Iain praises local youth activity during Holyrood debate

Speaking during a recent Scottish Parliament debate on youth awards and youth work, Iain Gray MSP heralded the outstanding work of Tranent-based youth group, Recharge, and also praised East Lothian Youth Council for its burgeoning activity.

Mr Gray also cited a recent Education Scotland review of the issue which highlighted East Lothian’s success in youth work. It found an “effective level of leadership in the development of youth awards” in East Lothian and indicated that “a good range of opportunities are available in all six secondary schools in the authority and within community groups and uniformed organisations.”

Commenting after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“There is no doubt that youth awards and youth work have gone from strength to strength in Scotland over the last few years. The Education Scotland review of youth awards makes clear that East Lothian has demonstrated particular excellence in this area and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to highlight this success in the debate.

“Young people in East Lothian now have a far greater range of opportunities to participate in youth awards and join in with local youth activities than has previously been the case. Local youth groups, the county’s schools, uniformed organisations and East Lothian Council all deserve great credit for the significant progress that has been made here in recent years.”

MSP leads Holyrood opposition to draconian Trade Union Bill

Iain Gray MSP has taken a leading role in the Scottish Parliament’s opposition to the UK Government’s Trade Union Bill, which took a step forward this week when MSPs agreed to take fresh action to enable it to reject the legislation.

The Scottish Parliament has already made clear its opposition to the Bill, with only Tory MSPs insisting on taking a different view. What is more, Labour and the SNP agreed that the Scottish Parliament should be able to debate the Bill in what is called a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM). Unfortunately the Presiding Officer has ruled that current standing orders do not allow this, because the UK government say it is not required.

In this week’s debate on the Bill Scottish Labour moved an amendment saying that Holyrood should amend its standing orders to enable MSPs to consider a LCM. The Scottish Government agreed, and backed Labour’s amendment, so the Parliament’s Procedures committee will now be mandated to work out exactly what change is required.

Speaking after the debate Iain Gray MSP said:

“This Bill is currently being considered in the UK Parliament. It would introduce a whole series of outrageous restrictions on trade union activity, including restricting the time union representatives in the public sector have to carry out work on behalf of their members, including Health and Safety duties and trade union education courses.

“The Bill is not designed to regulate trade unions, but to undermine them. The great irony is that constructive partnerships between trade unions and employers have never been stronger. Most employers now acknowledge that trade unions contribute to good industrial relations, and days lost to industrial action are a fraction of what some of us can remember in the 70s and 80s, in fact around one hundredth of the peak of disruption in those decades. It is even lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK.

“So, this Bill is unnecessary, and simply a vindictive attack on our rights to organise in trade unions.

“Given that the overwhelming majority of MSPs are opposed to the legislation, I think it is absolutely right that we have voted to find a way forward that will enable the Scottish Parliament to reject the legislation and protect trade union rights here in Scotland. I very much hope that this will be the eventual outcome.”

Iain calls for action to tackle nuisance calls

As Which? research finds Scots want to see further action to tackle nuisance calls, Iain Gray MSP attended a cross-party Parliamentary event in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness of this modern day menace.

New Which? research as part of the Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign  has found that nearly nine in 10 (85%) want the Scottish Government to crackdown on nuisance calls and a similar number (87%) want the Westminster Government to take action.

The research in Scotland also found nine in 10 (90%) people want to see the director of a company held personally accountable and fined if the firm makes calls without the necessary permission.

​With a clear mandate for action from the Scottish public, Mr Gray is backing the Which? campaign asking the Scottish Government to take ​t​h​e lead and set out plans to tackle nuisance calls.  If constituents are affected by nuisance calls or texts, they can pledge their support for the Which? Calling Time campaign at www.which.co.uk/scotcalls

Constituents can also report nuisance calls using Which?’s online tool at www.which.co.uk/reportcalls and can register their mobiles to the Telephone Preference Service by texting REGISTER to 80057.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Nuisance calls are a source of immense irritation and frustration for the vast majority of Scottish households. I know from the number of constituents who raise this issue that people are totally sick and tired of being bombarded with unwanted calls and texts that waste their time and invade their privacy.

“Given the scale of the problem, I’m delighted that Which? is pressing for more concerted action to tackle it with its Calling Time campaign. I’m fully behind the campaign and its call for the Scottish Government to lead the way by setting out how it plans to fight back against nuisance callers.”

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“With the vast majority of Scots wanting action to tackle nuisance calls, it is clear efforts must be re-doubled to crackdown on this modern menace.

“The Scottish Government should lead the way by setting out how it plans to fight back against nuisance callers and Scottish businesses should make senior executives take responsibility if their firm makes unlawful calls.”

Which?’s Calling Time on Nuisance Calls campaign in Scotland, supported by more than 19,000 people, is urging the Scottish Government to publish an action plan setting out how it will work with business and regulators to tackle nuisance calls, including:

  • Cracking down on businesses breaking the rules and holding senior executives to account.
  • Helping vulnerable people to cut the number of nuisance calls they receive.
  • Ensuring that new Scottish Government policy doesn’t lead to more nuisance calls.

Courier column: Government needs to make science a much bigger priority

Scotland has always prided itself on being a Science nation.  Last week the Scottish Parliament hosted a reception celebrating the 250th anniversary of James Watt’s invention of the condenser steam engine, and this is just one of those scientific advances we love to claim as made in Scotland.

East Lothian has its own place in that history, with the mechanical threshing machine invented at Phantassie by Andrew Meikle, and the same farm being the birthplace of the great engineer John Rennie.

This is not just history, though.  Several of the biggest or most innovative private sector employers in East Lothian are science-based.  Torness power station for example employs 550 full time staff, and trains new engineers every year.  We have a major life science company in the County, and Sunamp are developing cutting edge renewable heat technology in Macmerry.

We are also at the centre of educational efforts to promote science to the next generation, with the award-winning Dunbar Science Festival leading the way.

I have met countless constituents too, who work in Edinburgh’s thriving research and development community.

The truth is that Scotland’s economy, and the jobs, of the future will be driven by science and engineering. Some will be in industries we have not even imagined yet.

We have known this for a long time.  Over ten years ago when I was Enterprise Minister, I set up the Scottish Science Advisory committee and not long after that Jack McConnell appointed the first Scottish government Chief Science Adviser, Anne Glover.

Unfortunately the current Scottish Government gives science a much lower priority.  Anne Glover went on to be Chief Science Adviser to the whole of Europe, but when her successor left post in December 2014 she was not replaced.  The post is still vacant, and the Advisory committee has also been allowed to wither away.

The scientific community’s concern at this has only been worsened by recent government decisions which have been taken without any scientific advice at all.  Scotland’s science community is currently feeling very side-lined by government’s attitude to science, and that can only be a bad thing for our future.

Signing Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment

Iain Gray MSP has signed a Book of Commitment in the Scottish Parliament to pledge his support for Holocaust Memorial Day and to honour those who died during the Holocaust.

Wednesday 27th January marked the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history.

The Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the Scottish Parliament, giving MSPs the chance to honour those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust. The theme of the day this year is ‘Don’t Stand By’ and encourages people to work together to ensure that racism, sectarianism and bigotry are never allowed to go unchallenged in Scotland.

In signing the Book of Commitment, Mr Gray paid tribute to those who perished during the Holocaust and honoured the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people about what they endured, through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, such as Cambodia, Srebrenica and Rwanda.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to show my support for Holocaust Memorial Day by signing the Book of Commitment at Holyrood. This day provides us with an important opportunity to remember the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

“I know that communities across East Lothian will want to join me in marking the day and its theme of ‘Don’t Stand By’ to help combat prejudice and hatred wherever it occurs.”

Iain welcomes local fundraiser’s Points of Light award

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the news that Gullane resident Norman Yarrow, who has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for two Parkinson’s charities, has had his outstanding efforts recognised with a Points of Light award.

The Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers – people who are making a real difference in their community. Each day a new Point of Light is announced by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Norman Yarrow is an avid fundraiser for Parkinson’s UK and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s the day after his 25th wedding anniversary, and whilst still recovering from a lung cancer operation earlier that year. This diagnosis motivated Norman to fundraise for Parkinson’s in the hope of finding a cure in his lifetime.

One of Norman’s most notable achievements was the organisation of ‘Norman’s Conquest’ – a hugely successful 215 mile walk along the Southern Upland Way which raised nearly £325,000 for two Parkinson’s charities. Norman and his team of eight fundraisers encountered sun, snow, rain and hail over steep and rugged terrain to complete the mammoth walk from Portpatrick, in Dumfries and Galloway, to Cockburnspath in 14 days.

Speaking about Mr Yarrow’s recognition, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I helped launch “Norman’s Conquest”, and welcomed him home at the end of it – but Norman walked every step of the 215 miles in all weathers, then relentlessly harassed everyone he could find to smash his fundraising target. 

“His inspirational response to his diagnosis is indeed a point of light.  Norman has beaten cancer and now he is determined to see a cure for Parkinson’s developed too.  He is a force of nature, and a force for good.”

More information about Mr Yarrow’s award can be found at www.gov.uk/government/collections/points-of-light-awards

Iain encourages people to enjoy local leisure facilities

Iain Gray MSP welcomed delegates from East Lothian’s Enjoyleisure to a reception in the Scottish Parliament hosted by Sporta, the national association of leisure and cultural trusts of which Enjoy is a member.

Enjoy manages and deliver leisure services on behalf of East Lothian Council, providing healthy choices for East Lothian residents and visitors.

Following the reception, Iain Gray MSP said:

“It was great to welcome both Sporta and Enjoy to the Scottish Parliament. Enjoy is of huge importance to the County, managing our sports centres, gyms, swimming pools and pitches from Dunbar to Musselburgh.  One way or another we all use their services – I know that I do.

“Sporta, who sponsored the event, is an important organisation for Enjoy to be part of. As an organisation they provide 30% of the public leisure centres across the UK with over 1600 facilities and employ around 50,000 staff including hundreds of people here in East Lothian.

“The key message at last week’s reception was that these facilities are about more than just leisure.  It is increasingly well understood that physical exercise and the social interaction which goes with it can be as important in staying healthy or treating both physical and mental health problems as medicine or surgery.

“Speaking to Bill and Neil I know that Enjoy understand that, and work hard to play a full role in the wellbeing of East Lothian, as well as the opportunities for leisure and fun.”

Courier column: Politicians need to act now in bid to end fuel poverty forever

The weather turned colder last week. That is more than an inconvenience for many in East Lothian, who worry about their fuel bills. About one in three households in East Lothian is estimated to be in “fuel poverty”. The definition of being fuel poor is where members of a household have to spend more than 10 per cent of their income on energy bills. It is driven by a combination of too many families on low incomes and too many houses being poorly insulated and inefficiently heated.

In 2001, the Labour-led Scottish Government passed ambitious legislation to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016. The current SNP Government will miss that target. Given this, it is astonishing that new figures have revealed SNP ministers plan to cut the fuel poverty budget by more than £15 million – a 13 per cent cut to the current budget.

Any reduction in support for initiatives to reduce fuel poverty will hit the poorest households in East Lothian hardest. That is why I have signed up to Scottish Labour’s plans to deliver a Scottish Warm Homes Act. The act would better support the most vulnerable in our communities to insulate and heat their homes. It would adopt energy efficiency as a National Infrastructure Project and create jobs across the country.

This is yet another example of where the government has the powers to make a real difference to the lives of some of the country’s poorest households, but where the political will is lacking. We need concerted action now to end the scandal of fuel poverty once and for all.

Increased rail passenger numbers must be matched by quality of service

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed new research published by the Campaign for Better Transport which shows substantial increases in the number of passengers using the county’s rail stations.

The research, which covers the period 1997 to 2015, identifies increases in passenger numbers at all local stations, including a 280% increase at Prestonpans, 109% at North Berwick and 151% at Dunbar.

 

However, while welcoming this trend towards greater use of rail services, Mr Gray is also calling for ScotRail franchise holder Abellio to be forced to deliver the high quality and reliable service these passengers need – something it is currently failing to do.

Speaking about the need for improvement in the service on the North Berwick line, Iain Gray MSP said:

“As a big advocate for public transport, I am delighted to see local train services here in East Lothian being so well used. The substantial increases in passenger numbers at all local stations identified in this research demonstrates a welcome trend towards more people leaving their cars at home and taking the train to work instead.

“But, and it is a big but, the new franchise holder Abellio is not delivering the high quality and reliable service these passengers need. I know from the feedback I am receiving on an almost daily basis from constituents that the company is often failing to meet these standards currently. Delays, cancellations, and above all unacceptable overcrowding seems to be the rush hour norm on the North Berwick line.  On some occasions my constituents have been left standing on the platform.  That is not good enough.

“I am working with passenger group RAGES to keep up the pressure on Abellio to deliver what it promised when Scottish Ministers awarded it the ScotRail franchise back in 2014. I will also be demanding that Ministers take action to hold Abellio to account for its failures and ensure that county commuters get the quality rail service they deserve.”

The Campaign for Better Transport research figures can be viewed on an interactive map at www.bettertransport.org.uk/maps/rail-usage.html

 

 

Iain congratulates county skier on selection success

Iain Gray MSP has sent his congratulations to county skier Claire Jeffray following the news that she is one of over 100 skiers and coaches set to participate in Special Olympics GB’s 2016 National Skiing Championship.

Mr Gray has also signed a motion at Holyrood congratulating Gifford resident Claire, the only competitor from Lothian, and the other Scottish skiers on being selected to participate in the Championship.

The Championship is one of Special Olympics GB’s biggest events every four years and will be held on the slopes of Serre Chevalier in France in March this year.

Commenting on Claire’s success, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I met Claire, and her mother Ann, a few years ago at Parliament and have followed her progress since then. To be among the competitors at the National Skiing Championship is a fantastic achievement, while to be the only one from Lothian, and indeed the whole of south and central Scotland, makes it even more outstanding.

“I have signed the motion in Parliament congratulating Claire and her colleagues on their selection. I also passed on my best wishes to her for the Championship and look forward to hearing about how she gets on in France later in the year. Her selection is also another great sporting success for East Lothian, which continues to excel across a variety of sports.”