LABOUR USE TAXPAYER CASH TO ATTACK PROGRESSIVE TAX

Glasgow Labour have shamelessly used council resources to send politically motivated letters to city residents ahead of May’s council elections – attacking the Scottish Government for introducing progressive tax reforms.

The letter, in the name of Labour councillor and City Treasurer Philip Bratt, complains that those in the most expensive properties will see a modest increase in their bills – despite the national party complaining that taxes will not rise enough.

The revelation will embarrass Kezia Dugdale as she launches Labour’s council campaign at the party’s spring conference, with polls indicating that the party will fall behind the Tories at a local government level.

Commenting, SNP MSP Sandra White said:

“Week after week, month after month, we hear Labour politicians complain that tax bills aren’t being hiked enough – and that we won’t adopt their plans to raise the basic rate of income tax on the lowest earners.

“But when we introduce a progressive reform to make Council Tax fairer, Labour use taxpayer funds to send campaign material complaining that the richest will pay a wee bit more.
“Labour obviously want to man the barricades for something, but they can’t decide if they’re for tax raises on the poor or for low taxes for the well-off.
“What’s shameful is that Labour are using taxpayer’s money to send out party political material ahead of the council elections – but unfortunately for them the public will see right through it.”

ENDS

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.

 

 

 

 

Sandra Welcomes Youth Volunteering Uptake

Sandra White MSP for Glasgow Kelvin has welcomed recent research from Volunteer Scotland  which highlights striking findings on youth volunteering in Scotland:

Findings show that more than half of young people volunteered in the last year, compared to only 27% of adults, and that a further 21% would like to in the future – a figure reflected across deprived and least deprived areas.

Volunteering participation by those young people with a physical or mental health condition is greater than young people generally (61%), however research highlighted areas for development with less volunteering occurring in 2016 by boys and in urban post-school environments.

Commenting on the findings, Sandra White MSP said: “This research highlights Scotland’s fantastic youth development and volunteering achievements; with more than half of young people undertaking volunteering which will benefit them and their communities.”

“I would like to welcome Volunteering Scotland’s efforts on this important cause and encourage all in Glasgow Kelvin to take up this volunteering call!”

Details of Volunteering Research can be found at: http://www.volunteerscotland.net/policy-and-research/research/young-people-and-volunteering-in-scotland-2016/

Ebrief

Thursday 9 February

Jobcentre Closures

The Scottish Government led a debate on the recently announced closures of job centres across Scotland and I joined with my SNP colleagues in condemning the callous Tory government cuts that are set to hit some of Scotland’s poorest communities.

The proposed closures, which are going ahead without prior consultation as part of an ideologically-motivated campaign by the Tories, are set to have a deeply damaging impact on the most vulnerable people across Scotland – raising travel costs and making services less accessible.

The cuts, which will close more than 20 job centre sites across Scotland, have been condemned by the Scottish Government, the TUC, the Church of Scotland and charities including One Parent Families Scotland. SNP MSPs and MPs are calling on the DWP to carry out a full equality impact assessment to study the damage that the closures will have on people across Scotland. These reckless UK government cuts show just how little they care about protecting our communities and providing people with the support they need.

You can read my contribution and the full debate here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10780&i=98842

Article 50

The Scottish Parliament this week overwhelmingly voted against triggering Article 50, in line with the decisive wishes of the people of Scotland in the EU referendum.

The vote also comes as the UK government has failed to set out how they will effectively consult with the devolved governments over an agreed UK-wide negotiating approach.

The Tories voted in favour of allowing the UK government to press ahead with a hard Brexit – despite Ruth Davidson saying after the EU referendum that our single market membership should be the “overriding priority” in negotiations.

The people of Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU, and only one of Scotland’s 59 MPs at Westminster has backed the triggering of Article 50.

The born-again Brexiteers in Ruth Davidson’s Tories are happy to write the UK government a blank cheque – having already ditched their demands for a soft Brexit when Theresa May’s direction of travel became clear – but the Scottish Parliament has spoken clearly.

Theresa May has a choice – and if she chooses to push ahead with her reckless proposals for a hard Brexit, and to ignore our compromise proposals to protect our place in the single market, then that will send a very strong signal about whether Scotland’s national interests can be properly served within the UK negotiating process.

Immigration

The Scottish Palriament European Committee published a unanimous cross party report on EU Migration and EU Citizens’ Rights.

The committee says that 181,000 EU nationals living in Scotland are experiencing “imposed uncertainty” as they wait to find out whether they will be able to continue to live and work in Scotland. The report says “EU citizens who have made their homes throughout Scotland should be allowed to remain” and calls on the UK government to clarify their status without further delay.

The report also highlights “strong evidence of the importance of EU migration to Scotland and the contribution that EU migrants have made to the Scottish economy and Scottish society”. Evidence shows that EU migration since 2004 has helped reverse a decline in the Scottish population and increased the number of people of working age in Scotland.

The report states that the demographic risks for Scotland of a reduction in the number of EU migrants are more acute than for the UK as a whole.

ACCA

02-17-acca-launchThe official opening of ACCA’s new office in Queen Street took place on Monday and I had the pleasure of attending.

This is a major endorsement for Glasgow – that it has the skills to support a growing international organisation.

ACCA said the new office strengthens their position as a quality employer, and they believe this new Glasgow home will give ACCA a dynamic, inspiring and sustainable place to work, in the heart of a thriving and dynamic City centre. Who could not agree with these sentiments!

Trident

My colleague Bill Kidd MSP a long standing anti-nuclear campaigner led a Holyrood debate on Trident this week, outlining the economic, moral and defence case for scrapping Trident as outlined in the Jimmy Reid Foundation report – Trident and its Successor Programme.

It was revealed last month that the UK government failed to disclose a serious malfunction in a Trident test launch just before Westminster voted on its renewal.

With the Institute of Fiscal Studies revealing in a report today that UK spending on public services has regressed to 2003 levels, the £205bn cost of renewing Trident demonstrates the misplaced priorities of Theresa May’s Tories.

You can access the Jimmy Reid Foundation report here: http://reidfoundation.org/portfolio/stop-trident-renewal/

Teaching

A new teacher recruitment campaign has been launched by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

The ‘Teaching Makes People’ campaign targets university undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects as well as people currently working in STEM industries.

The campaign is based on research showing people attracted by and suited to teaching are generally motivated by helping to develop others and making the most of their own knowledge. It builds on the success of last year’s ‘Inspiring Teachers’ campaign which saw a 19% increase in applications for education post graduate diplomas (PGDE) at Scottish universities compared to the previous year.

You can find out more information at www.teachinscotland.scot

Mosque Open Day

It was a pleasure to attend Al-Furqan Mosque on Carrington Street at the weekend with02-17-mosque-open-day-carrington-street my colleague Patrick Grady MP. Having visited the mosque on many occasions we were invited as part of the Visit My Mosque Day where the doors were opened for all members of the public to attend.

Visit My Mosque now in its third year aims to bring people together in the spirit of friendship and conversation giving members of the local community an engaging insight into the life of local Muslims and to promote a greater understanding of Islam.

We also met up with Dr Bhutta (pictured) who took the time to chat about their current exhibition which illustrates the historical connections between followers of Islam and Scotland.

Chinese New Year

Followi02-17-chinese-new-yearng on from my visit to the mosque I then attended Chinese New Year celebrations at the See Woo Restaurant in Saracen Street.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Cheung Cheung the Chairman of the Glasgow Wing Hong Elderly Group and Mr. Sam Chau the Headteacher of the Glasgow Chinese School for the kind invitation.

The celebrations were fantastic with a wonderful performance from the choir (pictured) as well as some delicious food and great company.

Refugee Doctors

Trained doctors who have come to Scotland as refugees are to be given support to re-enter the medical profession in Scotland.

Funded by £161,692 from the Scottish Government, the New Refugee Doctors Project is unique in the UK in supporting medically trained and qualified refugees to achieve medical registration and contribute their skills to NHS Scotland, as well as offering a long-term package of support.

Run by the Bridges Programmes in partnership with the BMA and NHS Education for Scotland, and Clyde College and the City of Glasgow College, the funding will help suitably qualified refugees access training, language support and professional mentoring to help them meet the standards for professional registration with the General Medical Council and practise medicine here in Scotland. As part of the funding, the doctors have committed to working for NHS Scotland.

The programme is unique in the UK – unlike other refugee doctor programmes, there are placement and clinical attachments around understanding the structure, culture and ethics of NHS Scotland. It also gives doctors access to postgraduate study and dedicated support for learning English, meaning doctors are supported not just through the GMC registration, but on-going support through post-registration and job hunting. It is also the first in the UK to involve a partnership between the third sector, further education and NHS.

 

 

Ebrief

Thursday 2 February

WASPI

02-17-waspi-campaignersMembers of the WASPI campaign in Scotland gathered at the Scottish Parliament this week to listen to MSPs debate my member’s motion on their campaign.

The motion highlighted the injustice facing women born in the 1950s, a matter which I believe has been debated in Westminster no less than 5 times and raised on over 40 occasions, yet the situation remains the same.

No one disagrees that there should be equalisation with the state pension but what we do disagree with is the way the changes have been implemented. Hundreds of thousands of women born in the 1950s have been hit particularly hard.

Successive Governments since the Pensions Act 1995 have been negligent in communicating the changes proposed with many women having received no notification at all of their pension age increase.

As a result of these actions we now have thousands of women suffering financial hardship and no time to re-plan for retirement.

The SNP commissioned the Landman Economics report into the impact of the changes to pension arrangements. This report identifies an affordable solution which would slow down that increase in order to give adequate time for women affected by the acceleration to make alternative arrangements. The UK Government have rejected both the report and its recommendations despite the fact these measures would alleviate very difficult financial situations for women across the country.

You can read my full contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10765&i=98737

Budget

The SNP Government put forward a serious budget for growing Scotland’s economy and committing substantial funding for public services.

Despite drastic Westminster cuts to Scotland’s budget, the SNP is proposing an additional £304 million in funding for the NHS this year, £120 million more for schools to tackle the attainment gap with money going straight to headteachers, extra spending power for local councils and extending the Small Business Bonus to ensure that 100,000 premises pay no rates whatsoever.

While the Tories at Westminster are cutting Scotland’s budget to the bone, their MSPs at Holyrood have demanded spending increases and tax cuts of over £3 billion. Labour too have amassed a £2 billion wish list of budget demands, without setting out how these would be paid for and keeping silent about the years of Tory cuts inflicted on Scotland.

The Tories are absolutely shameless. On one hand they’re inflicting ever deeper, more damaging cuts upon Scotland’s budget, and the next they’re demanding £3 billion in extra public spending and tax cuts for the most well off. They can’t have it both ways.

But duplicity is par for the course when it comes to Ruth Davidson and her Tory MSPs. Just look at her record on Scotland staying in the EU and the Single Market – she’s flipped, flopped and now completely sold out to a Tory hard Brexit which would devastate Scotland’s economy.

Labour are guilty of meekly sitting on their hands, failing to speak out on round after round of Tory cuts, but asking for more and more of the SNP Government. They’ve racked up a £2 billion wish list of policies, but not spared a thought to how they’d afford them.

By contrast, the SNP has brought forward a serious budget to bolster our public services and make a huge positive impact upon communities the length and breadth of Scotland. It’s a budget to deliver the priorities we were elected to government on – closing the attainment gap, delivering record funding for our NHS and supporting small businesses to help our economy grow and prosper.

Trump Travel Ban

01-17-trump-banIt was inspiring to see and take part in such a show of strength both here in Glasgow and across the world in defiance of Donald Trump’s latest Executive Order on Monday. I attended and spoke at the march in Glasgow along with many others. I also took the opportunity to raise my concerns at Holyrood this week about the executive order effectively banning people from a number of Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

In a topical question I referenced the case of Dr Hamaseh Tayari a postgraduate vet studying at the University of Glasgow, who was prevented from returning home from Costa Rica via New York as she travels on an Iranian passport.

It’s outrageous that someone should have a travel ban slapped upon them, merely because of where they were born or because they hold a particular set of religious beliefs. That’s not a measure designed to keep people safe – in fact, it will have the entirely opposite effect in creating more division and exacerbating tensions.

Over centuries, the United States has been built on immigration – welcoming people of all creeds, colours and faiths, particularly those escaping hardship or persecution in their own countries.

Hamaseh Tayari’s story is just one among many which demonstrates the madness of Donald Trump’s policy. Although it was a distressing experience for her, we should thank all those – including Women for Independence – for their generous efforts in securing Hamaseh’s safe return to Glasgow.

The exemption for UK passport holders – secured after much dithering by the Westminster government – does not go nearly far enough and it’s important that the SNP works with friends across the global community to impress upon the United States this travel ban is a policy as unreasonable as it is inhumane.

You can access the full exchange at http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10762&i=98695

Student Accommodation

01-17-student-accom-public-meetingThe public meeting I organised this week was very well attended by a cross section of the local community. It gave everyone the opportunity to voice their opinion on both the current situation and future development plans.

As I have said before we do not want to end up in a situation where every available space across the city is developed for student accommodation by companies looking to line their pockets. We need to be looking at the needs of the city as a whole particularly with regards to social housing.

There were many key considerations noted from the meeting which I will be taking forward with GCC and the Scottish Government including looking at the provision and costs of student accommodation across the city with a comprehensive strategy put in place; new regulations to develop more affordable housing; supporting student led initiatives such as housing co-operatives; stronger spatial spread in future planning directives; review protected status of heritage buildings to safeguard for the future and establishing initiatives to seek better community integration.

Employment Contracts

Contracts worth up to £96 million will be put out to tender to deliver Scotland’s full programme of employment services from 2018.

Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn confirmed during an evidence session to the Social Security Committee this week that nine contract areas will deliver employment support across Scotland next year, with one of the contracts set to be reserved for a supported business. The contracting process will commence in March.

The 2018 service follows the transitional services Work First Scotland and Work Able Scotland, which will start in April 2017, in one of the first exercises of devolved powers under the 2016 Scotland Act.

BHF

01-17-bhfI was delighted to sponsor the British Heart Foundations Social Science event at the Parliament this week.

I would like to thank Professor Mandy Maclean MBE from the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Glasgow and her colleague Professor Rhian Touyz also from the BHF Centre at the University of Glasgow for their very informative contributions.

I was particularly interested in Professor Touyz research into hypertension which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

You can find out more at https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health

Scotrail

More details of a package of discounted travel for Scotland’s rail passengers have been confirmed today.

Addressing the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said the £3 million initiative would go ahead this summer as a thank you to passengers for their patience during a significant period of upgrading and improvements to key rail services.

Monthly and annual season ticket holders will benefit from a free week of travel.  The ScotRail Alliance will be announcing details on how to claim the free week shortly. In addition to the offer of a free week, there will also be extra incentives for season ticket holders who switch to smart ticketing. Further detail on how this process will work will be announced soon, however the benefits will be:

  • Annual season ticket holders on Smartcard – free week for them or a friend/family member, plus two off-peak return trips anywhere in Scotland
  • Monthly and above season ticket holders on Smartcard – free week added to next season ticket purchase, plus one off-peak return trip anywhere in Scotland
  • Weekly season ticket holders on Smartcard are also set to benefit with a complimentary one day return ticket anywhere in Scotland.
  • A further offer for leisure passengers is in the pipeline for later in the year

 

ScotRail will release details on how to claim the free week and free tickets shortly.  The details will be available on this webpage: www.scotrail.co.uk/fares-thankyou