Iain opens day centre coffee morning

A fundraising coffee morning for Pencaitland’s day centre has raised over £400 to support its work providing a lunch club for older people in the village. The event was held at the Trevelyan Hall last Saturday, with local MSP Iain Gray opening proceedings with a few words of welcome and support for the organisers.

The coffee morning included stalls for home baking, tombola and Bric a Brac, with a large number of local people stopping by to support the event. Local councillors Jim Gillies and Shamin Akhtar were also on hand to show their support.

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I know that Isobel and the other day centre volunteers do a fantastic job running the lunch club in Pencaitland, so I was very pleased to go along and support their coffee morning. The large number of people who attended on a very wet Saturday morning showed how much support there is in the village.”

Organiser Isobel Gardiner said:

“I would just like to say a massive thank you to everyone who turned up at our coffee morning. The weather was awful but we still had a really good turn out and most of the goodies were sold helping us raise a fantastic amount. Thanks also to Iain Gray, our local MSP, and Jim Gillies and Shamin Akhtar for their support.”

You can find out more about Pencaitland Day Centre on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Pencaitland-Day-Centre-407430236126517/?fref=ts

Iain welcomes recommendations for improving local policing

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed a call for Police Scotland to take steps to ensure resources better meet local policing needs. The call is one of a series of recommendations made in the Pearson Review of Policing in Scotland.

Graeme Pearson, Labour MSP for South of Scotland and the party’s Justice Spokesman at Holyrood, started his Review of Policing in Scotland earlier this year. He consulted widely with the public, rank and file officers, civilian staff, community groups, victim support staff and others.

The Review has revealed that the SNP Government failed to set out a business case for the establishment of Police Scotland despite Pearson calling for one at the first evidence gathering session of their Justice committee in February 2012.

As well as the call to ensure resources meet local needs, the review’s recommendations also include building a link between local communities and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), enabling better local oversight of the police and providing clarity on complaint handling.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The people of Scotland need and deserve a police force that does its job thoroughly and efficiently. We know that police officers and civilian police staff work incredibly hard to keep people safe in East Lothian and across Scotland.

“However, it has been increasingly clear in recent years that Police Scotland is not working properly. Constituents often tell me about their frustration with issues such as response times and follow-up on incidents which they have reported to the police.

“This is undoubtedly connected to the level of resource available locally. Police officers deserve to have the appropriate support and resources to do the job in the best way possible and it’s clear that this is too often not the case at the moment.

“Graeme Pearson has identified this need for resources to meet local need as one of the key recommendations from his review. If this proposal was implemented I think we would see improvements in the things local people are concerned about, such as response times and the visibility of local policing.

“We are already making good progress in East Lothian on improving local oversight of the police, with the establishment of the council’s new police, fire and community safety scrutiny committee which is due to meet for the first time this month.

“Some of the review’s other recommendations, such as building a stronger link between local communities and the SPA and providing clarity on the way complaints are handled, would also help to further enhance the way policing is perceived in East Lothian.”

Letter from Holyrood: The value of a local newspaper

There’s every chance that this will be my last “Letter from Holyrood”.  This is because the newspaper’s owners, Johnston Press, have announced that this title and its sister paper, The Musselburgh News, might close as a result of a review of its print portfolio.

I hope this will not be the case, but, if it is, I want to thank all those News readers who read my column.  When you write them you are never sure how many actually do!  However I also want to say thank you to the journalists and production staff who work on your ELN.  They have always treated me very fairly and with the greatest courtesy.  It must be a very difficult time for them, and I hope things do work out.

The truth is that this is the latest in a long line of cuts and job losses in Scottish newspapers, both local and national, and that is a very bad thing.  Quite apart from the tragedy of anyone losing their job, a healthy, free and diverse press is one of the foundation stones of our democracy.

Local papers have a particular role to play.  Not only do they tell us about things which have happened in our communities which the national media would never report, but they are also the place where we find out what events are on, what jobs are available, and of course who has died, married or added to their family.

There are even some notices regarding planning applications or road closures for instance, which have to appear in local papers by law.  That can only happen if we have the papers there, though.

The reason for all this is of course, falling sales, and more people getting all their information online.  Newspapers are a classic example of the old adage “use it or lose it”.

If you are reading this, then you must value a local newspaper.  Please make sure you do still buy a newspaper, and encourage your friends and family to do that too.  They might miss them when they are gone!


Courier column: Let’s give everyone a fair start in school

Voters often ask why different parties cannot agree on the most important things and work together on them.  One thing that Nicola Sturgeon and I agree on is the need to close the attainment gap in our schools.

This is the unacceptable fact that how well any child does at school depends more on family income than anything else.  This is nothing to do with ability; poorer children face difficulties to learning which the rest do not.  It can be as simple as having a place to do homework or as complex as the expectations families, teachers, and children themselves have about their potential.

We cannot afford to let this continue.  Scotland needs highly qualified and skilled people for our country’s future, and cannot waste talent.

The Scottish Government devote £25m per year to additional support for schools to help close this gap.  However, these resources mostly go to a handful of local authorities with the highest level of deprivation.  This misses the target, because 60% of those poorer children are not actually in those areas.

Unfortunately, East Lothian schools will receive not one penny of this fund.

At the weekend, Scottish Labour announced a plan to devote more resources to this critical task, and to target it directly at every primary school.  Each child from a poorer family would see their school get £1000 “Fair Start” funding.  So, the more children facing barriers to success in a school, the more money they would get.

Head teachers would plan how the money would best be spent in their school, from a range of the things we know work, extra teachers for example.

All of this would be on top of the existing government programme.

But Labour’s “Fair Start” would mean that every primary school in East Lothian would have some money, and some would have a lot, to help our poorer children catch up with the rest.  Surely something all politicians can agree on.

Motion welcomes county’s new maths initiative

Iain Gray MSP has tabled a motion at Holyrood welcoming a new East Lothian Council initiative to encourage children and young people to have positive attitudes towards maths.

The ‘What you say counts’ programme is being rolled out across the county’s schools with the objective of fostering a positive attitude towards the subject as well as aiming to help parents to get to grips with their mathematical insecurities so that they can help their children with homework.

Mr Gray’s motion highlights the importance of supporting children and young people to be confident about their numeracy and maths skills and praises the staff and parents involved in developing the ‘What you say counts’ programme.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“We know that good numeracy and maths skills are vital not only for our day-to-day lives but also to future success in so many ways. For example, people with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. A sound grasp of maths also opens doors to other opportunities, such as careers in science and engineering.

“Given this central importance, it is essential that we encourage young people to have a positive attitude towards maths and numeracy. The ‘What you say counts’ programme and accompanying materials will provide local children and parents with the resources they need to be confident about maths.

“I was pleased to table this motion welcoming the new programme and look forward to seeing the benefits in local schools.”

Iain supports new ‘Calls for Cancer’ campaign

A Cancer Research UK campaign to save the lives of more people with the disease in Scotland has won the backing of county MSP Iain Gray.

Mr Gray joined forces with Cancer Research UK to voice his support for the charity’s Calls for Cancer campaign. He met staff at the recent Scottish Labour conference to find out more about how to beat the disease sooner.

Every year around 30,200 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer, equivalent to around 83 people every day – making cancer Scotland’s biggest killer. But alongside increasing incidence, survival is increasing too and cancer is not what it used to be.

Cancer Research UK’s ‘Calls for Cancer’ campaign sets out what political parties should do in Scotland to ensure cancer patients are diagnosed earlier and have greater access to the best possible treatments.

Iain Gray MSP, who has lent his backing to the campaign, said: 

“While people in East Lothian continue to be diagnosed with cancer, the good news is that survival rates are improving.  But the political drive to beat the disease must match the pace of progress in research.  That’s why I’m backing Cancer Research UK’s campaign, to help bring forward the day when no-one’s life is cut short by cancer.”

Cancer Research UK’s Senior Public Affairs Manager, Gregor McNie, said:

“It’s great to have Iain Gray’s support for our Calls for Cancer campaign which outlines the key measures the next Scottish Government should take to continue the fight against this disease. There are huge opportunities in prevention, earlier detection and better treatment of cancer and we should all pull together to seize these.”

For more information on the campaign, join the conversation on twitter via #callsforcancer.


Iain congratulates Ross High on rights respecting school success

Iain Gray MSP has written to Ross High School’s head teacher to congratulate pupils, staff and parents on their success in being the first secondary school in East Lothian to become a Rights Respecting School.

The Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA) initiative is run by UNICEF. The award is presented to a school that first of all demonstrates the recognition of commitment that the school is ready to include the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in its ethos, learning and teaching.

While a number of county primary schools have participated in the initiative, Ross High is the first local secondary school to achieve the RRSA Level One Award.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“During a recent visit to Ross High staff told me that the school had been successful in achieving Level One status in the Rights Respecting School Award. This is a fantastic achievement, especially as it means Ross High are trailblazers as far as local secondary schools are concerned.

“This latest achievement is another indication of how many positive things are happening in East Lothian’s schools and the kind ethos that underpins the way they work. I congratulate Mr Reynolds and all of the pupils, staff and parents at Ross High School who contributed to this success.”


Courier column: After years of amber warnings the lights are red for the NHS

Scotland’s NHS is in trouble.  That is the view of the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS).  A few years ago, when I was Chair of the Public Audit Committee in the Scottish Parliament, the AGS published a report warning that the NHS budget was not sustainable.  In committee she told me that it was an “amber light” warning to the Scottish Government.

Unfortunately her warnings were simply dismissed and ignored by SNP Ministers.  Now, three years later the AGS has reported again, and the lights are at red.

In last week’s report the Auditor General tells us that seven out of nine NHS performance targets have been missed; NHS use of expensive private nurses has soared by 53%,private doctors by 22%; 71% of vacancies in A&E are unfilled for six months.

Most damning all was the fact that over the SNP’s time in government they have cut the Health budget by 0.7% in real terms.

The Auditor General is very clear that this cannot continue, yet the Scottish Government still refuses to accept that there is a problem.

For example they have tried to say that the budget looks better if you exclude “capital” spending for buildings.  Frankly the argument that NHS buildings are of no importance to the service is just daft.  We know that, having seen our new hospital delayed by ten years thanks to cuts in “capital” health spending.

In any case we also know our GP services are struggling, too many East Lothian residents are stuck in hospital by “delayed discharge”, and everyone knows someone who has waited hours in A&E.

Scottish Ministers have also tried to pretend that this is the result of spending cuts across the UK.  But during the same period NHS spending increased in the rest of the country. Moreover, the proportion of the Scottish budget spent on Health has fallen, so the money must have been spent somewhere else.

The Auditor General is right.  This cannot go on.

Getting blood out of an MSP – Iain backs blood donor pledge campaign

Local MSP Iain Gray is backing a Macmerry man’s campaign to encourage as many people as possible from East Lothian to sign a pledge to donate blood within the next 12 months.

Mr Gray joined John Johnstone, who runs Pro-Titan Fitness, and some of his clients at Macmerry Park on the weekend to learn more about his campaign to secure blood donor pledges from local people.

Mr Johnstone has undertaken to get at least 1000 people to sign up to the pledge after one of his clients received two blood transfusions shortly after giving birth and was looking to give something back to Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I first heard about John’s campaign when one of his clients, John Murphy, contacted me and told me about what he was doing. He asked if I could lend my support to John’s campaign, which I was delighted to do.

“I then agreed to go down to Macmerry Park and meet John and some of the guys who take his Saturday morning men’s over 30s fitness session, who are also backing his campaign.

“John has set a high target for pledges but, having seen his commitment to this cause and the support he has already received from so many local people, I’m confident he will achieve his goal of signing up at least 1000 blood donors.

“As for myself, I have not donated blood for many years because I had hepatitis when working as a teacher in Africa.  As a result my blood was rejected.  But that was 30 odd years ago so I have made my pledge to John to try again…..

“This is clearly a very worthwhile aim and his efforts are set to make a big difference to the number of blood donors in East Lothian. I congratulate John on his campaign and urge local people to help him by signing his pledge to donate blood within the next 12 months.”

John Johnstone said:

“I want to thank Iain for coming along and giving his support to my campaign. It is a huge target to achieve, but I’ve already had a fantastic response from people across East Lothian.

“I’m sure that we’ll be able to reach the 1000 target and help increase the number of people donating blood to help others.”

Anyone looking for further information about the pledge campaign or to sign up should contact John Johnstone by email at protitanfitness@yahoo.co.uk or by calling him on 07885 386735.

Iain hails sponsored cycle fundraising efforts

Iain Gray MSP has hailed the efforts of a team of cyclists from East Lothian Young Farmers after they completed a 24-hour sponsored cycle for charity over the weekend.

Mr Gray met with some of the team members outside the Corn Exchange in Haddington on Saturday as they neared the end of the marathon fundraising event for the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI).

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This sponsored cycle fundraiser was a great idea. All the members of East Lothian Young Farmers who participated in the cycle made a terrific effort to get through the 24 hours and help raise funds for the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution.

“I was pleased to be able to meet some of them towards the end the event and congratulate them on their dedication to raising money to support such a good cause.”

RSABI provide financial assistance, support and advice in confidence to those people who have worked in Scotland in land-based occupations and who are suffering hardship. Find out more about its work at www.rsabi.org.uk