Ebrief

Thursday 23 February

Business Rates

The Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced this week a wide-ranging relief scheme that will offer strong support to businesses across Scotland and in particular here in Glasgow.

Overall, the complete package of Scottish Government relief will ensure that 73% of businesses across Glasgow will see either no change or a decrease in their business rates bill – with more businesses being entitled to support through the small business bonus scheme. The Scottish Government had already taken action to reduce the rates poundage to help businesses who have seen a revaluation.

The relief proposals will provide support for hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes, which had seen their rates rise the steepest following the 2015 revaluation. Any rises in this sector will be capped at 12.5% – providing substantial support to the tourism and hospitality industries.

This announcement by the Scottish Government proves once again the SNP’s commitment to local businesses both here in Glasgow and across Scotland – with the substantial package of support ensuring that many businesses will not see any rise in the rates that they pay.

You can access the full statement by the Cabinet Secretary here:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10794&i=98928

Azerbaijan Delegation

With the anniversary of the Khojaly massacre in Azerbaijan taking place this month I met with the Ambassador of Azerbaijan Mr Tahir Taghizadeh and Mr Javanshiazerbaijan-2017-050r Feyziyev – Member of Parliament and  chairman of Azerbaijan-UK Parliamentary Working Group.

The delegation visited the Scottish Parliament where I presented them with a copy of the motion I lodged highlighting the 25th anniversary of the massacre:

That the Parliament notes that 26 February 2017 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Khojaly massacre, which resulted in the deaths of 613 civilians and was reported to have been committed by Armenian forces during the 1988-94 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan; understands that Armenia continues to occupy 20% of the internationally-recognised territories of Azerbaijan, despite UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884, which called for the unconditional, immediate and full withdrawal of its forces; notes what it believes are concerns over war crimes and gross violations of international humanitarian law in the town of Khojaly; expresses its support of the efforts of the international community to bring about a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict using the principles of international law, and acknowledges what it sees as the dynamically-developing long-standing community relations between the people of Azerbaijan and Scotland, including the presence of the Scottish expatriate community in Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani community in Scotland.

Budget

Despite continuing Tory austerity, the Scottish Government’s budget will deliver above inflation investment in the NHS, including a National Trauma Centre for Glasgow.

Glasgow Kelvin itself will benefit from a range of direct spending commitments, including funding to Kelvin Hall which has undergone extensive refurbishment and now offers a diverse range of activities for all of the local community to access.

This comes on top of additional funding for health and social care partnerships and for schools, with £21,602,400 attainment cash going directly to primary, secondary and special schools across Glasgow.

It’s time the opposition got behind this strong package of investment which will bring huge benefits both locally in Glasgow Kelvin and across the city as a whole.

Social Security

The Minister for Social Security addressed the chamber this week to feedback on the social security consultation and as the Convener of the Social Security Committee I took the opportunity to question the Minister.

The three-month consultation on building a Scottish social security system consisted of direct engagement that reached thousands of people across Scotland, in partnership with key organisations working with those who receive benefits and have experience of the current system. I asked the Minister of an indication of how the Government will continue to work with both stakeholders and those in receipt of the soon to be devolved benefits in order to take forward plans to establish a Scottish system that treats people with dignity, respect and fairness.

You can read the full exchange here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10796&i=98953

Sanctions

Unemployed people received twice as many benefit sanctions as the DWP are willing to admit, according to new research. There were 300,000 sanctions imposed on unemployed people in the UK in the year to September 2016, double the number reported by the DWP, according to a University of Glasgow academic.

Dr David Webster found that JSA claimants are being sanctioned for longer on average and that the rate of ESA sanctions has risen sharply. Dr Webster also criticised the DWP for failing to improve its reporting of sanctions, which continue to fail to meet the requirements of the UK Statistics Authority. Academic experts previously described the way that the DWP compiles its figures as a “gross and systematic misrepresentation” which suppress the full scale of how claimants are being penalised.

This is yet another blow to the credibility of the Tory sanctions regime, which causes a great deal of distress and hardship to people seeking work – and actually costs the taxpayer more to administer than it saves.

The Tory axemen can try and massage the figures all they want, but we now know that sanction numbers are twice as high as they’ll admit. They can’t keep turning a blind eye to the evidence.

It’s time to ditch this flawed sanctions regime and to put dignity and fairness at the heart of our Social Security system.

Income Tax

For the first time in the history of the Scottish Parliament, MSPs passed measures setting all income tax rates and bands as proposed by the Scottish Government in this year’s Budget Bill. From April 6th this year, rates will be frozen and the threshold at which people start paying the higher tax rate will remain at £43,000.

This is a historic day for Scotland – the first time ever that rates and bands of income tax are being set by the Scottish Parliament in line with Scotland’s needs and priorities. But the passing of the Scottish Rate Resolution is much more about our future than it is about our history.

This represents the best deal on tax and public services anywhere in the UK – increasing investment in the NHS and helping protect free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly, mitigation of the bedroom tax and free higher education.

Climate Change Fund

More than one hundred organisations across Scotland are to benefit from almost £10 million of funding to support local action to tackle climate change.

Scotland is making huge progress in delivering the Scottish Governments climate change ambitions, but there is still much to achieve and the role of behaviour change and community action is crucial.

The Climate Challenge Fund supports community projects that inspire people to care about the problem of climate change, consider what it might mean to them in terms of their everyday lives and enable them to take action.

I am particularly pleased to see five organisations; Glasgow Bike Station, Annexe Communities, The Chinese Community Development Partnership, Shia Asna Islamic Centre and the Glasgow Mena Trust across the constituency have been successful in securing funding.

These projects will deliver programmes ranging from active travel to improving home energy to food waste management. All of these projects will build on and support the Scottish Governments commitment to tackling climate change and I wish all of the projects every success. 

Addaction

02-17-addactionAddaction Scotland were in the Parliament this week and I had a chance to have a chat with them about their work across the country and in particular their Clear Choices Glasgow programme based within my constituency.

This is a city-wide alcohol and drugs prevention and education service for children, young people and families. Their aim is to provide educational and factual information on alcohol and drugs in a fun, interactive and engaging way.  In doing so, they help young people make informed choices, build resilience and help reduce potential problematic drug and alcohol use.

You can find out more about this project at http://www.addaction.org.uk/services/clearer-choices-glasgow

TV Channel

Scotland’s new BBC TV will begin broadcasting next Autumn with an additional £20 million for Scotland to make UK-wide programmes.

This is a real shift in the right direction from the BBC and responds to calls the Scottish Government made for some time. While the increased investment in both journalism and wider production in Scotland is long overdue, this is a very positive development.

The Scottish Broadcasting Commission estimated in 2009 that a similar channel would cost around £75 million a year substantially more than the funding allocated. It’s vital that the new BBC Scotland channel has complete commission and editorial independence, and is provided with the funding needed to match ambition.

The new channel will increase the proportion of the licence fee raised in Scotland that is spent in Scotland in years to come – but sadly will still fall well short of the proportiate share being spent in Northern Ireland and Wales. The Scottish Government will continue to call for the BBC to put Scotland on an equal footing with other devolved nations.

 

 

 

 

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