Gray slams MacAskill’s refusal to think again on court closures

County MSP Iain Gray has slammed the complacency of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill after he dismissed concerns raised by East Lothian Council about the capacity of Edinburgh’s courts to deal with additional cases from Haddington.

In his reply to Mr Gray and council Chief Executive Angela Leitch, the Justice Secretary confirmed that despite the concerns that have been highlighted by the council and legal experts, he has no plans to rethink the parliamentary orders which will close the court in January next year.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This latest response underlines how blind the Justice Secretary has been to the very clear and evidence-based case against closing Haddington’s courts. It demonstrates once again just how unconcerned and complacent he is about the impact that closing Haddington’s courts will have on the delivery of justice here.

“Rather than addressing the serious concerns that have been raised, Mr MacAskill simply rehashed the same old excuses and justifications for going ahead with the closure. He has even tried to suggest that closing our court will be good for justice in East Lothian, and that victims and witnesses will be better off travelling to Edinburgh.

“I don’t think that many local people, particularly those in the east of the county, will share his optimism about the prospect of having to travel through to Edinburgh for court appearances.
“Worst of all, despite it being absolutely clear that the closure is ultimately down to the Justice Secretary and the SNP Scottish Government, Mr MacAskill still refuses to take responsibility for the decision, choosing instead to hide behind the Scottish Court Service.

“While it looks like the closure will now go ahead next January, I will continue to hold the Minister and his colleagues to account for their decision, and ensure that no-one in East Lothian is left in any doubt about who is responsible for ending the local delivery of justice in the county.”

MSP marks 500th anniversary of birth of John Knox

Iain Gray MSP has supported a motion in Parliament to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s most important historical figures, the theological reformer John Knox who was born in Haddington.

The motion notes Knox’s contribution to modern Scotland and Protestantism, and that he is recognised as the founding father of the Scottish Reformation and of Presbyterianism in Scotland. It also acknowledges the events taking place in Haddington and elsewhere in Scotland to celebrate the important anniversary.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“John Knox is one of the really towering figures in Scotland’s history and it is fitting that we should mark this significant anniversary at Holyrood. I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed in the motion and welcome the fact that it acknowledges Haddington as Knox’s birthplace.

“The work that Knox did all those years ago was incredibly influential in Scotland’s development, not only theologically, but also in other important aspects of society. I hope that people of all faiths and none will take the time to find out a little more about Knox and his contribution to Scotland in this anniversary year.”

Iain supports Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal

Wearing his daffodil with pride, Iain Gray MSP lent his support to Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Great Daffodil Appeal at the Scottish Parliament this week.

Mr Gray met staff and heard about the work of the charity that cares for terminally ill patients and their families across Scotland. He also handed over a bag of donated clothing to help stock the charity’s shops.

The Great Daffodil Appeal is Marie Curie’s biggest fundraiser, which encourages everyone to give a donation and wear a daffodil pin in March. The money raised will help Marie Curie Nurses to provide more free care to local people with terminal illnesses in their own homes and in the two Scottish Marie Curie Hospices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’m delighted to support Marie Curie Cancer Care’s appeal, and would encourage as many people in East Lothian as possible to do so too.

“Terminal illness very sadly affects so many of us, either personally or someone we know and care about. The work organisations like Marie Curie do therefore in giving people a dignified end close to loved ones can’t be underestimated.”

Richard Meade, Head of Policy and Public Affairs Scotland said:

“It’s thanks to the support of MSPs such as Iain Gray that we can spread the word about the Great Daffodil Appeal and raise vital funds to support terminally ill people in Scotland. Every March millions of people across the UK support our biggest fundraising campaign and it’s easy to join in, simply give a donation and wear your daffodil pin.”

To find out how you can get involved in the Great Daffodil Appeal visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/daffodil or call 0845 601 3107.

Gray and O’Donnell give their support to county Fairtrade Fortnight events

The county’s MSP and MP attended two local Fairtrade Fortnight coffee mornings on the weekend to show their support for the annual awareness raising campaign.

Iain Gray and Fiona O’Donnell first went to the Dunbar Fairtrade Group’s coffee morning at the Townhouse, where they supported the group’s message to local people to swap their usual cuppa for Fairtrade tea or coffee. The pair then dropped into the North Berwick Fairtrade Partnership’s breakfast event at St Andrew’s Blackadder Church and chatted to people about their reasons for supporting Fairtrade.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Fairtrade Fortnight is an important time to help raise awareness about the huge difference that Fairtrade can make to the lives of farmers and workers in some of the poorest parts of the world. East Lothian has a proud record of promoting Fairtrade values and I was pleased to be able to show my support by attending these events in Dunbar and North Berwick.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“It’s great that communities in East Lothian are so supportive of the Fairtrade movement and do so much to promote it, especially during Fairtrade Fortnight. I want to thank the organisers of the Dunbar and North Berwick events for inviting us to join them and making us so welcome. It was fantastic to see so many local people, and especially young people, supporting both events.”

County academy’s success is hailed at Holyrood

The success of the East Lothian Hospitality and Tourism Academy in being honoured with a prestigious UK-wide Times Educational Supplement Further Education Award, has been hailed at Holyrood by county MSP Iain Gray.

Mr Gray has tabled a motion welcoming the pioneering project’s success, which came via Edinburgh College in the University HE Access Widening Participation category. The college is one of three partner organistions that run the academy, along with Queen Margaret University (QMU) and East Lothian Council.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The East Lothian hospitality and tourism academy is an excellent initiative. It has quickly developed an enviable track record for creating new opportunities for the young people who have gone through the programme. I am delighted that its work has been recognised at these prestigious awards.

“The hallmark of its success has clearly been the strong partnership that has been forged between Edinburgh College, which received the award on this occasion, QMU, East Lothian Council, and its many industry partners. I want to congratulate everyone involved in the academy on this success and wish all the partners well with developing its work in the future.”

The academy, which was launched in 2012, smooths the transition between school, college and university, and aims to open up opportunities for 16-18-year-olds who might not have considered themselves suited for further or higher education.

In its first year, the academy recruited 34 S5 and S6 pupils from East Lothian schools and gave them the chance to take part in a two-year programme of practical work experience and theory at Edinburgh College and QMU, leading to industry-recognised qualifications.

Following this initial two-year programme, students can move on to a related course at the college or university, or to a job in the sector. Thirty of the first group of students completed HNC and employability modules, with 18 going on to study the full HNC in 2013-14 while still at school, four progressing to Edinburgh College to study the SVQ2 Professional Cookery, and eight moving into employment.

Employers supporting the academy include Marriott, Novotel, Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, Jurys Inn, Mercure, Prestonfield, Best Western and Fraser Suites Edinburgh.

Across-the-board increase in use of county train stations welcomed

New figures released by the independent regulator of Britain’s railways show that all of East Lothian’s train stations saw increases in their use for the period April 2012 to March 2013, with Prestonpans station recording an increase of over 12 per cent.

The Office of Rail Regulation’s estimates of station usage statistics record the number of passengers travelling to and from each station (entries and exits). The figures are based on ticket sales data recorded in rail industry systems.

All of the five stations within Iain Gray’s East Lothian constituency showed increased usage in the period 2012/13 compared with the same period in 2011/12. The increase of 26,432 at Prestonpans station was by far the largest, taking the total number of entries and exits up to 237,070.

Longniddry showed the second biggest percentage increase (8.83%) taking its total up to 177,840, while Drem’s increase was estimated at 7,906 (7.48%) to total 113,556. North Berwick recorded an increase of 19,598 up to a total of 489,680, representing a 4.16% increase. Dunbar station showed an increase of 3.13% over the year.

Mr Gray welcomed the increased station usage as good news for public transport in the county and suggested that it also underlines the strong case for the introduction of a new Dunbar local service.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome the fact that all five of the stations in my constituency have seen good increases in their use over the period covered by these figures. This is positive news for the travelling public, the local economy and train operators. While the operators still have many issues to address, not least the cost of fares, the figures show that the public can be enticed to use trains more frequently.

“This bodes well for the future of train travel in East Lothian, including the proposed Dunbar local service. The increasing use of train services certainly underlines the strength of the case for linking Berwick and Edinburgh via Dunbar and developing a new station at East Linton. I will continue to take every opportunity to champion the case for improving local services.”

Gray uses Holyrood debate to call for traffic warden rethink

County MSP Iain Gray used a recent members’ debate in Holyrood to speak out about the potential impact of withdrawing East Lothian’s two police traffic wardens, and urge Police Scotland to think again on its plans.

Mr Gray highlighted the fact that the five towns in his constituency – Haddington, Tranent, Prestonpans, North Berwick and Dunbar – already have significant parking problems, with little alternative for people who want to come into the towns other than to bring their cars.

He spoke of Haddington community council having already expressed concerns about traffic chaos in the town at a time when the county still has traffic wardens. He also stated that while East Lothian has seen a reduction in traffic wardens over the years, the remaining two ensure that parkers know that there is the possibility that they will be ticketed if they park illegally.

The MSP ended his speech by urging Police chiefs to think again and the Minister to speak to them about a last minute rethink.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“With only a few days to go until the loss of county’s traffic wardens, I was pleased to use this debate to highlight local concerns about the impact of Police Scotland’s decision to withdraw them.

“This is not just a question of inconvenience to motorists. There are also safety issues, and local businesses depend on their customers being able to find a place to park. In North Berwick, for example, local businesses already complain that, on occasion, visitors come to the town, try to find a parking place, fail, leave and go somewhere else. That situation would surely only get worse without traffic wardens.

“All of the county’s towns face the potential for significant traffic chaos after the wardens are gone. Serious concerns have been expressed across the county, but once again, as with Haddington’s courts, Scottish ministers have simply looked the other way and washed their hands of the problem.

“This is a classic example of one part of the public sector robbing Peter to pay Paul. Police Scotland is simply pushing the costs of policing parking onto local authorities, including East Lothian Council, as they are forced to explore alternative options. That is not fair, helpful or effective. Police Scotland should think again and Ministers should finally take responsibility for this decision and chaos it is set to bring about.”

Iain backs union’s campaign against child poverty

Iain Gray MSP met with representatives of the EIS teaching union at Holyrood last week and gave his support to its new Child Poverty campaign.

The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the consequences of inequality in society and highlight child poverty, specifically in relation to the impact on learning and teaching in Scottish education.
EIS will be highlighting the campaign to its members and local communities in the coming months with the intention of influencing the approach of the Scottish Government, as well as local authorities.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome this new EIS campaign and the important focus it is putting on the educational impact of child poverty. More than one in five children in Scotland currently live in poverty, meaning they lack many basic needs taken for granted by others. But it’s clear that the impact of poverty goes beyond financial and material needs. It affects the ability of children to learn, their emotional resilience and wellbeing, and their social interaction and development.

“Part of the campaign’s focus is about exploring local action aimed at counteracting the negative effect of poverty on educational attainment. East Lothian Council is already working hard on this issue and its investment in initiatives such as Support from the Start and Place2Be are certainly welcome.”

MSP speaks to Dunbar pupils for school’s ‘World of Work’ week

County MSP Iain Gray visited Dunbar Primary School last week to speak to P7 pupils as part of the school’s ‘World of Work’ event.

Parents and carers also participated in the programme of meetings and talks which took place between 18th and 21st February. The event gave all P7 pupils at the school the opportunity to hear more about the range of career opportunities that are available to them.

Mr Gray spoke about his role as East Lothian’s Member of the Scottish Parliament and answered some of the pupils’ questions about his work.

Speaking after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to be invited to speak to Dunbar pupils at the school’s ‘World of Work’ event. Bringing parents and carers with a range of different job and career experiences into the school gives pupils a chance to learn more about the employment options that may be available to them.

“It’s really important to give children opportunities like this in order to help them to start thinking about the sort of job they might want to consider doing. While being a politician was possibly not the week’s most exciting career option, the pupils listened intently and asked some great questions. I hope I didn’t put any potential future MSPs off a career in politics.”

Letter from Holyrood: An end to locally delivered justice

There is less than a year until Haddington’s Sheriff and JP Courts are due to close. I remain firmly of the view that closing the county’s courts is wrong and will effectively snuff out the local delivery of justice in East Lothian.

One of the many arguments against closing our courts was the uncertainty surrounding capacity at Edinburgh’s courts. Official figures released last year showed a 50% increase in the number of in summary complaints registered at Edinburgh’s JP Court for the three months ending August 2013. They also showed outstanding summary complaints had risen by 139%. The number of Edinburgh Sheriff Court summary complaints increased by around 42% for the same period, with outstanding complaints rising by around 49%.

These huge increases have come about before Edinburgh’s courts have started taking on the additional caseload from Haddington and appear to confirm fears about the potential future capacity in Edinburgh. I was pleased that East Lothian Council raised these concerns directly with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and urged him to think again on the court closures. I have also written to Mr MacAskill and echoed the Council’s concerns. I pressed him to remain open to the possibility that Haddington’s courts should not close if those in Edinburgh are incapable of taking on the additional workload.

I do not want victims and witnesses in East Lothian to face ever longer waits for court appearances and for justice to become inefficient and remote. When SNP ministers took the decision to close the courts they also made vague promises of introducing videolink facilities and family hearings in Haddington to retain some local administration of justice. Months later, there is still no sign of a coherent plan for delivering this.

As things stand, it seems that locally-delivered justice here in East Lothian really will come to an end next January.