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.”

 

 

Parliamentarians back Small Business Saturday

Local parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have supported this year’s Small Business Saturday with a visit to a local shop in Dunbar.

The politicians visited the Dunbar T-shirt Shop on Dunbar High Street ahead of the day to chat to owner Steven Hill and help promote the importance of shopping locally with small businesses.

The visit was also an opportunity to congratulate the shop on being one of 25 finalists in the Best Small Shops competition at Westminster earlier this year.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’ve been supporting Small Business Saturday since 2013 when it started in the UK. The day has grown every year, and is now well established as a popular annual fixture for promoting the importance of small businesses.

“East Lothian has an exceptional range of small businesses, including many successful shops like the Dunbar T-shirt shop. Small Business Saturday helps raise awareness of what is available and why people should shop locally, especially in the crucial pre-Christmas period.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity to promote the wonderful range of small shops and other small enterprises across East Lothian. The Dunbar T-shirt Shop is a great example of a successful family-run small business. It’s just the kind of place Small Business Saturday is all about.

“The shop’s success was underlined by being named among the 25 finalists for the prestigious UK Best Small Shops competition at Parliament. This was a fantastic achievement and follows in the footsteps of another previous finalist from Dunbar, Belhaven Bikes.”

Find out more about Small Business Saturday at https://smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/

Change to Dunbar & North Berwick advice surgeries

Please note that Iain’s Dunbar and North Berwick advice surgeries on 14th December have been cancelled.
If you were planning to see him on that day please phone his office on 01620 822711 instead to make an appointment. The Haddington surgery at his constituency office will take place as normal.
 

Iain backs charity’s call for equal Right to Pulmonary Rehab

Iain Gray MSP is backing Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland’s call for the Scottish Government to invest in an equal right to pulmonary rehabilitation.

The charity’s call follows its publication of a new report highlighting the impact of living with lung conditions like COPD, and the wide variations across Health Boards in access to Pulmonary Rehab – a treatment for people with COPD and other lung conditions that is proven to be both clinically and cost effective.

Pulmonary Rehab not only helps people stay well and self-manage their condition – a key part of Realistic Medicine – but also reduces hospital admissions and halves the length of hospital stays.

However, patients in the NHS Lothian area, including East Lothian, are currently waiting an average of 10 weeks for an assessment, while only 15 per cent of those who would benefit from rehabilitation are referred to a programme.

Commenting on this postcode lottery for pulmonary rehab, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland’s new report underlines the impact of living with lung conditions like COPD and the difference that pulmonary rehab can make. People with the condition have told the charity it has helped turn their lives around. 

“However, access to pulmonary rehab is a postcode lottery across Scotland, with patients waiting from four to 29 weeks for an assessment depending on where they live. In the NHS Lothian area only 15 per cent of people diagnosed with COPD who would benefit from Pulmonary Rehabilitation are currently referred.

“This unmet need is potentially letting down hundreds of patients in East Lothian who could benefit from rehabilitation. An equal Right to Pulmonary Rehab would give everyone with incurable lung conditions like COPD the best chance of living their lives and staying out of hospital. 

“I’ll be joining colleagues at Holyrood to push the Cabinet Secretary for Health to take action and put in place the investment needed to ensure everyone who would benefit from rehab is able to access it.”

CHSS’s The Right to Pulmonary Rehab report can be found at www.chss.org.uk/chss-campaigns-policy-projects-for-longer-stronger-lives/pulmonary-rehab-cta/

Why we must remember Srebrenica

This year I attended many events in East Lothian marking the end of World War 1 100 years ago, not least the moving drumhead service by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland in Haddington on 10th November.
 
The following day I found myself standing in remembrance as another (former) moderator, the Very Rev Lorna Hood, said a few words on the exact spot where that war began, rather than ended. I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on the street corner where, in 1914, Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, igniting the chain of events which engulfed the world in war for four long years.
Our main purpose though was to learn about a much more recent conflict, the Balkans war of the 1990s, on a delegation organised by the “Remembering Srebrenica Scotland” charity, which Lorna chairs.
 
Just as WW2 revealed that we had not learned from that first “war to end all wars”, so in 1995 the Bosnian town of Srebrenica showed that we had not learned the lessons of the Holocaust, as genocide took place again on European soil while the world stood by and watched.
 
Yugoslavia’s three nationalities, Serb, Croat and Bosnian Muslim lived together, peacefully. However when the fall of communism led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, war came to Bosnia in 1992, driven in part by Serbia’s desire to create a “Greater Serbia” including large parts of Bosnia, from which they planned to remove Croats and Muslims in what became known as “ethnic cleansing”.
 
Our delegation leader Resad Trbonja was 19, living in Sarajevo. On 7th April 1992 he woke to find his city under siege, surrounded by Serbian artillery and snipers on the mountains overlooking the city. The siege would last four years, the longest in modern warfare, longer than Stalingrad. An average of 300 mortars landed in the city every day, 12,000 on the worst day.
 
Resad, who lived through, and fought in, the siege explained that Sarajevo regressed two centuries overnight. No water, no electricity, no phones. The Serbian army allowed minimal UN aid into the city sporadically, but nothing else.
 
The survival of the siege is a story of human courage, spirit and defiance. Our first visit was to the remnants of a tunnel, dug under Sarajevo airport to reach Bosnian held territory on the other side. This tiny tunnel was the only way in or out for four years.
 
Through this tunnel extra aid came, for example from Edinburgh Direct Aid who drove lorries of supplies from Edinburgh to help Sarajevans. My own predecessor, John Home Robertson, then MP (later MSP) for East Lothian spent several parliamentary recesses as a volunteer lorry driver. It was dangerous work, and one of his colleagues died on the notorious road known as “snipers alley”.
Perhaps the most affecting visit in Sarajevo was to the War Childhood Museum, where those who grew up in the siege display the things they kept to remind them of what it was like, and tell their story.
 
A homemade cardboard knight’s breastplate made by a brother who later died, a cuddly toy from a UN delivery, cuddled threadbare because it was the only toy, a homemade “uniform” for a childrens choir which rehearsed and performed in defiance of bombs and bullets, the remains of a playpark “jungle gym” kept to remember the day a mortar tore it apart and killed your friend.
No-one who visits this museum will forget it.
 
That is true too of Srebrenica. This was supposedly a “safe haven” protected by UN troops. Yet on 11th July Serbian paramilitary units overran it. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims sought refuge in the UN base at a disused factory. When we visited the museum now sited there, survivor Hasan Hasanovic explained to us how UN soldiers stood by as women and children were herded on to buses and deported, while their men were separated and removed in lorries. They were systematically murdered nearby. Thousands more who tried to escape through the forest were hunted down, shepherded into a meadow, and shot. In all 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered at Srebrenica.
 
Finally, the international community acted. In a matter of days air strikes lifted the siege of Sarajevo, drove Serbian paramilitaries out of much of the territory they had occupied, and forced agreement to a peace deal in Dayton, Ohio.
 
Srebrenica was not the only genocide in this war, but it is emblematic, because it happened under the noses of the UN, and because of the bravery of the Mothers of Srebrenica, who returned home to find out what happened to their husbands and sons, refused to be silenced and demanded justice.
 
This led to the International commission on Missing Persons and the forensic anthropology unit in Tuzla where we saw the incredible work done to identify remains using DNA. Over 7,000 victims of genocide have now been identified, allowing their families to grieve, and to bury them at the final stop of our visit.
 
We arrive at the cemetery at Potaceri, outside Srebrenica, as the sun sets. On the hillside 7,000 stark white tombstones bring home the enormity of what was done over only a few days a mere 20 years or so ago.
Over 8,000 died at Srebrenica. 11,000 perished in Sarajevo. 50,000 women suffered rape as an act of war, millions fled their homes, some even finding their way to the refugee reception centre at Cheylesmore Lodge in North Berwick.
 
All the survivors I met asked the same question. Why did so much suffering have to happen before the international community acted to stop it? In telling us their story, they relived their own pain. They did so in the hope that we learn the lessons of Bosnia. We need only look at Syria or Yemen to know that we have not.
 
That is why we must remember Srebrenica.
 
If any local groups would like to hear more about the work of Remembering Srebrenica please contact Iain’s office on 01620 822 711.

Haddington pupils welcomed to Holyrood

County MSP Iain Gray has welcomed three groups of P7 pupils from Haddington (formerly King’s Meadow) Primary School to Holyrood over the past few weeks.

The three classes of P7 pupils have all been learning about democracy this term and asked if Mr Gray would invite them to the Parliament as part of their studies.

The MSP welcomed each of the groups to Holyrood, gave them a tour of the parliament building and then answered some of their questions about his work and topical political issues, including Brexit.

Doing the tour with Mr Gray, rather than the official parliament tour, meant the pupils were able to see parts of the building not usually covered on a public tour, including his office and ‘think pod’.

Speaking after the last of the three visits, Iain Gray MSP said:

“School visits to Parliament are always popular and give local children the opportunity to explore our democracy and the way laws are made at Holyood.

“While most visits are organised through the Parliament’s excellent Education Service, these visits by pupils from Haddington were a bit different because were arranged via my office.

“I was very pleased to meet the three groups of pupils and give them my personalised tour of the Parliament building, including the Main Chamber where debates take place and my own parliamentary office.

“They were all very engaged with their topic and had prepared the usual range of thoughtful, and often entertaining, questions about the way parliament operates and my role as East Lothian’s MSP.”

Iain visits the Ridge in Dunbar

Iain Gray MSP has visited the Ridge in Dunbar for an update on the pioneering social enterprise’s latest activity and future ambitions.

The Ridge runs various local projects in Dunbar including the Ridge Café in the Bleachingfield Centre, provides training and support and helps create jobs and training opportunities.

Representatives from the Ridge also informed Mr Gray about being shortlisted for this year’s FutureTown Design competition. The competition aims to stimulate conversations, provoke ideas and encourage new approaches about what our towns could look like now and in the future.

The winner will be chosen by the public through an online vote, with voting closing at 9am, Monday 26 November. More information about the competition, including how to vote, can be found at www.scotlandstowns.org/future_town_design_comp_2018

Speaking after his visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I remember meeting some of the founding members of the Ridge a few years ago when they were at the very early stages of their work. Since then they have taken huge strides forward and are involved in delivering some amazing projects in Dunbar to enhance the community and help local residents in a variety of important ways.

“Their work on the Backlands Garden is particularly impressive, transforming a neglected part of the town centre into a place that can be used by the community and help local people develop their skills.

“Unfortunately, the Ridge, working with East Lothian Council, was not successful in a funding application to extend this restoration work to other parts of the high street. I have pursued the matter with the Scottish Government.

“Everyone involved in the Ridge deserves great credit for the work they undertake in the town and I will continue to do all I can to support their outstanding efforts.”

Kate Darrah, Managing Director of the Ridge, said:

“It was a delight to welcome Iain and Norman to the garden again and update them on the latest developments. Iain’s proactive interest in and support of the Ridge’s work is very much appreciated.

“He has been really helpful in facilitating conversations within the Scottish Government as well as writing very effective and detailed letters of support for specific projects.  All of this provides vital assistance in ensuring we can deliver most effectively at a local level.”

 

Comment on Pilmar Smith’s passing

Commenting on the news that Pilmar Smith has passed away, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is terribly sad news. I have known Pilmar as long as I have been in the Labour Party – all my adult life.  He was a great public servant, serving as chairman of Lothian Buses for 12 years, helping deliver some of the best public transport anywhere in the UK.

“He was, of course, also a well-known Hearts fan and former club vice-chairman. He will be greatly missed by everyone in East Lothian Labour Party and in his adopted home of North Berwick where he knew everyone.”