Thursday 25 February 2021
The First Minister’s update to Parliament on our path out of lockdown has been widely anticipated by everyone. We are now into the eleventh month of dealing with the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions that we have all had to face.
The vaccine has absolutely provided some light and hope that we can get back to some kind of normality but the lockdown measures have undoubtedly played a huge part in suppressing the virus.
The First Minister has now laid out tentative plans for easing the restrictions with the immediate priority to be the phased return of education, building on the return of some pupils to school this week. On the basis that progress in suppressing the virus and vaccinating key groups remains on track restrictions would be eased in the following order with a 3 week assessment between each before lifting restrictions:
- the next phase of school returns with the rest of the primary school years, P4 to P7, and more senior phase secondary pupils back in the classroom for part of their learning and the limit on outdoor mixing between households increasing to four people from a maximum of two households
- the stay at home restriction to be lifted and any final school returns to take place. Communal worship to restart in limited numbers mindful of the timing of major religious festivals. This phase would also see the re-opening of retail, starting with an extension of the definition of essential retail and the removal of restrictions on click-and collect
- return to a levels approach with all of Scotland moving to at least level 3, with some possible adjustments. This could mean that from the last week of April that we would expect to see phased but significant re-opening of the economy, including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers
I fully understand and support the cautious approach taken, we do not want to end up back in the situation we are in at the moment.
You can access the updated Strategic Framework here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-strategic-framework-update-february-2021/
Scotland’s vaccination programme has delivered first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to a third of those eligible – more than 1.5 million people.
In addition, the roll-out among those aged 65-69 has already exceeded the 80% take up rate set out in the deployment plan and currently stands at 85% (255,266). This group is due to be completed by the end of February. Vaccinations are now also being delivered to people with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – the next group on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation priority list.
Meanwhile, second doses of the vaccine are being given to residents in care homes and the staff who care for them. Frontline Health and Social Care workers are also receiving their second injections.
Supplies of vaccines were held back in order that these second doses could be delivered on time to these cohorts.
In recognition of an exceptional year of significant pressure NHS staff will receive an interim pay increase of 1% which will be backdated to 1 December ahead of the final 2021-22 pay settlement. This follows the £500 thank you payment announced earlier.
While pay increases are usually effective from 1 April both the 1% interim rise and the full pay settlement, once agreed, will be backdated to 1 December 2020 benefitting 154,000 Agenda for Change employees including all NHS nurses, paramedics, healthcare support staff and allied health professionals.
Formal negotiations over staff pay have been affected by the cancellation of the UK Government’s budget and subsequent impact on the Scottish Spending Review. This uncertainty has significantly impacted on the ability to progress and conclude pay negotiations as the Scottish Government continue to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and deliver a nationwide vaccination programme, meaning the conclusion of pay negotiations for staff have been delayed.
It was with much pleasure I lodged a motion in Parliament this week highlighting and congratulating the efforts of Sorcha Dallas from the Alasdair Gray Archive and his publisher Canongate on their launch of the first ever Gray Day.
Gray Day coincides with the 40th anniversary of the publication of his legendary novel Lanark. It will celebrate this and many other pieces of his work through online reading, conversation and music paying tribute to Alasdair’s body of work.
I have very fond memories of Alasdair and was honoured to be part of his mural at the Hillhead Station. This is just one of many pieces of his incredible works across the city he loved.
I wholeheartedly support Gray Day and thank everyone involved in safeguarding Alasdair’s work for future generations.
The full motion reads:
Gray Day: A Celebration of Alasdair Gray
That the Parliament welcomes the first Gray Day on 25 February 2021, a celebration of Glasgow-born writer and artist Alasdair Gray; notes this date also marks the 40th anniversary of his landmark novel Lanark, which will be marked with a Gray Day Broadcast, hosted by the Alasdair Gray Archive, his publisher Canongate and Neu Reekie and featuring a number of prominent authors and creative artists for an hour of online readings, conversation and music; further notes that this day will also coincide with the launch of a new website, a podcast entitled Gray Matters, and a new online film; believes that this is a fitting tribute to Alasdair and his incredible body of work, and commends the commitment of the Alasdair Gray Archive and Canongate in both safeguarding and celebrating Alasdair’s incredible creative legacy.
Good news this week with a new £15 million fund announced to support affordable lending services.
It will support Credit Unions and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) which offer financial help to those who have poor credit and are often turned away from high street banks.
The pandemic has had a huge financial impact on many people and this step will strengthen services that support people with managing their money.
Credit unions and CDFIs provide ways of saving, lending, and accessing affordable credit. They can be a financial lifeline for people who can’t always access what they need from high street banks, helping them to avoid riskier ways of dealing with debt, like going to pay day loan companies.
I participated in the Tory party debate this week on a full fiscal framework for Local Government and a fixed share of the Scottish Budget. A review is already underway with the Local Governance review set up by the Scottish Government and I very much welcome this step.
In terms of a fixed share of the Scottish Budget which the Tories are seeking, they may want to take another look at the figures and the implications on our NHS – they do not add up and would be catastrophic.
What’s galling is they are calling for more localised spending decisions and autonomy just as their masters in London are clawing back European Funding that would have gone directly to local authorities – the irony.
You can access the full debate and my contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13151&i=119054
Please keep following 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 stay safe.