Monday, 31 March 2008

Yomp!

Well, we did the charity 'yomp' yesterday and got a good break in the weather for it.

It is a nine mile sponsored walk in aid of local charities and it may have raised as much as £8000. Four local councillors took part myself, a Lib Dem, an Independant and an SNP member.

The start was signalled by an artillery gun fired by the Provost who looked delighted to get the chance to set it off. As usual she was great with everyone she met and continues to be very popular.

Girlfriend came up to do the walk with me and was great company. Just as well as by the end my feet were pretty sore, even though I had good boots and socks on. I wasn't alone with the sore feet bit either!

Apart from that, it was a pretty busy weekend with various other stuff going, on, but I got plenty done.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Drinking Age

I comment on alcohol issues quite a lot, more so since I became Chairman of the Licensing Board which has raised my interest in the subject. That doesn't mean I don't like a drink. I do, as anyone who knows me will testify! So it would seem, does Kenny MacAskill. So I'm a bit disappointed that his rather simplistic solution to drink fuelled anti social behaviour is to raise the age of purchasing alcohol from off licenses to 21 (among other things to be fair).

I don't believe this is a plausible solution. Its tokenistic in my view and smacks of doing something just for appearances sake. The fact is, this is an extremely complex issue, and we Scots appear to have a rather complex relationship with booze.

Research conducted locally suggests that 30% of underage drinkers buy their own booze. It also suggests that where alcohol is readily available,they will drink with greater frequency than where it is more difficult to come by (no shit Sherlock).

On the face of it then, there may be an argument for the Ministers proposals. The 30% would be easier to identify as underage. Those that currently buy alcohol on behalf of kids would need to be three years older, and perhaps three years wiser, to do so. His argument gains strength from the success of a pilot project where licensees signed up to temporarily raise the age of buying drink to 21.

In fact, closer scrutiny shows that often it is family members, even parents, who equip kids with booze, perhaps at times to get them out of the house. On top of that, it seems there are other adults in the community who fuel their own dependency on drink by purchasing booze for underagers and taking a 'cut' of the haul. It doesn't take long for these individuals to become known to the kids who want drink and so it goes on. The pilot project mentioned above, may also have gained greater success on the back of an increase in targeted police activity which was run concurrently.

I also think its wrong to lay the blame too much on supermarkets. These outlets seem to take a very responsible view on age related products and who they are sold to. I know locally of one instance where a supermarket refused to sell alcohol to someone they thought was consistently purchasing on behalf of kids. If they want to sell drink at cheap prices, I have no problem with that. As a drinker I enjoy a bargain as much as anyone else, and the fact is that consistently raising taxes on drink may not be the efficient deterrent that people assume (although clearly it raises a lot of money for the treasury). Personally, I'm concerned that the extra cost of buying drink will be taken from other household budgets. In the case of those with modest incomes, most likely food or heating.

In many places in Europe drink is cheaper than it is here, and yet they don't suffer the same level of problems that we do.

I don't believe it is prices or age limits that need to be raised. I think it is our awareness of alcohol and its effects that needs to raised and our attitude towards it that needs changed. There is no quick solution, and certainly no simple one.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Full Council

We had the meeting of the full council last night, and whilst I always knew it wasn't going to be easy, it really was a difficult night.

I knew it was going to be harsh when even small details in the minutes of the last meeting were picked up and challenged. One opposition councillor suggested he could not have seconded a motion as the minutes said as he had not even been in the room at the time. I quite believe him.

A lot of the stuff on the agenda was both contentious and the responsibility of my department and I hadnt been sitting in the chamber for long before I realised all the material I had prepared for the meeting was sitting on the kitchen table at home.

That said we got through it, but it went on for hours and the drive to Edinburgh afterwards was long and tedious. Never mind, tomorrow's another day.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Unusual Compliment

When I got elected in May, I quickly teamed up with an Independent Councillor, David Fairweather. He is one of the councillors who covers the neighbouring ward to me.

We have always had fairly forthright views on things and have never been shy in criticising anti social behaviour, underage drinking etc. Most of which has been reported fairly extensively in the local press over the past year.

On Friday, the paper printed a song someone has written about us, to be sung to the theme tune of Ghostbusters. Its a strange compliment, but great all the same.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Cleared

Well, what a total farce. You may remember the post about an accusation made against the Provost of Angus by an opposition Councillor. You can read my comment on it here.

I stand by what I said in my earlier post about this. In my view it is a pathetic episode that signals a new low for local government. The Provost apparently would have had to have taken 5 or 6 steps to delvier what were allegedly two 'forceful' 'slaps' on the backside. A member of staff who witnessed the event gave (unsurprisingly) a different version however.

I believe that if it had been as the complainant described it, then it was assault and should have been a matter for the police rather than the Standards Commissioner. It speaks volumes in my view that this was the path it took.

It is not just the total farce of this whole, shoddy episode. Its not just the manner in which people have been shaking their heads in disbelief about it. Its not even the anger I feel that this garbage has been needlessly hanging over the Provost's head for some time. I mean, how much did this pantomime cost? How much time, effort and resources were diverted away from more important things than this petulant drivel?

Below is the result of the investigation, and below that is a link to the complainants response which was broadcast on TV.

3. The person complaining, Councillor Glennis Middleton ("the complainant") alleged that as they were about to enter the Council Chamber for a meeting of Angus Council on 8 November 2007, the respondent slapped her on the behind twice and called her a "naughty girl". The complainant felt this to be offensive and demeaning behaviour. She alleged that it breached the requirement for councillors to treat each other with respect and contravened the Key Principles of Leadership and Respect set out in the Code.

4. The incident complained of took place on the stair landing outside the Council Chamber at Town and County Hall, Forfar. The complainant had been delayed by a telephone call and arrived at the entrance door of the Chamber after other councillors had gone in. The Provost, accompanied by the Council Officer, was on the landing, about to go in and start the meeting. The complainant apologised for being tardy and asked the Provost if she would wait a moment while she got a drink from the water cooler on the landing.

5. There were, therefore, three parties present when the action complained of occurred. The complainant stated that the contact was offensive to her and forceful. She believed it was intentional because it was her recollection that the respondent was standing at the door of the Chamber and would have had to take five or six steps across the landing to reach her and slap her at the water cooler.

6. The Council Officer's evidence was that there was indeed a gesture by the Provost. However, he indicated that the circumstances were not as the complainant believed them to be in that Councillor Leslie Melville did not cross the landing and intentionally go towards Councillor Middleton. Rather, the Provost was standing with her back to the stair window and, as witnessed by the Council Officer, made a friendly 'gee up' gesture as Councillor Middleton passed by her. Having witnessed the gesture, and although he thought the Provost made contact with Councillor Middleton, it was the Council Officer's view that no malicious intent could be attached. The respondent, herself, stated that she had no recollection of the alleged incident and insisted that if there was any contact it was inadvertent.

7. I found the evidence of the Council Officer frank and convincing, and I considered that he gave a reliable description of what passed just before the Council meeting. Essentially, it was to the effect that there was a "gee up" gesture by the respondent which made contact with the complainant but which was a friendly act and made in that spirit, and I find accordingly. In this case, therefore, I did not consider that there was any action by Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville which would justify a finding that the Councillors' Code of Conduct had been breached by her. I hope this episode will not affect the future relationships between the councillors concerned. It would be sad, indeed, and of no benefit whatever to the citizens of Angus if their elected representatives did not try to get along with each other in the conduct of Council business.

8. Having considered the information that arose from my investigation, I concluded that Councillor Ruth Leslie Melville had not contravened the Councillors' Code of Conduct.

You can see the complainants response to the findings on TV here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Vikings Are Coming!! (Back)

A few years ago, I organised a couple of "Viking Raids" on Arbroath, which involved bringing two Viking longships over, battle re-enactments etc and the finale was setting fire to a mock Viking longship at night.

They were great fun to organise and take part in and I had wanted to organise another one, but was seriously lacking in the time required to pull it off. But having recently joined the committee of Seafest, which (no prizes for guessing) is a local festival which celebrates Arbroath's connection with the sea, the opportunity arose to combine the two events.

Having had a chat with the Vikings, it looks like we may be good to go. The pictures are from previous 'raids'. If you are up this neck of the woods over the weekend of the 16th/17th August, you could do a lot worse than come to Arbroath and see this for yourself.


(the third one down I'm the one in black with the beard)









Sunday, 16 March 2008

Weekend

It has been a busy week, busier than normal. There has been a lot of things going on, mostly constituency cases.

The weekend brought girlfriends 40th birthday (my 41st preceded this by a few days). I had dodged meeting many of her friends, largely because I was simply reticent, but we had a fantastic dinner and went out for drinks later. She has interesting and likeable friends and I'm sorry I hadn't met them before.

Sunday I helped out in her garden and although it took an hour or two, I managed to dig out a leylandii that she didnt want. The root systems of those things are exceptionally difficult to dig out and I helpfully broke her garden fork doing it, but it came out in the end.

This week brings more Council stuff. I continue to be frustrated at the pedestrian speed of local government.

How slow is it? It took months after the election before we got bussiness cards. It was about 6 months before we got name badges and don't even mention the length of time it took to get IT provision.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Litter

People often complain about litter. Quite right too. Litter is an eyesore and brings down the amenity of an area. Myself and another councillor have been campaigning on it for a while. Early this week, we were able to take a bit of action and the culprit got a police warning:

Councillors Report Littering to Police

Arbroath Councillors Jim Millar and David Fairweather have lodged a complaint with Tayside Police after witnessing the same individual, who they believe to be a senior employee of Arbroath Sheriff Court, dropping a cigarette butt on the ground outside the court twice within thirty minutes.

Cllr Millar said "Since we were elected in May, we have campaigned constantly to have action taken against those who thoughtlessly indulge themselves in the kind of low level anti social behaviour such as litter dropping and failing to clean up dog mess, that brings down the amenity of the area for locals and visitors alike. I have previously voiced concern about the area in front of the court, and on Tuesday, David and I were widely quoted in the press stating that we will be pushing for fixed penalty notices to be issued against those who drop litter and gum."

Cllr Fairweather said "The irony is that to get to the kerb to discard his cigarette butts, this individual went past three separate bins, one of which is specifically designed for disposing of cigarettes. Since the introduction of the smoking ban, there have been several instances of premises flooding because the drains were blocked by cigarette ends with the result that this costs local businesses and the council money."

Mr Millar added "We hope that appropriate action will be taken in this and every case that is brought to the attention of the police and community wardens. We have introduced new powers for the community wardens to also issue fixed penalty notices for dog fouling and littering, and those powers will be used where appropriate."

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Stormy Weather

Some of the weather we have had recently has been harsh. In Arbroath, the high winds were combined with the highest tide of the year the other day, producing some really spectacular sights.

This photo was taken by talented Arbroath photographer Jim Rattcliffe.

Cheap Booze

It's a shame that whisky is to get an increased tax of 55p per bottle on it. If the argument is that this will help combat the drink problems we have in Scotland, I'd disagree. Below is a press release a colleague and I put out which was printed in the local press on Wednesday morning. Essentially, we managed to buy 10 litres of strong cider for just £10. Later we found another shop had the same drink even cheaper! I'd be interested in hearing people's views on this. Its an important subject and a growing problem.

Councillors Blast 'Pocket Money Booze'

Arbroath Councillors Jim Millar and David Fairweather have expressed grave concern about the amount of alcohol that can be purchased at very low cost.

The pair set themselves a budget of just £10 and were amazed that such a small sum of money managed to net them ten litres of strong cider from a small shop.

Some research by an NHS alcohol unit in Dundee showed that their modest outlay provided seventy five units of alcohol, or the equivalent of two litres of vodka which ordinarily could have cost in excess of forty pounds.

The recommended weekly intake of alcohol is fourteen units for women and twenty one for men.

Cllr Millar, who is also Chairman of Angus Licensing Board said "I was amazed at how much alcohol ten pounds bought. This is the type of drink that seems to be favoured by underage drinkers which is a contributory factor in the anti social behaviour that is making the lives of so many people a misery.

There is little point in increasing the price of quality drinks that are already quite expensive on the basis that it is to try and curb what has been described as Scotland's booze culture, when this sort of stuff is on the shop shelves and can be bought by the bucket at prices that are cheaper than the equivalent amount of mineral water."

"Earlier this year David and I went out and about round the known hotspots in the town over two weekends and wherever groups of young people had been drinking, these were the types of bottles that were left lying about."

Cllr Fairweather said "The main cause of complaints to us as councillors continues to be young people indulging in anti social behaviour which is invariably fuelled by alcohol that can be bought for next to nothing."

"This is a situation that has to be brought under control and we will continue to work closely with the licensed trade, police and relevant council departments in order to keep this issue high on the agenda."

Concluding, Cllr Millar said "This is an extremely serious issue that cannot be ignored. The situation in Arbroath is no better or no worse than any similar sized town in Scotland, but we must do everything possible to find a local solution to what is in reality a national problem. "

Friday, 7 March 2008

Friday Joke

John Bradford, a Dublin University student, was on the side of the road hitchhiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a big storm.

The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong he could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly, he saw a car slowly coming towards him and stopped. John, desperate for shelter and without thinking about it, got into the car and closed the door...only to realise there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn't on.The car started moving slowly.

John looked at the road ahead and saw a bend approaching. Scared, he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before the car hit the bend, a hand appeared out of nowhere through the window and turned the wheel.
John, paralysed with terror,watched as the hand came through the window, but never touched or harmed him. Shortly thereafter John saw the lights of a pub appear down the road,so, gathering strength, he jumped out of the car and ran to it.

Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realised he was crying and....wasn't drunk. Suddenly, the door opened, and two other people walked in from the stormy night. They, like John, were also soaked and out of breath. Looking around, and seeing John Bradford sobbing at the bar, one said to the other... "Look Paddy.....there's that feckin' eejit that got in the carwhile we were pushing it"

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Scammers

In common with pretty much everyone else, I get a lot spam and scam e-mails. The parliament filter does a great job in keeping them out of my work account, but some still do manage to get through.

The spammers try and sell cheap watches or fake medicines. The scammers are a different breed altogether though. I have seen some real crackers over the years where some widow/bank employee/govt minister from some far off country has tens of millions of dollars in some hidden bank account and wants to transfer it into a foreign account and split the money.

Clearly, there are people who fall for this type of scam. Unfortunately it is usually vulnerable, perhaps elderly people that are conned in this way. The kind of people who really cant afford to lose what they have.

I was really delighted to find out that there are any number of people across the world who are quite happy to indulge in what is known as "scambaiting". They respond to the e-mails and turn the scam around so that it costs the scammers time and money (hopefully distracting them from picking on someone vulnerable).

The best site I have found that has information about this can be found here. Now I'm not suggesting anyone indulges in scam baiting (scammers can be particularly nasty people), but some of the examples found on the website really are pure class. The videos and hall of shame can be particularly amusing especially the video where a scambaiter persuades a would be scammer that he trains stuntmen and gets the scammer to film himself doing any number of stunts (including being hit in the face by a colleague) and jumping off a roof.

I have no sympathy for anyone who tries to deceive people in the way scammers do and if they are made to look particularly stupid whilst being distracted from trying to rob people, then so much the better.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Yomp


I'm taking part in the 2nd Arbroath 'Yomp' at the end of this month. Its an eight mile walk that raises money for local charities and organisations. I don't know how much I'll raise, but it is worth it to help out local groups that do good work. I'm not sure which charity or charities I'll donate the money to.
The Campaign to secure World Heritage Site Status for Arbroath Abbey will be there and hopefully we will get a load of signatures for the petition.
Should be a good day, with plenty community spirit and money for good causes!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Out

Girlfriend bought me lunch on Sunday at the Conan Doyle. I have walked past it many times but it was the first time I have been in. It was a really nice meal. We were also looking for birthday presents for each other as our birthday's fall just a few days after each other. Mine is on the 9th with hers on the 15th. I like going out in Edinburgh, there's a venue to suit whatever mood you are in.

The appointment with the back specialist went ok and I need at least three months of physio and a comprehensive programme of back exercises to get it sorted. Hopefully I can claim this from the other drivers insurance. I don't see why I should have to pay out anymore for the results of someone else's stupidity.

I had written to the National Museum of Scotland and asked them if they would consider lending the Monymusk Reliquary to Arbroath and I have received an encouraging response. It was kept in the care of Arbroath Abbey and is said to have been carried by the Abbot of Arbroath Bernard de Linton at the Battle of Bannockburn. Arbroath Abbey now has a fantastic and modern visitor centre and I don't see why, if we can provide enough security and acceptable environmental levels, that it should not come back on short term loan. It is currently in the National Museum of Scotland, but I really believe that national treasures such as this should be loaned out to places which have a strong historical connection to them.

Personally, I think by doing this it may encourage visitors to get around more and see what other parts of Scotland have to offer. It might also give our youngsters more of an interest in Scotland's past too.