New guidance must ensure immediate notification of sewage discharge

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the Scottish Government’s confirmation that national guidance on wastewater pollution incidents is to be reviewed later this year.

Mr Gray pressed Scottish Government Ministers on the issue following widespread public concern about a sewage leak at Belhaven Bay earlier this year. East Lothian Council was not informed of the incident at the time as, under the existing guidance for reporting wastewater pollution incidents, the leak was not considered important enough to be reported to the council.

In a written answer to Mr Gray’s question on the issue, Environment Minister Alieen McLeod confirmed that the guidance was last updated in 2009 and that a review will take place later this year. She also stated that ‘the effectiveness and improvement of the guidance’ will be an integral part of the review.

Speaking about the review, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome the forthcoming review of the guidance on managing wastewater pollution incidents. Communities should have confidence in pollution reporting procedures but the recent sewage leak at Belhaven Bay highlighted flaws in the current guidance.

“The fact that it was not deemed important enough to inform East Lothian Council and the public was of particular concern.

“I believe public health must be the number one concern when these incidents occur. There is a clear and direct interest for local communities when a pollution incident happens and it’s not acceptable for councils and the public to be kept in the dark.

“In fact I find it surprising that, given their key role in public safety, local authorities are not currently involved in the initial assessment of pollution incidents. It would seem appropriate to involve councils in local incidents at the earliest opportunity, regardless of how significant they turn out to be.

“The review will present an opportunity for interested parties, including local councils, to have their say and hopefully strengthen their role in responding to sewage leaks and other pollution incidents

“It must lead to new guidance which ensures that never again can sewage be discharged at Belhaven without the council and beach users being informed.”

Letter from Holyrood: A fresh start for power station site

The future of the site of the former coal-fired power station at Cockenzie has probably inspired more public debate and political scrutiny than any other local issue in my eight years representing East Lothian at Holyrood.  Since common sense prevailed back in March and Scottish Enterprise dropped its plans for an unwanted industrial-scale marine energy park on the site, a degree of consensus has started to develop on what its future should look like.

I think most people in the local communities adjacent to the site, and certainly most politicians, are in agreement that jobs have to feature prominently in future plans. Equally important though is ensuring that we find a use for the site which also meets the aspirations of local residents to preserve and improve the amenity of parts of the Scottish Power land. As Councillor John McMillan recently stated, whatever the vision eventually agreed for the site, it must be about both community and business.

There are a number of potential options currently under consideration. Some have been proposed through the extensive consultative work undertaken by the Coastal Regeneration Alliance. I have been pleased to work with the CRA to support its petition at the Scottish Parliament and back the campaign against the energy park proposal.

East Lothian Council has now proposed the development of a ‘masterplan’ to pull together the various options under consideration. I welcome this move and believe that the council is best placed to work with all the interested parties, including the CRA and local community councils, to ensure that the process is as inclusive as possible going forward. It represents a fresh start and an opportunity to work together to get the best from this incredibly valuable resource for generations to come.

25th anniversary of World’s Biggest Coffee Morning

Iain Gray MSP is calling on people in East Lothian to help raise money for a cancer charity – by drinking coffee and eating cake.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning is celebrating its 25th birthday this year. And the charity is hoping this year’s event will be the biggest ever with coffee mornings taking place across Scotland on 25th September.

Local MSP Iain Gray said:

“Macmillan want to make sure no one has to face cancer alone but they can’t do it without the amazing people who take part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning every September. Last year Macmillan raised a record-breaking amount of money from the campaign and I really hope they can repeat that again this year.

 “It’s a fun and easy way to raise money to help Macmillan be there for people with cancer and their families when they are needed most. I know there are several events planned in East Lothian this year and I hope to support as many as I can on the day.”

The official World’s Biggest Coffee Morning day is on 25th September but events can be held any time.

To find out more and to register visit: www.coffee.macmillan.org.uk, call 0845 602 1246 or text COFFEE to 88080.

To access support from Macmillan visit www.macmillan.org.uk or call 0808 808 00 00.

Tweet @macmillanscot using hashtag #coffeemorning

Iain congratulates local walking group on national award success

Iain Gray MSP has congratulated the CHANGES wellbeing walking group on its success at last night’s Celebrating Scotland’s Walking Champions Volunteer Awards.

The group were the winners of the Health Walk Group of the Year award at the annual awards ceremony which is organised by the Paths for All charity and held at the Scottish Parliament.

CHANGES Community Health Project was established in 1996 to “promote positive wellbeing and provide opportunities for people in East Lothian to find ways towards healthier and less stressful living”.  It organises wellbeing walks at locations across the county throughout the year.

Congratulating the group on its success, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is fantastic national recognition for the important work CHANGES has done with its wellbeing walking groups around the county. Encouraging people to get out and about for local walks with others is positive for both physical and mental wellbeing.

“We are very fortunate to have some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside on our doorstep and the group clearly encourages people to take advantage of that with their walks. I congratulate the project and all the walkers on this award and wish them continued success.”

For information about walking or to join a local walking group, email heather@changeschp.org.uk or telephone Heather on 0131 653 1080.

Iain backs transplant awareness campaign

County MSP Iain Gray is backing a national drive to increase public awareness of blood and organ donation.

National Transplant Week 2015 is being held between 7 and 13 September with the aim of increasing the number of blood and organ donors in the UK. Mr Gray has signed a Holyrood motion, tabled by Labour colleague Anne McTaggart, which highlights the week and its theme this year, “7 days to say I do”.

The campaign is encouraging people to discuss their decision about organ donation with their loved ones to ensure they are aware of their position. This follows concerns about an 11 per cent fall in the number of patients successfully receiving organ transplants in Scotland in the 12 months up to March 2015.

The campaign is also highlighting that family refusal rates increased by nearly eight per cent from 38.6 per cent to 46.1 per cent over the same period, a larger increase than the UK average of one per cent.

 Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’m pleased to support this vital campaign. National Transplant Week is an important opportunity to help raise public awareness about blood and organ donation and get people talking about it.

“Over 500 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant in Scotland, but family refusal rates on donations have increased by nearly eight per cent and the number of patients successfully receiving transplants have fallen in the 12 months up to March this year.

“These figures make it clear that more needs to be done to encourage people to discuss their decision about organ donation with their loved ones. Only by taking action now can we help ensure that more people receive the life-saving transplant they need in future.”

Iain raises local concerns about college cuts

Iain Gray MSP is highlighting concerns about the impact government cuts to Edinburgh College are having on students from East Lothian.

Mr Gray has spoken out following concerns expressed by constituents about the college’s recent decision to cancel subsidised bus services to and from its Midlothian and Milton Road campuses. The cut in these services means that some local students now have to get two buses and a train to get to college on time.

The college has cited changes in funding meaning the money previously set aside for bus services would now have to come out of the main college budget as the reason for axeing the services.

These local cuts follow wider concerns about a fall of 140,000 college places across Scotland and a reduction in the sector’s funding from £555.7 million in 2011/12 to £526.3 million in 2014/15. Nearly 7,000 college staff have also been axed under the current SNP Scottish Government, while 10 million learning hours have gone.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“A number of people have highlighted their concerns about the impact the removal of the college’s subsidised bus services is having on local students. Expecting a young person to get two buses and a train to be at college in time for an 8:30am start is asking a lot of anyone. It will certainly make it much harder for some local people to contemplate enrolling on a course in Edinburgh.

“However, I do not blame the college for the decision to cut these bus services. Edinburgh College, like colleges across Scotland, is struggling with huge budget cuts imposed on it by the SNP Scottish Government. The whole sector is at breaking point, with the £30 million cut in college funding resulting in 140,000 fewer college places and 7,000 staff gone.

“This will inevitably have a negative impact on opportunities for people here in East Lothian. While the bus service cut is one tangible example, the fact that there are fewer courses available is clearly reducing options for both younger students and older people looking to return to education. I want to see this damaging downwards spiral end and the FE sector get the funding and support it needs from government.

“One development which would definitely increase opportunities for people in East Lothian, is the establishment of a new college campus in the county. Edinburgh College has indicated an interest in opening a campus in East Lothian before and I would welcome that. I am meeting with the College Principal Annette Bruton next week and will be asking her for an update on the college’s plans.”

Choose Life Challenge Cup kicks off suicide awareness week

Local activities for World Suicide Prevention Week, which runs from 7 to 12 September, kicked off on Saturday with Health in Mind’s annual football tournament, The Choose Life Challenge Cup. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Cup, Hibernian FC invited the tournament to use its Training Centre at East Mains, Ormiston.

Health in Mind invited Iain Gray as the local MSP and chair of Hibs Community Foundation to attend and help present the prizes.

Speaking after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was delighted to attend this year’s Choose Life Challenge Cup and help present the prizes. I was even more delighted when local team, Tackleberries, emerged as the winners of the tournament. The competition is now in its fifth year and continues to be a great way to help launch the local activities for World Suicide Prevention Week. Congratulations to Health in Mind for organising the event and to all the teams and spectators who participated this year.”

Find out more about Suicide Prevention Week and Health in Mind’s work at www.health-in-mind.org.uk/

VVV

Courier column: Address police and justice issues

The big news nationally last week was the resignation of the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Stephen House.  I have been saying for some time that Sir Stephen should go because of growing concerns about Police Scotland, not least the incident where two people waited three days in a crashed car.

I take no pleasure in anyone losing their job, but someone had to take responsibility, and quite apart from the big national problems with Police Scotland, we have had our issues locally too.  Not least was the sudden removal of our traffic wardens, which was an example of a decision taken centrally at the highest level in the force, then applied everywhere without regard for local needs.  This week the Courier reports on a change to policing firearms licenses which raises particular worries in a rural county like ours.

A single Police force did not mean that local needs had to be ignored.  Our own senior officers could have been given much more authority and autonomy to police East Lothian as they knew best.  Instead Sir Stephen pursued a “one size fits all” approach which has not worked well.

East Lothian council’s new Police and fire committee is a step in the right direction towards re-establishing some local accountability.

Meanwhile, the Inquiry into the Glasgow bin lorry crash has raised questions about the other side of our justice system, the Crown Office.  At best, the handling of the inquiry has failed to give bereaved relatives any peace of mind that justice has been done.

Once again, locally, I have many constituents who have had to deal with the courts, for example in case of family breakdown, and feel very ill served by what seems to them a very inefficient and unfeeling system.

Of course that is not helped by the loss of our local courts in Haddington.

As we return to Parliament this week, the SNP government must address these police and justice issues, and urgently.

Iain praises ‘hugely impressive’ Tranent care home

Iain Gray MSP joined Councillor Donald Grant on a visit to Crookston Care Home and Day Centre in Tranent yesterday, and was hugely impressed by the new state-of-the-art facility.

It was Mr Gray’s first opportunity to view the new £9 million council-owned care home and day centre facility, which opened its doors in October last year. The MSP was given a tour of the building and chatted to members of staff and some of the clients about their experience of staying at the home.

Following the visit, Mr Gray was keen to praise the first class facility and its highly-skilled and dedicated staff.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Crookston is a hugely impressive facility providing a really high quality care experience for local residents. It was clear from chatting to some of the people currently staying there that they are receiving a very high standard of care while they are at the home. They were also keen to praise the staff at the home, who do such a wonderful job.

“The facility underlines the commitment of East Lothian Council to invest in services for older people and deliver the best possible care for local people. This continued investment comes despite the fact that the council is facing a significant funding squeeze due to the council tax freeze and an £11 million shortfall in Scottish Government funding.”

Cllr Donald Grant said:

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to show Iain around the new care home. It’s already made a positive difference to our ability to help people make the transition out of hospital and back into their homes. It’s a fantastic facility which the whole community in Tranent can be very proud of.”

Minister refuses to guarantee county’s new hospital will be delivered on time

As the Scottish Parliament returned to business this week, Iain Gray MSP took an early opportunity to ask the Health Secretary Shona Robison for an assurance that East Lothian’s new community hospital will be open by 2019.

The county’s MSP had already sought an answer from Ms Robison via a written question over the summer recess, but the Minister failed to give the clear guarantee that Mr Gray and people in East Lothian want to hear.

This time Mr Gray asked the question again on the floor of the parliament but received the same vague and non-committal response. Ms Robison has a further opportunity to provide a firm promise on the delivery of the new hospital in her reply to Mr Gray’s recent letter on the issue.

Speaking after the Minister’s latest failure to guarantee the new hospital will be open by 2019, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was concerned about this, but to be honest I am now getting quite angry. Our hospital should have been finished by 2009, but the incoming SNP government in 2007 switched it to their private finance scheme, and that has caused a ten year delay already.

“Now that funding scheme is in trouble, and I’m determined that SNP Ministers do not try to send the Health Board back to the drawing board yet again. That is a pretty simple promise to ask for, but as Ms Robison’s latest reply shows, it was still not forthcoming.

“All I wanted in answer to my first question was the word ‘yes’. Instead I got a lot of waffle, which really adds up to ‘no’.  In fact the minister was quite dismissive of the County’s concerns and resorted to trying to score cheap political points.

“That is not good enough. This government spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a new hospital in Glasgow. The community hospital in Midlothian opened years ago. It’s about time that East Lothian had a fair crack of the whip too.

“I’ll continue to campaign for the new community hospital communities in East Lothian need and deserve to be delivered without further delay.”