Friday 27 November 2009

Transports of Joy

How the Tram will destroy Lothian Buses

The Tram Business Case (oh yes) indicated that the Tram wouldn't make a profit and would be reliant on the money made by Lothian Buses to stay afloat. This was a plan written in easier economic times and with an awful lot of optimism as has been discussed by myself and some others at some length, so lets look at it a different way.

The tramline is being laid on the number 22 bus route because the 22 is the busiest route in the service, so we can assume that its the most profitable. The tour buses must make a profit or they'd be disposed of; they're not core to the business. The Airlink buses must make a profit or their frequency would be reduced.

Given that Lothian Buses profits have been healthy (until recently) but not huge, I think that they must be just about the only three services that make profits. The tram is intended to replace the 22 and the Airlink and not make any profit at all - removing two profit sources and replacing them with one loss source. Marvellous, eh?

So we now have a project which is massively over budget and behind schedule, where the organisation delivering it (after a fashion) is in denial about the state of the project, where the council can't find the money it was supposed to put into the project when it was on budget, never mind all the additional money it's going to have to find as the project costs go into orbit and where borrowing isn't an option because money borrowed for a transport project has to be repaid within two years.

If the tramline ever gets built Edinburgh Council will have an enormous capital costs bill to settle £250 million and rising, there will no longer be any dividend paid from Lothian Buses to the council because the combined tram/bus company will be making losses and because the bus service will no longer be making a profit it will need greater subsidies for the social responsibility routes - something we've seen starting already - and from the position of a couple of years ago where our award-winning, publicly-owned, profitable bus company was providing money to our council, well be facing a situation where the council will be seriously in hock for the tram and shelling out on a regular basis to cover the deficits in running the combined company.

If you became leader of Edinburgh Council in 2012 and you were faced with that situation, what would you do? The simple answer, and the answer that every single politician would get to, is that you dispose of the loss-making services and realise some capital receipts to off-set the costs. Short-term fix? Yup. The alternative is to continue loading losses onto the council budget while dealing with the costs of the huge debt incurred.

Continuing with the tram project will mean that the council will be forced to sell Lothian Buses - probably at less than its worth. If we want to save our bus service in Edinburgh we have to stop the tram project.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Glasgow Council temper tantrum

I have been passed an email which was circulated around senior officers of Glasgow City Council yesterday. I've removed the names and other identifiers to protect the officers involved:
From: _________
Sent: 25 November 2009 12:31
To: ______; ______; _______; ________; _______; _____; ____________
Please note that all future communications should now refer to the Scottish Executive and not Scottish Government.
Communications & Support Manager
______ Services
Glasgow City Council
231 George Street
Glasgow G1 1RX
Phone 0141
Phone 077
Fax 0141

I've never seen a council go in a huff before!

Relax, don't do it

Jack McConnell, well known for his sartorial excellence, did Frankie Goes to Holyrood yesterdayYes, that man wearing eau de vagrant used to be Labour's First Minister.

All together now:

Relax don't do it
When you want to go to it
Relax don't do it

Good to see the former First Minister loud and proud.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Minimum Pricing - who supports that?

You know the Scottish Government supports minimum pricing to tackle Scotland's alcohol abuse and the other parties oppose it? You know how the Lib Dems have been vociferous in their opposition? You know how the Lib Dems face different ways in different areas of the country or different levels of legislature?

Lib Dem MP Willie Rennie is, at this very moment, hosting an event in support of minimum pricing in Westminster, with the BMA in attendance to bolster the case. The Lib Dem - the only animal in all of the known world that can sit on the fence and keep an ear to the ground on either side ...

Also in attendance at the minimum pricing reception (I wonder what drinks they're serving) is one Kenneth Calman...

Mind how you drink!

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue is a former drill hall, now a performance space, in Dalmeny Street in Edinburgh. This Saturday it's the venue for a free conference-type event on independence. Might be worth a wee nip along - especially for anyone who doesn't yet believe in independence. Details are below, including the link to the entry on Bella Caledonia's blog:

Saturday 28 November 2009
10.30 – 6.00 @ Out of the Blue
As the plans for a referendum on Scottish independence are announced a gathering looking at why we need a Yes vote and what are the positive visions for an independent Scotland?

Media, Communication and the Union 11.00 – 12.30
Pat Kane on The Democratic Interact: the challenges of social media to Scottish Self -Determination. Pat is a musician, blogger, author, columnist and has been involved in the politics of independence from Scotland United days. More at The Play Ethic.

Joe Middleton on Why Scottish Independence Matters. Joe is a member of the Scottish National Party, the creator of the Scottish Independence Guide website and Press Officer of Independence First, the referendum campaign.

Shona McAlpine on We Can’t Win It Without Them – Enthusing the Under 30s. Shona McAlpine is an SNP activist and manages the Scottish Independence Convention’s website. Professionally she is a Secondary Computing teacher and has also been a nightclub and bar manager.

Peace & Alternative Futures 1.00 – 3.00 pm
Janet Fenton on How Scottish Women Might Disarm the UK Government
. Janet started co-ordinating the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre after lots of political, feminist theatre, community arts and direct action, and a few years with a community eco-shop/gallery/drop-in project in Portobello.

Justin Kenrick on Self-determination as an assertion of interdependence: restoring resilience to communities, societies and ecosystems. Justin teaches at the Sustainability Institute at St Andrews University and is the co-ordinator of the Holyrood 350 Campaign.

Economics and Outlook with Scottish Left Review & Our Kingdom 3.30 – 5.30 pm
Gerry Hassan on The End of Britain
. Gerry is the author of The Modern SNP from Protest to Power (EUP) and is a columnist for Our Kingdom

Robin McAlpine on Imagined Futures. Robin is editor of Scottish Left Review and author of Is There a Scottish Road to Socialism?

This event is free – all welcome.

Monday 23 November 2009

I'm no fan of Jim Murphy

I’m no fan of Jim Murphy MP, currently occupying the position of Secretary of State for Scotland. I don’t like his superciliousness; I disdain his contemptuous dismissal of people who don’t agree with him; I think his politics are unremittingly negative; I think his ideal of keeping Scotland thirled to a failing UK is dangerous for our well-being; I don’t like politicians who deal in untruths; and I think his blog is terrible. That said, his particular brand of political operation, unsavoury as it is, has a degree of efficacy which his predecessors lacked entirely – he clothes himself in other people’s issues, he gives quotes which journalists are likely to use, he holds his line, and he puts himself about a bit. I would like to see him and his party removed from office, I think they do Scotland enormous damage (which can most charitably be put down to ignorance rather than intent on their part), and their choking hands still the ferment of Scottish aspiration.

I will contend with Mr Murphy and other members of his party on each and every issue upon which we disagree; I will call into question the hagiographies which they spin around themselves; and I will seek to release Scotland from the retardation which Labour imposes upon us. Scotland removed from them in 2007 the brevet which they carried as the governing party in the Scottish Parliament and I would like to see that change extended, with Scotland using the UK election to remove many more of the ineffectual and deadening from our politics. I will work to bring that about, and I will use the most effective means I can find to do that, I will quite happily mock opponents and use humour to prick their pomposity; I will contest their arguments (on the odd occasion we can find them) and I will poke at their claims in the hope of rousing truth. What I won’t do is pour vitriol on their person nor will I fling epithets with no foundation. I sometimes aim at the politician rather than at the politics, but that’s when I feel that it’s the politician who deserves it and I’ll be delighted to aim a brickbat or two in Mr Murphy’s direction. I won’t be making unfounded allegations about his domestic life (about which I know nothing) nor accusations about his behaviour which cannot be proven. The political face he leads with and the politics he espouses are enough of a target without resorting to wild creativity.

Likewise, I believe that describing him in profane terms on my blog would be counter-productive, leading no-one to change their mind to side with the party I support and perhaps obscuring the actual arguments being led so well by so many members of the SNP. Mr Murphy and all who sail with him can expect their arguments to be holed below the water-line but they can also expect the torpedo to be polite, mind its manners, do its job with minimal collateral damage, and provide life-rafts on the way out. I want Scotland to be independent and I find difficulty in tholing the negative and unproductive politics of those who blindly oppose independence but we are in the process of building a country and we will need an independent Scotland to have political opinions of all hues if we are to build a better country. In an independent Scotland we will need all to debate, to contend, and to think on improving our nation without the diminishing effect of empty epithet. We need to create a better politics to build a better country and we can’t do that with ignorance, nor by suggesting that our opponents are part of the pudenda of Scotland. I’m glad that members of the SNP eschew that kind of language in favour of the positive and we must do more to encourage others to do similar.

I’m no fan of Jim Murphy but I’ll treat him to a bacon roll and a cup of tea the morning after the count, and I’ll encourage him to pick himself up and dust himself off after a crushing defeat, and I’ll tell him that he needs to turn his mind to the kind of Scotland he wants to see when we’re independent. If we can turn the talents of Jim Murphy away from the negative and the down-treading that he’s engaged in at the moment and encourage him to speak positively for Scotland then we will have had a result which benefits all of us. We’ve got what it takes, now we just have to apply it.

MPs up before the beak?

Police have reported some MPs for their expenses claims. No-one should get too carried away, though - remember that the CPS thought that prosecutions in Labour's Cash for Peerages scandal were not in the public interest, and it may consider that to be the case again.

Saturday 21 November 2009

9 - 8!

An enormous margin of victory! Right, I have some Australians to call ...

Friday 20 November 2009

Labour to take food from children

Well, if Stephen Purcell gets his way, anyway. He called today for free school meals to be abolished to pay for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. What is it with these big kids and their train sets? Here's a thing, though - GARL, like the Edinburgh Tram, appears to be aimed primarily at improving the profitability of the airports, especially when you consider the supporting documents from the legislative process. Why isn't BAA picking up the tab? In the Promoter's Statement there is a vague allusion to BAA paying some of the cost but when it was cancelled it was revealed that compensation payments were to be made to BAA as well as us paying for the airport to have a new nursery, car rental facilities, multi-storey car park and fuel farm.

Why should the public purse be subsidising a very profitable private business so heavily?

Something else - have a look at the route from Paisley out to the airport and you'll find it crosses an industrial estate when it could easily have avoided built-up areas. Why would anyone want to build where you were having to pay out additional compensation? Why would anyone want to disrupt businesses?

Most of all, though, why would anyone want to take food from the mouths of children to fund a rail line? Where is Charles Dickens when you need him?
Stephen Purcell

Wednesday 18 November 2009

The Manuscript of Monte Cassino

It's being reported that The Manuscript of Monte Cassino, the Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture, is to return to its current place if the tramworks are ever finished (it will only be moved if the tramworks ever get going, right enough). This is a good decision - as is the decision not to split it up (some folk had wanted it spread down Leith Walk) - the sculpture reflects on the battle of Monte Cassino and those who died there and has resonance for the Scottish-Italian links, including the sculptor's father, grandfather and uncle who were interned and sent to Canada at the outbreak of war and who died when the Arandora Star was sunk in the Atlantic en route (the teenage Eduardo Paolozzi was interned in Saughton at the time).

The sculpture is, therefore, something of a war memorial - it should stay where it is and most certainly should not be broken up - just like the Hearts memorial should go back in its place as soon as possible.

Sunday 15 November 2009

How did they spend that?

I nearly forgot - all that money that went to TIE - all getting spent on building half a tramline from Gogar to St Andrew's Square, yes? Erm, no ...

Go to the Edinburgh Trams website to see what you're getting for Christmas. Nope, sorry, not the removal of roadworks and barriers on Leith Walk, but a most generous offer to spend some more of our money, this time on Edinburgh Sparkles which it describes as
a UK-wide campaign, designed to promote the city's unique winter offer more effectively than ever before

I'm not sure I can stand the suspense. I do love this bit:
The event which has been made possible with additional funding from Essential Edinburgh and tie Limited will allow people to share the Princes Street space that will be created as the tram works conclude and before buses return to Princes Street at 5 am on Sunday 29 November

They will allow us to use the street we own - I can hardly hold back the glee.

Edinburgh Sparkles? What is there left to say?

Trams - the figures

I was in the supermarket in the late afternoon, enjoying myself reading labels and snorting at prices when a shopping trolley hove into view containing a small child who was complaining about his imprisonment. Arms aloft, he was repeating one word "Free! Free!" An inspirational wee fella, I thought.

Anyway, while everyone's attention was focused on some small electoral contest somewhere over in the west, here in the nation's capital there was a meeting - don't tell anyone - that happened to have a report or two in front of it about that chaos theory experiment that's going on in Edinburgh, the one that's got that that funny codename; Tram.

Ready? Good...

The Audit Committee of the Council had a look at the audited accounts wherein they will have read (if, indeed, they were so brave) the foreword from the Director of Finance who, strangely, didn't do a Private Frazer, but did say:
Capital Expenditure for the year totalled £391.900m, as shown on page 37 of the Statement of Accounts. Of this amount ... £241.953m was spent on tram works, roads and other infrastructure.

Page 37 actually tells you very little about trams (although it does point out that professional fees for capital projects totalled £24million ....)

Page 34, though, shows that the payments of capital funding to TIE in the year to April 2009 totalled £87.086 million and the year before £68.333 million (2007-08).

That's very interesting because the money claimed from the Scottish Government for the Tram project totalled £69.919 million in the year 2007-08 (all paid in the one month) and £82.231 million for part of the later year. So what? Well, the agreement between the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council is for parallel funding (it's referred to in that answer to the Parliamentary Question). The Government's funding is capped at £500 million but pays only 91.7% of each bill - in other words, if TIE has a bill for £100 the Government should pay £91.70 and the Council should cough up £8.30.

If the Council had been paying its share of the bills, the capital investment should have been £76.248 million and £89.674 million. Where's that £10.503 million gone? Come to think of it, why was more claimed than paid in one of those years? The agreement has quite clearly been breached. What happens now?

There's more, though, if you go to page 46 of the Council's accounts you'll find TIE's turnover - £58.673 million in the year that £69.919 million was claimed from the Scottish Government and £68.333 million was handed over to TIE - there's more than £11 million missing somewhere, someone had better check down the back of the sofa.

Ah, but in the year just gone TIE had a turnover of £127.201 million and it only got £87.086 million in tram payments. Its website suggests it's only got the tram project on the go just now - did someone find £40 million down the back of the sofa?

On page 16 of the Auditor's report it's stated that £138 million was spent on the tram in the year, £120 million from the Scottish Government. Those figures don't appear in the Council's accounts - when are we going to get some honesty about the state of the tram project? Page 29 of that report indicates that the tram project now poses enough of a threat to the running of Edinburgh Council to appear on the Corporate Risk Register.

No wonder the Greens think a single tramline is a waste of money.

Some other wee details, though - the Council is now £1.1bn in debt and its PPP commitments now total £1.147 bn.

Nothing there to worry about, is there?

Mind how you go!

Polls bad for Labour

I see Political Betting is reporting two polls showing Labour is still tanking in UK-wide polls - 14% behind the Conservatives. Interesting from my point of view is that the figures for 'others' are sitting quite high - that's where you find the SNP vote in UK polls, I look forward to the details!

Friday 13 November 2009

Cheer up

After a result like that, might I recommend a little magic to lift your spirits courtesy of the great Solomon Burke?

Now that's got your pulse going, have a wee laugh:

Here's the spiel that goes with it:
This video was made by Michael Marra & Mick McCluskey to complement the re-release of the brilliant Saint Andrew album, The Word on the Pavey.For more information visit Saint Andrew's Websicht at - The Saint Andrew Websicht is hosted by
Mind how you boogie!

Thursday 12 November 2009

Radio star

I'll be on the radio later, addressing an audience of millions. Oh yes, Radio 5 at 02.30! Where's my coffee?

Tramfinder General

Who said:
we want:
- improvement of existing public transport, rather than spending millions on a tramway

The Green Party.

If it's a waste of money in Liverpool why would it not be a waste of money in Edinburgh?

Mind how you go!

Tuesday 10 November 2009

What do you want from the liquor store?

This is an awfy time of night to still be working, so here's a musical interlude from Ted Hawkins -

Of course, when he asks "What do you want from the liquor store?", he's actually saying "I intend to visit a purveyor of fine wines and elegant spirits who disdains deep discounting and encourages responsible drinking, would you care for a light refreshment?" and when he says "I'll buy you all that your belly can hold" he's actually saying "I'll pick up a curry on the way over as well."

Monday 9 November 2009

Stand up Green!

There's a rumour that the Green Party will be standing a candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith. If confirmed, this is excellent news, democracy is better served the better range of opinions on offer, and there is an added bonus from the Greens - in this time of big environmental promises the presence of a Green candidate will keep the rest of us honest on the environment. Surely that's a good thing?

Mind how you mow!

Sunday 8 November 2009


I intended to write a post for Remembrance Sunday, but I can do no better than point you in the direction of David Kerr's post on the Steamie.

Me - spot on yet again

At the time of the Gray reshuffling, I speculated thusly:
Here's a thing, though, why stop John Park talking about apprenticeships and move him into a mute role? Might it be that the Labour Government in London will be cutting apprenticeship funding in the budget and so John has to be silenced well in advance in the hope that no-one will remember he made a big thing of it?

From the Observer:
Gordon Brown stands accused today of misleading the public over his much-vaunted plans to help young people through the recession. Leaked documents show the government is planning drastic cuts for its flagship plan to train a new generation of apprentices.
Confidential papers obtained by The Observer show that, while Brown and his ministers have suggested they are raising investment in training, skills and apprenticeships, behind the scenes they are preparing some £350m of cuts for 2010-11 that will slash the number of training places on offer by hundreds of thousands.

It's just as well I'm incredibly modest.

Talking about modesty, I have been chastised for saying that Michael Martin's house and erstwhile constituency office is in Glasgow. It seems that this particular building is in Jo Swinson's constituency and in a different council area to boot. Ach well, sic transit gloria.

Mind how you go!

Saturday 7 November 2009

MPs' expenses

There's something that I think has been missed in the storm over MPs' expenses. The expenses system for MPs exists to cover "expenses necessarily and wholly incurred in the course of their parliamentary duties" - that's why it pays for accommodation in the form of a second home allowance. Surely those Members who hold an office which entitles them to a grace-and-favour pad in London have been provided with the second home and therefore should not be claiming the allowance since that is not an expense necessarily and wholly incurred in the course of their parliamentary duties? To have claimed the second home allowance when the taxpayer is already providing them with a grace-and-favour residence would be fraud, surely.

So, whether or not someone reports them to Yates of the Yard, those with the right to occupy these properties should repay the money.

Gordon Brown should be repaying all the money he claimed against his second home allowance (ignoring the flip he made to transfer the allowance to his house in North Queensferry for now) over the past 12 and a half years when he had the right to use Downing Street. We don't have figures for the full period but the claims for the four years' from 2004/05 to 2007/08 come to £73,056.00

Alistair Darling moved into Downing Street when he became Chancellor, rented out his London flat, designated Downing Street as his main home and charged us for the upkeep of his Edinburgh family home. That came to £7,537 in 2007/08.

John Prescott had a flat in Admiralty House until the summer of 2007 but managed to claim second home allowance amounting to £43,720 in the three years before he moved out.

Michael Martin, the former speaker, who wasn't shy about spending public money on his grace-and-favour apartment, Speaker's House, also managed to claim £41,503 in second home allowance - presumably to pay for his Glasgow home wherein was his constituency office for which he charged us in spite of it not being in the constituency, or his "small flat in London".

Wrap up warm, now, and avoid this flu - it's a stonker, I lost a whole week, feeling roughly how I imagine a watermelon feels after being hit by a truck. Mind how you go!

Sunday 1 November 2009

Banks to be sold

Plans are being made to break up and sell off the public stakes in the banks. Part of the deal will be that the purchasers must not be banks. Maybe it's just me but is excluding possible purchasers from the market, especially purchasers who know the market, the best way to get a good price?