This week in Annandale 27/04/15

Concerns this week include Hightae Primary School. The school currently has under 10 students enrolled for next year so this normally triggers a review of small schools estate. Ward councillors met with an Education Officer on Monday to get an update on how the council would engage with the parent teacher council and the wider community, confirming that no decision had been taken regarding the future, only that the council has to consider options. However there have been a number of reports from parents stating that when trying to transfer students/children into the school, they have been told by council staff that the school is closing. I’ve already raised this with the Director of Education to ensure we are not sending out the wrong message to parents as small rural schools can be affected by parent confidence. Given that there are capacity issues with St Mungo and Lochmaben, there should be no issue in enrolling children at Hightae but please let me know if you are being discouraged as this should not be happening – if council officers are telling councillors one thing but sending out a contradictory message to their staff, and subsequently parents then it is completely unacceptable and needs to be stopped immediately.

Social Work Committee was a relatively light agenda but our SNP Councillor group in attendance were able to scrutinise and question the Business Plan on a number of issues. The Integration of Health and Social care, or now the integrated joint board (IJB) will remodel how social work services are monitored this year as the council and NHS are pooling resources, and will be scrutinised through area committees and the IJB in future, with only a small, but significant section of Social Work Services remaining fully with the Council.

Unfortunately family commitments meant I had to give apologies for Moffat & District Community Council but the Chair and Secretary were given a written (by which I mean email, these days) report so that the attendees could stay informed of progress on any issues previously raised.

Three ongoing matters are the Proudfoot Institute, Station Park and the Integration of the Library and Community and Customer Services.

The Proudfoot has an interesting legal status as the building was acquired by the Endowment to deliver the goals of the Endowment in Moffat, but with local government reorganisation over time, the Trustees of the Endowment are now the Annandale & Eskdale Area Committee (Councillors) who’s role is to manage the Endowment, and the operational management of the building is carried out by the Proudfoot Management Committee. The value of the Endowment has shrunk over time as there has been no income (or meetings of the ‘Trustees’) for many, many years, so the cold position is to look at options for winding up the Endowment as it can no longer afford to keep the building wind and watertight. There may be a case for realising a receipt for the building and using the boosted Endowment fund to deliver the aims of the Endowment using a different building or methods, but that would not get much traction (a word that has been getting used within the council lately.) Anyway, the latest news is that a condition survey of the building is being carried out, supported by the Council, to see what will need done to secure the future of the Institute.

Station Park project, after mysteriously having an indicative capital commitment disappear from this year’s budget under the minority administration, is being fought for with a scheduled meeting for ward councillors and the key officers within the council to find out how to get the remedial and enabling works to the pond done (I’m avoiding the use of the word ‘slippage’ here) and making sure it is pushed hard.

The Integration of facilities continues to struggle as the capital works to the town hall and library seem endlessly delayed, although recent progress has been made. The main issue around this is the hangover from the SNAPI review that was punting the same ideas, based on questionable information and data, to make savings, and this seemed to morph into a ‘Fewer and Better Assets’ strapline which would have been good if properly researched and delivered. There were/are lots of opportunities for increasing service provision with fewer assets but Moffat has ended up with less opening hours, less service, more staffing issues, slow progress and poor communication from the council as a whole. Plenty of scope for improvement (must stay positive.)

South of Scotland Alliance (SOSA) met in Moffat to discuss the main lobbying concerns from Dumfries and Galloway and Borders Councils around the economic development programme: Border Railway and Business Park, Mountain Biking, Strategy for M74 Corridor and Stranraer Waterfront (which is needing a good push). There was also an update from the recent meeting with John Swinney MSP on Transport Infrastructure, Broadband, Mobile Phone Coverage, Town Centres, and the NUTS2 for Southern Scotland proposal. I was somewhat surprised that the Community Broadband Scotland (CBS)project seemed blindsided by the Avanti pilot programme for satellite broadband, already granted funding from BDUK, to target white postcode areas with internet provision of less than 1.5Mbps. There is a limited uptake initially to prove commercial rather than technical viability but it raises questions about the direction and speed that CBS are taking and the executive decisions that have clearly been in the pipeline for some time that are being expedited by officers.

Lochmaben Action Group had another welcoming meeting midweek and updated on the Fun day, Tai Chi, Lunch Club and Friendship Group but there are concerns over the safety of the access ramps and fire exits at the Portacabin which have now been reported to ensure speedy attention. Another group temporarily using the portacabin is the Men’s Shed, who are looking for more permanent premises to carry out their activities. I met with the group on Friday to update them on information from Property Services on options they could look at and the group are arranging meetings to look into the availability and feasibility of former council assets, DGHP garage properties and other options in Lochmaben and Lockerbie.

Johnstone Community Council was very illuminating, especially on the ownership of land within the village. I’ve gone back to Council grounds maintenance officers with documentary evidence showing the ownership of the verge by the DGHP development, which should therefore be maintained by the Council. There is also scope to extend the areas maintained using a service level agreement (SLA) that means the community contributes so that the council workers can maintain a bit extra while carrying out their normal duties. The big project in Johnstonebridge is of course the new community hall which is being built over the next few months. Again the council need to come good on their commitment to support the project by helping with surfacing the access road and paths, which needed a reminder to the relevant officers.

 

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