CAS coronavirus advice and information

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is continuing to update and increase the advice and information available about the coronavirus pandemic on its website on a regular basis.

Its content covers a wide range of issues, including how COVID-19 could affect your work, travel or social security, and provides all the relevant information and signposting to other organisations on each question.

CAS has also launched a new national helpline to help boost its response to the COVID-19 crisis. Scotland’s Citizens Advice Helpline is free to call on 0800 028 1456 and open from 9am till 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Find out more about the advice and information available on the CAS website at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/health/coronavirus-what-it-means-for-you-s/

Coronavirus advice service for Scotland launched

A new national service providing free advice on coronavirus for every individual in Scotland has been launched.

The coronavirusadvice.scot service offers practical advice and information on issues including employment, housing and personal finance, as well as cancellations and consumer rights.

The multi-channel service includes a free national phone number, live web chat, email and social media, as well as an online ‘knowledge centre’.

It is run by the charity Advice Direct Scotland, which operates Scotland’s advice services, advice.scot and consumeradvice.scot.

The service has been created using cloud technology so that all advisers are working from home and able to use the organisation’s software to answer calls from the public and provide up-to-date information.

The service will be updated regularly, and will be in place for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

It can be contacted on 0808 800 9060 between 9am and 5pm on Mondays to Friday, and via live webchat or email at www.coronavirusadvice.scot.

Office closed and surgeries cancelled due to COVID-19

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and following advice from Government and the NHS, my constituency office will be closed to the public from 5pm on Tuesday 17th March until further notice.

I am also cancelling all face to face constituency advice surgeries until further notice.

My team will be continuing to work from home and constituents can still contact the office for help with casework and other parliamentary enquiries.

Constituents can contact the office by calling 01620 822711 and leaving a message or emailing iain.gray.msp@parliament.scot.

We will be monitoring email as usual and checking voicemail messages regularly.

Regular updates on COVID-19 are being provided through the official NHS and Scottish Government sources.

Here are some resources on the web which will provide you with the most up-to-date information.

In addition there is a Scottish Government helpline for people to call who do not have symptoms, but are looking for general advice. The Freephone number is:  0800 028 2816.

GDPR Privacy Policy

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governing the way organisations manage personal data comes into force on Friday 25th May.

If you’re in touch with my office, you can read about how we’ll use and manage your data in my privacy policy notice here.

Read more about the GDPR on the ICO’s website here.

For further information about the way we manage data, please contact my office on 01620 822711 or iain.gray.msp@parliament.scot

Iain backs new arthritis campaign

Iain Gray MSP is backing a new campaign calling for a national plan to drive improvements in services for people living with arthritis.

The ‘Impossible to Ignore’ campaign, launched by the Scotland Versus Arthritis charity, is highlighting four key priorities for government:

  1. Arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions to be addressed in planning for the restart of treatment and services.
  2. Commitment to the ongoing involvement of people with arthritis to shape the future of treatment and services.
  3. National plans to bring down joint replacement waiting lists safely.
  4. Local planning to ensure that people with arthritis have access to ongoing communication, advice and support to manage their pain.

As part of the campaign, the charity has launched a petition calling on the Scottish Government to prioritise the needs of people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions as NHS services are remobilised during the COVID-19 pandemic https://bit.ly/ImpossibleToIgnoreTW

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The pain of waiting for joint replacement surgery is impossible to ignore. That’s why I’m happy to support this new Scotland Versus Arthritis campaign and the call for a national plan to restart treatment and bring down waiting lists safely.

“It’s vital that the Scottish Government move quickly and safely to reopen all services and utilise the NHS estate to increase the capacity in the delivery of treatment. Work has begun on this but it is not moving rapidly enough.

“Anyone who wants to see improvements in these services should support the campaign’s petition urging the Scottish Government to prioritise the needs of people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions.”

Mr Gray has also signed a Member’s Motion in the Scottish Parliament highlighting the campaign:

Motion Number S5M-22294 Versus Arthritis launches Impossible to Ignore Campaign

That the Parliament welcomes the launch of the Impossible to Ignore campaign by the charity, Versus Arthritis, which calls for arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions to be a priority at a national and local level following restoration of NHS and public services after the COVID-19 pandemic; understands that over 1.5 million people in Scotland are currently living with arthritis or a musculoskeletal condition; acknowledges that research conducted by Versus Arthritis between April and June 2020 has highlighted that 40% of respondents in Scotland did not have access to the care and treatment that they needed to manage their pain, while 43% reported that appointments had been cancelled, rising to 50% for those self-isolating; welcomes calls from the charity that NHS boards’ remobilisation plans should specifically include provision of services to support people with musculoskeletal conditions and arthritis; agrees that people living with arthritis should be directly involved in shaping the development and delivery of services in order to improve patient-reported outcomes and satisfaction, and supports the charity in its ongoing work to support those living with arthritis.

Find out more about the campaign and Scotland Versus Arthritis’s other work at https://www.versusarthritis.org/in-your-area/scotland

Public invited to back call for review into results fiasco

John Swinney must launch an urgent review into the downgrading of more than 120,000 exam results by the SQA which has left pupils across Scotland unfairly penalised because of where they go they school, Iain Gray MSP has said.

Today, Scottish Labour is launching a petition to gather support for the call to launch a review into what has been branded a fiasco and a scandal in education.

With a deluge of appeals predicted, John Swinney must also instruct the SQA to make public the methodology for marking appeals to ensure that pupils, teachers and parents have confidence in the system.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson, Iain Gray, has accused the Deputy First Minister of ‘baking in’ inequality into Scotland’s education system and has said that if Mr Swinney does not apologise to the young people of Scotland and act to rectify his failure then his position will be untenable.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“All across Scotland, parents, pupils and teachers are united in outrage over John Swinney’s failure of the poorest students in our society.

“We urgently need a review into this fiasco to determine whether the downgrading of results by area has infringed the human rights of pupils.

“If John Swinney does not commit to this review and does not apologise to the young people of Scotland and seek to mitigate the damage he has wrought then his position is not sustainable.   

“Scottish Labour is calling on the people of Scotland to sign our petition to ensure that John Swinney is held to account for his actions.”

Please back the call for an urgent review of the exam results fiasco at https://secure.scottishlabour.org.uk/page/s/urgent-sqa-results-review

Comment on return of schools

Commenting on the return of pupils to schools in East Lothian next week, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The return of pupils to school is the biggest, and most important move out of lockdown yet.  Good luck to all of the County’s pupils and teachers as they finally get back to face to face learning.  As a grandad with two grandchildren starting school for the first time, I am thinking especially of those new p1 pupils. 

“I know that teachers, cleaners, janitors, classroom assistants and our local education department have worked incredibly hard for this day, to ensure that schools can restart safely.  They were not helped by the government telling them to plan for social distancing in the classroom, and then suddenly being told the return would be full time – but I have every confidence that they will have turned that round.

“I know that many parents will have mixed feelings, pleased that their children are going back to school, because home schooling has been tough for all families,  but anxious for their children’s safety too.  It is important that everything needed is in place – sanitiser, testing, and, in senior years social distancing where possible.  Everyone has a part to play in sticking by the rules, and I am sure that here in East Lothian, they will.”

Scotland Loves Local campaign

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed a new campaign designed to encourage Scots to go back to their roots, think local first and support their local town centres safely and in line with public health guidelines.

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and we move into recovery, now is the time to support town centres and local businesses to help them get back on their feet.

However, we know coronavirus is still a significant risk to local communities and so it is important that people continue to follow the public health guidelines and take care.

This campaign ties in with others such as the Love Local Business campaign run by the East Lothian Courier and East Lothian Council’s Stay Safe, Shop Local campaign.

Welcoming the initiative, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The outbreak of coronavirus has caused significant challenges for our town centres, high streets and local businesses. They have lost out on vital trade because they had to close to keep us safe. Many of them have also been at the forefront of efforts to support the most vulnerable people in our communities during the pandemic. 

“Our small businesses, whether a pub, cafe, butcher, newsagent or a grocery shop, are the lifeblood of local economies across East Lothian. Whether it’s an emergency pint of milk, catching up with old friends in the local pub or having a meal close to home, our town centres have always been there for us.

“Now is the time for us to support them to get back on their feet, by thinking local first. That’s a sentiment I’ve always been pleased to support and help promote, because East Lothian boasts some of the best local shops and businesses anywhere in Scotland.

“But now more than ever our local businesses need their communities to rally round and give them support as the recovery from the pandemic get underway.  If our town centres are to survive this period and thrive again, we must think local like never before.”

The aim of the Scotland Loves Local campaign is to highlight the importance of thinking local first. The campaign organisers are encouraging as many individuals and organisations to get involved in the campaign as possible and help spread the word! There are lots of ways the public can join the fightback:

  1. Think local first yourself
  2. Share and retweet messages from the campaign from @Scotlandstowns on Twitter, Scotland’s Towns Partnership on Facebook
  3. Make sure you remain aware of the Scottish Government’s public health guidelines
  4. Use your social media to promote the campaign graphics and video contained in this folder using #Scotlandloveslocal
  5. Use the campaign’s online assets to create your own images and content that reflects your local area and share it using #Scotlandloveslocal
  6. When you do use your town centre, post on your social media using #Scotlandloveslocal with a photo of you using your local high street
  7. Use your social media platforms to share information about your local businesses and the fantastic products they have on offer
  8. Send a letter to your local paper supporting the campaign and urging them to get behind it too
  9. Partner with the campaign through sponsorship or by discussing specific partnership opportunities
  10. Contact your local Councillor, MSP or MP and encourage them to support the campaign.

Find out more about the campaign at www.scotlandstowns.org/scotland_loves_local_campaign

SQA has treated teachers’ professional judgement with contempt

Commenting on this morning’s SQA exam results, Iain Gray MSP said:

“After the challenges of a school year like no other, the pupils of Scotland can feel proud today over how they have risen to the challenge of the pandemic.

“Pass rates are up, and I congratulate all the pupils who have worked so hard, and their teachers who faced a mammoth task of assessment.

“It is clear though that too many young people have been hit hard by the SQA’s so called “moderation”.  Too many have seen their results lowered, often with passes turned into fails, damaging their prospects for university or college. 

“Worst of all, the SQA have done this on the basis of each school’s past performance, marking the school not the pupil, and baking in the attainment gap.  They were told that this would be grossly unfair and it is. The SQA have also treated teachers’ professional judgement with contempt.

“The SQA will now be deluged with appeals.  I hope they are ready to deal with them properly.

“The Education Secretary was repeatedly warned about all this, but, as usual, has chosen to sit back and watch it happen with our young people paying the price.”

Comment on illegal wild camping

Commenting on reports from East Lothian Council’s Countryside Ranger Service of widespread illegal wild camping along the county’s coastline, creating significant waste and damaging the environment, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Responsible wild campers make sure they do no damage to the countryside they love, but this kind of illegal, irresponsible and potentially dangerous camping is simply vandalism and needs to stop. Communities in East Lothian are welcoming of visitors and we need tourists more than ever at this time, but not if they are fouling and damaging our coastline and beauty spots in this way.

“Given that ‘staycations’ are likely to be more popular for some time to come, it is vital that public authorities from the Scottish Government down do more to discourage illegal camping and also raise awareness about how to behave responsibly in the countryside.”

‘Best of the Fest’ online festival for young carers

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed revised plans for an online version of this year’s Scottish Young Carers Festival, following the cancellation of the usual festival due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This would have been the festival’s 13th year, providing young carers with a much needed break from their caring responsibilities and celebrating their contribution to their families and society. Young carers provide unpaid care for a family member or a friend, who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or addiction problems.

Instead of the usual festival, an online extravaganza is being planned its place, with Carers Trust Scotland bringing festival-style fun to young people through its first ever virtual festival, Best of the Fest. From Wednesday 5 August to Friday 7 August, there will be the opportunity for young carers to take part in dozens of activities and events including; mindfulness, yoga, magic shows, paint a-longs and live music.

The festival marketplace will also continue online, with organisations such as Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament hosting live workshops for young carers and youth workers to find out more about the opportunities available.

Iain Gray MSP said: 

“Young carers make a huge contribution to society but their caring responsibilities can have a profound impact on other aspects of their lives, including study and socialising. This can often create additional pressures and have a negative effect on mental health and wellbeing.

“While it is disappointing the festival cannot take place this year, I hope the Best of the Fest virtual events will enable young carers in East Lothian to participate safely and find out more about the services and support available to them.”

Paul Traynor, policy and external affairs manager of Carers Trust Scotland, said: 

“We are delighted to be working with Scottish Government to deliver these new kind of festival activities for young carers across Scotland for 2020. The pandemic has been difficult for a lot of young carers and many have reported taking on additional caring responsibilities, feeling isolated, and feeling disconnected to their friends and wider communities.

“Although some young carers may be disappointed that the annual Scottish Young Carers Festival event has been cancelled, the small-grant scheme provides new opportunities for local young carer services to plan and deliver activities to ensure young carers still have an opportunity to get a break from caring and have fun. We also hope that our Best of the Fest virtual events will provide that festival feeling that gives young carers the opportunity to be children and young people first.”

This year’s alternative Scottish Young Carers Festival takes place during a challenging time for many young carers. A new Carers Trust Scotland survey shows the pandemic’s dramatic impact on the wider wellbeing of young carers in Scotland. The results point to a steep decline in the mental health and wellbeing of young people across Scotland who provide unpaid care for family members or friends.

Find out more about Best of the Fest and register to participate at https://carers.org/scottish-young-carers-festival/best-of-the-fest-

With only a fortnight to go, clear plan needed to reopen schools

The Scottish Government must produce a clear and cogent plan for a safe return to schooling, Iain Gray MSP has said.

With only two weeks to go until the full reopening of schools, concerns persist over the safety of pupils, teachers and school support staff, and the lack of clarity on what guidance will be in place.

Mr Gray and Scottish Labour are calling on the Scottish Government to allay these worries by producing a detailed and flexible plan for full-time reopening.

An online survey has been launched to gauge how the public feel about the Scottish Government’s management of education at this crucial point. It can be completed at https://secure.scottishlabour.org.uk/page/signup/schools-restart-and-reform

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“From the outset of this crisis John Swinney and his colleagues have failed to get a grip of the situation.

“A massive U-turn, together with back-of-a-fag-packet decision making has created a huge amount of uncertainty.

“Big questions related to safety and how the school day will run simply remain unaddressed, and statements to Parliament often raised as many questions as they answered. 

“With only a fortnight left before the return to full-time, face-to-face teaching, the SNP Government must act urgently to produce a clear and flexible plan for pupils, parents, teachers and school support staff.”

Iain backs ‘Save Scotland’s Airports’ campaign

Iain Gray MSP has joined Scottish Labour colleagues in supporting Unite the Union’s ‘Save Scotland’s Airports’ campaign, which is demanding sector specific support for Civil Air Transport in Scotland.

Mr Gray has co-signed a letter to the First Minister calling for action on the civil aviation crisis and signed a parliamentary motion tabled by his colleague Colin Smyth MSP backing the Unite campaign.

He has sent the following response to constituents who have contacted him about the union’s campaign:

Thank you for your correspondence regarding Unite Scotland’s Campaign: Save Scotland’s Airports.

Scottish Labour stands with Unite Scotland in this campaign, and agrees that a sector specific response is needed.

I have signed the attached letter to the First Minister and signed the following motion in Parliament lodged by my colleague Colin Smyth, backing the Save Scotland’s Airport campaign:

S5M-22313: Save Scotland’s Airports
That the Parliament recognises the value of the civil aviation sector to Scotland’s economy; is concerned at the analysis by the Fraser of Allander Institute, which suggests that the loss of 1,500 jobs in the sector would result in the loss of 2,330 jobs in total, and a subsequent £140 million loss to the wider economy; commends the work of everyone in the sector throughout this unprecedented period; welcomes the Saves Scotland’s Airports campaign by Unite the Union; urges the Scottish Government to reiterate its commitment to supporting the sector’s recovery and to work with trade unions and other stakeholders to agree a set of interventions to support it, but believes that any future support must be conditional on the protection of jobs and the safeguarding of terms and conditions of employment in line with the Fair Work principles.

Earlier this month Richard Leonard, and the Scottish Labour Party, also brought the concerns of Scottish Airport workers to the attention of the First Minister. We are deeply concerned that some companies are still attempting to fire and rehire its own workers, with their terms and conditions slashed by almost half. Scottish Labour, in line with Unite Scotland, has therefore asked the Scottish Government to make the 100 per cent business rate reliefs conditional on good employment practices, in order to protect jobs.  In addition, Richard Leonard wrote to the UK Government encouraging them to work with the industry and with trades unions to develop a strategy that supports the industry emerge from this crisis, without the need for such an attack on the terms and conditions of the workforce.

Scotland’s airport workers should not be the ‘collateral damage’ during this pandemic. Scottish Labour is therefore supporting Unite Scotland’s demands to have sector specific support for Civil Air Transport in Scotland, including the extension of the Government Job Retention Scheme.

On 16th July, in response to a statement given to the Scottish Parliament by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, my colleagues Colin Smyth and Pauline McNeill pressed for a commitment from the Scottish Government to fully engage with the trade unions in shaping a sector specific plan to save Scotland’s airports. You can read the Parliament Transport statement and debate here.

If our economy is to weather the storm of coronavirus we must prevent the loss of jobs across Scotland.  Urgent action is needed to protect jobs and livelihoods which  is why Scottish Labour has launched a ‘Jobs for Good’ campaign, calling on the Scottish Government to commit to safeguarding jobs in order to save our economy.  

Scottish Labour is committed to working with the trade unions in calling for the protection of Scotland’s aviation workers. We will continue to campaign for sector specific support, conditionality in line with fair work, removal of fire and rehire proposals, and the extension of redundancy consultations, to ensure we save Scotland’s Airports.

Thank you once again for contacting me on this issue.

Iain welcomes cycling road safety campaign

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed a new campaign aimed at improving road safety for people who cycle.

Scotland-wide polling commissioned by the nation’s cycling organisation – Cycling Scotland – found more than a third (34 per cent) of people living in Scotland do not always leave 1.5 metres and eight in ten (80 per cent) find it “frustrating” when overtaking someone cycling.

While two thirds (64 per cent) of people do not know they could get three points on their licence for driving too close to someone cycling on Scotland’s roads (a nine per cent improvement since last year).

These poll findings were issued at the recent launch of the cycling charity’s annual nationwide Give Cycle Space advertising campaign which urges drivers to give space to people cycling and highlights the risk of getting three points and a fixed fine for driving dangerously or carelessly around people on bikes.

Cycling Scotland’s road safety campaign is supported by Police Scotland. It is a careless driving offence for motorists to close-pass (overtake with less than a car’s width) someone cycling and puts lives at risk. People can get a fixed penalty of three points on their driving licence and be fined £100 – or receive a criminal conviction for more serious offences.

With a significant increase in cycling having occurred during lockdown, the charity says this year’s campaign is more important than ever.

Welcoming the campaign, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The increase in cycling and walking during lockdown has been one of the silver linings of the past few months. East Lothian is a great place to cycle and is very popular with tourists and cycling enthusiasts alike. It’s important that we keep up this positive shift in behaviour and that it is supported by all road users. However, as more vehicles return to our roads there is a danger that concerns about road safety will lead people to give up cycling.

“Road safety campaigns, such as this one from Cycling Scotland, are vitally important to raise awareness, encourage new thinking and change behaviours. The message from the campaign is clear – give people cycling space when overtaking. Failure to do so is a driving offence and puts lives at risk.”

Chief Executive of Cycling Scotland Keith Irving said:

“With a big increase in the number of people cycling during lockdown, it’s even more important that our roads are safe. Cycling reduces our carbon footprint, improves our air quality and is fantastic for the nation’s health, and for those reasons we have to make sure this renewed enthusiasm for cycling continues and expands.

“People driving need to be aware of vulnerable road users around them and give at least a car’s width (1.5 metres) and even more when passing at higher speeds. Often that means waiting at a safe distance until there is space to pass. Many people don’t realise that driving too close to someone is damaging even when no contact is made and can put people off cycling. Concern about road safety is also the main reason people don’t get back on their bike.

“As we move out of lockdown, we’re seeing an increase in road traffic and more tragedies on our roads as a result. Each week in Scotland on average, three people cycling suffer a life-changing injury in a crash and in most cases, it’s the person driving, not the person cycling, at fault.

“Dedicated cycling lanes, separated from road traffic, are the top priority for making our roads safer for cycling while education and enforcement wherever necessary is needed to improve road safety for everyone. Cycling Scotland believes that Operation Close Pass, improving infrastructure and, as soon as it can be implemented, third party reporting of dangerous driving behaviour are all necessary to keep us all safe.”

The campaign is highlighting some key points for drivers to remember when passing people on bikes:

  • Always give at least a car’s width of space (1.5 metres) – this will usually mean crossing into the other lane.
  • If you’re travelling above 30 mph, give more than 1.5 metres space.
  • Wait until you have space and visibility to pass safely.
  • Don’t overtake at blind corners or if there’s oncoming traffic.
  • In towns and in slow-moving traffic, consider if there is any benefit to passing, especially if there are lights ahead.
  • Don’t feel pressure from the person in the car behind to pass before it’s safe.

Further information about the campaign can be found at https://www.cycling.scot/what-we-do/campaigns/give-cycle-space