Dundee Economic Summit

Yesterday, I took part – along with nearly 300 others from local businesses, the education sector, the Chamber of Commerce, the public sector and many others – in the Dundee Economic Summit.   See right.

Organised by the Dundee Partnership, it was a very positive morning spent discussing the economic future of our city – and all the positive developments in Dundee – including V&A at Dundee and the Waterfront development.

I had the opportunity to seek assurances that Dundee Rail Station will be upgraded and redeveloped before the V&A at Dundee opens and was pleased to receive that assurance.

Friday activities …

Yesterday morning, in addition to meeting various constituents, I had a meeting with sheltered housing tenants at Sinderins Court, a City Council Environment official and Home Scotland staff about the waste and recycling bins at the complex – see right.   The current bins are overly large with heavy lids that some of the tenants find difficult to use.   During a very amicable meeting, agreement was reached on smaller communal bins and a more frequent collection.

Early yesterday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the official opening of the Cherry Blossom Nursery School in Seafield Road.   The nursery is beautifully build and provides excellent facilities for the local children who attend the nursery.   It transforms the site of a long-derelict property and previously badly overgrown grounds.   The welcoming lighting outside last night (see above right) was very impressive too!

Dundee Partnership Awards Dinner
Later yesterday evening, I attended the Dundee Partnership Awards Dinner at the City Chambers.    It was great to see a diverse group of awards winners, all of whom do a huge amount of good for communities across Dundee.   It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and hear more about the achievements of the winning groups.

Campaigning, Belfast, Surgeries, City Council …

A very busy few days – with the Liberal Democrats campaigning across the West End and the Dundee West constituency as a whole.     Pictured above is John Barnett, Dundee West Liberal Democrat candidate, in Cleghorn Street yesterday.
I missed much of Sunday’s campaigning as I have been in Belfast with the “day job” (photo below!) and returned just in time to attend my afternoon surgeries at the Mitchell Street Centre and Harris Academy, followed by City Council meetings tonight.
At tonight’s Council’s committees, I raised questions about the Bike Boost initiative as part of the Dundee Travel Active project, the review of ‘out of hours’ social work service, and welcomed the decision to give the job brokerage services contract to the Dundee Employment and Aftercare Project (DEAP).      The handling of this matter by the Dundee Partnership and the SNP council administration has been unimpressive, the tendering process wasteful and unnecessary and – in terms of the future – I made the point that now is the time for all councillors in the city to get behind DEAP and the excellent work it does to secure job opportunities for Dundee people.
I also raised my concern at the expenditure of nearly £80 000 to change the car parking and access at the East District Housing Office – an office barely three years old.    Why is the council spending such a large sum of rent-payers’ money changing parking arrangements so soon after the project was completed?    The SNP Housing Convener appeared disinterested in the matter and I have written to the Chief Executive of the City Council asking further questions about the concern.    City Council tenants are entitled to know that their rent monies are being properly spent.

Assurances about the “Friendly Bus”

I am pleased to say that I have received assurances from the City Council that the sheltered housing bus shoppers’ service – the “Friendly Bus” – will not end “in the short term” despite the Dundee Partnership withdrawing £21 000 of Fairer Scotland Funding that has helped subsidise the service until now.

I have spoken to many elderly constituents in the West End who have heard about the funding difficulties facing the service and were worried that the service would be threatened by the loss of one of its two sources of funding.

The bus service is described by Dundee Travel Info as :

“Friendly bus service

To help you get out and about

This service picks up at a location near to you and you can use it if you have difficulty or find it impossible to use ordinary bus services.

The bus will take you to the nearest Retail Park, supermarket or City Centre and home again. If you want to go elsewhere and it is on the route tell the driver and you will be dropped wherever it is safe.

The vehicles are designed to carry wheelchairs, there is an escort to help you but feel free to bring a friend if you feel their support will help.”

I am greatly concerned at the cuts to the Fairer Scotland Fund and questions have to be asked about the City Council raiding the fund to help balance its own budget, at the expense of the objectives of the Dundee Partnership. Not the SNP council’s finest moment.

One of the cuts is to take away the Friendly Bus funding grant, an annual £21 000 grant. Elderly users of this sheltered shopping service had heard from bus drivers about the funding loss and were greatly concerned that this could threaten the financial viability of the service.

It should be remembered that this service provides a lifeline for many elderly people in sheltered housing, particularly those who, for mobility reasons, have difficulty using the main bus routes. It is an excellent service and I am anxious to ensure it is continued for the benefit of the elderly people it serves.

I contacted the City Council about the funding gap and have been advised by the Council’s Sustainable Transport Team Leader that :

“The Fairer Scotland Fund grant that helped support the introduction of the Friendly Bus will come to an end on 31 March 2010. This has lead to the rumours floating around about the service being axed. DCC (the City Council) will be able support the operation of the Friendly Bus in the short term to ensure continuation but I think we definitely need to review the service in the medium to longer term – and perhaps look at the possibility of registering some elements of the service or speaking with the big supermarkets (as your e-mail suggests).”

I had suggested that the funding gap could be addressed in the longer term by possible registering the Friendly Bus routes (allowing people to use their concession passes on the bus, with part of the cost of the service then being financed through the national travel concession scheme) and by speaking with the supermarkets about how they could assist getting elderly and disabled residents to their stores.

Whilst I am pleased there are assurances on the immediate future of the “Friendly Bus” service, it is very important that it is given long-term funding security as it is a vital service for many elderly Dundee citizens.

Dundee Partnership Awards

Last night, along with colleagues from Friends of Magdalen Green, I attended the Dundee Partnership Awards at the City Chambers.

The Friends have won the Environment category of the Partnership Awards 2009 and we are pictured above accepting the award from the Dundee Partnership Chair and leader of the City Council.

It was a very pleasant evening and, in addition to our own success in the awards, it was good to see the great work undertaken by the other groups across Dundee who won the other award categories.

Inflatable monkeys, Roars Not Whispers, Dundee Partnership latest

If you were passing the City Square yesterday, you could not help notice the appearance of a 30ft inflatable monkey (see right).
Six of these have appeared round Scotland to officially launch the Six Cities Design Festival I have referred to in previous blog entries. You can see the news item about this from Dundee on stv news last night by clicking the headline above.
Was interviewed yesterday by Nick Henderson of Roars Not Whispers – a joint project between the Scottish Youth Parliament and Oxfam in Scotland. The project is a youth led initiative focusing on social justice issues which are important to young people, locally, nationally and internationally. Nick and his colleague are making a video about different attitudes to poverty in Dundee and they’ve promised me a copy of the completed video in due course. Meantime, if you want to know more about Roars Not Whispers, you can contact Nick at nickhenderson@rnw.org.uk.
Lastly, the latest Dundee Partnership Digest outlining the latest activity of the Dundee Partnership is now available at : http://www.dundeepartnership.co.uk/file.php?id=1528.