Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where was I?

I promised a few topics in the last post but failed to deliver... until now!

Kirkwall Masterplan

The Masterplan has now hit the streets, and is available for inspection and comment- please take this opportunity. There is a lot in it, but remember these are the opinions of the consultants and not definitive statements of what is good or bad. Certainly there are things in it I don't agree with, and things not addressed that I would have expected to see. For example, coastal protection at Weyland, and questioning why Kirkwall should grow, when the movement to Kirkwall is from the country and isles.

The consultants presenting the Kirkwall Masterplan did so at the same meeting as different consultants presenting the Stromness Masterplan. I asked if the different groups agreed with each other's findings, but got no takers for a straight reply.

Business Improvement Districts

This is a scheme where an area can be designated as a Business Improvement District following a vote of business ratepayers in the area, and if the vote agrees this a mandatory levy can be imposed on all the business ratepayers in that area to be used by the group set up to manage the BID, generally with match funding from the local authority. I'm not sure about this, as the voting mechanism suggests to me that it could be forced through with only about 30% of businesses actually supporting it- but the nature of the proposed improvements will determine whether it is worth going for.

New Arts Theatre

This seems likely to happen as part of the new KGS. I think this is great, as it is more community facilities in the Papdale area of the town, and will get a lot of use from the school as apparently loads of KGS expressive arts groups are using the Mill Street Arts Theatre at present.

I share misgivings as to how the money for this can be found when it is not a priority, but accept the arguments that this has been spoken about for 30 years and there is no way we'll ever have such an opportunity like this again for generations- savings accrue from the fact that part of the rationale for KGS is greatly improved expressive arts facilities, which can share elements of a new Arts Theatre.

New Tesco

It's here and it's getting bigger. But it could be worse for local retailers as it could have been in addition to Somerfield (although that would have become a bigger Co-op, following further supermarket takeovers). What we must do is ensure planning gain from the new development, so that AT LEAST we get a much better looking store, and road improvements.

Fuel Prices, Councillor's Surgery at KGS, Steven Slags Off The Stromness Pierhead Proposals coming up next. Heard that before?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What's coming up after the summer...

Saw loads of puffins at Sumburgh Head in July
Having not posted for so long (sorry, sorry, sorry...) I had intended to dip into my Council labbook to give a flavour of what had happened- however looking at what I've noted, many of the topics are tasters of what might be of greater interest in the coming months.

As to why I have not brought this to the small but select readership of this blog earlier, let me skip over that point and note what a fine summer of televised sport we have had, with a good European Championships, great Wimbledon and the best Tour de France for many years... and the last weeks of the SPL were particularly enjoyable.

Let's just think about the London Olympics for a moment, as we wonder why less community projects are being funded from the lottery for the next 4 years. I'd like to point out that when I was a committee member of the IPMS whilst working at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, I got a motion tabled at the IPMS national conference in 1997 (or 98?) decrying the Millennium Dome as a huge waste of money that discriminated against the rest of the country... this led to a choking on pizza incident as I read my motion verbatim in the Evening Standard (I was down in London on an adaptive optics course) under the heading 'Top Government Scientists Slam Dome'.

But I digress, and will continue to do so, as I recommend a summer blockbuster to take to the airport. The new Scottish Government's relationship with each council has radically altered, with ring-fencing largely gone (with a notable exception of Gaelic broadcasting- ochone! ochone!) and councils set a limited number of national targets to meet, recast in the context of relevant local outcomes. This is enshrined in the Single Outcome Agreement between the OIC and the Scottish Government, and is well worth reading- this crystallises the council priorities, national priorities, community plan, Best Value Improvement Plan etc. into a single document, with a rash of interesting facts and figures.

----- Click here to get a copy -----

The Scottish Government likes this sort of thing, with the Government Economic Strategy being a similar single reasonably brief document that spells out the rules of the game for Economic Development. If its not in there, HIE won't be doing it. Some stuff will fall under the umbrella of the Business Gateway that councils are now to deliver, but it seems likely that anything beyond a minimum one-size-fits-all national service will be at the discretion (i.e. cost) of the council.

This post is long enough, so I'll stop.

Coming Up Next Time: Kirkwall Masterplan, Business Improvement Districts, New Arts Theatre, New Tesco, Fuel Prices, Councillor's Surgery at KGS, Fuel Prices, and Steven Slags Off The Stromness Pierhead Proposals But Concludes Please Yourselves...

P.S If you feel a new post is necessary anytime, give me a prod at council@kw15.co.uk.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hardy annual

Well, Northlink didn't listen to the majority of the correspondents, and have received some of the bad press they deserve. However their ever changing excuses regarding the stranded rugby player and assertions that he is the only person to that date to be denied travel strain credibility to say the least. I still maintain the big problem is that this is bad for Orkney, so will rack my brains as to what more can be done- all suggestions gratefully received.

On another front, the Christmas bonus is still up for consideration, and looks likely to remain in a targetted form. There is a balance to be struck here, as many rightly complain a) that at present people who clearly don't need it get it, and b) that a lot of people do need it and should continue to get it. Targetting seems the way to go, and note that this is not means testing by the Council, as nobody wants to get into that. A suggestion has been made at successive meetings to base this on eligibility for Pensions Credit and this is likely to be one of the options to be presented to a seminar on 3rd June. Suggestions from the seminar will then be considered in a paper in the next cycle of meetings. It'll all be over by Christmas!

Talking of the next cycle of meetings...

The third cycle of meetings for 2008 is as follows (remember the acronyms are explained here):
SSH - Tue 3rd June
EPPS - Wed 4th June
Development - Thu 5th June
T&I - Tue 10th June
ERCS - Wed 11th June
Land and Property sub-committee - Thu 12th June
Information Services sub-committee - Thu 12th June at 2.15pm
P&R - Tuesday 24th June
M&A - Thu 26th June
Full Council - Thu 3rd July

It's been an year since the Council elections, and the letterbox scars on my knuckles have healed (although the mental scars never will). People often ask 'How are you finding it?' or 'Are you enjoying it?' Difficult questions to answer, as the sands are always shifting, so you never feel on top of things, and enjoyment doesn't come into it, as sitting in meetings for days at a time is surely something that nobody would do for fun. But it can be satisfying, and it is necessary for somebody to do it. It's often interesting, and I'm pleased with the things I have achieved.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Northlink Photo ID survey results

The survey has closed and the results have been counted. I've written up a report that can be viewed in pdf form by clicking here, but if you just want to read the second page of the 38, it is reproduced below.

Executive summary

The large response to the survey (1186 responses) shows that the introduction of the photo ID requirement is a matter of concern to the people of Orkney and Shetland and arguably should have been the subject of some consultation between Northlink Ferries and the customers it is imposing this on. While this survey is by no means definitive, it allows all opinions to be expressed and thus should be at least indicative of the overall balance of opinion in the islands.

The response was particularly good from Orkney residents, and while a diversity of opinion was shown, particularly in the 500+ text comments submitted, the dominant impression is of dismay and some anger that the photo ID scheme is to be implemented by Northlink. The overall figures show that 64% of respondents are not in favour of the ID scheme as opposed 27% in favour, with more opposition from those who travel to Orkney from Scotland (77% against and 10% for), and less from Shetland (55% against and 34% for) where the arguments regarding security are more credible, but still questionable. For those who question these arguments the proposed scheme is highly unwelcome, unnecessary and to be resisted, perhaps by choosing another operator.

Indeed, when asked if the proposal would affect the choice of operator 43% of respondents said they would be less likely to use Northlink, and only 10% said they would be more likely. In the case of Shetland respondents the predominant responses (83%) were ‘No choice’ or ‘No difference’ reflecting Northlink’s monopoly position. For those travelling to Orkney from the mainland, who cannot benefit from the Islander discount, and for whom the fraud prevention argument is irrelevant, 64% were less likely to use Northlink and only 3% more likely.

These results are mirrored for the final question which asked what effect the photo ID scheme has on the respondent’s opinion of Northlink. In Orkney 61% responded that they have a more (or much more) negative opinion as a result, with 19% more (or much more) positive. For those travelling to Orkney from the mainland it was 78% and 7% percent respectively, and in Shetland the opinion was more mellow at 53% and 30% respectively.

It is apparent that the proposed photo ID scheme is unwelcome in Orkney, and is particularly opposed by travellers to Orkney, the fare paying passengers who are not subsidised to travel and can be seen to be most disadvantaged.

Travel to and from Orkney is currently possible with another operator and as 50% of the responses from those who make this journey said they are less likely to use Northlink, Pentland Ferries look likely to benefit while our lifeline service is undermined, by a policy decision that Northlink do not have to make.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Northlink photo ID proposals

From 1st May 2008 all passengers over the age of sixteen will have to prove their identity through a nationally recognised form of photo ID before being allowed to embark on any Northlink ferry.

What's been happening

Let's have a look in my Council lab-book and diary and see what's been happening...

Back in February I was asked to see if the OIC could introduce a childcare vouchers scheme like other organisations, that works in the same way as the Bike to Work scheme, i.e. a proportion of salary is committed to the vouchers (or bike) and avoids tax. Winningly for the Council it also reduces the National Insurance contribution it has to make. I approached Personnel and got the very encouraging response back that it was something they would consider and try to progress, but that it wouldn't be happening before June.

About the same time I had a meeting with Iain Ballantine, rector of KGS. Iain had read my previous blog that expressed concern about the school results, so we met and compared our sets of statistics. I was reassured by what I learnt, as the trends over the last years have generally been upwards, and KGS performs well for most measures with respect to comparable schools. Significantly Stromness Academy is not one of these, and comparing KGS with Stromness directly can be seen to be flawed when it is apparent that KGS has the entire Orkney Secondary intake of pupils with special needs in year 4, and that the size of the roll in year 4 is used as the baseline for all the percentages in years 5 and 6. Nonetheless last year's Higher results for KGS were against the upward trend and particularly disappointing- this has been recognised and is hopefully being addressed successfully.

The General Meeting on the 26th February was nerve-racking for me as I had to stand up and speak to two motions, one requesting postponement of the Northlink photo ID cards requirement, and the other speaking in favour of retaining the Christmas Bonus in some form and asking for the recommendation to scrap it be overturned in favour of further consideration. Happily both were passed, and the Christmas Bonus consideration will hopefully look at better targetting towards those who need it most (as opposed to means-testing), how this can address fuel poverty, and indeed how much it should be. I'll have more to say (or ask) about Northlink ID cards in another blog.

All Kirkwall councillors were asked along to a Roads and Transportation Working Group, and many things were flagged for consideration and added to the to-do list, viz:
  • car parking at the old bus station
  • LIDL junction
  • 20mph zone around Papdale Primary
  • traffic calming and parking in Thom St/White St/Willows area
  • bus stop and possible crossing on Palace Road
  • counteracting speeding on Palace Road, Berstane Road and East Road
  • consideration of parking permits

What becomes of these, time will tell... The 20 mph zone around Papdale Primary should be fairly imminent though.

I'll sign off with an apology- a group of Papdale pupils wrote to me at the end of January with a plea for a flat area of grass to play football on after school hours, and I haven't managed to do anything about this yet. I have a lot of sympathy for this, as I spent most of my youth playing football (badly) at Broadsands Road, and it breaks my heart to see that this is a No Ball Games area now. I must write to my councillors.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Despite my long-held belief that benign dictatorship (from an open-minded and community-orientated person like, ahem, myself) is perhaps the ideal political model (apart from issues of succession planning) I must concede that there might be mileage in democracy yet.

As I alluded in my last post, the Schools Estate site and scope were to be determined (subject to ratification by the full council) at the ERCS meeting on the 30th January. I was expecting this to be round three after two seminars of extremely vigourous debate where I was fighting to retain KGS at Papdale for the very good reasons I have explained elsewhere. Consequently I had prepared and edited my arguments to fit the time limits and rules of the committee meeting and discussed all manner of scenarios for days in advance, until finally the moment came to debate the recommendation that KGS should be rebuilt at its present site... and it was agreed without dissent!

Now obviously I'm very pleased about this, as it was a big issue for me, and it is unquestionably the right decision. (It is also the only decision that allows flexibility to save more money, as that would require retaining facilities such as the existing hostel or pool, only possible at that site.) Back in May however it wasn't going to be an option, and I have to raise my tammy to the senior officials who listened and put it on the agenda, and ultimately backed it. Also to my fellow councillors who took on board all the arguments at the site and scope seminars- there has been give and take on both sides, and I think we have a genuine consensus that'll let the whole project crack on and succeed.

However until the full council agrees it I'll keep sweating. If this happens we are into a more exciting phase where the argument will be to see what community facilities we can incorporate, and how to make the school a place where everybody wants to go. Good ideas always welcome.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The First Cycle

The first cycle of meetings for 2008 is as follows (remember the acronyms are explained here):

SSH - Tue 22nd Jan
EPPS - Wed 23rd Jan
Development - Thu 24th Jan
T&I - Tue 29th Jan
ERCS - Wed 30th Jan
Land and Property sub-committee - Thu 31st Jan
Information Services sub-committee - Thu 31st Jan at 2.15pm
P&R - Tuesday 12th Feb
Full Council - 26th Feb

All these meetings are open to the public, and take place in the Council Chamber at 10.30 am unless otherwise stated.

ERCS on the 30th will include recommendations for the siting of KGS, and the first public debate and vote, which I am sure will be interesting. Whatever results from this will go to P&R on 12th Feb and whatever comes from that will go to Full Council on the 26th for ratification or otherwise.

Happy New Year

First let me wish all readers a Happy New Year. If you send me an email with your address I'll come round with my bottle if you want!

I shouldn't make too many drink related promises, as anyone reading on from the last posting would think I must have been in a home-brew-related stupor for the last six weeks. This was not the case, but hey, there's always next year.

There's really been no time for high jinks, as December saw business continue with meetings up till the 19th, and the topics being addressed in this include budget setting in light of the Council's priorities and the settlement from the Scottish Government. The latter is not as Orkney would have liked as the disappearance of the budgeted-for million pounds for the ferries means that our relative position to the Western Isles is getting worse, and pressure on the various Reserve Funds increases. Not good, as the money going into these funds has effectively stopped, and the Harbours operation has been losing money now for a number of years, which I had been unaware of, and this has been brought to a head by the loss of the Foinhaven contract. Even with the proposed slimming down of the Harbours operation the year on year deficit is increasing, so revisiting charging and attracting new business must take place.

More people are contacting me about ward issues, which is good in so far as the contact mechanism is working, but bad in so far as there are issues. Examples include the proposed changes to the junction of Weyland Terrace and East Road, which has moved more than 50 residents to petition the Council to reconsider, the poor results for KGS in December's league tables, what measures are being taken to control speeding in the town, and the poor efficiency and high cost of heating in the Lynn Crescent houses. All serious issues, and ones which are being followed up. Hopefully good news will follow in a future post. If any of these issues affect you, please get in touch, as any further information is helpful to me.

The Council business is in full swing now for 2008, with the first cycle of committee meetings starting next week. I'll list them in the next post.