The First Minister gave an update to Parliament this week on the current restrictions stating at present there will be no changes.
For clarification nobody who lives in a Level 4 area should leave or remain outside their home except for essential purposes.
Working from home arrangements will be strengthened through updated statutory guidance. Working from home should now be the default position for all businesses and services, and only those who cannot do their job from home should be asked to go to the workplace.
Non-essential click and collect retail services will be prohibited in Level 4 areas. Timeslots will be required for collection and people should not enter a store to collect an item. Businesses providing takeaway food will also operate on a ‘non-entry’ basis only, meaning customers cannot enter the premises when placing or collecting orders.
You can access the updated guidance here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/
The Scottish Government’s intention to vaccinate all over 80’s by the first week of February is still on course. Many of you will have now received a letter and leaflet outlining further details on the vaccine and many more of you who are currently eligible in the JCVI priority groups will have either had your vaccine or will by the beginning of February.
As both the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health have said this is the most complex and largest vaccination programme to be undertaken and the Scottish Government have this week launched a new vaccination information campaign.
The ‘Roll your sleeves up’ campaign will emphasise the importance of the vaccine and its safety, as well as the prioritisation list set out by the JCVI to ensure those most at risk are vaccinated first.
You can access further details of the campaign here: https://www.nhsinform.scot/rollupyoursleeves or call 0800 030 8013 (available 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).
I also took part in the debate this week on health where I raised a number of questions on the programme which constituents have highlighted to me. You can access the full debate and my contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13065&i=118235
Taxi Drivers Support
A new fund to support taxi and private hire drivers affected by the pandemic launched this week.
Local authorities will directly approach an estimated 38,000 private hire and taxi drivers inviting them to claim a £1,500 grant to assist with fixed costs, boosting the support from other funding for loss of income available through the Scottish and UK Governments.
In addition taxi and private hire drivers who have received state benefits at any time since March last year will now be eligible for a £1,500 business support grant as long as they meet the remaining criteria.
Business Minister Jamie Hepburn confirmed that the change would come into effect immediately to ensure that drivers on the lowest incomes can access support.
Mr Hepburn warned that UK Government Universal Credit rules mean that drivers could lose out overall if the grant is considered to be income by DWP. However, the change will allow people to make a decision based on their individual circumstances.
The Minister has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions requesting a guarantee that taxi drivers in receipt of state benefits would not be penalised for receiving the grant.
Councils will start contacting eligible drivers this week to brief them on their potential entitlement and ask them to provide supporting information and bank account details. They do not need to apply, or contact the local authority.
I very much welcome the statement and commitment this week form the First Minister in tackling drug deaths.
An additional £50 million will be allocated every year for the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.
Talks have been taking place with people with lived experience, a range of organisations and the Drug Deaths Taskforce following the publication in December of statistics which showed that in 2019 there were 1,264 drug related deaths in Scotland.
The First Minister outlined a number of areas where improvements will be made and a further £5 million is being allocated in this financial year to ensure work starts immediately. These actions include:
- substantially increasing the number of residential rehabilitation beds across the country
- reducing stigma and increasing the number of people in treatment for their addiction
- allocating funding directly to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships, third sector and grassroots organisations to improve work in communities
- widening the distribution of naloxone
- implementing new standards for medicine-assisted treatment to ensure equitable services for all drug users
- reassessing how overdose prevention facilities might be established despite legal barriers
Good news this week from the Scottish Government on a commitment to free travel for young people.
Following consultation, the Scottish Government have announced it is making preparations to extend free bus travel to all young people under the age of 19 who reside in Scotland.
Draft legislation has now been laid which, if approved by the Scottish Parliament, will enable arrangements to be put in place for the scheme to start operating as soon as practicable during the financial year 2021-22
Extending free bus travel to approximately 770,000 young people will deliver on parliamentary budget agreements and was a commitment outlined in the 2020 Programme for Government. Once the scheme starts, young people under the age of 19 will join the third of Scotland’s population who already benefit from free bus travel.
The same legislation will also extend the existing National Concessionary Travel Scheme to eligible disabled children under the age of five, allowing free travel for a companion accompanying them.
You can get more information on this here: https://www.transport.gov.scot/publication/draft-ssi-national-bus-travel-concession-scheme-for-young-persons-scotland-amendment-order-2021/
Tackling poverty and inequality can be central to Scotland’s recovery from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new report.
The Social Renewal Advisory Board has published 20 Calls to Action to help create a fairer country, with recommendations around the themes of Money and Work; People, Rights and Advancing Equality; and Communities and Collective Endeavour. The report, If not now, when? will be considered by the Scottish Government.
You can access the report here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/not-now-social-renewal-advisory-board-report-january-2021/
Funding for Young People
Funding to help more vulnerable young people across Scotland into work has been announced by the Scottish Government.
Part of the Scottish Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee, the £986,702 investment will provide specialist pre-employment support for an additional 1,300 16 and 17-year-olds.
Two existing programmes delivered in partnership with the third sector – Our Future Now and Discovering Your Potential – will provide the support.
As always please follow the Scottish Government guidance and remember the FACTS: Face coverings, Avoid crowded places, Clean hands and surfaces regularly, Two metre distancing; and Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms. Please also if you have not already done so download the Protect Scotland App which you can access here: https://protect.scot/