Iain opposes plan to axe two of county’s councillors

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have rejected proposals to reduce the number of councillors serving on East Lothian Council from 23 to 21.

The Labour politicians have submitted a response to the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland’s Electoral Review for East Lothian outlining their opposition to the planned reduction and supporting the position taken by East Lothian Council on the issue.

They have urged the Commission to rethink the proposal and keep the number of councillors at their current level.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I stated my opposition to these proposals as soon as they became public. I really cannot see any rationale for reducing the number of councillors in East Lothian. The county’s population is growing rapidly and the local community structures, such as community councils and area partnerships, are working well.

“Given that a reduction in the number of councillors is likely to mean a significant redrawing of ward boundaries, the whole exercise will be damaging and disruptive to local communities and the council’s work. I have urged the Commission to rethink its plans and maintain councillor numbers at their current level.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“East Lothian has one of the fastest growing populations in Scotland, so cutting the number of councillors just doesn’t make sense. East Lothian Council works well for local communities. That success is partly down to hard working councillors who do their utmost to serve local communities. Reducing their number will make their job harder and that could have a negative impact on services.

“The Commission says its proposals are based on deprivation, but it has not produced proper evidence to back this up or justify reducing the number of councillors here. With cross-party support for keeping our councillors at the current level, I hope the Commission will listen and reconsider its plans.”

County planning pressures highlighted as Scotland’s population reaches all time high

The Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends has confirmed that Scotland’s population reached an all-time high of an estimated 5,327,700 people in June last year.

With the latest projections suggesting that the population will go on rising to 5.78 million by 2037, local MSP Iain Gray has highlighted the figures as further evidence of the pressure on local planning and public services, and, in particular, the need to build more new housing in the county.

The review also confirms that the population will continue to age significantly, with the number of people aged 65 or over rising by 59 per cent in the period up to 2037. It also expects the number of households to rise from 2.40 million in 2013, to 2.78 million over the same period.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These latest figures from the Registrar General confirm the continued growth in Scotland’s population, and projected future growth. While this is a generally welcome development and is set to bring benefits for Scotland’s economy, it also highlights growing pressures on planners when it comes to housing and public services.

“East Lothian is already having to accept a large number of new housing developments and these figures suggest that this is set to increase as the population continues to grow. The review also reiterates the fact that we have an ageing population and that this brings about other challenges in relation to people’s health and social care needs as they get older.

“These pressures come at a time when East Lothian Council and many other authorities across Scotland are already facing significant budgetary difficulties. It underlines the important need for the Scottish Government to do more to support local authorities, particularly places like East Lothian which we know are facing rapid population growth.”

Letter from Holyrood: An invitation to the parliament

Now that summer is here most groups, Guilds, Rotaries, Probus clubs, all take a few weeks off. However this is the time when longsuffering Secretaries have to turn their mind to next year’s programme of speakers and events.

This column is a timely reminder then, that as your MSP I am always happy to fill one of those speakers’ slots and provide an update on what is happening in Parliament. For the more adventurous groups, why not think about a visit to the Scottish Parliament.

Many local County groups have come in to see the Parliament. Although the building itself is not everyone’s cup of tea, in my experience people often change their view when they see the interior which includes some stunning spaces, not least the Debating Chamber itself which I think is much more impressive in reality than on TV. (Some might think it is more impressive without the MSPs there, but I could hardly say that).

Touring the parliament with your MSP does mean you see some areas the official tour does not reach, will have one or two East Lothian connections pointed out, and maybe the occasional anecdote thrown in too. I always end tours with a chance for visitors to ask me any questions they wish. If your group would be interested, call my office on 01875 616 610.

Meanwhile, if you missed the fabulous Great Tapestry of Scotland when it was in Cockenzie House, it is back on display at the Scottish parliament until September 13th. Designed by County artist Andrew Crummy, with many panels related to east Lothian and many of the stitchers from here, it really is worth seeing. You may even get the opportunity to make a stitch in a new “People’s Panel” which is being created during the Tapestry’s stay.

Call for people to turn their lights out to mark WW1

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are urging local people to take part in commemorations to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War by turning out their lights on Monday 4 August.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell are supporting the Lights Out campaign, which is inviting people across the UK to switch off their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August and light a single candle in a shared moment of national reflection.

The moment will mark precisely a century since Britain declared war on Germany and formally entered the First World War at 11pm on 4 August 1914.

The Lights Out campaign is inspired by the words of the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who famously remarked on the outbreak of the war: ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

Millions of people across the UK are expected to take part in Lights Out, which will see hundreds of public buildings and iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and Blackpool Illuminations also turning out their lights.

The project is being organised by 14-18 NOW, the official cultural programme for the First World War Centenary Commemorations, with particular support from the Royal British Legion.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The First World War was a conflict that changed Britain forever. It touched every family, affected every community and fundamentally altered our country’s place in the world

“The centenary anniversary is a unique opportunity for us to commemorate those who served and sacrificed for us on the frontline and the home front, and to think about the profound impact the war had on our society.

“I hope people across East Lothian will join in with the Lights Out campaign and turn out their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4 August. With the busy lives we lead today, the simple act of pausing, switching off the lights and lighting a candle will be a very powerful tribute.”

County parliamentarians meet Dunbar track starlet

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP recently met with local athlete Maria Lyle and heard more about her blossoming athletics career.

14-year-old Maria, from Dunbar, is a sprinter competing in the T35 category at 100 and 200m. She is one of several young people being supported by the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes Programme.

Maria has already won a gold medal at the DSE National Junior Athletics Championships in 2013 and bronze at the English Athletics senior disability championships. She also broke the World and European Senior Record in T35 200m on her international debut.

She is currently ranked number one in the world for both the 100m and 200m T35 events. Last year she won East Lothian’s Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year Award.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I really enjoyed meeting Maria and having the opportunity to chat to her about what she has achieved so far and her plans for the future. At just 14, she has already enjoyed incredible success, including setting two world records and being ranked number one in the world in her events. I’m sure that she will go on to achieve much more in the years ahead and become one of the next big names in athletics.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I was hugely impressed by Maria’s quiet confidence and her ambition to make it to the top of her chosen sport. She has already experienced great success in her short career, but there is a lot more to come. She is also a fantastic ambassador for sport in East Lothian and I wish her continued success. I also commend the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes Programme for the support it provides to young athletes.”

David Robertson, Local Director, Bank of Scotland said:

“At Bank of Scotland, we are delighted to continue our support of 19 athletes via the Local Heroes programme. It’s very important to offer these young athletes structured support at a crucial time in their sporting development and help act as a catalyst in their journey to becoming elite athletes. We wish Maria continued success in what is a key period in her sporting journey and we are really delighted to be a part of it.”

Since 2008, working in partnership with SportsAid, the Local Heroes Programme has supported over 1,200 young athletes with financial and practical support at a time when they need it most. It provides athletes with an award of £1,000 towards training costs, opportunities for them to learn more about being an elite athlete and support to help build their profile and confidence in public speaking.

Maria Lyle

Increase in housebreaking must be addressed

County MSP Iain Gray is urging people in East Lothian to be vigilant about protecting their homes from break-ins, following the publication of new police figures which show a recent surge in reported cases of housebreaking in the county.

The latest figures show that the number of reported housebreakings in the county increased from 220 in 2012/13 to 321 in 2013/14, an increase of around 45 per cent. Reported cases of theft, including shoplifting, and motor vehicle crime, also increased locally over the same period.

The Police Scotland management information statistics, which provide details on reported crimes and detection rates, were released just after a spate of recent housebreakings in Ormiston, Pencaitland and Humbie, which served to underline the increased threat from this type of crime.

The figures also contained more positive news for East Lothian, with an overall reduction in violent crime. There was also an increase in the number of domestic abuse incidents which resulted in a crime report.

Speaking about the statistics for East Lothian, Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures cover the first full year since Scotland’s national police force was established. One of the concerns about moving to a national force was the potential loss of local focus for policing in different communities. While it is probably too early to reach any definite conclusions, these figures do help with understanding of what has been happening on reported crime and detection rates across the country.

“There are certainly some positives for East Lothian, particularly the reduction in violent crime. But the standout concern has to be the large increase in the number of housebreakings locally over the last year. Prevention is clearly vital to tackling this type of crime. Residents should take appropriate steps to safeguard their properties and belongings and make it as hard as possible for criminals to commit this sort of crime.

“However, I will also be speaking to local police about this worrying increase and will ask them what action they are taking to combat it. Break-ins should not be regarded as merely a property crime because the impact they have on the individuals and families affected can be devastating. Local people will want to be reassured that catching and prosecuting those who commit housebreaking crimes remains a priority for Police Scotland.”

Letter from Holyrood: The distraction of the referendum

If you have read a newspaper recently, or turned on the TV or radio, you’ll know that it is less than 100 days until the independence referendum.

And while the summer is often known as ‘silly season’ – because the media tends fill its columns and airwaves with less serious news – I suspect there will be less silliness this summer thanks to the important question of the referendum.

But only a little less.

The referendum has thrown up all kinds of bizarre claims and counter-claims on both sides. No doubt it will continue to do so.

However, the serious matter of the decision itself remains, and many impartial voices have begun to speak up and express their concern that we would face cuts in public services, higher taxes and higher mortgage payments as a result of independence. The latest of those independent reports suggested independence will leave us an eye watering £4.7 billion worse off than we would be in the UK. That is equal to the whole budget for schools!

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe the referendum has been a distraction from important issues which need addressed. But, as the majority party, the SNP won the right to pursue it.

Even now, though, most people I speak to are more concerned about jobs and opportunities, the education provided for their children and grandchildren, protection of the most vulnerable, and a fairer, more equal society.

We should bear in mind that no referendum result guarantees any of this, though I believe a yes vote would make it harder. Pooling and sharing resources across 60 million instead of 5 million is a great protection for things like pensions.

Progress on equality and fairness is hard won, and will have to be argued for whatever the result in September. It will not be achieved with one cross on one ballot paper on one day.
So, I look forward to getting back to politics about how we live, not where we live, on 19 September.

New worries about court closures as figures show cases are taking longer

New evidence has emerged to show that the SNP Scottish Government’s court closures are already having a detrimental effect on local justice, with criminal cases taking longer to resolve following the initial closures.

Figures revealed in a recent parliamentary answer at Holyrood show that in Sheriff Courts the number of cases resolved in 26 weeks has fallen from 72 per cent in September last year to 68 per cent for the most recent figures in April 2014.

Around 74 per cent of cases in Justice of the Peace Courts were concluded within 26 weeks in September 2013, but fell to just 64 per cent by April this year.

Meanwhile, other statistics reveal that the average time taken for cases to be resolved is also rising. In September last year it took an average of 148 days for a summary criminal case to go through a JP court, but by April it was 177 days.

For Sheriff Court cases, the average time taken to conclude in September 2013 was 139, compared to 147 days in April.

The increases have come following the first phase of the SNP’s court closures, which took place at the turn of the year. Haddington’s Sheriff and JP courts are scheduled to close in January next year.

County MSP Iain Gray, who led the fight against the SNP’s plans to close Haddington’s courts, believes that this latest evidence reinforces the case that he and others have made against the closures.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures provide tangible proof that the SNP’s court closures are already having a negative impact on the delivery of local justice in Scotland. With capacity reducing as local courts close, our justice system is slowing down and victims and witnesses are waiting longer to have their cases heard.

“Those of us who have opposed the closures, including the vast majority of experts involved in the operation of the justice system, said that this is what would happen. If the initial closures are having this kind of impact, I fear that local people will also see significant delays in their cases when East Lothian’s business moves to Edinburgh.

“It’s still not too late for Kenny MacAskill and the SNP to admit they are wrong on this issue and reverse the remaining closures, including Haddington.”

60 reasons to celebrate with ENABLE

Local MSP Iain Gray recently joined more than 100 ENABLE Scotland members and friends at the Scottish Parliament for an event to mark the charity’s proud 60th anniversary.

To coincide with Learning Disability Awareness Week, the event included a debate hosted by Jackie Baillie MSP, convenor of the cross-party group on learning disability in the Scottish Parliament.

More than 20 MSPs, who each received commemorative ENABLE Scotland tartan scarves and ties, attended the event for news and debate about the most pressing issues facing people with a learning disability and the services on which they rely.

ENABLE Scotland is a member-led organisation and the country’s leading charity for children and adults who have learning disabilities, which affects around 1 in 50 people.

Commenting after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was delighted to be able to attend the ENABLE Scotland 60th anniversary celebration in the Scottish Parliament, and it was a real pleasure to see so many members and volunteers from the organisation come together from communities across Scotland, including my own.

“I was also happy to sign the motion in Parliament recognising the rights of people who have learning disabilities, and to wear my ENABLE Scotland tartan to raise awareness throughout Learning Disability Week.

“I wish ENABLE Scotland and all of its members and supporters another successful 60 years.”

Pledging support for Armed Forces Day

The county’s parliamentarians, Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP, have pledged their support for Armed Forces Day during a visit to Prestonpans Royal British Legion today.

They met members of the Legion to talk about their support for the annual event, which is taking place tomorrow (Saturday 28 June). Armed Forces Day was initiated as a way for the public and elected representatives to pay tribute to the men and women who serve in the UK’s Armed Forces and recognise the huge contribution they make.

In addition to providing the opportunity to publicly celebrate our armed forces, the day also aims to help raise awareness and understanding of the role of the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force, Reservists, veterans, cadets and the wider Armed Forces family across the UK.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Armed Forces Day is very important for many local people and groups, not least the county’s Royal British Legion branches. It enables communities to recognise the service local people make to the UK’s armed forces. Service personnel put themselves at risk day in and day out to protect the UK and provide assistance to others around the world. Armed Forces Day is a fitting national tribute to them for all that they do for us.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I was pleased to join members of Prestonpans Royal British Legion to show my support for this year’s Armed Forces Day. East Lothian has a long and proud connection with the UK’s armed forces, with many local men and women having served over the years. I know that there is strong support locally for Armed Forces Day and the important opportunity it provides to honour local veterans, serving personnel and their families.”

Find out more about Armed Forces Day and show your support for it at www.armedforcesday.org.uk/

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