This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

Barrett’s Blog

From 1st January 2010 this site will no longer be updated, in accordance with Parliamentary rules.

The site will be kept online and can still be used to find information and to contact John, but the latest news will be posted on the West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats website.

This blog aims to give an insight into the day to day life of an MP, rather than being a political soapbox.

September 2008

30 September 2008

Night-shift at Edinburgh Airport

Tonight I went out to see close up exactly what is happening on the ground at Edinburgh Airport. The airport is in the heart of my constituency and BAA had invited me to join the night shift. A multi-million pound contract is underway to resurface the main runway and every night at about 11pm the runway turns into a building site and by six every morning it is ready for the first flight of the day. The scale of the work and the co-ordination of all involved had to be seen to be believed. Within minutes of the last flight landing on the main runway dozens of vehicles with flashing lights headed onto the runway, temporary barriers and traffic lights were installed, lorries, road rollers and other specialist equipment were put in place. Within the hour, the first area of runway was stripped out and the plant producing the asphalt was in production on site to make 500 tons of asphalt ready for laying. Co-ordination was the key. If too much was stripped out and not enough asphalt was ready, the airport could not reopen in the morning. If not enough was stripped out; the job would not finish on time. If it rained, the laying of the asphalt could not go ahead. Electricians, hole cutters, crane drivers, an on site laboratory to test the quality of material as it was produced and much more were all working flat out. From the massive volume of asphalt being laid to the fine grooves being cut in every inch of the runway, every detail was being worked on through the night with the deadline every day to ensure that business could resume as normal in the morning. While all the work was progressing, the second runway was still in operation with planes landing and taking off next to the work going on. At all times safety was high on the agenda and it would be easy for one mistake on a site like this which could result in a serious injury or worse. Men were concentrating on their own work, when only metres away heavy road rollers were working at speed. The lights were blazing, the steam was rising from the hot asphalt and everyone was in bright green reflective safety gear. It was more like choreography than watching a construction project.

From a 10.30pm start getting kitted out in protective gear, I left about 3am and managed to see every aspect of the work involved. It was reassuring that the number one issue at hand was to ensure the safety of all involved. From the men working on the night-shift to the passengers who would use the runway, in their millions, in the years ahead. Having landed on dirt and gravel runways elsewhere in the world I am glad to report that Edinburgh Airport must have one of the best and safest runways anyone could wish for.

29 September 2008

Post Offices no more

At the end of the consultation period for the proposed closure of Post Offices in Edinburgh I had my final meeting with Margaret Smith MSP to discuss the details of our joint submission to the Post Office regarding the potential closures in Edinburgh West. Our submission was presented and the consultation period has now closed. We will have to wait to see what the outcome is, but it looks like this Government is doing exactly what the previous one did and will continue to slash the number of Post Offices throughout the country. We discussed two other issues we have been working on, Citizens Advice Bureaux and airport noise, and the Evening News carried good positive coverage of both issues.

28 September 2008

A day at the races

Having never been to a racecourse in the UK for a day at the races, it was good to go to Musselburgh racecourse with Carol for the final family race day of the season. We were invited by the Friends of Scottish Racing to hear their case about the future funding of racecourses and the possible threat to the levy imposed on bookmakers, which helps fund the business. Having been to a couple of racecourses abroad in California and Hong Kong, I was really impressed by the facilities on my doorstep. Not only did the sunshine, there was an excellent atmosphere; with skydivers landing in the centre of the course and to my surprise wedding parties were there as well. Unfortunately after studying the form and then backing the horses with the best names or colours, it was no surprise when we did not pick one winner. With the Bradford and Bingley Building Society now set to be part nationalised, rescue plans in the USA predicted to cost hundreds of billions of dollars and more on the way. It looks like the races and the money markets have more in common than I thought.

26 September 2008

Summer Tour

MPs with rural constituencies often arrange "summer tours" to get out and about into every corner of their constituencies. Edinburgh West has a wide variety of neighbour-hoods, a small town and a number of villages. Every summer I make sure I get out and about in every part of the constituency and in this past week I have been to the top of the multi storey flats in Muirhouse and into the wealthiest streets in some of the richest parts of Edinburgh. From Ratho Station to Carrick Knowe, from Drylaw to Murrayfield, from Saughton Mains to Davidson's Mains. It is good to get onto the doorsteps to meet constituents, discuss the issues and usually receive a warm welcome. As the financial markets continue into melt down and banks and building societies look set to collapse or be nationalised it is good to hear exactly how constituents are affected.

22 September 2008

Sunshine on Edinburgh West

After a morning of surgery appointments and a briefing from BAA about their changed plans at Edinburgh and their future options it was good to get out and about in the constituency meeting locals in Ratho Station, Corstorphine and Muirhouse. When the sun is shining everyone is in a better mood. I would not be surprised if the lack of sun actually affects the long-term health of us all and is part of the reason Scots have such a bad health record. At the Bournemouth conference I suggested to one of the organisations at the health section of the exhibition that they look into the incidence of Scots with MS living in Scotland compared to those Scots who have left and are now living in the sun, for instance Australia, as there are many Scots emigrants who could participate in such a study. As Scotland has the highest incidence of Multiple Sclerosis per head of population in the world it would be good to know if it was related to the lack of sunshine and then possibly we could learn how to combat this terrible problem that many have to live with and suffer from.

19 September 2008

Bank of Scotland - no more

The oldest bank in Scotland has effectively gone. Having become a victim of the current banking system collapse it has been taken over by Lloyds TSB. With its HQ in Edinburgh and thousands of employees, including many friends and constituents, this is a major blow to the city and the country. Hopefully there will not be too many job losses and that the Scottish HQ of the new bank will remain here. This morning I received a confidential briefing from the Royal Bank of Scotland about the outlook for their future and as well as problems in the banking sector, other companies are now reconsidering their options. British Airports Authority, which had planned to expand on to the site of the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh West has now withdrawn its offer and is scaling down its future plans. More details to follow at a briefing on Monday morning. Many house builders in the city have made workers redundant and I fear that it will be some time before confidence about the future is restored. Unlike many, I am more relaxed at the end of the continual rise in house prices in the city, as I am convinced this has been at the heart of much of the problem. With many people living on extended credit, based on an inflated value of their house. A house should be a place to live, not part of a financial gamble. In the evening Carol and I attended a fund-raising dinner for Sightsavers and it was good to be able to help them again in their excellent work. The host of the evening the comedian Fred McCauley made a few comments at the expense of the banking system and the Bank of Scotland, I could see a few people taking a deep breath - this financial crisis is not over yet.

18 September 2008

First Minister's Questions

Visiting the Scottish Parliament to see Tavish Scott performing in First Minister's Question time for the second time since becoming our new leader in Scotland. It was also the first outing of Iain Gray as the new Labour leader. The entire session was dominated by the collapse of the financial markets. Tavish did well - Iain is probably the dullest man on the planet and will have difficulty making any impact. Sat in on a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Party and it struck me how much smaller the group was compared to similar group meetings at Westminster. Caught up with Margaret Smith MSP and Tavish Scott over lunch, before heading out into the constituency to do some campaigning in Muirhouse, which is the most deprived area of the constituency. It will be good to hear how our proposals to give people more control over their own money go down there.

17 September 2008

Lib-Dem Conference in Bournemouth 13th -17th September

As usual the Liberal Democrats are the first party to have their Conference during the September Conference season. The big debate was expected to be the proposal to change the party's policy towards more tax cutting and in favour of giving back more to low and middle income earners. Those who believe that the provision of improved public services should be the top priority would oppose this. It was also my first conference wearing my hat as disability spokesman and my staff had filled my diary with a wide range of fringe meetings and opportunities where I could discuss disability issues with those who had more expertise in the field. Meetings included a young 16 year old girl who was profoundly deaf, young children from "Whizz Kids" an organisation that provides wheelchairs to younger people, meeting up with disabled campaigners who wanted to know how to be more politically active, meeting people with dyslexia and discussing how to get those with disabilities back into the workplace, the RNIB and many more. There were many heated debates and the tax proposals were approved. Unlike the other party conferences we still debate key policy issues and members can decide policy. I am also involved in the election to find a new party president and am campaigning for Ros Scott against the much better know Lembit Opik MP. The campaign started to gain momentum at conference. The social side of conference is equally important and finding time to catch up with old friends is vital. Many late nights - conference always takes a toll on delegates and many need a day or two to recover. While we were in theconference the world financial markets and banking system went into melt down. The Bank of Scotland and many others are in real trouble. I suspect some will not survive.  

12 September 2008

Elizabeth Maginnis

It was a great shock to hear on my return from my holiday that Elizabeth Maginnis had suddenly died and that the funeral was today. She was a Labour councillor and chaired the Education Committee and I served on it for some years when I was a councillor. Over the years I have met with Elizabeth at countless events and receptions. It was no surprise to see the huge attendance at the funeral and seeing that not everyone would get in I would have been happy to stay outside to listen to the service on loud speakers, but was asked by Brian Fallon to go forward, as she had wanted people from a wide variety of the community to be there. It was a sad event as she had survived cancer a couple of years ago and everyone hoped that her troubles were behind her. She died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage and was the same age as me. Leaving a husband and three children behind, she was well remembered in the tributes paid by Eric Milligan, former lord Provost and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland. It struck me that you never know what is around the corner.

This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.