Dundee would make an outstanding City of Culture #wedundee #CityofCulture2017

Today in the Scottish Parliament, a debate took place on the UK City of Culture and Dundee’s bid and it was great to see the support for our city across the political spectrum.   Below, I reproduce the comments made in the chamber today by my Liberal Democrat colleague Alison McInnes, MSP for North East Scotland, who made the point that Dundee would make an outstanding City of Culture.   Alison is pictured below (front, third from the right) in a picture of parliamentarians showing that cross-party support at the parliament today:
“As a regional member for the north east it is a privilege to represent the city.  The journey the city is on has been quite remarkable to witness.   
 
The vibrancy of the city and sense of determination amongst its people to bring about change is admirable.
 
I remember many years ago, while I was an Aberdeenshire councillor, visiting the city on a planning study tour to look at the importance of public open space and public art in town centre re-generation.  What the city council was doing then was small scale compared to the regeneration we are witnessing today, but it carried the hallmarks of creativity, imagination and determination that has propelled Dundee forward to this important tipping point.
 
And what regeneration there has been!
 
The city‘s distinctive approach- firstly  recognising  that a cultural renaissance could be a powerful catalyst for change, and then successfully harnessing that cultural energy  makes Dundee a special place.
 
And the UK City of culture team has recognised that by shortleeting the city.  
 
Feedback at the time said the bid was particularly strong in the way in which it talked about the journey of the city over the last 10 years, using culture to regenerate the city with DCA, the McManus, the Rep and now the V&A.
 
The judges were positive about the consultation, and they were particularly impressed on the way the team engaged with people through the WeDundee website, as well as the number of people involved. Council members, universities, community groups, young and old, cultural groups, businesses and  local media have all pulled together to make the best possible case for Dundee.
 
My Liberal Democrat colleague Cllr Fraser Macpherson told me that  “The all-party, cross-party, working together positively to support Dundee’s bid has been the best example of co-operation between politicians of all political hues in many a year.”
 
I am delighted to be able to join in tonight’s debate to underline the wholehearted support there is across all the political parties for this bid to succeed.
 
Dundee would be an outstanding choice for the accolade of UK City of Culture and I fervently hope that it is successful.
 
There is nothing superficial about the bid.   It addresses the real needs of Dundee , not shying away from the stark facts such as 
 
•A third of the city’s population live in the areas which make up the poorest 15% in Scotland. 
•Dundee’s educational outcomes are poorer than the Scottish average. 
•The current level of participation in cultural activity in Dundee is divided between the poorer and better off areas.  
 
Dundee’s bid is about social regeneration through culture.  The step change will be to use culture and creativity to evolve a more confident community and through this to address inequality.  
 
Dundee will use the year of culture to connect parts of the city more effectively, ensuring those who live in its deprived communities are able to fully enjoy the benefits of its creative and cultural resources.
 
That would be a lasting legacy. 
 
Let me turn now to the wider impact.  I believe that there will be significant benefits for the whole region.
 
At the core of the economic impact is the increased visitor spend and the uplift in economic activity related to cultural led tourism.  
 
VisitScotland recognise that the north east underperforms and that Dundee has a key role as the city at the centre of a region of great natural beauty.
 
The visitor impact on Dundee would be to increase by 50% the total number of visitors in the Year of Culture and to have a sustained level of higher visitors beyond that.  
 
The combination of completing the V&A, developing new hotel opportunities and improving transport links places Dundee in a great position to attract cruise ships as well as UK based tourists.  
 
Dundee:  one city many discoveries.
 
All of us here tonight can sing the praises of this vibrant city, but truth be told there are still too few scots who have visited Dundee to find out for themselves what’s to be discovered. I hope that winning city of culture will encourage a great many more people to come on a visit of discovery.
 
I’d like to congratulate the Evening Telegraph campaign.  Reading some of the online comments about what people love about their city was uplifting.
 
One comment summed it up for me:
 
“Dundee people are proud of a city which has seen hard times but is reinventing itself as a modern city which embraces change and new opportunities.”
 
I have no doubt that this should be Dundee’s moment.”
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Swinney fudge …

Today’s Scottish Budget was a typical John Swinney fudge.    It is lighter on detail than it should have been and it is disappointing that John Swinney wouldn’t give the figures for more than one year.   You might have concluded that John Swinney does not expect to be Finance Cabinet Secretary this time next year.  You would be right. 

The one year only budget is a dangerous way for every school, hospital and college in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland to try and plan ahead.     Hard working staff have no way of knowing what to expect from the SNP.    They can’t take sensible decisions if they don’t have the future plans.

On the day when unemployment is going up in Dundee and across Scotland but down in the rest of the UK, the SNP is wrong to cut support for enterprise, colleges and tourism, but failed to cut high pay, bonuses and waste.  Under the SNP the highest paid staff in the NHS still keep £26 million of bonuses.

Another wasted opportunity.

Mad world

Yesterday John Swinney, the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance and (no) Sustainable Growth told the SNP Conference of “very significant restraint” of pay for all public sector workers in Scotland.   Today, Alex Salmond is going to confirm fears that the SNP Government is going to cut the number of police forces in Scotland.   The SNP is presiding over cuts in nursing staff across Scotland – one Health Board is cutting 553 nursing jobs.    

 

So, its an obvious time for the SNP to annouce that they will continue with implementation of their policy of free prescriptions for millionaires.

It is about time this SNP government of cheap headlines and no responsibility woke up and smelt the coffee.

“Bubbles” concern

There has been considerable concern about “bubbles” – the so called ‘legal high’ – and this was discussed at the recent Harris Academy Parent Council meeting I attended.

I raised the matter with Ross Finnie MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament. He advised that the issue was discussed in the parliament on 11th February during general questions. He adds :

” … the Minister, Fergus Ewing, responded that he has written to the Home Office calling for action stating he believes these kind of drugs should be made illegal as soon as possible. We understand the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is looking into mephedrone as a priority, as part of their review into legal highs, and will report back this year. The SG is also funding the provision of training materials for alcohol and drug partnerships and has also expanded the know the score drug awareness campaign to include many of these legal highs.”

The Scottish Budget vote – breaking news

Scottish Budget 2010 – from Tavish Scott MSP
At the end of the Scottish Budget process for 2010 it is worth remarking on some points.
Today the Scottish Liberal Democrats have achieved changes to Scottish Government programmes that reflect our priorities.
The changes are the ones that we started this whole process campaigning on. We stuck to the issues. We have developed thoroughly researched proposals that help to build a fairer society and a sustainable economy.
There have been substantial changes to the Scottish Budget as a result of the work of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
Our research demonstrated that, in these tough times, far too big a share of the Scottish Budget is currently spent on the highest paid staff. The Scottish Government has now agreed to a new pay policy in March that brings a culture of restraint to the highest paid.
We produced research that demonstrated how record numbers of people are being turned away from Scotland’s colleges. With unemployment at record levels, we have shown that young people are being hit twice. They can’t get a job and now they can’t get a college place. The Scottish Government has agreed to fund more college places. Overall, more than 7,500 students will benefit. That will mean thousands of lives and careers transformed thanks to our work.

The Finance Secretary has also responded to our demand for debt-financing support for Scottish business. Too many businesses we have spoken to simply cannot get access to loans through their bank. A Federation of Small Business report this week shows that our priority on this is right. These soundly-based businesses need government support to get through the recession. This has now been agreed by the Scottish Government and further detailed plans – using European funding – will be announced shortly.

The Scottish Government has also agreed to our proposal for a post office diversification fund. This will offer grants to post offices in communities who cannot get the finance they need to expand and diversify their businesses. We hope that communities across Scotland will take up the potential of this lifeline and will see their local post office give more services and become a growing business.
Taken together, these four measures mean that Liberal Democrats do not have reason to block the Budget. We have demonstrated that we can win practical support for young people and for our economy when the Scottish Parliament backs us.
There are still substantial concerns. There is still more work to take place on cutting the pay bill of those at the top in the public sector, movement on bonuses, reducing the quangos that have been created by the SNP and supporting the economy. We will continue to campaign on these but will do so from a much stronger position given our budget achievements.

The Scottish Futures Trust disaster

I don’t much rate the SNP administration at Holyrood, elected on promises undelivered, high on populism and low on any achievement. However, in terms of its long-term legacy of failure, its hopeless management of capital infrastructure financing will cause the most damage. Step forward the Scottish Futures Trust :

• The Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) has been an expensive failure. It is a political white elephant which has achieved nothing for Scotland. It should be scrapped.

• It cost £23 million in set up costs alone, whilst its budget for this year is doubling to £5.9million and the Chief Executive is being paid £180,000. The CBI has called it a ‘fiasco’ and independent reports say that it is unlikely to be any cheaper than PFI/PPP.
• Despite what the SNP want us to believe, the SFT has no role in funding schools, the Forth Crossing or anything else. Instead, the SFT has caused a major hiatus in the construction industry as the SNP Government have delayed capital projects in order to ‘develop’ the SFT enough to give an impression it has a role – the SNP saving face is not an excuse for delaying the replacing of crumbling schools, nor is it an excuse for cuts to construction jobs and apprenticeships.

• Far from a radical alternative that will revolutionise public investment, the SNP’s much-derided flagship financial policy has turned out simply to be a new quango which will act as an advisory body for the public sector. It has no funding stream and there is no evidence of when or how it will make the promised annual £150 million efficiency savings.

• Projects around the country are being delayed as a result of the SFT uncertainty. In a recession there is a serious need to delivered infrastructure for Scotland’s economy but the SFT is fast becoming a national embarrassment. The SNP must put the Futures Trust in the past and get on with building the schools and hospitals Scotland needs.

The Scottish Futures Trust & School Building:

• The Scottish Futures Trust is not funding school building, despite the SNP’s attempts to pretend otherwise. We are also still no further forward in knowing whether the SFT will ever provide funding for infrastructure development.
• The £800m of direct capital investment announced by the Scottish Government in June could have been made 2 years ago. Councils have been forced to wait while the SNP try to save face over the SFT, which isn’t contributing a single penny to this School Building Programme, or any other infrastructure investment.

• Under the School Building Programme the first primary school won’t be built until 2011, the first secondary school in 2013 and some schools will be delayed until 2018. The SNP pledged that they would match the previous administration’s school building ‘brick for brick’. However, the School Building Programme is only funding 14 secondary schools and 21 primary and specialist schools.

• Despite LibDem calls for the reintroduction of level playing field support for councils which would have helped councils plan ahead with their school building, the Government neither listened nor delivered.

The ‘fat cat’ pay bill in Scotland

Good for Tavish Scott in highlighting at last week’s First Minister’s questions the burgeoning cost of Scotland’s public bodies to the taxpayer, with the disclosure that at least 1 798 employees in the sector earn more than £100 000 a year.

Six public sector executive board members are paid more than Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister (£197 000) or Alex Salmond, First Minister (£145 000). A further 1 596 are paid between £80 000 and £100 000 — more than a Scottish government minister. The total salary bill for the highest-paid is at least £400 million a year.

If you go to http://tinyurl.com/fatcatpay, you can read the Courier’s news report about this – and I publish below the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ news release about the matter. What is clear is that the SNP government is taking no action to tackle the issue – disgraceful given the financial and economic challenges facing Scotland.

Scott challenges Salmond to cut the fat cat pay bill

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott MSP challenged the First Minister to cut the fat cat pay bill by 2010.

At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Scott revealed that nearly 3,400 people in the public sector get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister does. They receive a total of almost £401 million in pay each year.

Commenting, Mr Scott said:

“At least 3,400 people in the public sector in Scotland get paid more than a Scottish Government Minister. Some even get paid more than Alex Salmond’s three salaries as MP, MSP and First Minister added together.

“They receive a total of £401 million in pay every year.

“All across vital public services people at the bottom of the income scale are being threatened with losing their jobs. Statistics last week show that the number of young people unemployed has never been higher.

“People will not understand why the Government lets this pay chasm between richest and poorest continue.

“The First Minister and his Government are in charge of public sector pay. It was John Swinney who awarded the new Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise her bumper £203,000 salary and handed the Chief Executive of the Scottish Futures Trust a fat £180,000 paycheque.

“I want a fair society where the very well paid are expected to share the burden of tight government spending, not just the poorest and unemployed.

“The First Minister needs to set a target as part of his Budget to reduce that pay bill and spend the money on creating skills and jobs for young people instead. It’s right that the people who get such a vast share of public money should shoulder a fair share of the burden in these tough times.”