Ebrief

Thursday 20 April

Election

Speculation all round with the announcement of a snap General Election. I would think that Ms May is betting that her party can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray with the opposition.

The people will have their choice. They could reject the narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future.

Welfare

Women are being unfairly impacted by recent UK Government cuts to benefits and welfare eligibility.

An estimated 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and child tax credits, compared to 10% of men’s. Meanwhile, of all in-work families receiving child tax credits, 87% of recipients were women. For in-work single parents, 94% of recipients were female.

By 2020-21 it is estimated around 50,000 Scottish households will be affected by the changes to child tax credits, which will be capped at two children. This means anyone with two children or more will no longer receive tax credits at the birth of their next child or subsequent children, unless an exception applies. The policy also affects those making a new Universal Credit claim.

The capping at two children policy is particularly galling and I have lodged a motion in Parliament condemning the UK Government on this and calling on an immediate withdrawal of this move. I have also written to both Annie Wells MSP and Adam Tomkins MSP on this issue and await their response.

As usual we are seeing an alarming lack of understanding from the UK Government about the impact of their ideologically-driven policies. This is most evident in the extremely ill-thought through ‘rape clause’, where – shockingly – women have to provide evidence they’ve been raped to access benefits.

The UK Government’s callous policies make the Scottish Government’s efforts to eradicate child poverty even harder. The Scottish Government are spending some £100 million a year on welfare mitigation to protect the vulnerable and those on low incomes, which should be invested in anti-poverty measures. In Scotland the reality is we are tackling deep seated issues of inequality with one hand tied behind our back.

Social Enterprise Fund

A scheme to encourage the launch of new companies that benefit and involve communities has seen annual funding double to £1 million for each of the next three years.

The Social Entrepreneurs Fund offers grants and business support to help people make their ‘social start-up’ aspirations a reality. Increased backing for the fund is just one of 92 commitments made in the 2017-2020 Social Enterprise Action Plan.

The plan follows publication of Scotland’s first-ever Social Enterprise Strategy, aimed at sustainably growing the sector over the next decade. Already, Scotland has more than 5,000 social enterprises – business that reinvest profits to address important issues like homelessness, unemployment or climate change – with 200 new enterprises starting up every year.

The latest round of funding awards saw a Kelvin resident who owns Lewalicious Cakes secure £5000 to set up a community bakery in the east end of Glasgow, offering training, volunteering and employment support to unemployed young people.

You can find out more information at http://www.firstport.org.uk/

SAAS

Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) is now open for business and asking full-time students to submit their 2017-2018 applications for funding at www.saas.gov.uk

SAAS have also launched a new SAAS Account, which allows students to manage their applications from their mobile and desktop devices and within one portal: including submitting an application, uploading documents and supporting evidence, checking on progress and sending and receiving enquiries.

Students should apply now to ensure they have their funding in place for the start of their course and must submit an accurate application along with all the required supporting evidence. And we’re here to help, we have extended our opening hours to support students through the registration and application process.

If you have any queries please ring the SAAS helpline on 0300 555 0505.

Visit http://www.saas.gov.uk now for more information and to complete applications 

Organ Donation

The number of patients living in Scotland whose lives were saved or improved by an organ transplant has reached a record high.

New figures show that in 2016/17 there were 133 deceased organ donors in Scottish hospitals – up from 99 the previous year. This equates to a donor rate in Scotland of 24.8 per million of population – the highest rate in the UK. 348 people in Scotland waiting for an organ received a deceased donor transplant, which is also the highest ever number of transplants.

The NHSBT figures also show that the number of people in Scotland waiting for a transplant dropped to the lowest on record and that nearly 2.4 million people in Scotland are now on the NHS Organ Donor Register, which is approximately 45% of the Scottish population.

If you would like to register or find out more information please go to https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

LGBT

A working group is being established to examine how the education experience for LGBTI young people in Scotland can be improved.

It will be chaired by the Association of Directors of Education (ADES) and will include education leaders, equalities experts and young people, as well as representatives of the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign.

The detailed remit of the LGBTI Inclusive Education Working Group will be agreed at its first meeting. Its membership includes representatives of Association of Directors of Education (ADES), Education Scotland, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Equality & Human Rights Commission, LGBT Youth Scotland, National Parent Forum Scotland, respectme, School Leaders Scotland, Scottish Catholic Education Service, Scottish Youth Parliament, Stonewall Scotland and TIE.

Parking

This is just a reminder that the consultation on the future of parking in Scotland is now open and can be accessed at:https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/road-policy/improving-parking-in-scotland/

I know from both on my walkabouts across the constituency and the correspondence I receive that this is a huge issue. Your views matter and I would encourage you to participate in the consultation.

Sectarianism

Projects that challenge sectarian behaviour will share £500,000 funding from the Scottish Government.

The 11 successful projects have a strong educational focus, work directly with young people and adults and will deliver projects directly tied to the recommendations of Dr Duncan Morrow’s review of the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland.

I was particularly glad to see that North Kelvin received £22,592 to provide anti-sectarian education through an after-school club model that brings local schools together. This will ensure that anti-sectarian messages that are given in school are reinforced outwith the formal school environment thereby helping to embed these messages in the minds of young people from a range of backgrounds.

Sandra White MSP welcomes £6.3m US jobs investment announced during First Minister’s US visit

Sandra White MSP has welcomed announcements of a £6.3m jobs investment and a key climate deal during the first day of the First Minister’s visit to the United States of America encouraging trade, tourism, and partnership.

£6.3m of inward investment from US companies supported by grants from Scottish Enterprise will create 44 new jobs for the data analytics and life sciences sectors.

Sandra White MSP for Glasgow Kelvin said:

“I welcome this news from the First Minister’s visit to the US which continues to build on the strong economic and partnership ties between our nations -securing more investment and jobs alongside our ambitious climate change priorities.

“While the UK works to tear us out of the world’s biggest single market and develops diplomatic tensions with our European friends, this is a great example of our First Minister ‘doing the day job’ and delivering for Scotland with an ambitious, outward, and global attitude.”

The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP said:

“The US is Scotland’s biggest source of inward investment and, in the wake of Article 50 being triggered and the risk of a hard Brexit, it is vital we continue to build on the success of our current ­business relationship with the US.

“Scotland remains open for business and I’m delighted these companies have chosen to expand here. It further demonstrates our position as a prime location for inward investment.”

The Scottish Government have already made one announcement linked to the visit – that US technology firm Xilinx Inc are to invest £3.8million in their research centre in ­Edinburgh, creating 12 new jobs and protecting 30 existing roles.

Vast majority of voters back ‘Scotland’s Choice’

BID TO BLOCK VOTE UNDEMOCRATIC AND UNSUSTAINABLE

Today’s Survation poll shows that people in Scotland overwhelmingly back the SNP’s plans to give them a choice over their future.

61% of people think the Scottish Parliament should have the right to decide whether Scotland has a future referendum on independence, with 56% also believing that Holyrood should set the timescale for that to happen — a clear rejection of Tory attempts to prevent the people of Scotland having that choice.

The poll also reveals a clear majority think Westminster should not block another referendum if democratically agreed and voted for by the Scottish Parliament.

The poll has been published on the day the First Minister will write to the UK Government to begin discussions on a referendum.

Sandra White MSP welcomed the poll and stated:

“Today’s poll clearly demonstrates that the Scottish people not only have faith in the Scottish Parliament but strongly believe it should have autonomy to use the powers at its disposal”

“As successive Government’s in Westminster time and again to ignore Scotland it has only demonstrated with greater clarity that the Scottish Parliament continues to represent the will of the people. Any attempt therefore to block the democratic will of the Scottish people is completely unacceptable”

“Given that Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, are being told we are now being dragged out due to a democratic vote, it would be unthinkable and extremely unwise of the Prime Minister to then deny us a basic democratic right.”

Also commenting on the poll, SNP Depute Leader Angus Robertson MP said:

“The message this sends to the UK Tory government is clear — if they try to block a referendum they will be acting against the wishes of the people of Scotland. 

“People overwhelmingly want Holyrood, not Westminster, to make the decision to give people the choice over their future and when that choice should be offered to them. In short a referendum should be “Made in Scotland”.

“The Prime Minister is stuck on repeat with her ‘now is not the time’ refrain. We agree with that, people should be able to choose Scotland’s future in 18 months’ time when the terms of the Brexit deal are known. 

“Prolonging any attempt to stop people from having their say over their future is undemocratic, unsustainable and run the risk of public opinion in Scotland turning even more sharply against Prime Minister.” 

ENDS

 

 

Ebrief

Thursday 30 March 2017

Scotland’s Choice

The debate on a Scottish referendum continued this week with the Parliament mandating the Scottish Government to open formal talks with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order, to enable an independence referendum to take place when the choice between an independent Scotland and the UK’s Brexit deal is clear.

I had the opportunity to speak in the debate where I focused on the Great Repeal Bill which will drive the EU exit. You can read my contribution here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10869&i=99474

It is now the will of Scotland’s democratically elected national parliament that discussions should begin with the UK Government to enable an independence referendum to be held. People should be given that choice once the details of the UK’s Brexit deal are clear – and the Prime Minister yesterday confirmed to me that she agrees this will be in 18 months to two years from now.

This vote must now be respected. The mandate for a referendum is beyond question, and it would be democratically indefensible – and utterly unsustainable – to attempt to stand in the way of it.

The Scottish Government will now act on the mandate given to them by parliament by making a formal approach to the UK Government within the next few days, after Article 50 has been triggered.

We know that Brexit threatens a hugely damaging and uncertain future for Scotland, and it would not be right if the people of Scotland – having been told in 2014 that the only way to protect our place in Europe was to vote against independence – were denied a choice.

Every other nation in the EU will soon have a say on the terms of Brexit, and on how it impacts Scotland. The people of this nation cannot and must not be the only ones denied a say.

There is clear precedent for how the terms of a referendum made in Scotland can be agreed, and that precedent should be followed. The people of Scotland are sovereign, and they will be given a choice on their own future.

Child Poverty

Glasgow was the focus for the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee as we begin looking at proposals aimed at tackling child poverty.

The Committee held a formal committee meeting this week in Glasgow City Chambers where we heard from witnesses including Naomi Eisenstadt, the Scottish Government’s Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality and Jim McCormick from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about the impact of child poverty and about the difference the new bill will make.

The Child Poverty Bill introduces measures which require the Scottish Government to meet certain targets for the reduction of child poverty. These include seeing less than 10% of children in relative poverty and less than 5% of children in absolute poverty by 2030.

Following the meeting, we met with invited representatives including health and education practitioners working in Glasgow to combat child poverty in an informal session to get their views on the Bill.

Mesh Implants

The Cabinet Secretary for Health gave a statement in Parliament this week regarding the inquiry into transvaginal mesh implants. I took the opportunity to ask a question on behalf of some of the mesh implant patients who are very sceptical and understandably so of the moratorium on this procedure being lifted.

You can view the exchange here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10874

International Justice Mission

I met with representatives from the International Justice Mission (IJM) in Parliament this week.

03.17 International Justice MissionThey were exhibiting their current campaign and initiative #NotOnMyScreen.

Cybersex trafficking is the live-streamed sexual abuse of children viewed over the internet. It is brutal and it is growing at an alarming rate, fuelled by the behaviour of Westerners, including people from the UK.

Cybersex trafficking is a type of sex trafficking that was unimaginable before the digital age. Now children are exposed to a global web of predators.

These children don’t get to say ‘no’, but you do and I would encourage you all to take the time to share the hashtag and find out more about what you can do to stop cybersex trafficking. Please go to www.notonmyscreen.co.uk

Cancer Funding

A new scheme to decrease health inequalities connected to cervical cancer screening rates has been given £180,600.

Charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has been awarded the funding through the Scottish Government’s Cancer Strategy, which will be used to launch a Glasgow Outreach service, targeting groups less likely to attend screening appointments.

An outreach coordinator will be employed for three years to work closely with disadvantaged groups, community and health organisations to improve uptake. They will recruit and train 90 community champions to help work with women in those communities.

Housing Benefit

More young people in Scotland will be at risk of homelessness due to UK Government changes to housing benefit.

The changes, due to take effect from 1 April, will remove the entitlement to housing support for 18 to 21 year-olds in receipt of Universal Credit who do not have a specific exemption, such as disability or childcare.

The Scottish Welfare Fund will now be extended on an interim basis to ensure those young people who will be excluded from financial support by the UK Government will still be able to receive assistance with housing costs.

However the Scottish Government will continue to press the UK Government on seeking a solution for Scotland’s young people.

Veterans

I met up with employees from Combat Stress at the Parliament this week and pledged my support for Scottish veterans with mental health conditions.

03.17 Combat StreesCombat Stress is the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans and provides free specialist clinical treatment to ex-servicemen and women across the UK with mental health problems.

The charity treats conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. They provide a range of free services including short-stay clinical treatment, a specialist PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme, Occupational Therapy, Community support and a free 24-hour Helpline (0800 138 1619).

It is vital that all veterans have access to the specialist support they need for conditions such as PTSD, depression and anxiety. We all owe a significant debt to those who have served in our armed forces, and we must work together to ensure they have access to the support they need and deserve.

I would encourage all those who require support to contact organisations such as Combat Stress at the earliest opportunity.

EU Nationals

EU nationals choosing to study in Scotland and enrolling in 2018-19 have been guaranteed free tuition for the duration of their entire course.

This announcement to guarantee free tuition for eligible EU students demonstrates Scotland’s determination to welcome all EU nationals who choose to live, work or study here.

Following the uncertainty caused by the UK Government hard Brexit and the imminent triggering of Article 50, the Scottish Government has moved to reassure applicants for 2018-19, confirming the guarantee already in place for eligible EU students enrolling this year will be extended to those beginning their studies the following academic year.

IVF

From 1 April, new patients referred for IVF treatment on the NHS in Scotland may be eligible for three full cycles rather than two, increasing their chances of conceiving a baby.

The change was recommended by the National Infertility Group in its report to Ministers last summer, with the ‘refreshed’ Group reaffirming the increase and start date at its first meeting last month.

The National Infertility Group report was published in June 2016 and made two main recommendations, of which this is the second.

From 1 September 2016, couples with children in the home, but where one partner does not have a biological child, are eligible for IVF access.

One full cycle of IVF includes a fresh cycle followed by the transfer of any viable embryos which have been frozen and stored, where available.

Hyndland Secondary School

03.17 Hyndland Secondary School S5&6The Scottish Parliament welcomed S5 and 6 pupils from Hyndland Secondary School this week. This was to be my second meeting with pupils from the school having already attended the school for a debate a couple of weeks ago.

It’s always a pleasure to meet up with young people from the constituency to discuss, debate and more importantly listen to their views.

It’s also a great opportunity for pupils to see the Parliament at work as well as grilling their representatives! 

 

PLEASE NOTE THE EBRIEF WILL RESUME ON THURSDAY 20 APRIL FOLLOWING THE EASTER RECESS

 

Ebrief

Thursday 23 March 2017

London

My thoughts are with everyone caught up in the heinous attack at Westminster this week and those who were so tragically killed. The emergency services responded bravely to ensure the safety of many people and are to be commended.

As a mark of respect the Scottish Parliament held a minute’s silence on Thursday morning with flags flying at half-mast.

The First Minister also made a statement to Parliament during FMQs which I wholeheartedly support.

You can access the full statement here:http://news.gov.scot/news/first-minister-statement-1

Scotland’s Choice

Due to the incident at Westminster the two-day debate on Scotland’s Choice was suspended and will be rescheduled for the afternoon of Tuesday 28 March. I will be taking part in the debate and if you would like to read the contributions made so far you can access them at: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/ReportSelectPage.aspx?type=plenary&year=2017&page=0&meeting=-1

Yorkhill MIU

During general questions this week I took the opportunity to question the Cabinet Secretary for Health on the future plans for Yorkhill Minor Injuries Unit. As many of you will know from previous ebriefs I raised this matter with the Scottish Government a few months ago highlighting both my and constituents concerns on the provision of services in the local area.

The Cabinet Secretary stated that the board were currently reviewing the siting of a minor injuries unit in the west end of the city and you can view the full exchange here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10860&i=99421

Social Security

I along with my Committee members travelled to Westminster on Monday to hold a joint meeting with the Scottish Affairs Committee taking evidence from Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Mary Pattison, Senior Responsible Officer for Scottish Devolution Programme and Ageing Society & State Pensions Director, Department for Work and Pensions, Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, and Stephen Kerr, Director of Social Security, Scottish Government.

This was a significant meeting as it was the first time a Holyrood Committee had participated in an evidence session at Westminster.

You can access the full report of the meeting here:

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/scottish-affairs-committee/intergovernmental-cooperation-on-social-security/oral/49162.html

Mental Health

03.17 Partners in AdvocacyPartners in Advocacy were in the Parliament this week to highlight the work they do across the country for child, adolescent and adult mental health.

I was particularly pleased to hear about the work they are doing in Greater Glasgow, supporting children and young people up to the age of 18. They are giving them the opportunity to have their voices heard and a greater understanding of what is happening to them. They help them to make choices about their lives and respect their views.

You can find out more information on their work at www.partnersinadvocacy.org.uk or contact them on 0141 847 0660.

Universal Credit

Ministers are requesting an immediate halt to the roll-out of the full service of Universal Credit until problems with its implementation are fully resolved and I fully support these calls.

The Scottish Government has written to the UK Government to raise urgent concerns over how Universal Credit is pushing more people into hardship and debt.

The full service of Universal Credit – i.e. where people must have an online account to manage their claim or apply for a benefit – is operational in certain parts of the country.

The way it is paid means new claimants have to wait six weeks before receiving their first payment, resulting in tenants building up rent arrears and being pushed to seek crisis or hardship payments.

Delays in payments have seen landlords, including housing associations, reporting financial difficulties, with councils reporting record rent arrears.

Apprenticeships

Thousands of young people will gain industry recognised qualifications, real-world work experience and access to work-based learning while still at school thanks to a massive expansion of the Foundation Apprenticeship programme.

As part of the drive to improve attainment, Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced that by the end of 2019, up to 5,000 young people will start a Foundation Apprenticeship, up from 351 starts during 2016-17.

Developed and delivered by Skills Development Scotland, Foundation Apprenticeships are undertaken while still at school, at the same time as pupils take traditional academic exams.  They offer young people the opportunity to gain a qualification while working with some of Scotland’s best-known employers in sectors such as engineering and software development.

You can find out more at: https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/what-we-do/our-products/foundation-apprenticeships/

Electrical Safety

03.17 Inequality Street Electricla Safety FirstElectrical Safety First is a Charity which aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by electricity.

I was happy to chat with them at their exhibition this week in Parliament on the impact of poor electrical safety on older people and those living with dementia.

Electricity is the leading cause of house fires in Scotland with older people disproportionately affected.

The exhibition provided an opportunity for the campaign to raise awareness with Members who in turn can relay that advice to elderly constituents to help keep them safe, particularly during the colder winter months when there is an increased reliance on electrical items.

If you would like to find out more go to http://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/

Domestic Abuse

A new bill to strengthen the laws against those who psychologically abuse their partners using coercive and controlling behaviour has been published.

The Scottish Government introduced the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament this week.

The Bill creates a new statutory offence of domestic abuse that recognises the damage and hurt that non-physical abuse can cause.

The Scottish Government consulted on creating a specific offence of ‘abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner’ between December 2015 and April 2016. The responses to this are published here: https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/criminal-law-and-sentencing-team/criminal-offence-domestic-abuse

Childcare

Children with additional support needs will have improved access to nursery education through a £2 million package from the Scottish Government.

The money will fund specialist training and equipment to ensure all nurseries offering the free early learning and childcare (ELC) entitlement are equipped to care for children with additional support needs

These additional funds build on the pledge given last week that 8,000 existing and all additional childcare staff will be paid at least the Living Wage by the end of this Parliament and the Scottish Government’s plans to deliver a doubling of free childcare over this parliament.

Care Leavers

Hundreds of care leavers will be helped to move into work, training or education through a new £1 million Care Experienced Employability Programme (CEEP). It is a one-year pilot programme to help 270 young care leavers aged 16-29 to move into appropriate work, training or educational opportunities.

CEEP will be led by the third sector Young Person’s Consortium (YPC) which consists of Barnardo’s Scotland, Action for Children and the Prince’s Trust.

The programme will enhance and add value to existing youth employment provision and deliver intensive support to young people who are often excluded from attaining their full potential through education and employment.  It will offer  work experience, qualifications, practical skills, involvement in community projects and life coaching that are focussed on the needs of the individual.

Jobs

Good news recently with the announcement from Vodafone of approximately 100 jobs being created at their Scottish Head Office in Berkley Street.

These positions will be filled over the next 24 months, forming part of the company’s expansion in customer services roles across Scotland.

Clydeside Distillery

Great to see that work is progressing at Clydeside with the installation of the copper stills this week. This is the latest step in the project to transform the area into a bespoke whisky distillery and visitor centre.

I’m hoping to meet up with representatives at the distillery in the coming months before the opening in the Autumn.