Local pupils take to the pitch at Easter Road

County MSP Iain Gray met a group of pupils from Prestonpans Primary School at Easter Road on Saturday as they marked their completion of the Hibernian Community Foundation’s 90 Minutes Club programme.

The programme is part of the Foundation’s community engagement work and combines football coaching with encouraging pupils’ with their homework. To mark the end of the programme the pupils got to attend Hib’s last league game of the season against Kilmarnock on Saturday and participate in the half-time goal challenge on the pitch.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“One of the reasons I was pleased to get involved with the Hibernian Community Foundation is that it is helping a range of people here in East Lothian, including many children, to improve their health and develop their learning through football.

“The 90 Minutes Club is a great example of how football can be used to encourage children to enjoy doing homework and learning. The pupils from Prestonpans had clearly got a lot out of their participation in the club and certainly enjoyed their day out at Easter Road on Saturday.

“I hope that as the Foundation continues to develop its valuable work with communities across the Lothians, other children in East Lothian will get the same kind of opportunities to develop their learning through football.”

The Hibernian Community Foundation aims to harness the power and passion of football to make a real difference to people’s lives. It partners with other organisations to improve health, promote learning and enhance opportunity.

In the past year the charity’s activities created more than 10,000 opportunities for engaging with people in the community. These activities range from courses to improve literacy and IT skills to projects to help fans with fitness and weight loss.

To find out more about the Foundation’s work visit www.hibernianinthecommunity.org.uk

Iain’s wearing a hat for Headway to help mark Action on Brain Injury Week

County MSP Iain Gray is supporting Hats for Headway, a national fundraising event taking place on Friday 16 May, to help mark this year’s Action on Brain Injury Week.

Mr Gray has supported a Holyrood motion backing the annual awareness week and congratulating the charity Headway on the work it does at its various centres, including here in East Lothian.

Action on Brain Injury Week, which runs from 12 to 18 May, aims to increase awareness of the plight of individuals and families that are affected by brain injury. For Hats for Headway day people are being invited to raise funds for the charity by wearing a hat for the day in return for donations.

Last month, Mr Gray visited Headway East Lothian to help that charity to mark a decade of supporting the local community with the first publication of its Edinburgh and East Lothian Directory of Brain Injury Services.

Speaking ahead of Action on Brain Injury Week, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome Action on Brain Injury Week and its focus on raising awareness of how access to vital support services is being reduced as a result of funding cuts and welfare reforms. Brain injury can strike anyone at anytime. It can have a significant impact on day to day life and rehabilitation can be long and difficult.

“The information and support services provided by charities like Headway are absolutely essential for many of those who are affected by brain injury. The work that they do to help people to recover and adapt can also be critical in helping them move forward with their lives. I hope that local people will join in with Hats for Headway and help to support its vital work.”

For further details about Action on Brain Injury Week and Hats for Headway, visit www.headway.org.uk/action-for-brain-injury-week.aspx

Iain talks renewables and climate change with local pupils

County MSP Iain Gray returned to his teaching roots today when he visited Preston Lodge High School to speak to S2 biology pupils about climate change and renewable energy.

The school invited the former physics teacher to come in and talk about the work the Scottish Parliament is doing to tackle climate change and promote the development of renewable energy. The pupils had been working on the subject in class and wanted the opportunity to find out more about the actions politicians are taking on these important issues.

After Mr Gray had spoken to the class, they asked him a range of challenging questions on climate change and renewables, before branching out into questions on other aspects of his work as the county’s MSP. They also managed to persuade him to take his first ‘selfie’ with them, making it another first for PL!

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I always find school visits to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work and want to thank Preston Lodge for inviting me in. As a former physics teacher, it was a particular pleasure to talk to a science class about the hugely important issues of climate change and renewable energy.

“The pupils had been studying the subject and were clearly eager to learn more about the practical steps that politicians are taking to counter climate change and promote renewables as an alternative to fossil fuels. They are fascinating and vitally important matters and Scotland certainly has a positive story to tell.

“I hope that the class found the discussion useful and that they will continue to develop their knowledge and understanding of these topics which are so critical to their future.”

Letter from Holyrood: The price of no traffic wardens

Politicians accusing each other of scaremongering is a feature of the political “debate” these days. Sometimes, though, the scare stories are true. A few months ago I warned that Police Scotland’s decision to get rid of our traffic wardens would cause major traffic problems in the County’s towns, and I take no pleasure in being proven correct.

In Haddington, not only is it proving impossible to find a parking space, but bus journeys have been disrupted by double parking and worse. Dunbar traders’ Association have asked me to meet with them to hear their concerns they are losing out as customers give up on finding anywhere to stop, and constituents in North Berwick are seeing a difficult parking situation get steadily worse.

I have raised these concerns with the Police and police officers have been enforcing parking restrictions. Issuing parking tickets is hardly the best use of uniformed police officers’ time, but there is no one else entitled to do it now.

If the Council want to employ their own wardens, they will first have to pass an order through parliament and that may take months if not years. Then there is the cost. The Council already pays hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Police to secure additional police officers in the County, a measure which has been very successful in reducing crime such as anti-social behaviour. Paying wardens would be an additional cost.

The removal of police traffic wardens was a bad decision, taken nationally not in East Lothian, without consultation, and one for which the government minister in charge simply refused to take any responsibility. Local motorists, local traders and local police officers are the ones paying the price.

MSP hails good news on county jobs

Employment figures in East Lothian are now higher than pre-recession levels, recent labour market statistics have shown.

According to a paper released last week by the Scottish Government, which has collated the most up-to-date Office for National Statistics labour market data, the county is now one of only three local authorities in Scotland with a higher employment rate than in 2008.

East Lothian has also seen the largest fall in economic inactivity of any authority since 2008, and is one of only a handful of areas where both public and private sector employment has gone up in the last year.

Local MSP Iain Gray has welcomed the figures and paid tribute to the work that Labour-led East Lothian Council has done to develop and promote local training and employment opportunities, particularly for the county’s young people.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is a good news story for East Lothian. The council and employers across the county should be proud of their resilience to several years of difficult economic weather.

“East Lothian Council deserves particular credit for this success. The Labour-led administration came into office two years ago pledging to make the local economy and job creation its top priority and it has more than lived up to that commitment.

“Initiatives such as East Lothian Works and the East Lothian Tourism and Hospitality Academy are clearly helping to make a difference on jobs, especially for young people. And it now looks likely that substantial European funding will be secured by the council to give a further boost to local jobs.

“But we can’t be complacent. While these figures show East Lothian is doing better than nearly every other local authority by this measure, many of my constituents are not finding this success reflected in their own circumstances and pay-packets.

“That’s why we still need action from the Scottish Government on extending the living wage and tackling zero-hour contracts through public procurement, which they have so far failed to do.”

Iain backs ‘Treat Me Right’ campaign during MS Week

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have both given their backing to the MS Society’s Treat Me Right campaign during this year’s MS Week (28 April to 4 May).

Mr Gray joined MS Society campaigners at Holyrood to support the campaign, which aims to ensure that licensed treatments for MS are freely available to everyone who needs them and that people with MS are active, informed and equal partners in their care.

Meanwhile, Ms O’Donnell expressed her support by signing up to a Parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM) at Westminster highlighting this year’s MS Week and welcoming the new campaign.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“For the more than 10,000 Scots living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), including many here in East Lothian, the right treatment can make a huge difference to their lives, from helping control relapses to managing symptoms.

“However, the evidence presented by the MS Society makes it clear that too many people are currently not able to access the treatment they need. I was pleased to meet campaigners at Holyrood and back their call for the removal of barriers to accessing treatment.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“MS Week is an important opportunity to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis and the needs of those affected by the condition. The MS Society says people often face difficulties in accessing MS specialists and a lack of information about the treatment options available to them.

“This is clearly a huge concern for many people affected by MS and it is right that they are highlighting this serious problem. I welcome the Treat Me Right Campaign and hope it will help to remove barriers to MS treatment.”

The Treat Me Right campaign, which was launched at the start of MS Week, is highlighting the various barriers that people living with MS currently face to accessing the care and treatment they needs.

New medicines are on their way but unless barriers to accessing medicines are addressed, too few people with MS will benefit from them. In order to address these barriers, the MS Society are calling for:

1. All licensed MS treatments to be available on the NHS to everyone eligible for them
2. Regular reviews of treatment and care by MS specialists for everyone with MS
3. All people with relapsing remitting MS invited to talk with a specialist about their treatment, in light of new disease modifying drug (DMD) options in 2014
4. Accessible information about treatment options, and support to be equal partners in decision-making about their treatment and care.

For more information about the Treat Me Right campaign, visit www.treatmerightms.org.uk/about

Support for county charity group’s coffee morning

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP were pleased to attend the Parkinson’s UK East Lothian Support Group’s annual coffee morning at Haddington Town House last Saturday morning.

The group’s coffee morning has become a regular fixture in the county’s calendar of charity fundraising events, and was well supported again this year.

Speaking after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Some 10,000 people in Scotland live with Parkinson’s, and like many I have close family members affected. Events like this are really important to help highlight the condition and raise funds to support the charity’s work. I’m pleased that the coffee morning was a big success again this year and will help the group to continue its work supporting people in East Lothian affected by Parkinson’s.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“The local Parkinson’s group’s annual coffee morning has always been popular and well attended and this year was no different. I was pleased to be able to go along and support the event again this year. The group does vital work to raise awareness about Parkinson’s and provide advice and support to local people whose lives are affected by the condition.”

Hannah Trotter, from the East Lothian support group of Parkinson’s UK, said:

“The group’s annual coffee morning is an important way for us to raise funds and awareness about Parkinson’s. We received tremendous support from local people and were really pleased that Fiona and Iain were able to join us again this year.”

The East Lothian Support Group of Parkinson’s UK offers information, friendship and support to local people with Parkinson’s, their families and carers. It meets on the last Wednesday of the month (except July and August) and also organises regular events and social activities. For more information and the group’s contact details, please visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/local-support-groups/regions/east-lothian-support-group

Iain and Fiona backing Great Brew Break

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are backing the Royal Voluntary Service’s Great Brew Break Week, which is taking place between 28 April and 4 May.

A recent RVS poll showed that the traditional British tea break is under threat like never before. As a nation built on the tradition of a cup of tea and its enduring social warmth, 40,000 Royal Voluntary Service volunteers serve thousands of cups of tea every week to those in need.

The Great Brew Break is a chance to gather friends, family, neighbours and colleagues and raise funds to support lonely older people. People across the UK will be holding tea events during the week, with all the proceeds going to help the charity deliver services to alleviate loneliness among older people.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell are encouraging county residents to support the week either by attending the Mad Hatter Tea Tasting fundraiser at the RVS Haddington Centre at the Sidegate on 30th April, between 10am and 3pm, or by taking their own tea break sometime during Great Brew Break Week.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Royal Voluntary Service has a long and proud history of providing practical help and support to older people in their homes, communities, hospitals and during emergencies. Many local people have benefited from RVS services over the years, and I hope that people will back its vital work by having a cuppa for Great Brew Break Week.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“For many people a nice cup of tea and a chat can make all the difference, whether it’s in keeping the workplace happy or cheering up an older person who might not have seen anyone else all week. The RVS Great Brew Break Week is a great way of raising awareness as well as important funds to help support lonely older people in East Lothian.”

To host your own Great Brew Break visit www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/brewbreak for everything you’ll need to get for the perfect Brew Break.

The RVS in East Lothian can be contacted on 01875 811 011.

One in four county households living in fuel poverty

Fuel poverty in Scotland has increased dramatically in the past few years. Over 900,000 households in Scotland are suffering from fuel poverty. This is a national scandal.

Here in East Lothian there are at least 11,000 households in fuel poverty. We know with the recent inflation busting increases of the energy companies that the number is even higher.

Despite all the rhetoric from the SNP, the number of households in fuel poverty has actually gone up since 2007. The Scottish Government has failed to spend the money it has to combat this growing scourge.

Iain Gray MSP has called for the SNP to turn their words into action, following a Scottish Labour-led debate in the Scottish Parliament on the 23rd of April to discuss the growing crisis.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Fuel poverty is a national scandal which is affecting more Scots every year. Here in East Lothian, around a quarter of all households are suffering fuel poverty. While this is slightly below the Scottish average, it is still far too high and means that many thousands of local people struggle to afford to heat their homes.

“The SNP talk a lot about how things might be better after independence, but households need help now. There is some support available currently, and anyone in East Lothian who is struggling to pay their energy bills or wants advice should seek help from agencies such as their local CAB, Energy Action Scotland and Carers of East Lothian.

“However, it’s really important for the Scottish Government to do more. I find it outrageous that the SNP have failed to spend the money they have on helping to insulate homes and helping to reduce fuel bills. What is even worse is that the SNP are refusing to back our calls for an energy price freeze.

“Alex Salmond has met with the ‘Big 6’ energy companies eight times since 2010. Not once has he ever asked them to freeze their prices. Not once has the SNP’s Energy Minister asked them to cut their bills.

“So rather than speaking up for our poorest, Alex Salmond would instead back the big energy companies. As thousands more Scots slip into fuel poverty because of his government’s incompetence, Alex Salmond takes the side of big business.

“Fuel poverty is a disgrace. Scottish Labour backs an energy price freeze and a reform of the energy market to break up the ‘Big 6’ energy companies. Why won’t the SNP?”

Any East Lothian residents who are struggling to heat their home should seek help and advice from Energy Action Scotland www.eas.org.uk, Carers of East Lothian www.coel.org.uk, Citizens Advice Scotland www.cas.org.uk or by phoning the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99.

Iain supports International Workers’ Memorial Day

Iain Gray, MSP for East Lothian, met representatives campaigning in the Scottish Parliament this week for better safety standards for workers.

Scottish Hazards and Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) hosted an exhibition in the parliament to highlight their campaigns ahead of International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April.

Statistics produced by the Health and Safety Executive reveal that 22 workers were killed in work-related incidents in Scotland last year – an increase from the previous year. Many hundreds more each year die due to work-related illnesses.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Through regular visits I know that our big local employers like Torness and Lafarge Tarmac take the safety of their workforce very seriously nowadays. But I also know that workers and their Trade Unions had to fight hard to achieve that, and it is also true that too many of my constituents still die before their time as a consequence of hazards like asbestos encountered in their jobs not so long ago.

“We can never let attention to safety at work slip because it is completely unacceptable in the 21st century that anyone should go to work and not come home due to a fatal accident.

“This is why we have regulations – to protect people from unnecessary risk or harm. These are belittled when considered only as ‘red tape’ in need of cutting.

“These statistics show that campaigns such as this still need the strong support of politicians and others, as rights to a safe working environment will always be under threat by those willing to compromise them in turn for a quick profit.”