Time for Programmed Maintenance of Council houses – Robert Brown

27th May 2018

South Lanarkshire Council’s Housing Repairs Policy Review threw up some criticism at last week’s meeting of the Housing & Technical Resources Committee.

Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat CouncillorRobert Brownsaid the document was “deliberately vague” in the way it dealt with programmed maintenance of things like gutters, close painting and slab repairs. He said it was time the Council had a programme for checking and maintaining routine issues like that.

Robert Brownsaid:

“The reality is that there is not a proper programme for when closes and external areas get painted or gutters cleared. Consequently there were tenement buildings right across Rutherglen that had not been painted for years and others where weeds were growing from gutters. The painting programme has slipped from 5 years to 10 years before it even began.

I know there are problems with divided ownership – some council tenants, some owner -occupiers, some private tenants – in individual blocks. However it must have a higher priority to get on top of this.

The Council say they do 5 yearly checks on the condition of properties but this must be followed by speedier action to tackle the issues shown up. Many tenants simply don’t know what is happening in their areas on repair programmes.”

Letter to Rutherglen Reformer on Council Budget

30th March 2018

Dear Sir,

Conservative Councillors are making a fuss (Rutherglen Reformer 28thMarch 2018)because the recent Council budget did not add in a further £1 million for roads for next year’s Budget. But let’s look at the whole picture.

The Council – with longstanding support from all Parties – currently spends £24million a year on road maintenance and carriageway resurfacing and has already put an extra £1million a year into this in recent years.  Consequently South Lanarkshire’s roads are significantly better than those in surrounding areas, although they have taken a hammering in the current bad winter. There is to be a review of the roads programme this year anyway.

Had the Conservatives had their way, there would have been £2.5 million less raised this coming year from the council tax. That would hardly have helped improve the roads!

In addition, the Conservatives would have slashed £1.5 million off the budget for teachers and support staff and £2 million off the funding for the excellent proposals for training 100 much-needed early years and social care staff.

The Conservatives would also have cancelled the modest proposals for tackling poverty by the long overdue rise in the school clothing grant, the proposals for holiday lunch clubs and the inflation rise in support for the voluntary sector bodies that do so much in our communities.

Tory Councillors cutting Council funding; schools and social care funding slashed; no concern for families in need. I think that is perhaps an alternative Budget that South Lanarkshire needed like a hole in the head.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Brown

(Robert Brown)

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Rutherglen South

Employment programmes for Early Years and Care Workers

30th March 2018

A new initiative by South Lanarkshire Council will see 50 Social Care and 50 Early Years students trained over the next 2 years. The £2 million scheme was introduced in the Council’s recent Budget and further details have now been given to the Council’s Executive Committee.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownwelcomed the scheme but said it was important to ensure that the students came from right across South Lanarkshire, including Rutherglen and Cambuslang.

Robert Brownsaid:

“This is a great scheme and will help to make sure there is a supply of trained staff available to support both the expansion in early years’ care and the needs of older people cared for in the community.

The students will be largely in the age group of 16-19 so I want to see strong links with the 3 local Secondary Schools – Cathkin, Stonelaw and Trinity – so that there is a career path for young people interested in this work. The scheme must also be attractive and provide ongoing career opportunities so that staff are retained in the area after their training.

The students will get both practical experience and formal qualifications in Social Services and Health Care or in Childcare. They will be placed either with the Council or with social care or childcare partners and will  be on an initial 2 year contract.

I believe the scheme will  make a significant contribution both to career prospects and to high quality care staff numbers in the local area.”

Winter emergency costs likely to be around £7million in South Lanarkshire

30th March 2018

The current costs to the Council of this year’s severe weather are likely to be around £7 million, according to a report by officials to the Council’s Executive Committee. Much of this is the cost of winter gritting work.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownsaid the figure showed just how extensive the winter work by the Council was and paid tribute to the efforts put in by Council staff during the winter emergency.

Robert Brownsaid:

“Like everyone, I hope we have seen the back of the snow and the icy weather.  This was apparently the worst winter for about 10 years.

The cost to the Council of £7 million is roughly twice the money to be brought in by the 3% increase in Council tax this year – which gives an idea of the scale and cost of the work carried out by Roads and Lands Services in particular.

The Scottish Government have activated the Bellwin Scheme which means that some of the cost will be recouped from the broader shoulders of national government. The Bellwin Scheme operates when winter costs arise above a threshold.

I asked the Roads Department to review the winter gritting operation to see if any improvements could be made to its effectiveness within the budget. I gather this is being done. However, with the best will in the world, the Council can’t grit all the roads and pavements and the system is reliant on local communities and families helping out where they can. This was what happened in many cases but it can be a grim experience for elderly or disabled people stuck in their houses for a week.”

Road Safety and the Year of Young People

26th March 2018 Rutherglen Reformer article

Recently I went to Loch Primary School in Springhall to see Baldy Bane Theatre. Founded in 1991, they focus on hard hitting issues like bullying, knife crime, internet safety and abuse in teenage relations. They have been commissioned by Road Safety Scotland to deliver a programme on road safety.

Children make choices when walking or cycling to school – peer pressure to go by a quicker but unsafe route, whether to give a friend a lift on your bike, crossing the road using your iPhone, moving to Secondary School. One play starred an agitated Lollipop lady’s problems.

The actors pushed the children to contribute, changing the plays accordingly. By the time the bell went, almost all the children were putting in their ideas – they clearly were able to feel themselves in the shoes of the participants.

Now this was not just a bit of fun. It was intended to change children’s ways of thinking about road safety and help keep them safe. Children are more likely to be injured on the roads than any other age group.

But it is a challenge for parents too.

At Loch, like many schools, there is a congestion problem when parents drop off and pick up their children at school. Lochaber Drive is a cul de sac serving both Loch and St. Anthony’s. As school rolls expand, congestion gets worse. The Council, police and others take action to help but the real answer is many fewer children arriving by car.

Burnside Primary has made a big effort since their school was rebuilt to make the school entrance in Glenlui Avenue safer – far fewer parents now use Glenlui. Consequently the school entrance is pleasanter and safer and it is easier to encourage more children to walk to school.

But we also need to look more closely at safe routes to school –school entrance areas, difficult crossing points like the junction of Rodger Drive and Stonelaw Road, vehicles blocking pavements near schools, traffic speed on school routes, poor pavement surfaces and flooded crossing points.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Year of Young People saved young lives and delivered safer routes to school!

Local Liberal Democrats take European campaign to the people

26th March 2018

Local Liberal Democrats were out on the streets in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Blantyre at the weekend taking their campaign to force a public vote on the terms of Brexit to local people.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brownand local Liberal Democrat activists ran street stalls in the 3 centres and talked to passers by about the issue. Leaflets are also going out across many doors in the local area. The street stalls and leaflet drive are part of the Liberal Democrat National Action Campaign against Brexit.

Robert Brownsaid:

“We had a really good reception from local residents. Most people are horrified at the unfolding disaster of Brexit which is already costing jobs and business, damaging security and harming our Universities.

Our job is to persuade people that we can stop Brexit if people across the United Kingdom are determined enough. Liberal Democrats are campaigning for a referendum on the terms of Brexit – with an option to stay in the European Union if we wish. Opinion polls now suggest that the very narrow and indecisive referendum vote in 2016 to leave the EU would have a different result if it was being held now.

The biggest obstacle to stopping Brexit in its tracks is Jeremy Corbyn. Instead of doing his job as Leader of the Opposition, the Labour leader has given a free pass right down the line to Theresa May, Boris Johnston and Michael Gove. Yet most Labour supporters are strongly in favour of remaining in the European Union. I can’t imagine what local Labour supporters think Jeremy Corbyn is doing by backing the Tories’ hard Brexit.

As it turns out, the Campaign to stop Brexit is well timed – following the allegations that the Leave campaign breached election spending rules as well as the furore over the sacking of Owen Smith by the Labour Party.

Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP came out in support of a referendum on the terms of Brexit – and got sacked by Jeremy Corbyn for his trouble. Apart from Owen Smith, the Liberal Democrat position on this is now supported by a number of other senior Labour politicians and by people like the former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major.

There is clearly everything to play for. This is a vital time and people must stand up and be counted if they want to safeguard Britain’s continued membership of the EU Single Market – and of the EU itself.”

Council to report on local housing regeneration challenge

10th March 2018

A report has been promised from housing officials on the extent of structural and environmental work required currently on council housing across South Lanarkshire. The promise was made following a demand from Rutherglen South Liberal Democrat Councillor at the Council’s recent Executive Committee. Housing officials said it could be a snapshot in time but Councillor Brown said council tenants were entitled to know where they stood, the extent of the problems and how long they might have to wait to fix them.

Robert Brown said:

“I have argued for some time that many of the older council houses across Rutherglen have been left behind, despite paying their rent for many years – and indeed seeing a significant increase in rent this year and next.

In Springhall, there are major environmental problems with back green areas, rubbish collection systems, close mouths, slabbing, bin shelters and lockups. The areas around many houses and tenemental blocks are unattractive and decaying. We have managed to get some money spent each year to regenerate small parts of the estate but it is far too slow and will take the best part of 20 years to complete at this rate.

In other areas like Blairbeth, Spittal, Fernhill and Cathkin – and indeed in similar parts of other wards in Rutherglen and Cambuslang, there are pockets of both tenenental and semi detached housing which still have the original roughcasting which is no longer fit for purpose and looks very grey. In addition, there are structural and roof issues to be tackled.

The promised Report from the Housing Department is a very small step – but at least it should give a clearer idea of the extent of the physical and financial challenge – and give a basis for taking it forward.

I understand the need for new housing – but it should not be at the expense of existing longstanding tenants.”

Rutherglen Labour MP challenged by Liberal Democrats to defy Corbyn and back the Single Market

10th March 2018

Rutherglen & Hamilton West Labour MP Gerard Killen has been challenged by the Liberal Democrats to “back his constituents and his Party members” and pledge to vote to stay in the European Single Market and Customs Union.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Scottish Labour Party Conference should be the last straw for anyone who was serious about defending jobs and the economy. It was, he said, a final wake up call for those who had backed Labour at the General Election on the basis that that they were pro-European.

Robert Brown said:

“It is now decision time for Ged Killen and many other Labour MPs like him. It is obvious that he is very concerned about the damaging effects of Brexit, and particularly of leaving the Single Market. Jeremy Corbyn has now ended his sponsored dither and come off the fence on the issue. The only trouble is he has jumped off on the wrong side and landed in the mud!

It is no longer possible for Labour MPs to prevaricate. Either they follow Jeremy Corbyn in rejecting the Single Market and backing the Tory hard Brexit – causing huge damage to British jobs and businesses – or they stand up for their constituents and use their power in Parliament to help stop Theresa May’s shredding of our European partnerships. In this constituency, there is no doubt a big majority of the public wanted and want to stay in the European Union – the same is true for local Labour Party members if their views are the same as a recent national poll of Labour supporters.

Gerard Killen has made much of the implications for the Irish Border. It is surely clear to him that, without continuing membership of both the Single Market and the Customs Union, a new and damaging border across Ireland is inevitable.

Liberal Democrats make these two specific challenges to Ged Killen today. Will he now back the Single Market and give the public the final vote on the Brexit terms? If he will not, he is selling out the many people who thought that voting Labour was a vote against a damaging hard Brexit.”

Council information on missed bin collection needs to be improved

4th March 2018

The recent bad weather has caused problems of all sorts for local residents with schools closed, travel advised against, and supermarkets running out of bread.

One casualty of the bad weather was the bin collections – which in this area means the blue and red bins – which were not able to be collected from Wednesday to Friday last week.

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown said the information available to residents about this was inadequate. According to the Council website, residents were told to leave their bins out for collection “and we will empty it as soon as we can get back to your area”. However it was clear from early on that the Council would not be able to catch up on the missed collections – and would only be dealing with the scheduled collections for next week ie the green/black general refuse bins.

Robert Brown said:

“There was very clear and up to date information on the website about when schools would be closed or open – but nothing whatever about changed bin collections arrangements. I was told on Thursday that something should be up on the website about this later that day – but, as of Sunday, there was nothing up at all. There was, certainly, a notice on Facebook but not everyone has that and not everyone notices it – the website should be the easiest place to check things out.

This is not just unsatisfactory but also misleading because people thought they were supposed to leave the blue and red bins out. I have had a number of complaints about this. In reality the red bins will be collected on the usual cycle next week (week beginning 12th March) and the blue bins in 3 weeks’ time.

I have nothing but admiration for the road gritting staff and the workforce from Lands Services and Cleansing who helped them on the gritting, but there are clearly lessons to be learnt about getting speedy and accurate information out to the public. The Council has a big IT department which should be capable of dealing with this.

I have asked the Chief Executive to review how information is put out to the public during winter emergencies. ”

Liberal Democrats comment on South Lanarkshire Council Budget; detailed proposals

1st March 2018

Rutherglen Liberal Democrat Councillor Robert Brown backed South Lanarkshire Council’s Budget at the Executive Committee and the full Council on Wednesday. He said it provided an opportunity to increase the number of teachers in local schools, help child poverty and support the Voluntary Sector.

Robert Brown said:

“Tackling child poverty, closing the attainment gap and supporting the Voluntary sector are the key priorities in today’s challenging environment.

I have long argued for an increase in the school uniform grant for vulnerable families which has not increased for many years and is inadequate for the purpose – and the automatic entitlement provision is welcome. I also strongly support the proposals on expanding free breakfast clubs, developing holiday lunch clubs and tackling the nonsense of Parent Councils raising money for their schools being charged hefty letting fees for the privilege.”

Teachers and early years/care workers

“An extra 3 million is going into more teachers and support assistants and £4 million into expanding the workforce for early years and social care. This will make a considerable difference to schools, nurseries and elderly care.”

Voluntary sector capacity

“We need to focus more on building capacity in voluntary sector organisations. I know of pensioners’ clubs, sports clubs, Residents groups and others which are literally fading away in front of us. Various organisations like Pilotlight, Knowhow Non Profit and the Big Lottery offer various forms of capacity building support.

I was glad to get support from the Administration to look at this in more detail with a view to making sure that bowling clubs, tennis clubs etc are empowered to grow and make full use of facilities and clubhouses, and that community groups can be supported to grow their capacity, all adding to the ability of local people to make life better in their areas.”

Landemer Grant

“I also clarified that there would be a small increase in grant to Rutherglen Landemer Committee – the first for some years.”

Opposition Parties: Tories

“The Tory budget might be fairly described as a curate’s egg – one or two minor good ideas but mostly rather mean-spirited cuts, costing us £2.5million ongoing because they want to be seen as a low tax Party, regardless of the effects on the future of our citizens. I don’t see the point of the so called free school budgets – the Pupil Equity Fund, modelled on the Liberal Democrat pupil premium (introduced by the UK Coalition) already provides far more funding at school level than the rather tokenistic amounts that would come from this. The need is for more teachers and more ASN support to help bring our schools up – something that Liberal Democrats have campaigned for throughout the Scottish budget process and indeed long before.”

Labour

“Labour looked as if they were casting around for something to criticise – there was no real strategy. The previous Labour administration did well to allocate a committed investment over a period to improving the roads and pavements. Clearly there is more to be done but you just need to cross the border into East Renfrewshire, Glasgow or East Dunbartonshire to see what would have happened without this. That strategy comes to an end next year and should be reassessed by the Resource Committee over the next few months. The current Budget maintains the spend for this year and put more money into the consequences of the bad winter.”