CCTV version, which allegedly shows the young chap being a bit more “boisterous” shall we say? The current bottom line of this saga is that the “big guy” who tackled him has been charged with assault, the train guard has been suspended and the “big guy is also in danger of facing disciplinary action for bringing his employer into disrepute. Nice.

How very 2011. The moral minority (MM) are up in arms because a young chap was manhandled and abused by the “big guy”. Something must be done. Outraged and, the favourite, favourite word of the MM, “offended”. Off with his head! Throw away the key. Not for the young drunk guy of course. No, no, no, no, no. This is for the “big guy”.

The young guy was in the wrong. Okay most people get it wrong once in a while but aren’t we all tired of people doing something idiotic and then wasting our time or costing us money? “Big guy” may have been over zealous. The guard didn’t use the training he had, had to deal with such incidents. And?

Enter Christmas spirit. Young guy apologises for being an idiot and asks the police to drop all charges. He asks Scotrail to immediately reinstate the guard and he also asks “Big Guys” employers to drop the disrepute nonsense.

The Police could have a quiet chat with “Big Guy” without recourse to the courts. They could hold a discussion with the young chap and point out the error of his ways.

Scotrail could shoot another video covering the number of these fare infringements and the loss this represents to them and subsequently their customers who end up paying more because of it. They could also provide examples of how that lost revenue could be spent on improving services to their customers.

Let’s hope common sense prevails.

Now here is another example of the further need to see a valuable demonstration of the “Christmas Spirit”.

Edinburgh Council. You remember them? Well they’ve really played a blinder this time. Cuts are to be made to save £5.5 million. Now I ask you to remember that specific amount. 35.5 Million.

The £5.5 million (as reported by Michael Blackley the City Council Reporter for the Evening News in the December 22 2011 edition) will be saved by –

Introducing a £10 charge for people who need permits so they can have delivery or removal vehicles parked at their property.

That’s not a saving that’s an increased charge on residents.

£10.000 reduction in rate charge for Gracemount Youth and Community Centre.

That’s not a cut to services that’s a cut in rates!

3% cut to Children and  families department supplies and services budget.

That’s a cut. But is it a cut which will reduce costs by a few thousand, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or even more? Unlikely to be really significant although worthwhile perhaps?

3% rise in fees and charges within the services of the Communities Department.

That’s not a saving that’s another increase in cost to the residents.

Saving £112,000 by not producing the A-Z of council services booklet for resident.

That is a saving, but why spend that amount of money on a booklet in the first place?

£35,000 funding cut to Sestran.

That’s a cut but very small.

£100,000 cut in payments made to NHS Lothian for them providing beds to vulnerable people who will be kept at home instead.

That’s a cut, on the handling of vulnerable people. It is to be hoped that this does not result in a negative outcome.

So it’s cut here and there but mainly increase costs for the residents.

But there is a further twist. Another adjoining article states the following. The refuse collection industrial action, which dragged on for almost three years and only ended because of the threat of privatisation cost the council £5.5 Million.

Enter Christmas spirit.

No additional charges for residents will be levied.

The privatisation of the refuse services will proceed as per the report by the Council Officers and audited and assured by the accountancy firm brought in.

An enquiry will be carried out immediately, by an external body, to discover how £5.5 million could have been lost during the industrial action, how no action was taken to reduce the on going costs and the dispute was not ended quickly in the residents favour. Heads should roll where incompetence, and the sum of money involved suggests significant incompetence, is evident.

Real cost reductions across all council activities and services should be pursued regardless of outcome and should not be manipulated for political reasons.

A strange way to define the Christmas spirit?

The council and councillors have suffered reputational damage, which has been serious enough to reduce the confidence of residents to a point where it is becoming impossible to believe anything, which the council now says.

Drastic action to address this is required very much sooner than later.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 22, 2011 in General, Politics

 

Tags: , , , ,

It’s a wonderful life.

Or it should be a wonderful life. Like all things it’s down to how you interpret it. What’s good for one isn’t always so good for another.

Since it’s Christmas all my posts this week will have a Christmas theme.  Good will to all men and all that. “It’s a wonderful life” is a very popular film and is set at Christmas. It’s pretty sentimental, it has a happy ending and it’s probably rips off Scrooge more than is good for it but it’s still a good film.

Interestingly it’s also about bankers.  You’ll be aware of bankers because of the on going financial crisis which continues to hover rather than land. Some bankers haven’t been as “honest” as we might like. They may have taken some “risks” which may have been “riskier” than they should have been. No matter though, everything is fine now, as long as you live on a distant planet. It’s a wonderful life on a distant planet, that hasn’t got the same ring to it really.

It’s a wonderful life, the movie, is set in a different time frame. It’s a completely different time, shot in monochrome, which adds to the authenticity of the subject matter. As you will probably be aware, a chap owns a local buildings and loans business, which provides mortgages to local people. One of his employees is sent to make a bank deposit but it gets “lost” before it’s paid into the bank and the town bad person, who owns almost the whole town, turns the screws on everyone in an attempt to take it over entirely.

The film ends in everyone, donating money to the chap who has supported them, his customers, when they themselves have hit problems and needed a bit of time to pay. It can’t possibly be 2011. In 2011 if you can’t pay your bill they start charging you more money, which makes things worse for you but better for them. Nice.

In the whole film there is no mention of derivatives, hedge funds, investment vehicles etc. etc. No Porsches, red braces, mobile phones, champagne, bonuses etc. etc. etc…

Maybe a bit of localism could go a long way in 2012? Local councils, local banks or credit unions, local shops (for local people he he he). I’m sure that’s how it used to be, before “economies of scale” became the model of preference, before “big is beautiful” became a mantra for those who didn’t have to live with the impact of its results and before spin became a tool of choice for politicians rather than something which happened to your washing.

The past is the past and Iooking back, trying to regain what we sort of remember our own past was like is futile. However, the lessons we learned still have value obviously, it’s the rose tinted specs which cause the problems.

The more I think about localism the more I think it is a major part of the answer we need to regain some sort of control of over those we employ, those who have asked to represent us and those who wish to separate us from our money. I learned a good few years ago that if you have not got a vested interest in something you don’t really do it justice. For too long we have been at the mercy of people who have no vested interest what so ever in us, the only vested interest they have is in their own advancement and enrichment.

It’s a wonderful life. Maybe we could make it even more wonderfulerer?

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2011 in General, Politics

 

Tags: , , , ,