High school journalists quiz local MSP

On a recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, budding young journalists got a chance to grill a politician for real when they met county MSP Iain Gray in the parliament’s debating chamber.

Students from North Berwick High involved in producing the school newspaper visited the Parliament on a tour with the BBC, and met with Mr Gray to discuss his parliamentary work.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Journalism is an industry in flux, but its importance doesn’t change, particularly to politics – young people following that path then have to be encouraged and looked after.

“A school newspaper gives them an excellent grounding in the skills that will help them in future, whether they decide to pursue it as a career or not.

“I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the group, and am strongly hoping for an equally good write up from them.”

North Berwick HS editorial team at Holyrood

MSP completes work on Smith Commission

The Smith Commission report on more powers for the Scottish Parliament was published last week. East Lothian MSP Iain Gray was one of the ten members of the Commission, and spoke at the report’s launch in the National Museum of Scotland.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Today is a promise kept for the people of Scotland. Before the referendum we made a vow which today we honour. A stronger Scottish Parliament as part of the United Kingdom. An agreement which respects the sovereign will of the Scottish people. A transformative package of measures to deliver a powerhouse parliament.

“All five political parties represented. Diverse in their starting point. But coming together in common purpose and today reaching a common agreement. I want to pay tribute to our Chair Lord Smith, and to all our fellow members of the commission in reaching this agreement. Everyone had to make difficult decisions on behalf of their party, but we reached agreement. Not in our own interests, but in the interests of Scotland and the people we serve.

“They demanded change and through this agreement we meet that demand. A scale of change greater than many imagined ahead of a timetable many believed impossible. On tax, on welfare, on job creating powers. On the ability to create new benefits and uprate others. To better protect the most vulnerable and more effectively seize our opportunities to prosper.
Real change, real powers.

“Yet this agreement preserves the social and economic union of the nations of these islands. The guarantee and the solidarity of protection in old age, economic difficulty and building a family through the system of pensions, child benefit and social security. Consensus is not often a word used in politics, especially when five parties are involved. But a consensus is what we have delivered. All involved in the Smith commission have played our part in keeping a promise made. This is a good day for Scotland.”

The_Smith_Commission_Report_Unveiling

Letter from Holyrood: More to be done on the living wage

Earlier this month Living Wage Week was celebrated across the UK. The annual awareness week promotes the importance of the Living Wage and encourages companies and public authorities to become Living Wage employers. Support for the living wage is growing year on year, with hundreds of new employers signing up to the initiative.

Here in East Lothian, when Labour took back control of the council in 2012 it made the introduction of the living wage for council staff an early priority. As well as helping raise the income of council workers, this also set a great example for other local employers to follow. But there is still much more to do locally, as well as nationally.

Figures published by the accountancy firm KPMG to coincide with Living Wage Week estimated that some 5000 local people are currently paid less than the living wage. These workers tend to be concentrated in sectors such as cleaning, care, hospitality and retail. While low paid workers in these jobs benefited from Labour’s introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999, it is now time to take the next step and ensure work always pay.

I am 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.

I also welcome the fact that ending poverty pay has been such a central focus for the Scottish Labour leadership contenders. It is clear that whoever emerges as the party’s next leader will have a very strong commitment to prioritising this agenda and making the living wage the norm for Scottish workers.

Iain urges new Justice Secretary to reverse court closure

County MSP Iain Gray has written to the newly-appointed SNP Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, to urge him to ‘revisit and reverse’ his predecessor’s deeply flawed decision to close Haddington Justice of the Peace and Sheriff Courts.

Mr Gray’s letter highlights that, with the court due to close in January next year, there is only a very short window of opportunity for Mr Matheson to look again at the detrimental impact the decision is set to have on local people’s experience of the justice system.

It also sets out a summary of the many powerful arguments that have been employed against the closure, including the effect it will have on victims, witnesses, the police and local law firms, the detrimental impact on the administration of justice, and the significant and damaging effect on the town itself.

Mr Gray has also highlighted the fact that while the closure is meant to save the Scottish Court Service money, the cost to the public purse in lost time will far outweigh any savings there might be in the short term.

His letter concludes by urging Mr Matheson to seek out all the information about the closure, including the report published by an independent forensic accountant demonstrating the lack of savings, and look again at the decision while there is still time.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Nicola Sturgeon has said that she is open minded about listening to suggestions on how her Government can do things better. The deeply flawed decision to close Haddington’s courts, made with little or no real evidence to justify it and clearly against the wishes of local people, is an obvious contender for Ministers to reconsider.

“The case made by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill for closing our courts was weak to begin with and has got weaker with every passing month. With only a few weeks now before the planned closure, I have urged the new Justice Secretary to revisit the evidence from local experts and reverse this wrong-headed decision. This is the last chance for the Scottish Government to see sense and do the right thing before it’s too late.”

Royal Mail missing person charity link welcomed

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have welcomed the news that the Royal Mail has entered into a partnership with a national charity to support its work locating vulnerable missing people.

In Scotland this means that around 10,800 postmen and women will be assisting the charity Missing People to locate vulnerable missing children and adults, significantly increasing the number of people committed to help find them.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Local postmen and women develop a good knowledge of the communities they serve, which is ideal for helping to find missing people. This is a great initiative and I hope that it will prove to be helpful in ensuring that more missing people are reunited with their loved ones in future.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“This is an innovative and welcome initiative which is bound to bring great benefits to efforts to locate vulnerable missing people. It is particularly apt that the partnership should be announced at this time of year when families just want to be together over the Christmas period.”

Child Rescue and High Risk Missing People Alerts will be sent to the company’s extensive network of handheld scanners, used to track and sign for deliveries, on a geographically-targeted and, when appropriate, national basis.

The alerts will also appear on Royal Mail’s employee website and, where possible, on 1,800 television screens across its offices, reaching all 148,000 staff. This will be the first time an organisation has made its business-wide communication channels available to the Missing People charity.

Currently, 123,000 people directly receive Child Rescue Alerts, as well as other members of the public being informed of missing person appeals through Twitter, Facebook, digital billboards and media and corporate partnerships. The new partnership with Royal Mail will effectively double this across the UK.

Missing People is the only charity in the UK which specialises in, and is dedicated to, bringing missing children and adults back together with their families. It issues a public appeal when someone is reported to police as having gone missing.

The charity works in collaboration with a range of partners across the UK, including the National Crime Agency, local police forces, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS).

North Berwick Rotary members welcomed to Holyrood

A group of North Berwick Rotary Club members were welcomed to Holyrood by the county’s MSP Iain Gray earlier this week.

Mr Gray had spoken at a meeting of the town’s Rotary Club earlier this year where members had expressed an interest in visiting the Scottish Parliament to find out more about how it functions. The group enjoyed a tour of the Parliament building before their meeting with Mr Gray.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“One of the many positive aspects of the Scottish Parliament is how open and accessible it is to the public. Thousands of groups and individuals visit every year to find out more about how the Parliament works and what MSPs do on their behalf.

“I will always find time to meet with groups from East Lothian and was particularly pleased to welcome the members of North Berwick Rotary Club to Holyrood this week. They had been very welcoming earlier in the year when I attended one of their local meetings, so it was a pleasure to be able to return the favour.

“These tours usually end with a Q&A session, and the Rotary certainly came up with some tricky questions!

“I encourage other local groups and organisations to consider arranging similar visits to see for themselves how we conduct our business and the breadth of activity that takes place at Holyrood.”

Prestonpans & Tranent surgeries cancelled – 28th November

Please note that Iain’s Prestonpans and Tranent advice surgeries on Friday 28th November are cancelled due to the St Andrew’s Day bank holiday.

The next surgeries in those towns will take place on Friday 23rd January. If you need to contact Iain before then please call 01875 616610 or email iain.gray.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

East Lothian resident lands big job at Hibernian

The Hibernian Community Foundation, supported by Hibernian FC has recruited an Executive Director who will set the course for its future.

Wendy MacAdie, who takes up the post in mid-December, was the unanimous choice following a challenging interview process.

Her role will be of vital importance in driving interest and excitement around Hibernian. Whilst she will be the person responsible for the running of the Hibernian Community Foundation, she will also work closely with the Football Club in delivering the vision for the Club’s work in the community.

Iain Gray, MSP for East Lothian and Chairman of Hibernian Community Foundation, said:

“Wendy has first class experience, and indeed was instrumental in helping us establish the Hibernian Learning Centre in partnership with Jewel & Esk Valley College (post-merger Edinburgh College) when she worked with the College.

“She has extensive and impressive history in the education, health and charitable sectors and is exactly the person we were looking for. Hibernian was established to serve its community, and Wendy will help ensure we build on that ethos in the future.”

Leeann Dempster, Chief Executive of Hibernian FC, said:

“We are delighted Wendy has agreed to join us. We will be working closely to help drive the many exciting plans that the Foundation and the Club have been talking about. These will help hundreds of people in our communities, will bring a much greater and warmer appreciation of Hibernian, and will ultimately help us grow the supporter base of the Club while doing good things in partnership with others.”

Wendy, an East Lothian resident and a life-long Hibernian supporter, said:

“It’s an exciting time to be joining and I know there are some fantastic developments being planned. I am happy to be playing a part in making Hibernian a name everyone can be proud of.”

‘Know your Rights’ in run-up to national carers day

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are seeking to help raise awareness of the rights of carers in East Lothian in advance of this year’s national Carers Rights Day on Friday 28 November.

Carers Rights Day is an annual event that brings organisations across the UK together to help carers in their local community know their rights and find out how to get the help and support they are entitled to.

The theme this year is ‘Looking after someone? Know your rights’, focusing on making carers aware of their rights, letting them know where to get help and support and raising awareness of the needs of carers.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Carers Rights Day is an invaluable opportunity to put the focus on carers’ rights and needs. It helps to ensure that carers are aware of and understand their rights and get access to good quality advice that can help them with their caring duties. I urge local carers looking for advice or information to contact Carers of East Lothian to get the help they need.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“There are an estimated 11,000 carers living in East Lothian. They make a huge contribution to the health and wellbeing of their loved ones, our communities and local public services. Carers Rights Day is a welcome annual chance to raise awareness of their rights and promote the advice and support that is available to them.”

Carers living in East Lothian can obtain advice and information from Carers of East Lothian by visiting www.coel.org.uk/, emailing centre@coel.org.uk or calling 0131 665 0135.

For more information about Carers Rights Day and the work of Carers Scotland, visit www.carersuk.org/scotland

County parliamentarians backing Small Business Saturday

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are supporting Small Business Saturday, the grass-roots campaign that encourages people to shop locally and support small businesses in the local community.

Last year’s Small Business Saturday was the first time the event had been held in the UK. Just under half (48%) of UK consumers were aware of the day. Of those, over half (57%) shopped at a local, independently owned business on 7th December, with 43% of shoppers choosing to do so specifically because of Small Business Saturday.

An estimated £468m was spent by these consumers on Small Business Saturday. Thousands of small businesses participated in the campaign, with many running special discounts and offers to encourage consumer spending on the day.

This year the day will take place on 6th December. Ms O’Donnell and Mr Gray are encouraging businesses in East Lothian to take part and take advantage of the campaign which aims to boost support for small business on a key shopping day in the run-up to Christmas, as well as give a long-term boost to trade.

After visiting a local business in Haddington to promote the event last year, Ms O’Donnell and Mr Gray plan to make Dunbar their focus for 2014.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The first Small Business Saturday, held last December, was a great success. By putting the spotlight on small and independent businesses and the choice they offer local people, the day not only increased their takings but also raised the awareness of consumers about what is on offer in their area.

“Along with other initiatives aimed at encouraging people to shop locally, Small Business Saturday can bring significant benefits to small businesses and I am pleased to give it my full support again this year. I want to help encourage local people to be part of the day and celebrate and support the vital contribution small businesses make to local communities.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Last year’s Small Business Saturday, the first ever in the UK, was a huge success, and I was pleased to be involved in East Lothian. There is no doubt that it helped to raise awareness of what small businesses have to offer and gave many of them an important boost in the run-up to Christmas.

“I am keen to use this year’s event to encourage people to buy from small local firms and independent shops on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. I will be making every effort to support local small businesses over the coming weeks and look forward to meeting with business owners as well.”