Aberlady pupils visit Holyrood

A group of P7 pupils from Aberlady Primary School have become the first schoolchildren from the county to visit the Scottish Parliament in 2019.

Local MSP Iain Gray met with the pupils during the visit, which was organised via the Parliament’s Education Outreach service. He talked about his role as East Lothian’s MSP and answered some of their questions about the way Parliament works.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“East Lothian schools have a great record for visiting the Scottish Parliament, with the majority now having attended at some point during my time as the local MSP. It was a pleasure to welcome this latest group from Aberlady, the first local pupils to visit this year, and answer some of their questions.

“I know they have been very busy over recent months learning about Scottish politics, including a recent visit to the school from my Westminster colleague, Martin Whitfield. I hope they found the visit to Holyrood useful and enjoyed finding out more about the way Parliament functions.”

Parliamentarians issue county service challenge to ScotRail chief

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have written to the Managing Director of ScotRail to highlight the ongoing failings of local rail services and challenge him to meet the various promises the company has made on improving services in the county.

Their latest intervention comes after numerous complaints from constituents regarding further deterioration in local services over recent weeks following the introduction of new timetables from 9 December.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Last month, rail users experienced another catalogue of cancelled and overcrowded rail services here in East Lothian and across Scotland. These ongoing service failures are unacceptable and let down local people who rely on the trains to get to work.

“I have been raising these issues with ScotRail and the Scottish Government for years, but the regular promises of improved services are never met. On top of the failing services, commuters have now seen fares rise by nearly 3% this year.

“I hope to meet with the Transport Secretary in the coming weeks to raise these issues once again. In the meantime I want answers from Alex Hynes on when local rail users will finally see the improvements they have been promised so many times.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It is now some eight months since the rail public meeting Iain and I organised. At that meeting, ScotRail representatives gave various commitments on forthcoming service improvements, but the reality for rail users has been continued service disruptions and overcrowding.

“While these delays, cancellations and overcrowded services affect rail users throughout East Lothian, I know that people using the trains at Wallyford and Musselburgh have been particularly hard hit, often unable even to access key services due to overcrowding.

“It is not acceptable for East Lothian to be treated as a forgotten part of the rail network. ScotRail needs to act immediately to meet the commitments it has made to rail users here and deliver the reliable and comfortable service local people deserve.”

The full text of the letter to Alex Hynes, ScotRail’s Managing Director, is as follows:

Dear Mr Hynes,

We are writing in response to the update you provided at the end of last year.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas we were inundated with complaints from constituents across East Lothian regarding the abysmal failure of numerous ScotRail services. These included reports of several cancelled services, as well as serious overcrowding on some services to the point where passengers described feeling unsafe on the train.

As you will be aware, two public meetings on local rail services have been organised in the last 20 months. At both of these meetings, various promises and commitments were made by ScotRail Alliance staff concerning planned improvements aimed at tackling the ongoing delays, overcrowding and cancellations experienced by rail users in East Lothian.

Eight months on from the last meeting, and past the December commitment for new, longer trains to be regularly in use in East Lothian, our constituents are arguably experiencing services which are more overcrowded and unreliable than ever. With the number of houses continuing to grow rapidly across our County, this is only set to get worse unless ScotRail seriously gets to grips with the problems faced by rail users.

We are now seeking further urgent assurances that service improvements in East Lothian will be prioritised and the commitments given at the two public meetings met, in order to deliver the reliable, modern services our constituents have long been promised.

We look forward to your reply on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Gray MSP          Martin Whitfield MP
East Lothian             East Lothian

Miners’ strike review must consider pardon for those wrongly convicted

Iain Gray MSP is backing a call for the review of convictions of miners during the 1984/85 strike to consider pardons for those wrongly convicted.

Scores of miners were convicted during the strike, with an estimated 500 arrests in Scotland during the dispute, and Mr Gray’s Labour colleague Neil Findlay has called for the review established earlier this year to explore pardons for them.

Scottish miners were disproportionately arrested, with 30 per cent of the sackings after arrest in Britain occurring north of the border, despite the country making up just 10 per cent of the then mining workforce. Many of those convicted were from East and Midlothian.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I have met a number of men who believe they were wrongly arrested or convicted during the miners’ strike.

“Pits in the Lothians were particularly badly hit with many miners sacked and blacklisted because of their involvement in the dispute.

“It’s never too late to right a wrong, and with this review of the convictions we have an opportunity to secure justice by exploring pardons for the men who suffered despite having done nothing wrong.”

Scottish Labour Business and Campaigns Manager Neil Findlay MSP said:

“Mining communities across Britain suffered at the hands of politicised and often brutal policing as Margaret Thatcher and her Tory Government used the power of the state to crush working people. Scottish miners suffered disproportionately from these underhand tactics during this struggle.

“Many of these workers lost not just their jobs and income, but their relationships, their homes, and many their mental and physical health.

“Some were blacklisted and others went to their graves the victims of a miscarriage of justice with a criminal conviction against their name when the reality was they had done nothing wrong.

“The review of these convictions should consider pardons, and ensure that politicised convictions are thrown into the dustbin of history where they belong.”

Nearly 3,000 local children could be at risk from benefit cap

Figures obtained by Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP show that the Tory Government’s benefit cap is pushing more local families into poverty with nearly 3,000 local children potentially subject to it.

A hallmark of UK Government social security cuts, the cap limits how much a family can receive to £384.62 a week. Figures published this month reveal that 150,900 children are in out of work households across Scotland, including 2,830 children in over 1,500 households across East Lothian.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures are deeply worrying and demonstrate the potential impact of the Tories’ heartless benefit cap. Holyrood’s new powers over social security allow us the opportunity to build a different type of country – one based on fairness, dignity and respect. 

“Labour would make fairer choices on social security, like scrapping the two-child cap on tax credits, increasing Child Benefit by £5 per week, and using the Scottish Parliament as a platform to eradicate poverty and inequality in our society.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“Nearly 3,000 local children could be at risk from the Tory benefit cap – vulnerable families who are facing cuts because of austerity. We already have one in five local children living in poverty and the benefit cap is set to make that worse.

“The cap is immoral and unnecessary, and has a disproportionate impact on families, especially single mothers, struggling to make ends meet and those with children. The Tories have tried to rip up the social security safety net – plunging families across the UK into poverty as a result.”

Christmas & New Year message

Throughout the year now drawing to a close our thoughts have often turned to World War One, with many events both local and national to mark the centenary of that conflict.  That war was one of the most extreme examples of what happens when we focus on what divides us rather than what we have in common.

I got involved in politics to try and promote the bringing together of people and communities (and countries), so I have to say that this has been a very disappointing year in politics, with Brexit, and the government’s handling of it proving very divisive indeed.

Apart from anything else, that has left too little political attention for some of the things we should be focused on.  Our schools for example continue to struggle with teacher shortages and budget cuts, leaving us facing the first strikes in schools since I was a teacher over thirty years ago.

As county rail commuters will testify, problems with basic public transport services like Scotrail have been allowed to drift on unresolved.

The NHS too has struggled through 2018, with waits for appointments and operations continuing to lengthen.

However, Christmas is a time for home and family, and there we do have plenty to celebrate.

Our local schools have actually managed to do very well and raise attainment in spite of the squeeze on resources.  Our town centres are doing well, with some great new shops and businesses.  More and more of them are winning “in bloom” awards for the tremendous efforts of volunteers making  them look very special indeed.

Meanwhile, although many county residents have found this a difficult year, our communities have rallied round to help.  Whether it is the foodbank volunteers continually responding to more demand or Homestart and other hard-working local organisations supporting families under pressure, we can be proud of East Lothian and the spirit of this County.

So, even in the doom and gloom of 2018, there is plenty to celebrate.  We remember those who gave everything 100 years ago, pay tribute to those who do so much for others today, and finally say thank you to those such as police officers, firefighters, and healthcare workers who will be keeping us safe this Christmas and New Year.

I wish all my constituents a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

 

Calling the fashion police on textile waste

Two local MSPs are urging people in East Lothian to think of the environment and not use ‘fast fashion’ when buying last minute Christmas gifts.

Iain Gray MSP and Claudia Beamish MSP visited the ‘Miixer’ Zero Waste Hub in Dunbar to highlight their call for people to think about the environmental impact of clothes this Christmas.

Fast fashion is low quality clothing that is thrown away after a few wears. The textile industry accounts for eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The UK is particularly bad for fast fashion, consuming almost 27kg of new clothing per head per year – compared to only 9kg in France.

With global clothing production doubling since 2000, fast fashion has a huge impact on our planet. For example, it takes 700 gallons of water to make one t-shirt – that is the equivalent of three years’ drinking water for your average person.

Speaking after their visit to the Zero Waste Hub, local MSP Iain Gray said:

“Dunbar has been at the forefront of the zero waste movement in Scotland, being named the first zero waste town in 2014. That pioneering project had a significant and lasting impact on the town, and lives on in initiatives such as the Zero Waste Hub.

“That positive track record makes Dunbar a fitting place to highlight the importance of promoting sustainable fashion and being more conscious of textile waste.

“Places like the Miixer project exist in locations across Scotland, playing an important role in moving away from “fast fashion” and helping reduce the negative impact environmental impact of clothing.”

South of Scotland MSP and Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Claudia Beamish said:

“The festive season is the time to get your glad rags on and you may look to fashion for presents for loved ones.

“Many of us are used to being mindful about recycling Christmas cards and wrapping paper – but we are more blasé about fast fashion and textile waste. But we should all consider more sustainable options when planning party wear and gifts this winter.

“Scottish Labour has set the ambitious target for Scotland of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and a shift to a more circular economy will be an important step. The Miixer Zero Waste Hub in Dunbar is an inspiring example of what we can do now to cut down on emissions.

“The Scottish Government needs to face this mounting problem, and set a strategy to promote sustainable fashion and stop clothing going to landfill altogether. Let’s put “fast fashion” out of style.”

Susan Guy, a Director of Miixer CIC, said:

“Miixer CIC’s ‘Big Pick’ initiatives aim to alleviate local clothing poverty, create jobs and significantly reduce co2 emissions by keeping textile waste local. Our waste is our resource.”

Surgeries cancelled – 28th December

Please note that due to the Christmas holidays, Iain’s scheduled advice surgeries on Friday 28th December in Prestonpans and Tranent will not take place. If you have an issue you would like to raise with Iain please email iain.gray.msp@parliament.scot and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Saying thanks to our posties this Christmas

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have both visited local Royal Mail delivery offices to see first-hand the operation of delivering Christmas post and to pass on early Season’s Greetings to its dedicated, hardworking staff.

Mr Gray was shown around the North Berwick delivery office and introduced to the postmen and women, who will be pulling out all the stops to sort and deliver mail in the forthcoming busy Christmas period, while Mr Whitfield made a similar visit to the Tranent delivery office.

The Festive Season is Royal Mail’s busiest period, as millions of people shop online for gifts as well as sending Christmas cards and parcels. Royal Mail also plays a key role in e-commerce for many businesses sending goods to customers throughout Christmas shopping season.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“At no other time is the hard work and dedication of postmen and women clearer than during the festive period. A huge amount of effort goes into delivering a first class Christmas all over the country, so I was pleased to meet the team in North Berwick and thank them for everything they do for us.”

Local Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager, Jayson King, said:

Our postmen and women will be working extremely hard to deliver Christmas parcels, cards, letters and parcels to people in East Lothian. We are grateful that Mr Gray and Mr Whitfield visited local offices to see our operations and to support the team.

“We’d like to remind our customers to post early this Christmas and to ensure all their mail is posted by the recommended dates, so that friends and family can enjoy their Christmas greetings and parcels. If everyone uses the postcode on every item of mail, this also helps us greatly in the job that we do at this very busy time.”

Customers do not need to travel to a Royal Mail Delivery office to pick up parcels if they can’t or do not want to. They can arrange a redelivery free of charge on a day that is convenient for them (including Saturdays), or Royal Mail can deliver the item to a different address within the same postcode area. This service can be arranged by calling the number on the “Something for You” card we leave or by visiting our website at www.royalmail.com/redelivery.

Royal Mail can also now leave many mail items with a neighbour if customers are not at home when we attempt delivery. Customers can nominate a dedicated neighbour to take in their parcels by filling in a form at their delivery office.

The last recommended posting dates for Christmas are:

Second Class – Tuesday 18 December 2018

First Class – Thursday 20 December 2018

Special Delivery – Saturday 22 December 2018

 

Foundation report reveals scale of poverty in Scotland

Following shocking figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealing the scale of poverty in Scotland, Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP are urging governments at Holyrood and Westminster to do more to tackle the growing problem.

Scottish data from the foundation’s ‘UK Poverty 2018’ report has revealed 1 million people in Scotland are living in poverty, of which 230,000 are children, 140,000 are pensioners and 630,00  are working age people.

The figures emerged just days after the latest East Lothian Foodbank collections at local Tesco stores which both Mr Gray and Mr Whitfield were involved in supporting.

The politicians said the figures should spur immediate action from the SNP government ahead of the Scottish budget, and restated calls to life the two-child cap on tax credits and increase Child Benefit by £5 per week.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures reveal the shameful scale of poverty and inequality in Scotland. There is something seriously wrong when one million people in Scotland are living in poverty and it proves that the Tories and the SNP are failing people across Scotland.

“They also demonstrate the need for a budget from Derek Mackay next week that takes urgent action to lift people out of poverty. We have the chance to different choices in Scotland, by using the powers delivered by the 2016 Scotland Act.

“Scottish Labour wants to see a £5 per week top up to Child Benefit, and an end to the two-child cap on tax credits. These are tangible measures that will help lift people out of poverty.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“These latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation underline the scale of the problem facing us in Scotland. The fact that nearly a quarter of a million of children are now growing up in poverty as their parents are unable to escape insecure work and low pay is a damning indictment of government failure. 

“The figures also show why so many people are being left with no option but to seek help from foodbanks. East Lothian Foodbank does an excellent job supporting people in need, but it is unacceptable that so many people are facing these dire circumstances in the first place.

“It is time for Governments at Westminster and Holyrood to acknowledge the scale of the problem and take action to help people out of poverty.”

Comment on latest fuel poverty figures

Iain Gray MSP has condemned the lack of progress on tackling fuel poverty figures for Scotland, after the latest official figures showed little change from last year.

Commenting on the new figures, which show one in four households remain in fuel poverty, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The SNP Government has been staggeringly complacent when it comes to tackling fuel poverty. In 2002, the last Labour-led Scottish government set a target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, but the SNP’s inaction mean they failed to meet it.

“Earlier this week, Labour launched our campaign to highlight plans to ensure everyone has access to a warm home with affordable energy bills. These latest figures make it clear exactly why that campaign is necessary.”