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

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

Right first time? Pothole.

Gina Davidson, Edinburgh Evening News, 17th February:

The trick which Jenny Dawe and Steve Cardownie have performed in the last week is certainly worthy of membership of the Edinburgh Magic Circle. Unfortunately for them, it looks likely that the public will see what their miraculous £26 million spending spree just weeks before the council elections really is – a fiscal illusion.

A straw poll of friends and relatives gave one reaction to the news that, as if from nowhere, the council had discovered millions to spend on services – it’s an election bribe.

Gina Davidson presents a strong case with the observation that this is all being funded by an unexpected £22m windfall from the Scottish Government.

In the paper itself, on the facing page, we were reminded by the transport leader, Gordon “Full Tram Route” Mackenzie, that the present Council’s “initiative” of getting road repairs “Right First Time” (yes, really) has won an award.  Seems it’s the sort of award you actually have to take time out to apply for and invariably pay a submission fee – it’s not exactly being singled out for a well deserved yet unexpected prize!

Before we all start dancing around road cones and temporary traffic lights in unbridled celebration it might be useful to dig below the surface.

At an awards dinner over in Derry/Londonderry way back in September 2010, the City of Edinburgh Council does appear to have won an award for filling potholes. The Association for Public Service Excellence did actually hold such an event. It was hosted by an Irish TV personality and sponsored by the Local Authorities Caterers Association.

No less than 300 submissions were received for a mere 22 awards and the hopefully fun packed evening was no doubt thoroughly enjoyed by the 400 people attending from Councils all over the UK – what a worthwhile night out.

You may be interested to know that Cornwall Council won the award for “Best service team – Highways, winter maintenance and street lighting” – so well done them.

Our Council got a prize for fixing potholes and presumably 278 Councils spent time filling in application forms and not getting an award at all!

I am really only half interested to know if anyone from our Council actually flew over to the Emerald Isle to collect the award and if their hotel was nice. Maybe there are some photos of the event which we could all share?

Ryanair’s booking desk awaits reservations to fly off to collect the “Most disappointing, expensive and unnecessary tram project in the world” and “most outstanding mismanagement of Statutory Repairs ever” awards.

Anyway, 8,000 extra pothole repairs it is from the Scottish Government’s £22m – all filled in under the “initiative” of Right First Time too. Surely, Edinburgh deserves more.

I wonder if any airline pilots or surgeons have taken time out to send money and fill in a form for an “award” for doing exactly what we hope and expect they should do?? Right First Time indeed.

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Posted in Elections 2012, Road repairs. Tags: . Comments Off on Right first time? Pothole.

It’s not just the trams

Alan Cochrane (Telegraph, 16th April) calls it “the policy that dare not speak its name”, “the shambolic farce” – the trams. He asks

And so, with local elections looming who is to blame for this fiasco and who should be punished in the polling booth?

and his answer is:

If I know my local politicians they’ll all say, in relation to The Trams fiasco: “It wasnae me.” But it was them – all of them, who’ve served on that council in recent years. So let’s get rid of the lot.

Least culpable, I suppose, are the SNP representatives. That party has always been against the project and, to be fair to them, Alex Salmond and John Swinney, his finance minister, tried to axe it when they first came to power in 2007. However, in those days they were outvoted by Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats.

Those three parties, in both Holyrood and the City Chambers, are most to blame and while they all now try to heap all the ordure on each other, the voters are entitled to apportion responsibility for the foul-up fairly evenly.

That said, 2007 also saw SNP councillors going into partnership to run Edinburgh – voluntarily, it must be said – with the Lib Dems and they must surely accept a share of the blame, therefore, for the appalling descent into even greater chaos.

Astonishingly, Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and SNP have all published Edinburgh council election “manifestoes” and none have even mentioned The Trams. Incredible. To me that is proof positive of their collective and individual guilt.

National politics played out in Edinburgh have brought national shame upon our City.  As far as the trams are concerned, a laughing stock rather than a rolling stock.  We are also lagging behind in delivery of basic, fundamental services  – take home care for the elderly as one example.  Edinburgh is in 7th place out of 10 Councils. Too much time spent by the present incumbents on vanity projects, embroidering party rosettes and climbing the greasy party political pole and not enough time representing the people of Edinburgh – time for a new broom to sweep health care for the elderly into perfect shape and sweep incompetent, scandalous waste into history.
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Delivery of Basic Services – Edinburgh compared

Forget, for a moment, about the national and local scandals which have brought shame and embarrassment upon Edinburgh. Ignore meantime the eyewatering amount of your money which is squandered. Surely this administration at least delivers basic services well?

Well no, actually. You probably won’t see this in any party political electioneering pamphlet but these are the sad facts on how we compare within 10 Scottish urban councils.

  • 6th for home care clients receiving personal care
  • 7th for home care hours for over 60s
  • 7th for cost of refuse collection
  • 7th for administration costs per benefit case
  • 8th for percentage of municipal waste recycled
  • 8th for over 65s evening/overnight home care service
  • 8th for cost of collecting council tax
  • 9th for response to domestic noise complaints
  • 9th for attendance levels at leisure facilities
  • 10th for the cleanliness of our streets

Delivery of Basic Services - Edinburgh compared to other urban councils

Are you thinking what I’m thinking — not good enough?

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Statutory Performance Indicators on Basic Services Source: Annual Performance Report 2010/11 published by City of Edinburgh Council. Graph independently prepared (10 points for 1st place reducing to 1 point for last (10th) place)