MSP hails Neate idea for the blind

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray has welcomed the innovation of an entrepreneur seeking to make pedestrian crossing systems easier for the disabled and the blind.

Gavin Neate, who worked for Guide Dogs for the Blind for 18 years, has invented a phone app called Neatebox, that links phones to boxes inside crossing systems, letting the user control it easily from their phone. The phone then tells them when it is safe to cross via a message on the screen, audio or vibration.

Currently, pedestrian crossings require disabled or blind users to hold a cone at the back of the crossing post, which alerts them when it is safe to cross. This can make organising a guide dog or walking stick tricky, costing the pedestrian vital seconds needed to cross safely. In other cases the cone cannot be reached in the first place.

After meeting with Mr Neate to see how the phone app works with the crossing, Iain Gray said:

“This is a fantastic idea, and I hope that local authorities will get behind rolling it out to more of their pedestrian crossings when it is completed.

“Navigating a pedestrian crossing can be so difficult for people with mobility problems or visual impairment, in ways that many of us will never properly understand.

“I hope then that Gavin’s idea continues to develop and gain technical and business support, which will no doubt greatly benefit our most vulnerable pedestrians.”

Centenary poppies mark start of First World War

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have joined members of the Friends of Cuthill Park to mark the forthcoming anniversary of the start of the First World War by sowing poppies at the park in Prestonpans.

The Centenary Poppy Campaign is a simple but highly appropriate way to mark the start of the First World War locally, raising awareness and funds for today’s Service community at the same time. The aim of the campaign is to cover the UK with poppies during the Centenary period in commemoration of all those who lost their lives in the First World War.

Packets of Centenary poppy seed are available from B&Q with £1 from each sale going to the Royal British Legion and Poppy Scotland. The intention is to sow poppies now so that they should appear in time for the official start of the Centenary in August.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Following on from the recent 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Centenary of the start of the First World War is another opportunity to remember those who paid such a high price in the service of their country.

“It’s very important that we ensure that the sacrifice made by people in East Lothian is commemorated in an appropriate way. The Centenary Poppy Campaign is an easy but very evocative way for individuals and communities to mark the Centenary in their local area. It would be wonderful to see poppies blooming across the county in August to help mark the Centenary in a really memorable way here.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“The Centenary Poppy Campaign is a simple but highly effective way to mark the Centenary and I want to thank the Friends of Cuthill Park for working with us to sow some there. The red poppies have such a close association with remembrance and I hope will bloom for many years to come.

“Any individual or community can sow some Centenary poppies as an appropriate and visual way of acknowledging the sacrifice made by servicemen from East Lothian and across the UK. The poppies are available from B & Q stores and I hope that local people will support Poppy Scotland and the Royal British Legion.”

Zoe Inglis, Chair of Friends of Cuthill Park, said:

“The Centenary Poppy Campaign is a great cause which Friends of Cuthill Park are very pleased to help support. We are working hard to rejuvenate the park for the benefit of the whole community and sowing poppies to mark the Centenary is a really positive thing to do here. I hope that local residents will get behind the campaign and help mark the Centenary with us.”

Find out more about the Centenary Poppy Campaign at www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/ww1-centenary/centenary-poppy-campaign

Cuthill Park 2

Parliamentarians mark Carers Week at local event

As part of this year’s Carers Week (9-15 June), Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP joined other local politicians to hear first-hand from people looking after friends and family about the kinds of challenges they face.

A group of 20 local carers met with the politicians at a summit meeting in Musselburgh at the start of the week. The meeting was organised by Carers of East Lothian, the local carer support service.

Speaking after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is many years now since I launched the very first Scottish Carers’ Strategy as a Health Minister. Yet many issues such as respite availability and the difficulties of negotiating with the NHS, Social Work and DWP still make too many carer’s lives difficult or even impossible. Carers Week is an important opportunity to put the focus on carers again and listen to their concerns.

“I was pleased to attend the excellent Carers of East Lothian briefing event and hear about the experiences of some local carers. It’s important that politicians act on the issues that matter to carers and do all we can to assist them with their vital role. The Scottish Parliament has done a lot of positive things for carers, but there is always more that can be done, such as improving support for kinship carers.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Carers Week is all about giving carers an opportunity to be heard and this event certainly did that. It was good to hear about the experience of young carers who can all too easily be forgotten in planning and developing services.

“We heard a clear message that we need to improve communication with carers and to enable them to play a bigger part when the person they care for is being assessed for a service. They can make a unique contribution and that needs to be valued more.

“Again, on a positive note, it was clear from research carried out locally that the support of COEL makes a significant difference to the lives of carers in East Lothian. I want to thank them, not just for a really informative session but also for the work they do all year round.”

Iain meets with award-winning county business at Holyrood reception

County MSP Iain Gray met the owners of local business James Sandie and Son at a recent Holyrood reception to mark the 50th anniversary of CITB, the Industry Training Board for the UK construction industry.

Mr Gray chatted with Murray and Colin Stewart, who run the East Linton-based painting and decorating business, at the reception which gave MSPs the chance to learn more about the CITB’s work. The company was named Best

Painting and Decorating Business of the Year at the Scottish Decorators Federation in 2013. Murray Stewart is also a former President of the Federation.

CITB are the Industry Training Board and a partner in the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry in England, Scotland and Wales. They work with industry to encourage training, which helps build a safe, professional and fully qualified workforce.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“It was good to welcome Murray and Colin to the Scottish Parliament and learn more about their business. They underlined the importance of apprenticeships in the construction industry and CITB have been working to ensure that construction employers have the right skills, in the right place and at the right time for 50 years now.

“The support and funding it provides also helps companies to increase their competitiveness and respond to challenges such as the low carbon agenda, reducing costs on site and recruiting the best talent for their sector. I welcome the important role CITB plays in the sector and was pleased to help it celebrate its success at Holyrood.”

Letter from Holyrood: The value of apprenticeships

Last week was Scottish Apprenticeship Week, marked by a series of events organised by the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland to celebrate and promote apprenticeships.

I am a big fan of apprenticeships and training. So is my party.

In government and in opposition we have pushed for more high-skilled apprentices. Their value to Scotland’s workforce is so significant, from engineers and technicians, through to skilled workers in the tourism and service sector.

East Lothian is well placed to take advantage of the apprenticeship scheme too, and, earlier this year, the council created a further 12 places, along with 30 six-month, paid training places. In 2012/13, there were 387 apprentices from the county in all. Locally Enjoy Leisure have also begun an apprenticeship programme.

But while we are celebrating the value of modern apprenticeships, it is a good time to ask how we maintain and improve that.

Audit Scotland looked at this in March and produced a detailed report.

Firstly, it explained that once apprentices have completed or left their training, we don’t know what they do next. If we want the best from the scheme, we have to have hard data on whether training helped apprentices get a job and keep it.

Secondly, the report recommended that funding for higher-level apprenticeships should be monitored, to make sure money is there to deliver them.

At the moment, the government is producing more apprentices than Labour did in power, but 1000 fewer high-level opportunities, and spending £860 less per apprentice than in 2006/07.
But while Audit Scotland’s points challenge the government to do better, the value of the scheme is not in doubt.

For anyone interested in becoming an apprentice, they should visit www.myworldofwork.co.uk, or call Skills Development Scotland on 0800 917 8000. Employers looking to take on an apprentice should visit www.ourskillsforce.co.uk, or call 0800 783 6000.

Iain backs gold standard for epilepsy care

Iain Gray MSP has signed up to support gold standard management for epilepsy care during this year’s National Epilepsy Week (18-24 May).

The county’s MSP met Epilepsy Consortium Scotland representatives at the Scottish Parliament and signed a gold standard ticket to highlight new SIGN national guideline on managing epilepsy in adults, and to mark the annual awareness week.

The new national guideline for managing epilepsy in adults is due out this autumn. The guideline has been developed by leading experts in the field and sets the benchmark for the highest standard of care.

Epilepsy Consortium Scotland is calling for each health board across Scotland to put it into practice and address the current treatment gap where nearly two in ten people with epilepsy could become seizure free if they received optimum care.

Speaking after signing the gold standard ticket, Iain Gray Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to support National Epilepsy Week and back the call for a gold standard in epilepsy care. Over 500 of my constituents in East Lothian are adults living with epilepsy. It’s very important to ensure that when people need to access epilepsy care they can get the care they need no matter where they live. The new SIGN guideline offers the opportunity to achieve this goal for the first time in Scotland.”

For more information go to www.epilepsyconsortiumscotland.co.uk

Iain supports Scottish Apprenticeship Week

County MSP Iain Gray showed his support for Scottish Apprenticeship Week (19-23 May) today by meeting a local apprentice with enjoyleisure.

Mr Gray met with Ross Galloway who is doing his Modern Apprenticeship at Meadowmill Sports Centre and Debra Tracy from Direct Partners, the company which is helping to provide the training. Ross is one of two apprentices Enjoy currently have working with them in East Lothian, but are planning to recruit a further six.

Scottish Apprenticeship Week is an annual awareness event to celebrate and promote apprenticeships. Businesses, trade associations, training providers, colleges, local authorities and other partners back the week by holding events and promoting the benefits of Modern Apprenticeships.

Speaking after his visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Modern Apprenticeships offer fantastic opportunities for young people to undertake work-based training. They are available across many different industries and cover a wide range of skills. They can also bring lots of potential benefits to employers by providing support to train new and existing staff.

“Enjoyleisure has a positive track record of offering young people opportunities to develop a career in sports and leisure. It was good to chat to Ross and find out more about his experience of being an apprentice. I hope that as a result of Scottish Apprenticeship Week more local employers will investigate the potential benefits of providing Modern Apprenticeships.”

Find out more about Scottish Apprenticeship Week at www.scottishapprenticeshipweek.com

Scottish Apprenticeship Week

Iain supports children’s hospice association work with local families

Iain Gray MSP met with representatives of the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS) at Holyrood last week and pledged his support for their vitally important work.

CHAS is a charity that provides the only hospice services in Scotland for children and young people with life-shortening conditions. They run two children’s hospices, Rachel House in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch, which support the whole family by offering short planned breaks, emergency support, end of life care and a range of bereavement services.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to meet representatives from CHAS at Holyrood this week and pledge my support for their work. I welcome the fact that families in East Lothian who suffer the heartache of a child being diagnosed with a life-shortening condition have been able to access the specialist services CHAS provide. It’s clear that the expert knowledge and care they are able to provide can make an incredibly difficult situation a little easier.”

Maria McGill, CHAS Chief Executive, said:

“A huge thank you to all 56 MSPs who pledged to support CHAS during our week at the Scottish Parliament. We are really looking forward to welcoming those MSPs who pledged to visit Rachel or Robin House to our hospices or CHAS at Home service and wish those who pledged to raise awareness of CHAS by holding a fundraising event in their local community during Children’s Hospice Week all the best with this challenge. The money raised from these events will help the hundreds of children, young people and families who use the CHAS services.

“We are the only children’s hospice service in Scotland and support from MSPs, amongst many, ensures we can continue to deliver vital and much-needed support and care to children and young people with life-shortening conditions.”

For more information about CHAS and its work visit www.chas.org.uk

Extending the Living Wage vital to East Lothian

The living wage should be more actively promoted says East Lothian MSP Iain Gray, after figures showed that 90% of Scots think that companies should pay the living wage.

There are over 4600 people in East Lothian paid less than the living wage, currently set at £7.65 an hour. It would mean an annual raise of £2,600 for those working full-time on the minimum wage.

Iain Gray MSP is a long time campaigner for the living wage and says the time has now come to actively promote the payment of it in the private sector, and has urged the Scottish Government to back a tax rebate for firms who pay it, as well as establish a National Living Wage Strategy.

Last week proposals from Scottish Labour to deliver the living wage to workers on public contracts were defeated as the SNP and Conservatives voted to block amendments to the Procurement Reform Bill.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The living wage cannot be something the Scottish Government pay lip service to. The SNP voted with the Tories to block Labour proposals to deliver a pay rise to cleaners, caterers, retail and other staff working on public contracts across Scotland.

“The living wage is good for our communities and good for our economy here in East Lothian. It is vital that we do more to promote it.

“It is time now to step the campaign up a gear. Labour is proposing a £1000 tax rebate to employers who pay the living wage, as well as establishing a National Living Wage Strategy reporting and accountable to Parliament, to further the case for the living wage so that everyone gets a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.”

Iain supports county pupils at Holyrood Euroquiz final

Local MSP Iain Gray met with a team of pupils from Dunbar Primary School this week as they represented the county at the Euroquiz final at the Scottish Parliament.

The annual event, which is run by the Scottish European Educational Trust (SEET), took place on Monday in the Debating Chamber of the Parliament. Mr Gray met up with the Dunbar pupils before the contest got underway to give them his support and best wishes.

The event was watched by well over 100 spectators from the gallery and countless more who were watching at home via a live stream to support their local teams. The teams had to try and answer questions on a range of subjects connected to Europe, including languages, history, culture and sport in a bid to win the top trophy prize.

SEET has been running the quiz since 1993 and this is the seventh year the event has been held at the Scottish Parliament. It is sponsored by the European Parliament and also the Scottish Government.

Unfortunately, the Dunbar team did not manage to win in the end, but Mr Gray praised them for their achievement in representing East Lothian so ably in the final.

Speaking after the event Iain Gray MSP said:

“Euroquiz is a fun and interactive way for school children across Scotland to learn more about Europe and its culture, history and sport. I was really pleased to welcome the pupils from Dunbar Primary to Holyrood for the final, and want to congratulate them for their hard work in preparing for it.

“Exploring Scotland’s place in the world is a vital part of growing up and I’m sure that the Dunbar pupils and other schools that participated in the competition this year will have gained a lot from their experience. They did themselves and the whole county proud in the final.”