MSP welcomes Scotland’s music future to Parliament

Last week, a National Vision for Instrumental Music Tuition was launched at an event in the Scottish Parliament hosted by East Lothian MSP Iain Gray.

With music tuition being vulnerable to funding cuts, provision of music teaching can be variable across the country, and often depends on whether families can afford instruments and equipment.

Mr Gray’s involvement with instrumental music tuition began with his support of the ‘Let the Children Play’ campaign, which evolved into a Scottish Government working group on the issue.

This has already produced positive outcomes for budding young musicians in Scotland, for example by ending the practice of some councils being able to charge students for taking exams, despite their tuition being compulsory.

The event in the parliament also celebrated the value of instrumental music tuition in Scottish schools, and around 90 music group representatives and school performers from across the country were in attendance.

The event was also attended and entertained by one of Scotland’s top jazz musicians, Wester Hailes-born saxophonist Tommy Smith.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The value of music tuition to young people can be incredible, giving them confidence through playing with others and a new language to communicate with.

“I’ve seen this in my own family with my daughters, who learned to play instruments growing up and played in orchestras and bands, and still play today.

“This is the experience I want all of Scotland’s children to have, whether they want to grow up to be the next Tommy Smith or Nicola Benedetti or not.”

Call for living wage for local workers

Workers in East Lothian need a pay rise. That’s the message from the county’s MSP and MP as new research shows an estimated 5,000 local workers are paid less than the living wage.

Iain Gray MSP said that the figures from accountancy firm KPMG, published during this year’s Living Wage Week (2-8 November), a UK-wide celebration of the living wage and living wage employers, should act as a wake-up call for politicians that the fight for fair pay is far from over.

Both Mr Gray and Fiona O’Donnell MP believe that for the living wage to make a difference to people in East Lothian it must be promoted in low paid professions such as cleaning, care, hospitality and retail. Labour-led East Lothian Council set a positive example in 2012 when they introduced the living wage for all council staff.

Iain Gray is now backing plans to establish a Living Wage Unit and a National Living Wage Strategy which will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The strategy will target specific job markets and areas to deliver a pay rise in jobs where it will make a real difference so that the living wage is the expectation, not the exception.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is time to get serious about better pay for workers in East Lothian and across Scotland. While East Lothian fares relatively well in comparison with many parts of Scotland, there are still an estimated 5000 workers in the county currently earning less than the living wage.

“Labour-led East Lothian Council has led the way by implementing the living wage for its staff. But the hospitality and retail industries employ thousands of people in dire need of a pay rise. A National Living Wage Strategy would be able to target and work with these industries to deliver a pay rise to workers who need it the most.

“The SNP were wrong to vote against the living wage, but I hope they see sense and work with Scottish Labour to help deliver better pay for workers across Scotland.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP added:

“I believe in better pay and conditions for working people in East Lothian and across Scotland, which is why I welcome Labour’s commitment to increasing and strengthening the minimum wage. But while it is important to ensure people are not exploited at work, it is also vital to ensure that we make work pay.

“The Tories love to talk about their long term economic plan but that plan isn’t working for thousands of working people in East Lothian. That’s why alongside strengthening the minimum wage we also need to promote the living wage where it will make a difference. By taking a comprehensive and focused approach to raising incomes we can help ensure that it is not only a wealthy minority who benefit as the economy grows.”

MSP urges county’s young people to apply for Holyrood apprenticeships

County MSP Iain Gray is urging young people in East Lothian to consider applying to a new apprenticeship scheme launched this week by the Scottish Parliament.

The scheme will employ 20 young people in the Parliament, with successful applicants having the opportunity to work in a range of areas including Visitor Services, Events, Security, HR and IT.

An Open Day for young people interested in hearing more about the available opportunities will be held in the Parliament on 21 November.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome this new scheme which sets a great example on apprenticeships. It is a fantastic opportunity for young people here in East Lothian to seek one of the positions and to build the skills to help them in their future careers. The opportunity has also arisen at a great time following the interest in politics generated by the referendum campaign.

“Young people selected for the scheme stand to benefit greatly from the supportive work environment and training on offer at the Parliament, but I know that young people in East Lothian and across Scotland also have much to offer at Holyrood. I urge anyone interested in applying to attend the Open Day on 21 November.”

A dedicated website about the Parliament’s apprenticeship programme is now live at www.scottish.parliament.uk/apprenticeships. The website features video interviews with existing apprentices, the Parliament Chief Executive Paul Grice, and members of staff.

The Open Day about the apprenticeship programme is being held at Holyrood on 21 November. For more details on the day and how to book go to www.scottish.parliament.uk/apprenticeships or email the Parliament at apprenticeships@scottish.parliament.uk

Applications for apprenticeship posts will open on Friday 21 November and will close at midnight on Sunday 7 December. The Parliament aims to recruit 20 apprentices through two separate tranches, taking on 11 apprentices in the first tranche (2015) and nine apprentices in the second tranche (2017).

The apprenticeships will run for a maximum of 24 months with each apprentice working towards a high quality vocational qualification in areas such as IT, Security and general administration posts in Chamber and Clerking and Finance.

Iain celebrates advice service’s 75th anniversary

County MSP Iain Gray met with Citizens Advice Scotland, who were in the Scottish Parliament last week to celebrate 75 years of the free advice service.

Three-quarters of a century after the first advice bureau was established amidst the outbreak of World War II, it continues to provide free, independent, expert advice, with many advisers giving their time on a voluntary basis.

The local Citizens Advice service in Haddington, established in 1978, remains an essential source of guidance and support for the community and surrounding areas in East Lothian.

Last year alone, Citizens Advice Scotland helped 330,000 (1 in 13) adults in Scotland, gaining £125 million for them as a result of their assistance.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The service CAS offers is of huge worth to communities and people looking for counsel in often very complicated situations.

“It should be recognised that their workload has increased greatly in recent years following the economic downturn, making their support even more essential.

“I will continue to work with CAS on changing policy to improve the lives of the people I represent and they provide their time to, and thank them for 75 years of service to communities across the country.”

The Haddington bureau can be contacted on 01620 824471, and Citizens Advice Direct on 0808 800 9060.

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Letter from Holyrood: Holyrood’s new financial powers

After the referendum campaign, it was back to regular Parliamentary business last week, with the annual Budget Statement. This was the first stage of consideration of the SNP Scottish government’s Budget for April 2015/16.
New powers have come to Holyrood, so for the first time John Swinney had to set two national tax rates, Landfill tax and Land Transaction Tax which replaces Stamp Duty on property sales (including house sales). He was also able to borrow money for the first time.

These powers, and with more still to come, show that our already powerful Scottish parliament continues to be strengthened by devolution, with significant fiscal responsibility, while remaining a part of the United Kingdom too. That is exactly what the Scottish people voted for, by a clear majority, in the referendum.

We still need a government to take the right decisions with those powers though, and the Scottish Government has not always done so. For example, they have failed to keep their own promises to protect the NHS. The Health budget rose slightly, but not enough to keep pace with costs, and by far less than even in England, where the Tories are in charge. A few weeks ago we discovered that NHS managers are planning major cuts to services to deal with the consequences. That is not good enough.

The budget also failed to invest properly in our young people’s future. Once again college budgets saw a real terms cut, and there are now 130,000 fewer students learning the skills they need in the college sector. During the budget debate Scottish Labour presented evidence of hundreds of young people being turned away from engineering courses. Yet engineering skills are crucial for the future of our economy and prosperity.

So, with these new financial powers this year’s budget was a historic one. Yet, as so often with Mr Swinney’s budgets, there is less to it than meets the eye.

Residents urged to ensure they don’t lose vote as new registration rules are introduced

As the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) in Scotland gets underway, Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are urging local people to ensure that this major change to the democratic process does not see them lose their right to vote.

Introduced by the UK Coalition Government, the aim of IER is to increase public trust in our electoral system by encouraging people to take individual responsibility for registering to vote. Under the previous system, the ‘head of household’ was responsible for registering everyone who lived at an address.

The new system means that for the first time people are now able to register online. To register, individuals will need to provide a few more details, including their National Insurance number and date of birth, to help make the electoral register more secure.

The majority of people who are already on the register should not need to do anything, with most being automatically transferred to the new system. However, the Electoral Commission, the independent body in charge of electoral matters, has stated that the scale of the transition and the challenge of reaching unregistered voters cannot be underestimated.

It is running a public awareness campaign to let people know what is happening and to ask them to look out for the letter from their local Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) telling them what they will now need to do, if anything, to get registered.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“One aspect of the referendum which was universally welcomed was the level of public engagement, including the exceptionally high turnout. With a record number of people now on the electoral register, it is vital that these changes to voter registration do not lead to people missing out on the chance to vote at future elections.

“Groups such as private renters, students and young people, and those who have moved home recently are most likely to be at risk of falling off during the transition period and should take steps to check that they are on the register.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“The record turnout in last month’s referendum was something I very much welcome. The unprecedented level of voter registration in the run-up to the poll also puts Scotland at an advantage as the transition to individual voter registration gets underway. However, there are still some people who are not registered and others at risk of falling off the register.

“It is vital that everyone checks the letter from the Electoral Registration Officer to see what they need to do to stay registered. Anyone who is unsure about their vote should visit www.gov.uk/yourvotematters and make sure they are registered.”

If you are unsure about how you are affected by individual electoral registration or have any other queries about your vote, please visit www.gov.uk/yourvotematters

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County’s young people urged to enter Money for Life Challenge

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are urging young people in East Lothian to take part in Lloyds Banking Group’s Money for Life Challenge, a national competition to encourage young people to improve their money management skills.

The Money for Life Challenge is a UK-wide competition to find the most innovative and impactful ways that young people can improve the money management skills of their friends, families and communities. Teams can apply for a grant of £500 to help run their project by visiting the Money for Life Challenge website at www.moneyforlifechallenge.org.uk

Last year the Money for Life Challenge helped launch more than 300 new projects with the Grand Final winner Woodley Wallet Watchers, from Stockport, working with a local Credit Union to help young adults in their community get saving and improve their financial literacy. The team ran themed learning sessions and created an expenditure booklet to help track spending.

The Challenge awards £500 grants to hundreds of 16 to 24 year olds who want to run a money management activity in their community, with the best projects going head to head to win a coveted place at the National and UK Grand Finals.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is the fourth year of the Money for Life Challenge, which has now supported hundreds of projects aimed at improving financial literacy. I would strongly encourage any young people in East Lothian with an interest in helping improve money management skills in their community to apply to take part in this year’s Challenge.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“The Money for Life Challenge provides young people in East Lothian with a great opportunity to improve their financial skills and share their new knowledge with others in their local community. Applications for this year’s competition are open until Friday 21 November, and I hope that some young people here will enter the Challenge.”

David Rowsell, Head of the Money for Life Programme at Lloyds Banking Group, said:

“Our mission with the Money for Life Challenge is to encourage young people to create new and innovative ways to help enhance their own money management skills and promote greater financial literacy in communities across the country. Money for Life is a significant part of our vision to Help Britain Prosper as it enables more people to make good decisions about their finances.”

The Money for Life Challenge aims to find the most successful and innovative ways to improve the money management skills of learners, their friends, families and communities. Project team members are between 16 and 24 years old and in a further education, training or community organisation.

The application period for the Money for Life Challenge runs from 1 September to 21 November 2014. Applications can be made online at www.moneyforlifechallenge.org.uk

Ross High students welcomed to Holyrood

Two groups of Modern Studies students from Ross High School have been welcomed to the Scottish Parliament by the county’s MSP, Iain Gray.

Mr Gray met the groups of S5 students, who visited Holyrood on two separate days, and answered a wide range of questions about how the Parliament operates and his own role as East Lothian’s constituency MSP.

The visits were part of the Parliament Education Service’s ongoing School Visits programme to introduce children from across Scotland to Holyrood and how it works. Several East Lothian schools have now visited the Parliament to find out more about what goes on there and the work done by MSPs.

Speaking after the visits, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was really pleased to welcome these two groups from Ross High and try and answer their questions – they gave me quite a grilling. I hope that the pupils found their visits interesting and informative, and that the experience has helped encourage their political engagement.

“Schools in East Lothian certainly work very hard to help ensure that young people here are well informed about our political process and the work of the Scottish Parliament. I commend all the staff who organise these important visits and look forward to many more local schools to Holyrood in the future.”

Ross High Modern Studies Teacher Thomas Munro, added:

“All the students benefited from the experience seeing and experiencing democracy in action and Iain Gray did well fielding a number of difficult questions from S5 students who were first time voters in the Independence Referendum.”

Visit www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitandlearn/Education/613.aspx for more information about the Parliament’s education service.

Ross High visit

Iain supports Macmillan coffee mornings

Local MSP Iain Gray today backed Macmillan Cancer Support’s ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ and urged people across East Lothian to visit a coffee morning over the next week.

The annual fundraising and awareness event sees the cancer support charity ask people across the UK to hold a coffee morning and raise money for people living with cancer. In 2013, 154,000 people signed up, raising a record £20 million.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Macmillan’s coffee mornings are a great way to help raise much needed funds to support cancer care. East Lothian has a fantastic record of supporting this annual event with dozens of local coffee mornings held across the county. I urge everyone to go along to their nearest event and give their support for such a worthy cause.”

Supporting Macmillan coffee mornings

Letter from Holyrood: Energy park plan is ‘unacceptable’

The intricacies of newspaper deadlines mean that I am writing this before the referendum, but you will be reading it well after the result is known.

Whether the outcome was a “yes” or a “no” vote I hope that by the time you do read this politics will be turning its attention back to the important questions of how we now make our country fairer, improve the way we look after our elderly and vulnerable citizens, equip our young people with the skills and education they need, and above all create high quality jobs for them so they can make the best life possible for them and their families.

We do have to balance these priorities though. That is why in recent weeks I took time out from the referendum campaign to make clear that I consider the Scottish Government’s current energy park proposal for Cockenzie unacceptable.

I do want to see new jobs created on that site, even energy related jobs, because we have lost good jobs in the power station over the years. However the proposal we have before us, with a huge increase in the industrial footprint and significant loss of amenity, not least the dividing of neighbouring communities, is not one I can support.

No doubt it will be difficult to find ideas to replace the power station which everyone will like, and of course any development will require significant investment from somewhere to go ahead at all. Nonetheless, community opposition to the existing proposal could not be clearer, nor could their sense that they have not been listened to or consulted.

I do think that there is a long way to go with these issues, so we do have the chance to argue for something which is more acceptable to local residents.

Grassroots issues like this were often drowned out in the noise of the referendum debate. I’m glad they are the centre of our politics again.