Independent policies

If I’m elected on 3rd May, I will be one vote among 58. I’m not a member of any political party and I have no plans to join a party – or to form one. I’ve been asked what my policies are, and I think they could better be described as personal commitments – to myself, to the voters of Southside and Newington, and to all those who have been affected by the statutory repairs scandal.

Whatever role I would play as a councillor would be a role driven by common sense and honesty and representing the people who hopefully will be kind enough to vote for me. I think being a councillor is a very personal relationship and I’ll be serving the people who elect me. I won’t be serving a political party.

My personal commitments, or nonparty policies if you like that better:

  • I am standing as an Independent candidate and if elected I will sit as an Independent councillor. I will not pledge to vote with any party group – not in open coalition nor in behind-the-scene deals. I will vote according to the merits or demerits of each motion, and with regard to the views of my constituents, not taking any party line.
  • I support transparent, open, honest government. Anyone taking an interest in local government should have their questions answered according to the standards set by the Scottish Information Commissioner.
  • I’m standing as a resident of Southside, not as a member of a political party. If elected, I’ll hold regular and accessible “surgeries” and will reply to any communication from a resident of Southside/Newington according to the standards set by the fine mySociety WriteToThem website.
  • I have a strong professional concern about the statutory repairs scandal. I hope that I will be able to work for that more effectively as an elected councillor. But I intend to continue following that up, whether I’m elected or not!
  • If you live in Newington/Southside and you have a concern that you want my help with as a councillor, you have a right and I’ll have an obligation to respond to your concern. If it’s a matter within my remit as a councillor – any aspects of local services and policy, such as planning, transport, roads, education, social services and libraries – and you want a face-to-face meeting to talk about it, I’ll meet with you.

Some more issues I have a strong view on:

  • The Edinburgh Trams construction project needs a clear management structure, realistic budget, realistic goals and deadlines, all of this publicly available, with clear penalties such as in any construction project for failing to meet the targets. Everyone in Edinburgh, resident or visitor, has a right to know what’s going on and how much it’s going to cost us.
  • Housing benefit should be clearly and fairly administered. Neither landlords nor tenants should have to fear eviction because of a muddle in administration. Homelessness is a disgrace: everyone in Edinburgh should be able to live in a decent, affordable home.
  • Our capital City should have a bespoke accommodation code for our students and landlord incentives to deliver good quality and affordable accommodation for students. Lower rentals, internet, less sharing of bathrooms, study space etc. Less profit from students and more investment in them. After 430 years as a university city the students deserve better from us than to have student accommodation “ranked as the top asset class in the UK’s property market” (The Times January 2012) University education should be about degrees, not debts!
  • I’ve been described as “watching revenue sheets like a hawk”. To save money, the council has closed nursery schools, Leith Waterworld, and Blindcraft. We can’t afford waste. But these cuts to services for Edinburgh’s children are a disgrace, and it’s shameful that after two hundred years this past council closed down the Blindcraft factory. My starting position is that we have enough revenue. The council spends about £1bn each year. That should be enough to deliver most services without waste. We should be looking for ways to save money, not sell off our treasures.
  • Which brings me to… I’m broadly against privatisation. For basic services within the community, we need a good, motivated, loyal workforce, an appreciated workforce, not a quagmire of term contracts, outplacement service contracts and monitoring. Buying in specialist services from outside contractors should be an exception, not the general rule.
  • We should be looking to invest in proper cycleways, not 20mph zones all over the place and cyclists having to cycle on the pavement because of justified concerns for their personal safety.
  • We should be providing better care for the elderly and the disabled, and better standards at work for care workers.

Edinburgh should be a clean, enjoyable, considerate, safe place to work and live.

A demanding and responsible undertaking

I am a quantity surveyor. The fundamentals of my trade are delivering anything from a conservatory to a castle on time, on budget and to the correct quality. I have dealt with projects large and small – but had I been the quantity surveyor responsible for the Edinburgh Trams project, by this time I would have been sacked. It is unimaginable for a project to shrink in size yet double (at least) in cost.

I read in yesterday’s Evening News that four civil engineers (claiming a very respectable 150 years of experience) say that the council chiefs have made the trams situation worse in the past year:

“In our view, the tram project is even more out of control than it was under TIE. The risks that existed then continue to be critical and to impact the project.”

They claimed the design of the project was incomplete, although the original intention had been for it to be completed by the end of 2007; the project suffered from the absence of a single experienced individual; the diversion of underground utility pipes and cables was “still far from complete”; and the cost of taking the tramline from St Andrew Square into York Place was not included in the current £776 million budget.

(All those involved should hang their heads with shame. But the tram project can’t be scrapped now.)

What the Transport Minister said at the time was “A sustainable, integrated and effective transport network” and “a safe, environmental travel choice” and perhaps strangest of all to read five years later “The utilities agreement that has been put in place is the right approach. Allowing a single contractor to do all the work will minimise disruption in the Capital, save money and ensure the delivery of the project. That is welcome news for Edinburgh.”

If only. Councillors understanding the contract documentation for the trams fiasco could have saved Edinburgh becoming an international laughing stock. I wish I could have seen what the councillors saw five years ago. Not the glossy Edinburgh Transport Review but the contract and the estimates. Asking the right questions, challenging and analysing the answers, delivering the right solutions on budget… it’s what I do.

I was one of the two experts asked to look at the statutory repairs for a BBC Scotland Investigates programme, “Scotland’s Property Scandal“. (The other expert witness is John Addison, probably the most eminent structural engineer in the conservation field in Scotland.) A few weeks later the BBC broadcast “The Great Tram Disaster (great review here).

The reviewer, local blogger Tychy, also asked a few days ago:

Perhaps the tram was a dream? The disastrously unsupervised instalment of a single tramline, with projected costs now at a billion pounds, has virtually bankrupted Edinburgh’s council and made the city a national laugh stock. Yet with council elections in seven days, it seems that the plucky local press has together agreed to treat all of our motley politicians as if they were the Royal Family, by not asking too many unhelpful questions.

Being a Councillor is a demanding and responsible undertaking. I think all candidates set out with good intentions, wanting to do a bit of good along the way … but they also have political party advancement to think of.

Of recent years, no Independent candidate has won a seat on Edinburgh Council. The election campaign itself is a huge undertaking, with no party structure to help me – but if I win, then the real work starts.

Listening to the needs and concerns of local people comes naturally to many individuals. I’ve helped many people who were losing their way through the council statutory notices, faced with grossly inflated bills. Being able to fully understand a variety of issues and implement action is a skill too far for some.

It is all very well being selected by a party and to put your name under a party banner, but it is the skill and experience of the individual that matters.

The multi million pound statutory notices scandal – had a member of the public come to my “surgery” with a concern, I would have been on the case years ago and nipped it in the bud. Quantity surveyors have informed management skills, cost control and a breadth of understanding – these are inherent in my profession. We deal with building projects, yes – and perhaps more importantly, we deal with people – people who will live in, work in or use

  • Hospitals
  • Health Centres
  • Airports
  • Homes for the elderly
  • Schools
  • Town centre redevelopments (yes, including pothole repairs!)
  • Nurseries
  • Sports facilities
  • Church halls and community facilities
  • Recreation and leisure facilities
  • ….. and more.

As a correspondent observed “I have to say that your background makes you an ideal choice”.

I believe so. Otherwise I wouldn’t have got into this.

Robin McAlpine, author of a report on the state of democracy in Scotland, says

“At the local level in Scotland, the administration is basically fine, but the democracy is an absolute disaster. I don’t think anyone really believes they can use their vote to change their community any more. That just can’t be acceptable.”

I said it and I meant it: Make things go your way on 3rd May – I will not let you down.

Vote for Gordon Murdie

Orwellian truths through your letterbox

Good intentions are not good enough – if one needs a triple heart bypass operation then presumably the services of a skilled surgeon would be preferred to a well intentioned passer by who happened to be a member of a national political party.

What makes a true CHAMPION?

You have to take your hat off to them – or eat it.

Taking local democracy seriously, as I do, it is disappointing that Orwellian “truths” are being delivered through letterboxes at a relentless pace. Some parties are managing to deliver 4 sets of leaflets whilst the independent has had to settle for achieving one delivery of 15,600 pamphlets.

Party leaders are in the local papers daily and it seems it’s all about National Politics rather than local issues and democracy – a growing number of people are more than a little disillusioned at being treated as fools.

My pamphlet – “at last an election pamphlet worth reading” according to a leading academic – makes mention of the Trams Fiasco and the Statutory Notices Scandal and sets down an accurate representation of how poor basic local services really are. The parties make no mention of this, blame each other, promise a wonderful future and forget that our City is in a bit of a mess and needs new blood to reverse the decline.

A picture of a new bus shelter and a 20mph sign may fool some people into believing that the 5 parties and their 58 Councillors have done very well indeed – well the international shame of the Trams Fiasco says otherwise, perhaps that’s why they fail to mention it. In the real world, one blunder of that scale and you are down to the Job Centre!

I fully accept that, to a man or woman, Councillors set out with good intentions of political party advancement and doing a bit of good along the way.

In the spirit of appreciating that people do the best they can, it nonetheless astonishes me that the Transport Convener (trams) and former Board Member of TIE (trams) makes mention of recycling cardboard but forgets about the Trams Fiasco!!

“Re-elect LOCAL champion Gordon Mackenzie” the leaflet screams.

“LOCAL” despite the leaflet being printed by Kestrel Press, South Newmoor, Industrial Estate in IRVINE – how local is that and are there no printers in our City that print fiction?

“CHAMPION” The international shame of the Trams Fiasco, businesses and lives ruined in Leith Walk and beyond etc. Champion? Neither wonder it had to be printed in Irvine.

Posted in Elections 2012. Comments Off

Southside / Newington hustings on 1st May

The Hustings for the Southside / Newington ward will be held on Tuesday 1st May at 6pm at the Braidburn Inn on Mayfield Road.

The noted scholar and broadcaster Owen Dudley Edwards will chair the event.

This is your chance to ask the candidates questions and see what you think of them.

The Braidburn Inn has kindly donated the function suite and there will be sandwiches on arrival. Please indicate if you’re coming to give us an idea of numbers for refreshments.

Invited:

Steve Burgess – Scottish Green Party

Gordon Mackenzie – Scottish Liberal Democrats

Gordon Murdie – Independent

Jim Orr – Scottish National Party (SNP)

Ian Perry – Scottish Labour Party

Cameron Rose – Scottish Conservative and Unionist

No contact details found for these candidates! If anyone can help get in touch with them please contact edinburghmurdie@gmail.com

Margaret Lea – Liberal Party in Scotland

William Black – Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition

Posted in Elections 2012. Comments Off

Housing Benefit Arithmetic

Housing benefit is a much needed lifeline to those who need it – that is simply the way it is.

I have been approached by an Edinburgh citizen whose Housing Benefit difficulties are beyond understanding. How stressful does it need to get?

This friend has a 13-year-old disabled son and the Housing Benefit authorities say her flat is “oversized” because she has a spare room. Her rent is £1100 a month. The housing allowance she should be entitled to is about £600 a month. (I’ve calculated her entitlement on the council website – it should be about £600 each month, as a single parent of a disabled child over 11.) She’s not unemployed – she works 16 hours a week for minimum wage – that’s £94.88 weekly earned income.

Overall, this person’s Housing Benefit has ranged from just over £500 per month but gradually dribbled down to an amount of just over £200 per month. How would you like to cope with that on an already stretched budget? Truly dreadful.

This “housing allowance” for Edinburgh – I can’t understand how a mother with a disabled teenage son doesn’t even get enough to cover the rent of a two-bedroomed flat. They say her flat is “oversized” because she has a spare room (the penalty for “under-occupation” in the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act which wasn’t supposed to be law in Scotland yet) but the average monthly rent of a 2-bedroomed flat anywhere in the EH1 to EH12 postcodes will be over £600.

The graph below shows what the Housing Department reckon (not to use too strong a word) that this person’s “other income” is. There are 10 sets of figures upon which to expose the flawed delivery of Housing Benefit. 4 sets of the figures were produced on the same day (all different!), then 5 sets of figures produced on another day (all different!) then another figure produced this month (different again!).

Edinburgh Council Housing Department arithmetic

Housing benefit – could this be why Edinburgh Council is in 7th place out of 10 Scottish Urban Councils for “administration of benefits “– administration?

This lady’s had two threats of eviction from her landlord because of Housing Benefit being held and not processed.

But now her housing benefit has been cut again because the housing department are claiming she’s got another source of income, which varies between twenty and twenty-nine thousand pounds a year on top of her earned income.
Read the rest of this entry »

Newington Library celebrates World Book Day

Best wishes for World Book Day at Newington Library.

Monday is World Book Day and to celebrate Newington is giving out mystery books selected by the staff.Yes that’s right mystery books, come in to the library and ask for a specially wrapped suprise book, either it will prove to be a gateway to a wonderful new world or a source of grave disappointment and I guess that’s what will make it fun!

As someone once said “a house without books is like a room without windows”.

Nothing beats sitting down, turning the pages and getting lost in a good book – a Kindle is just not the same.

Our city’s not for sale

If you live in the Newington/Southside ward, you’ll have seen in my election leaflet that I wrote:

Who, in their right mind, would vote along party lines to spend £4 million pounds of council taxpayers money for a study into something that they had no intention of seeing through? That biblical incompetence and chronic misguided party political driven wastefulness means that the entire population of Hallhead Road (where I grew up) will be paying their Council Tax for the next 60 years just to fund that particular piece of party political shenanigans – this is unacceptable.

I’d seen the arguments about privatisation reported in the Scotsman and local blogs, with councillors slanging each other along party lines.

Fundamentally, I believe that core Council services should simply be delivered “in house” by a good, motivated, loyal workforce, an appreciated workforce, delivering the basic services within the community.

I am fond of the principle of a workforce dedicated to public service and appreciated for their efforts. To abandon something that pretty well works and go through a quagmire of term contracts, outplacement service contracts and monitoring – it would have been a difficult path and I don’t believe it would have saved any money.

Handing out wholesale service delivery to companies driven by profit would most likely end in tears and it would be a mammoth task to reverse when the experiment failed. And what would have happened to the families of the workforce of the council?

Certain pockets of necessary specialist expertise will always require to be “bought in” but I would prefer that to be the exception rather than the rule.

That would have been my starting point if I’d been on the council when the idea of “Alternative Business Model” was brought up.

As for this kind of treatment of council employees – shameful is the only word for it.

“The management put a notice up for 12 days’ overtime, which we had the option to work on our days off, but after two days they took it down and we found out Enterprise were going to be brought in.

“We actually had to find out from an agency worker rather than the management.

“The council is always on about saving money but surely it would be cheaper to pay us.”

The worker added: “The guys are thinking too much work is being handed over and the morale has really dropped because it would have boosted their wages.”

And it seems to me the campaign Edinburgh Against Privatisation was a real example of local democracy in action. A councillor should represent Edinburgh and the people of the ward that elected them – that’s what local democracy is about.

Vote for Gordon Murdie

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