Thursday, 9 August 2018

Car Park Or Wildlife Haven?

Just over a week ago I was contacted by a concerned resident in Burntisland about a rumour that the area in front of the Platform Studios at the railway station was going to be turned into a (up to 100 spaces) car park. Indeed, there has been a feasibility study carried out. This process began in January of this year after calls by a councillor (not this councillor) that due to issues with parking in the town that the area in front of the studios should be considered as ground for creating up to a 100 space car park. 

Fife Council being Fife Council, the initial completion date of the study was March but didn't finish until the beginning of this month. Prior to the outcome of the study I went along for a chat with a couple of concerned residents and happened to also meet and speak with some of the small business owners who rent space in the Platform Studios - part of the historic buildings of the station. What appeared to be an area of scrub land and weeds, to the untrained eye, is in fact buzzing with biodiversity and very much alive.

I am a long term critic of almost uncontrolled house-building and development in areas which are farmland and fields. As an environmentalist I have often watched as bulldozers set in and wonder how many rabbits, hedgehogs, foxes, badgers and nesting birds (and so much more) are swept away in the chaos of their homes being overturned. Now it seems that even an area of land sitting between the railway station and the chilly waters of the River Forth (separated by only a road that runs to the sailing club and is favoured by dog walkers along the coast) could be subject to the loss of wildlife space. Wandering around on a hot July afternoon and learning the many names of plants, rarer species of insects and the catalogue of birds - many as part of their migratory route, I was struck by the thought that this is not an area of wasteland but a buzzing habitat that provides space for wildlife that is constantly being subject to loss of land. Bees buzzed around - and no-one can fail to ignore the importance of bees as part of our overall food chain, and I actually spotted a couple of butterflies - anyone else noticed their almost complete absence this year?

Following this I had a chat with some of the small business owners - art and jewellery, unique and beautiful pieces and much of it being created due to the inspiring, relaxing and natural environment. As one of the ladies said - how would a car park inspire creativity? Indeed, she is correct. The Platform Studios are leased from Network Rail but in a telling lack of regard for them there is no mention in the Council's feasibility study of what impact there would be on their work and livelihood. Only a mere note of - "It is assumed that the Platform Studios have some form of tenancy agreement with Network Rail." (italics are mine - assumed - really?!). 

Burntisland has had a long-running issue with parking which once again reared its head with the arrival of the shows and Highland Games. The Council decided that to stop the concerns on games day of parking on the Links it would relocate car and instead have them placed off the side of the Haugh Road (with of course no consultation with residents) and now in an attempt to alleviate this problem which in actual fact should have been resolved a long time ago had the Council taken the matter seriously, a proposal is floating around about turning the area behind the station into a huge parking facility. Keeping in mind that we are talking about increased need for parking in the town in two months of the year. 

I accept that there is very limited parking at the station but I have not seen the claimed evidence of cars piling up on surrounding streets - despite being out and having a scout around during weekday mornings. I am also very much pushing for full accessibility at the station which is long-overdue and would very much support additional disabled bays but is it really the best we can do in 2018 - create another car park? Destroy an area of natural beauty to build a car park in a town where there is a good bus services and commuters can walk or cycle to the station - how about pushing for more bicycle bays? 

It may be I am wrong and there is a huge demand, if that is the case then lets hear it. Up until now that has not appeared to be the case. I said from the beginning of my election campaign that I wanted to listen and represent local people - therefore, tell me your views. 

There will be a meeting at the end of this month between Council officers and councillors for the Ward - the more feedback and thought I have the better.

My comments to this week's Fife Free Press:

Burntisland Station – Parking Proposals

Encourage more cars or encourage a home for biodiversity? This is the question put by Burntisland councillor, Kathleen Leslie

“In January, a feasibility study was launched to examine the need for increased parking provision at the railway station. The land is owned by Network Rail with any proposed car park to sit adjacent to the Platform Studios.” 

Concerns about parking availability have once again caused much discussion and debate in the town with the annual Highland Games and the shows, resulting in calls, from some, for more parking. However, Cllr Leslie takes the view that is an increase in visitors over the Summer months a justification for spending huge amounts of money on a new car park and removing an area of natural beauty?

“The Highland Games and the shows are fantastic for the town and benefit local businesses and residents. To demand further car parks though seems slightly archaic. There is a train station, bus routes and most streets in the town are within walking distance. More creative management of the available parking is perhaps what is needed rather than plough in with plans that threaten local wildlife habitats.”

“The area, at first glance, appears to be just scrub and weeds but does in fact attract migrating birds, rare insect and butterfly species and importantly, bees. There are also small businesses being run from the Platform Studios and they appear to have been overlooked in the study. A couple of the artists have spoken of how the space is very inspiring to them, something a tarmacked car park would fail to do.”

“I very much want increased accessibility at the station and fully support disabled parking bays. However, is a large car park really essential to railway users on a day to day basis? Should the Council be spending money on this when we are all being, rightly, encouraged to walk, cycle and reduce our usage of cars? Is it not right that a haven for flora and fauna be preserved?”

Cllr Leslie is keen to hear what residents think. “Councillors have been invited to a meeting at the end of the month to further discuss the study. Therefore, do let me know what you think. Local government is there to give local people a voice and that is what I have always set out to do.”

"The Royal Scotsman" rumbled through the station. The Platform Studios - proposed parking site
How amazing is this? An insect house!

Friday, 3 August 2018

Burntisland Railway Station - Access Must Be A Priority

Hello everyone. I must apologise for the long delay between posts. I think it must have been this fantastic weather this Summer which has kept me away from writing quite so much. Although, having said that, I have been putting plenty of updates on my Councillor Facebook page, so have a swipe over to it to see what I have been doing.

This is going to be a fairly short post before I get back to writing on here more regularly. It is just to provide a little update on the accessibility issue at Burntisland Railway Station. I wrote about this earlier and the link can be found here -

An initial meeting to bring together community groups and elected representatives is to be held later this month. Here is the comment (in full) which I issued as a press release earlier this week.

Burntisland Railway Station – Accessibility

Following contacting Network Rail in April to request a meeting to look at accessibility at Burntisland Railway Station, Cllr Kathleen Leslie is optimistic that progress can be made.

“Whilst I felt the response from Network Rail was noncommittal, last year the UK Government announced additional funding for station accessibility improvements in the next Rail Control Period. This will begin next year and run until 2024.”

“Here this will be via Transport Scotland and my understanding is that they have started work on their nomination list so I believe that this gives us a real opportunity to push for Burntisland Railway Station to be considered.”

Residents have written to me highlighting their concerns with the lack of access and the Burntisland Community Development Trust has organised a meeting for 22ndAugust to create a steering group. This will include various groups within the town and also, hopefully, support from locally elected members including MSPs.”

“Prior to the meeting I will be contacting Transport Scotland to request further information on their nomination list for station upgrades. Combined with the feedback I have received so far from residents and affected rail users, I do believe there will be a valid case to progress so that a fully accessible rail facility exists in Burntisland.”

“I continue to encourage anyone affected by the lack of access to get in contact with me.”

 (Thanks to the Fife Free Press for publishing this)

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Additional Support Needs (ASN) - Guidance - Know Your Rights

At the last meeting of Fife Council I asked the Administration what percentage of young people in Fife schools are recognised as having an Additional Support Need (ASN). The response I was given -  it is just over a quarter - 29%. 

Following attending a policy conference last month on ASN provision in Scottish schools and listening a variety of speakers - some from education, others with personal experience it once again became clear to me that there is a disparity of provision, a disparity of understanding and a disparity of how information is provided to key stakeholders - parents and pupils. 

With this in mind and my own experience as having been an ASN teacher prior to being elected, I decided that further to my initial question what needed to be asked was how to ensure that information on access to certain services is made widely available - available to all. This also draw on personal experience, I have had constituents contact me concerned that policies in place in their child's school do not always reflect, what they perceive, to be the support that is required. Support can, and is sporadic, and does not always include all services - or it does for a period of time and then one or the other drops out of the approach. 

A document known as a Co-ordindated Support Plan (CSP) can be put in place to ensure that adequate input from all services (a multi-agency approach) is available to any young person who is considered to have an ASN. What is key to this document is, it is a legal document. 

Whilst some support needs are lifelong, others are not. An ASN could be the requirement for extra support to non-native speakers of English or it could be for a lifelong condition, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder - in either case, what is essential is that young people and their parents know their rights and what they can access for support. 

Amendments to the Additional Support for Learning Act have provided young people from the age of 12 with a range of rights - including requesting a specific assessment to establish if a CSP is required - below is a list of some of these rights. 

My request is that both Fife Direct and individual school websites publish this information. Access to services should not be confusing and opaque. 2018 is Year of Young People so lets ensure the young people themselves are fully aware of their rights. 

Children's Rights

·      ask the education authority to establish whether a child or young person has additional support needs
·      request a specific type of assessment or examination (or both) at any time, including when the education authority proposes to formally identify whether a child or young person has additional support needs, or requires a coordinated support plan(a “CSP”)
·      receive information or advice about a child or young person’s additional support needs
·      ask the education authority responsible for their or their child’s education to find out whether they or their child requires a coordinated support plan, and to review an existing plan
·      request a specific type of assessment and/or examination to find out whether they or their child require a coordinated support plan
·      express their views and have them taken into account and noted in the child or young person’s coordinated support plan
·      have their case heard by an Additional Support Needs Tribunal if they are involved in a dispute relating to a coordinated support plan.
·      make a placing request to a special school if they or their child has additional support needs*
·      appeal against the education authority’s decision to refuse their placing request. The appeal would either go to an education appeal committee or to an Additional Support Needs Tribunal depending on the situation
·      agree that information can be shared about them with other agencies to support transition planning
·      use free independent mediation services*
·      request independent adjudication
·      apply to the Additional Support Needs Tribunal (called 'making a reference') for decisions about a CSP and certain other issues. In particular, a parent or young person may make a reference about the decisions of an education authority:
o   to prepare or not prepare a CSP;
o   to continue or discontinue a CSP;
o   regarding the timescales for the CSP;
o   not to comply with a request to establish whether a child or young person needs a CSP;

o   to refuse a placing request where a CSP exists, or is required but has not yet been prepared, or if an appeal against a refusal of a placing request has not yet been considered.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Food Waste Bags Distribution

Food Waste Bags Distribution - This is a note from Fife Council on behalf of Fife Resource Solutions. I will add the details also to a separate page here on the Blog for easy access. Please note this began last week (7/5/18).

On behalf of Fife Council, Fife Resource Solutions (FRS) previously delivered 3 rolls of food waste bags every 12 months for all households with a brown bin collection service. 

Survey data from 2016 shows that over 25% of householders do not use food waste bags. In addition, the survey shows that a further 10% of households use less food waste bags than that provided by FRS. Therefore, the current method for distribution is both inefficient and ineffective. 

The Fife Resource Solutions Business Plan (2018-19) outlined a saving of £120,000 by stopping the direct delivery of bags to householders and providing them instead from Recycling Centres. 

Recycling Centre Distribution 

From 7th May food waste bags will be available from Recycling Centres in Fife. A self-service container is available at each Recycling Centre. Householders are asked to take up to 3 rolls of bags every 12 months. 

Customer Service Centres Trial 
Also, as a trial, food waste bags will also be available free of charge to householders at Kirkcaldy CSC (Townhouse) from 7th May (for 6 months). Householders can collect up to 3 rolls of bags per visit. Kirkcaldy was chosen as a trial as it was the first area to receive bags last year, and therefore where households are most likely to need a new supply. If successful, then this service could be rolled out to other Customer Service Centres. 

Posted food waste bags 
Food waste bags will be posted to householders if householders were missed during delivery of food waste bags last year (April 2017 - March 2018). Householders should call the Recycling Helpline on 03451 55 00 22. 

Other options 
Householders can continue to: 
* Use newspaper to wrap your food waste 
* Put food into the brown bin loose, especially dry foods such as bread 
* Buy food waste bags from other sources provided they carry the compostable symbol shown. This will make sure that the bags will compost in our Anaerobic Digestion Plant and create compost. This includes Leisure Centres in Fife and ONFife libraries (£1.30/roll) – site list at

Friday, 4 May 2018

Partnership Nurseries - Additional Hours 2020

Fife has 32 partnership nurseries - these are private nurseries, that as their name suggests, are in partnership with the Council.

Increased hours provision by 2020 - a policy decision of the SNP Government in Holyrood has to be enacted by local authorities. There will be an almost doubling of funded hours - from 600 to 1,140 for all 3 & 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds. Unfortunately, as with many policy initiatives these are very top-down focussed. Local authorities are in the position whereby - decisions are made at Holyrood to be rolled out nationally and Councils have to enact the policy - often with little time, detail or, what appears to be, sufficient funding. 

Yesterday at the full Council meeting I asked the question of the SNP-Labour Administration:

"There are 32 partnership nurseries in Fife, what percentage of the increased hours provision does the Administration envisage will be provided by these nurseries?"

The response I was given was - 16%. Given that there is expected to be around 8,800 children who will be in recipient of the funded entitlement (Education & Children's Services Committee - August 2017) - the role of partnership nurseries is going to be of significance in providing this service. 

Figures provided by the Council in response to a request I made for further detail are as below:

3-4 year olds:
Fife Council - 79%
Playgroups/Private Nurseries - 16%
Childminders - 5%

2 year olds:
Fife Council - 78%
Childminders - 21%

Looking at the numbers it is clear that partnership nurseries are very much part of the Council's strategic planning for the additional hours. This led me to my supplementary question:

"By 2020 with the new service model this will include, partnership nurseries to "include paying the Living Wage". Those partnership providers I have spoken to have stated that their pay rates are in the most part in line with the Minimum Wage - which for over 25s is £7.83 as opposed to £8.75 for the Living Wage.

Given that under a Freedom Of Information request I made, it seems that of 202 place offered on the HNC Childhood Practice just over 60% of places have been filled - likely leading to an increased demand put on partnership providers to cover the additional hours. The question is - Will it be Fife Council or the Scottish Government who will make up this shortfall in wages to essential partnership providers?

If you note the second part of supplementary question - the Freedom of Information (FOI) request - this is where it become interesting. Since the Education & Children's Services Committee was presented with the information on the move towards a 1,140 hrs early years model the question I have asked, one more than one occasion, is - are we going to be able to deliver this? Increased accommodation and staff will be absolutely essential to its success.

Workforce planning and development is key to this. The Council notes:

The Scottish Government have completed some preparatory work regarding providing a competent workforce for 2020. It is estimated that in Fife Council we would need a further 400-500 Early Years Officers to deliver the additional capacity required. We expect all EYO staff to be qualified to HNC or SVQIII level in an appropriate qualification. There is currently a major shortage of suitably qualified staff to fulfil our additional requirements. 

An estimated 400-500 Early Years Officers (EYO) will be required to deliver this additional capacity. That is a huge increase in the workforce and in a very short period of time. I decided to submit a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to Fife College to discover how their workforce planning on the HNC Childhood Practice - which will lead to becoming an EYO. The table below illustrates where the College is now in the first round:

Original Target 
St Brycedale
Grp A
St Brycedale
Grp B
Grp A
Grp B
Grp C
Grp A
Grp A
Grp B

The original target was 202 places - enrolment was 158 and the current number as of 1/5/18 is 123. Meaning that just over 60% of places have been filled. Now lets take that in conjunction with additional comment by the Council:
  1. Partnership agreements with other Early Learning and Childcare settings such as private nurseries, playgroups and childminders are an essential element to allow delivery of our model 
"An essential element" - in short, for the increased hours to have any hope of functioning as required partnership providers have to be on board. Leading back to my question - "Will it be Fife Council or the Scottish Government who will make up this shortfall in wages to essential partnership providers?" 

If partnership providers are essential to success of the policy they must pay the Living Wage and given the expected HNC role being much lower in year 1 than expected - is there a guarantee on who will pay this? Needless to say I was provided with a very opaque answer that insisted the funding will be available - Fife Council though the Scottish Government and this is built in as per agreements with COSLA. That though, is a simplification. 

Audit Scotland stated that Councils expect spend on the policy to have hit £1 billion by 2021-22 but the indicative Scottish Government figure is £840 million - a significant shortfall on local authorities who already have been baring the brunt of government cuts brought about by the SNP. The Scottish Government also claims to be on track with workforce planning - given the early figures in Fife I am very skeptical of this prediction. 

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) conducted a survey which found that 97% of the 73 surveyed have not as yet adopted the Living Wage of £8.75 - Fife Council remember, insists that part of any arrangement is payment of the Living Wage. Those surveyed stated that to adopt the Living Wage would be dependent on the Scottish Government "substantially increased funding". Until that is forthcoming and guaranteed partnership providers in Fife, and around the country, are going to have an expectation to provide some of the funded entitlement with what does not look like an absolute guarantee that the Scottish Government is going to pay up the required amount. Any shortfall cannot be burdened on already stretched local authorities. 

Additional funding and realistic workforce planning are key to the success of this policy. What is unfortunate here in Fife is that due to this SNP-Labour coalition, a vocal Labour Party is non existent. It seems to be unable to question and scrutinise this SNP Government initiative (unlike the party at Holyrood which has done quite the opposite). Opposition politicians will though continue to do so.

One final point to note is that under the FOI a telling comment read: "Fife College did receive additional funding for this course, but unfortunately was unable to recruit to these places". Surprisingly (unsurprisingly?) the Administration in Fife chose to sidestep the point I made that college places may well be there but they need to be filled - as the data shows, this is not the case.

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