Iain backs homeless charity’s festive campaign

Iain Gray MSP is backing Shelter’s Wake Up Scotland campaign to raise awareness of the plight of homeless households in Scotland this Christmas and the poor quality of temporary accommodation they are often forced to live in.

The charity says that nearly 5,000 children in Scotland will wake up in temporary accommodation on Christmas Day this year. It is calling on the Scottish Government to adopt guidelines on minimum standards of temporary accommodation and give families the legal right to challenge the appalling conditions they are often forced to live in.

In December last year, Shelter helped more than 1000 people at risk of becoming homeless over the festive period. In June this year, there were 10,471 households in temporary accommodation across Scotland with 155,100 families and individuals on council waiting lists. The main causes of homelessness include relationship breakdowns and job and income losses leading to eviction or home repossession.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The fact that so many children in Scotland will spend this Christmas living in temporary accommodation is an absolute tragedy. I am pleased to back Shelter’s call for the Scottish Government to commit to a set of guidelines for standards in temporary accommodation and to change the law so families can challenge the appalling conditions they are often forced to live in.

“Local people can support the campaign by visiting Shelter’s website and sending an e-Christmas Card to the First Minister Alex Salmond to say they support the charity’s call to help children and families living in temporary accommodation at Christmas and throughout the year.”

You can show your support for the campaign by visiting http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/get_involved/wake_up_scotland

MSP and MP hear more about centre’s ambitious plans for the future

The county’s MSP and MP have visited the Fraser Centre in Tranent to hear more about the social enterprise’s ambitious plans for the future.

Iain Gray and Fiona O’Donnell met with the Fraser Centre Community Trust chair Jonny Russell and Development Manager David Orr for a tour of the facility and a discussion about the centre’s current activities and objectives for future development.

They were impressed by the plans for establishing the centre as a learning, development, arts and entertainment hub at the heart of the local community in Tranent and offered their support for taking the project forward.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Fraser Centre is one of several innovative and forward-thinking social enterprises now operating in East Lothian. I was glad of the opportunity to see the progress that has been made over the last couple of years and hear more about its ambitious plans for the future.

“I am very happy to support these plans for developing the centre and hope to see it become established as an important arts and entertainment hub for communities in and around Tranent over the next few years.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I was really impressed by what the Fraser Centre Community Trust has achieved in a relatively short space of time. It already offers local people the opportunity to watch movies and participate in other arts and cultural activities.

“The plans Jonny and his colleagues have for the future would take it to another level, offering a first-rate learning, development, arts and entertainment centre right in the heart of Tranent. They have my full support in this objective and I wish them every success.”

David Orr said:

“We have exciting plans for the future of The Fraser Centre and we are very grateful for the support that we have received from Fiona & Iain. The redevelopment of the centre, which used to be called The Winton Cinema, will provide excellent social and economic benefits to the town.”

For more information about the Fraser Centre please visit www.thefrasercentre.com

MSP welcomes conclusions of county rail study

County MSP Iain Gray has welcomed the conclusions of the final study into the proposal to provide a local rail service from Edinburgh to Dunbar and Berwick, including the development of a new station at East Linton.

The study, which was commissioned by SEStran, East Lothian Council and Scottish Borders Council, underlines the strong business case for the introduction of Edinburgh to Berwick local services. It also supports the plan to open new stations at East Linton and one in the Borders at Reston.

Speaking after a Holyrood photocall with colleagues, councillors and local rail campaign RAGES to deliver the study to the Transport Minister, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This study provides a clear and comprehensive business case for the proposed Edinburgh-Dunbar-Berwick rail service. It also underpins the strong economic and social case for a new station at East Linton and the benefits it would bring for the local community there. I welcome its findings and the important boost it gives to the argument in favour of these new rail services.

“Although the report indicates that such a service would need a subsidy, that is true of almost all rail services in Scotland, and the level identified is very affordable in a franchise which sees government invest hundreds of millions. This is not too much to ask for East Lothian. In any case many of us believe that once the service was up and running, and East Linton station open, passenger numbers would outstrip the predictions in the report and reduce the need for subsidy. All our stations in East Lothian have seen significant passenger growth.

“It is now vital that the Scottish Government accepts the report’s findings and includes it as part of the documentation provided to all bidders for the next ScotRail franchise, which could deliver the new services. If Ministers now choose to do the right thing, then another significant hurdle will have been overcome on the way to securing this important investment in local rail services.”

Parliamentarians send message of solidarity for human rights this Christmas

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP joined members of the county’s Amnesty International group at the John Gray Centre in Haddington recently to write Christmas cards supporting prisoners of conscience and others suffering human rights abuses around the globe.

The Amnesty group encourages people to send the messages of support and solidarity as part of the annual Write for Rights campaign in order to inspire, motivate and encourage others. The cards also send a warning signal to the authorities that their actions are being observed and scrutinised by others and can even help to secure freedom for some of the individuals facing persecution.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to lend my support to the local Amnesty group’s Write for Rights campaign again this year. The simple act of writing a card or letter can give hope to those suffering unfairly in prison or enduring other human rights abuses, and can sometimes even help lead to their release. I hope that others will take a moment during this busy time to send a card to someone and show that others are thinking of them this Christmas.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“By sending a message of support to someone who has been wrongly imprisoned, is at risk of harassment and intimidation or whose rights have been violated in other ways, we can show them they are not alone and that others care about their plight. It was clear that local people were pleased to have this opportunity, as we saw so many take the time to send cards, and I urge others to consider sending their own solidarity card.”

Write for Rights successfully connects men and women, young and old with people elsewhere who have been wrongly imprisoned, at risk of harassment and intimidation or whose rights have been violated in other ways. It is also an effective way to encourage family members to maintain their pursuit for justice on behalf of their loved ones, and it offers a chance to urge the authorities to uphold and respect basic human rights.

Find out more about Write for Rights and how you can show solidarity for people in other parts of the world at www.amnesty.org.uk/about-write-rights

Iain supports campaign to ensure local families have access to health visitors

Iain Gray MSP is supporting a campaign to promote the unique and vital role of health visitors in the health and well-being of families and local communities in East Lothian and across Scotland.

Mr Gray joined health professionals and campaigners from around Scotland at the Scottish Parliament this week to mark the handover of the Health visitors for Scotland petition to the Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell. Campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government to seize the opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children by ensuring all families have access to health visitors.

The petition highlights the unique and essential contribution health visitors make to the health and wellbeing of families and local communities across Scotland. It also calls on the Scottish Government to enshrine a statutory entitlement to universal health visiting services and to ensure that the Named Person for the 0 – 5 age group is the health visitor in the Children and Young People Bill.

The Named Person is a concept that is already being rolled out in many areas of Scotland, and acts as a first point of contact between a child, their family and key services. The post, which was developed in response to feedback from parents, is filled by midwives for the first 10 days of a child’s life, then the health visitor, before responsibility is handed over to schools at the age of 5. The Children and Young People Bill – which passed Stage 1 last week – aims to enshrine the Named Person in law.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I know from speaking to parents in East Lothian just how much they value the unique expertise of health visitors and the important role they play supporting families with very young children. However, workloads for health visitors have increased dramatically in recent years, putting them under increased pressure and undermining the service in some areas.

“RCN Scotland’s Health Visitors for Scotland campaign is a welcome attempt to focus on this essential role and reaffirm Scotland’s commitment to health visiting as a vital service in the early years. I was pleased to join campaigners at the Parliament and hope that the Scottish Government will listen to the concerns that have been highlighted and take steps to strengthen the health visiting service.”

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director, said:

“Timely action by health visitors can reduce problems in later childhood, promote self-care and resilience, and prevent ill health throughout life. It is, therefore, a crucial preventative service in the early years.

“That’s why we think this opportunity should be seized to enshrine in law Scotland’s commitment to a universal health visiting service, and that the Children and Young People Bill should explicitly state that the Named Person for age 0 – 5 be a health visitor. While this is the Scottish Government’s intention, if it is not made clear in the Bill we could see the dilution of this vital role and our universal health visiting service which would be bad news for children and for families.”

The Health Visitors for Scotland campaign is being run by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland in partnership with a variety of other professional bodies and charities, including Children in Scotland, The Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland, The Royal College of GPs and Parents Across Scotland.

More details on the campaign and petition can be found at www.rcn.org.uk/scotlandhealthvisitors

MSP delighted at ‘major step forward’ for East Linton station campaign

County MSP Iain Gray has welcomed a ‘major step forward’ in the campaign for a new train station in East Linton and improved services between Dunbar and Edinburgh after the project was included in an important rail franchise renewal document published last week.

Mr Gray has been campaigning with RAGES (Rail Action Group, East of Scotland), East Lothian Council, Scottish Borders Council and other politicians for a proper local train service from Dunbar to Edinburgh with a new new rail halt in East Linton, for a number of years.

The MSP believes that the inclusion of the project in this draft franchise renewal document for Scottish rail services, which means companies that tender for the franchise must include a price for delivering the improved Dunbar-Edinburgh services, is a real coup and brings the project closer to being realised than it has ever got before.

However, Mr Gray has also warned that the campaign is not over yet and that pressure must be maintained on the Scottish Government to provide the funding necessary to secure the delivery of the station and service improvements.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I am delighted that plans for a new rail halt at East Linton and improved services between Dunbar and Edinburgh have been included in this document. To have the service we have been campaigning for included in the draft franchise is undoubtedly a huge step forward and gets us closer than ever to achieving the goal of reopening the station in East Linton.

“It’s a real victory for RAGES, the Councils and everyone else who has campaigned on this issue for so many years. It’s also the clearest sign yet that the Scottish Government is serious about the project and will ensure that bidders for the franchise have to include figures for delivering a new station and service improvements for Dunbar.

“However, there are still some further important hurdles to get over before the project is realised, and the key issue that remains outstanding is Scottish Government funding. Despite the inclusion of the project in the franchise document, Ministers have still not committed to make funding available to pay for the improvements.

“In fact, we need to redouble our efforts now to push the project all the way to a successful conclusion and secure the delivery of a new rail station in East Linton and improved services between Dunbar and Edinburgh. That is exactly what I intend to do.”

Land in East Linton, adjacent to Orchardfield, has already been designated by East Lothian Council for a new rail halt and car park. A study commissioned by East Lothian and Scottish Borders Councils to explore the projected cost of reopening the two stations is almost complete and will help inform the submissions of bidders for the Scotrail franchise.

The ScotRail Franchise Draft Invitation to Tender document issued by Transport Scotland invites companies to bid to run a range of inter-city, regional and suburban rail services on the Scottish Rail Network from 1 April 2015. The full document can be downloaded at www.transportscotland.gov.uk/files/documents/rail/ScotRail-Draft-ITT.pdf

Iain welcomes community council’s backing for station counter campaign

Members of Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council have voiced their concerns about the impact of proposals to close the front counter at Tranent police station and withdraw local traffic warden services to local MSP Iain Gray.

The community councillors spoke out at their most recent meeting when Mr Gray attended to listen to their concerns and tell them about the work he has been doing to oppose the Police Scotland plans. Mr Gray was joined at the meeting by Fa’side ward councillors Donald Grant, Jim Gillies and Shamin Akhtar.

There was universal agreement that the plans are bad news for the town and risk setting back local policing. Members were also content to give their backing to the campaign that Mr Gray and Labour’s Fa’side ward councillors have been running against the proposals.

Speaking after the meeting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcomed the opportunity to speak to members of Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council about how the Police Scotland proposals will impact on the town and surrounding communities. They agreed that closing Tranent police station’s front counter and withdrawing traffic wardens is bad news for the local area. I will continue to do all I can to defeat the plans and keep Tranent’s police station open and accessible to local people.”

Colin Martin, Chair of Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council, said:

“I’ve yet to speak to anyone in the town who agrees with these damaging proposals on local policing. Tranent needs a police station that is open to the public and it’s good to know that our MSP and local councillors are fighting for that. I also want to thank Iain for attending the meeting to discuss this important issue with us.”

Mr Gray and his Labour colleagues continue to collect signatures for their petition against the closure of the front counter at Tranent police station and withdrawal of local traffic warden services. The petition can be downloaded at http://www.eastlothianlabourparty.co.uk/uploads/c2301f8c-0fa1-1d94-f1af-8e6b55de6e3d.pdf or copies are also available to sign at 65 High Street, Tranent.

Gullane residents thanked for supporting fire college campaign

Iain Gray MSP and Councillor Jim Goodfellow have expressed their thanks to people in Gullane for supporting their campaign against plans to close the Scottish Fire Service College.

Well over 100 local people have returned a campaign postcard calling for a rethink on the planned closure, which it is widely agreed will have an adverse effect on the village and the wider local economy.

Mr Gray will now pass the postcards on to members of the Board of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and ask them to consider local people’s concerns about the impact of its closure proposal.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“People in Gullane have clearly demonstrated their opposition to the proposal to close the Fire Service College. Most local people agree that it would be bad for the village and want the Scottish Fire and Rescue Board to rethink its plans and keep the college open. I hope that Board members will listen to the clear view expressed by local people, the council, and elected representatives, and look again at its options.”

Cllr Jim Goodfellow said:

“The Fire College has been a fixture in Gullane for some 60 years and if the closure goes ahead there’s no doubt it will damage the local economy. The number of postcards returned certainly underlines the strength of feeling locally about this issue. The Council has made a strong case for the college to be retained, but it now remains to be seen whether the Fire and Rescue Service will reconsider the closure.”

Gray and O’Donnell highlight concerns on county payday lending debt

Iain Gray MSP has voiced his concerns about the growing scale of payday lending in the county after new figures revealed East Lothian is among the top ten constituencies for the highest levels of payday loan debt.

A report published by the StepChange Debt charity on the circumstances of the 4,500 clients it helped across Scotland last year, shows that people in East Lothian seeking debt advice are now saddled with average payday loan debt of £1864. This is over £450 more than the Scottish average and is also up on the figures for 2010 and 2011, demonstrating the growth of the problem.

The average total debt of StepChange clients in East Lothian last year was £14,633, nearly £500 above the client average across Scotland. Figures on rent and mortgage arrears for clients in East Lothian were also above average, while energy bill and Council Tax arrears were slightly better than the Scottish average.

These latest figures echo statistics released earlier this year by Haddington Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) which showed that the number of cases relating to debt it took on increased from 43.58 per cent of the total enquiries for the quarter April-June 2012, to 51.4% in the same period for 2013.

The Scottish Government has launched the “12 Days of Debtmas” campaign to warn people against the dangers of payday lenders, promote debt advice services and highlight credit unions as a low cost alternative to these legal loan sharks. The campaign comes after concerted pressure by the ‘Debtbuster’ campaign on high cost credit led by Labour MSP for the Lothians, Kezia Dugdale.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This new debt report makes for worrying reading in East Lothian, especially on the growing problem of payday loan debt. It shows overall debt here is nearly £500 more than the Scottish average, while payday loan debt is £466 more than average across Scotland. High levels of rent and mortgage arrears are also a real concern.

“While the figures only relate to StepChange clients in the county, I fear that they are only the tip of the iceberg and that many more county households are struggling with high levels of debt. With local families preparing for Christmas, the temptation to borrow money is ever-present and debt problems can quickly get out of control.

“I am glad that the Scottish Government have listened and acted with its “12 Days of Debtmas” campaign to warn people about the danger of payday lending and other high cost credit. There are better alternative sources of credit, such as credit unions, but we need to raise public awareness of them and try to reduce the number of people trapped in a spiral of debt.

“I also urge anyone in East Lothian who is struggling with debt or needs advice on how to manage their debt to seek immediate help from StepChange or their local CAB. Free help and advice is available by calling 0800 138 1111 or online at www.stepchange.org.”

As the worrying new debt figures came to light, the county’s MP Fiona O’Donnell has given her backing to the Charter to Stop the Payday Loan Rip-off. The Charter calls for tougher regulation of payday lenders and is supported by some of Britain’s biggest debt, consumer and anti-poverty organisations – including Which?, Citizens Advice, StepChange, Church Action on Poverty, and the Centre for Responsible Credit.

MPs from all parties and campaigners are urging the Financial Conduct Authority to back the Charter and introduce tougher regulation of payday lenders to stop millions of people being ripped-off. Over 70 MPs and Peers have backed the Charter and members of the public can add their support at www.change.org/paydayloancharter

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“I’ve signed the Charter because payday lenders are ripping off thousands of people, trapping them in spirals of debt. The Financial Conduct Authority’s proposals for regulation are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to get the proper regulation and enforcement of payday lenders that we badly need. If the opportunity is missed then payday lenders will be able to carry on exploiting people.

“I’d encourage people in East Lothian to add their voice to the growing calls for tougher regulation of payday lenders by signing the Charter at change.org/paydayloancharter.”

Respect county’s shopworkers this Christmas

Iain Gray MSP has given his backing to Respect for Shopworkers Week which, at the start of the very busy Christmas shopping period, aims to remind shoppers that retail staff are real people who do not deserve to be abused, threatened or assaulted.

The annual awareness week (11-15 November) is organised by the Usdaw union, which represents shopworkers and other retail and distribution workers. Its retail crime annual survey shows that every minute of every day another shopworker is verbally abused, threatened or physically attacked.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“We all know that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year and that Christmas shopping is one of the key reasons for that. Too often shopworkers here in East Lothian and across the country are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand together and ask people to ‘keep their cool and respect shopworkers’.

“I support Usdaw’s call for a change in the law to provide stiffer sentences for those who assault workers. It was very disappointing the SNP Government blocked Hugh Henry’s Workers (Aggravated Offences) Scotland Bill 2010 in the last Parliament. That Bill would have included all workers serving the public in the protections we have already given to emergency service workers.

“I hope that we will get an opportunity in this Parliament to vote on such a measure and that the Government will have a change of heart and offer more than warm words this time. There is a real need to address the scourge of workers being assaulted and I am concerned that assailants are getting away with it too easily.

“Cases like Val, a Scottish shopworker, who was punched on the jaw when she asked a persistent shoplifter to leave, because the thief had been barred from the store. Val gave a statement and the police saw the CCTV footage. The attacker was arrested but nothing more has happened.

“I am not convinced that the issue of violence against shopworkers is being taken seriously. I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out and to send a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.”

Lawrence Wason, Usdaw’s Scottish Divisional Officer said:

“We are grateful for the support of MSPs like Iain Gray who support our campaign to keep our members safe at work.

“Often, in the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law, whether that is preventing under-age purchases or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger. Parliament passes these laws and expects shopworkers to enforce them, so we are asking Parliament for better protection for these workers.”