Busy Friday …

sQuid

sQuid

A busy day with meetings with several fellow councillors on various issues including the revenue and capital budgets for 2009/10. This followed on from an administration group of Labour and LibDem councillors last night.

 

 

 

The City Council Leader has now called has called for a meeting of all the political group leaders to secure an agreement on a budget which would freeze the council tax for 2009/10 whilst making all effort to protect service provision.

 

Tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” covered this (see http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2009/01/23/story12541522t0.shtm to view more). As I said to the Tele :

 

“It is extremely important, particularly given the current economic climate, that we do everything we can to minimise the impact of the council tax

 

“A balance has to be struck between protecting services, especially to the most vulnerable citizens, but the administration has been putting significant effort into working towards a freeze.”

 

I also met the Council’s Chief Executive about a constituent’s issue and education matters and spoke on Radio Tay, welcoming the proposals for new schools for the West End at St Joseph‘s Primary and Park Place Primary.

 

This afternoon, I met with John Gallacher of sQuid (see my article last month about sQuid at http://www.dundeewestend.com/2008/12/squid-card.html). The main reason to meet John was to discuss ways this useful electronic card that replaces small-value cash could be used further in the West End and on Dundee‘s public transport.

Budget Day

This afternoon saw the City Council set both its capital programme and also its revenue budget & council tax for 2008/9.

It was the 7th budget meeting I have attended as an elected member of Dundee City Council and was easily the least “raucous” thus far, with the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration’s budget being approved unanimously and, for the first time in a very long time, no alternative proposals on the table.

Cllr Joe Morrow, our administration’s lead person for finance, made a thoughtful speech and my LibDem colleague Cllr Helen Dick seconded the budget proposal. The Council Tax is frozen for the second year in succession (the biggest non-secret in Dundee in the past few days). As £1.7m of our grant settlement would have been withheld by the Scottish Government if the Council Tax had been increased, it was a “no brainer” in terms of deciding on another freeze.

Despite the budget meeting itself being short and, frankly, uneventful, it is the culmination of much work by the administration group and I think all councillors owe a debt of gratitude to finance officers for their extremely hard work on budget preparation.

Dundee City Council has had an extremely good record in terms of low (or nil) council tax increases in recent years. However, looking at the overall local government financial settlement, I think it should be remembered that :

* All the comment about how wonderful it is that ring-fencing has been reduced in scope actually isn’t that brilliant at all. The removal of some of the ring fencing and associated form-filling is – I have no doubt – generally welcomed. However, let’s remember that the purpose of ring-fenced funds is to target funding to achieve policy objectives and with a much greater than average incidence of deprivation in our City compared to the Scottish average, the reduction in such funding will simply not, in time, favour our City. I think many politicians have yet to grasp that point.

* With that in mind, I am particularly concerned that the Scottish Government’s level of regeneration funding in Dundee will be reduced in 2008-9 compared to previous years. The so-called “Fairer” Scotland fund actually delivers to Dundee £230 000 less next year than the previous Community Regeneration Fund and the other associated funds (such as Community Voice and Workforce Plus) did in 2007-8. This impacts adversely on the least affluent, the most vulnerable.

* So, who benefits least from the Scotland wide council tax freeze? The least affluent, who get maximum Council Tax Benefit but will be hardest hit (in terms of household income) by the 3.7% – above inflation – increase in water and sewerage charges added to Council Tax Bills, imposed by Scottish Water, but not eligible for council tax benefit. I think the point has been lost on many, but it appears that to those who have shall be given, and to those who have not shall be taken away. If you care about social justice, this is not exactly good news. Actually, it is pretty depressing.

Direct Debits … and Lochee!

This morning I attended the launch event of the City Council Finance Department’s “Pick up a prize” promotion – aimed at encouraging more Dundonians to pay their Council Tax by Direct Debit.
A prize draw campaign will run for 3 months until 31st January 2008, with the prizes being drawn on 29th February 2008. The draw gives the chance for Direct Debit payers to win a number of prizes (donated by local businesses) and, in case any of you are wondering – in response to a point made by the Council Leader that he’d be deeply embarrassed if he won a main prize, it was confirmed that City Councillors and Council Chief Officers will not be included in the draw!
For more details of the prize draw offer, click on the headline above.
I asked a question about encouraging the banks to offer basic bank accounts to citizens who do not presently have a bank account and was pleased to be informed that the Council is in discussions with the banks about promoting basic bank accounts – this will be particularly important given the move to Local Housing Allowance within the Housing Benefit Scheme next April, which will see many private tenants get their benefit paid to themselves rather than direct to their landlord in future.
This afternoon, Nicol Stephen MSP paid a second visit to the Lochee Ward by-election and spent time speaking to residents in both Charleston and central Lochee – see photo below of Nicol, candidate Chris Hall and some supporters pictured earlier at the Stack (I’m not in the photo – guess who took it!)

Wednesday/Thursday

Was on both Radio Tay news and news on Wave 102 yesterday speaking about Council Tax collection.


This morning, helping my Lochee LibDem Team with leaflet distribution, came across the filming of the latest View video in Dryburgh (see above) – you can read the story from yesterday’s Courier by clicking on the headline above. A fair turnout of people to see what’s going on!

Following complaints about the mess/derbis/glass around the Scottish Water waste water pumping station on Riverside Drive, I have had the following feedback from Scottish Water:

“I have requested that the ground of Windsor Street waste water pumping station be tidied up and all debris removed.”

Council Tax Frozen

Long day today with my Institute’s AGM in Grangemouth followed by our setting the Council Tax for Dundee in 2007/8 tonight (my speech as Finance Convener can be seen by clicking on the headline above).
A huge load of West End issues raised by residents following issue of my latest FOCUS newsletter; will advise of progress on these in later blog entries.

Council Tax, Wet Weekend, Tom Spiers, Trees again …

Much of Friday was spent on City Council budget matters (with Council Finance Convener hat on) – click on headline above to view more about this. We have spent a very wet weekend campaigning in various parts of the City; intend thawing out tonight!
A resident contacted me Thursday about a vandalised young tree, in Blackness Road close to the Elliot Road junction. Having contacted the Council’s Forestry Officer, he advised me it would be inspected, tied or restaked on Friday and pleased to advise that the tree is now sorted.
Have received an e-mailed assurance from owner of the untidy area on Shepherd’s Loan/Weaver’s Yard (north of High Mill) that he would get the grass cut. He has e-mailed me again today to say : “I have requested that this gets done as soon as possible weather permitting , I will advise you when it has been done.”
Lastly – latest update from Friends of Wighton:
“Tom Spiers will be giving the Saturday afternoon talk at Dundee’s Wighton Heritage Centre on Saturday 17th February.
“It starts at 2pm and admission is £5/£3 for Friends of Wighton members. The subject will be The Fighting Scot and Tom will cover songs by, for and about Scottish soldiers over the last six centuries.
“Tom Spiers was a member of the renowned Gaugers and is currently with the excellent Shepheard, Spiers and Watson. He has a wide knowledge of North East folk song, a fine voice and manages the difficult art of accompanying himself on the fiddle!”