Supporting Scottish Apprenticeship Week

Iain Gray MSP is supporting Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2021, co-ordinated by Skills Development Scotland, to help demonstrate and promote the value apprenticeships bring to individuals, employers and the economy.

Scottish Apprenticeships support the Young Person’s Guarantee, introduced by Scottish Government to ensure everyone aged between 16 and 24 has the opportunity of work, education or training. For businesses backing talent who can give someone the chance of an apprenticeship there’s more support than ever before.

The Apprentice Employer Grant provides up to £5000 to recruit an apprentice, there’s additional funding to take on a redundant apprentice through Adopt an Apprentice and Pathway Apprenticeships are available for school leavers not in a job or education to gain work-based learning and qualifications in sectors with skills needs.

In these challenging times, apprentices can play a vital role in supporting businesses and the economy now and for the future.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“In previous years I’ve usually tried to support and promote Scottish Apprenticeship Week by visiting a local workplace and meeting some apprentices. Unfortunately, that is obviously not an option this year, but it’s still important to highlight the week and the many benefits offered by apprenticeships.

“This year’s theme is Business Backing Talent, with the aim of demonstrating how businesses benefit when they back talent through apprenticeships. Businesses have adapted to challenging times over the last year, with employers and learning providers having innovated so apprentices can learn, achieve and progress, despite the difficulties posed by Covid-19.  

“The week highlights the range of support available to employers to help them take on an apprentice and opportunities for individuals to progress through Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships, and I urge local employers to get involved and find out how apprenticeships can benefit them and their workforce.”

Find out more about Scottish Apprenticeships and the support available to get involved at www.apprenticeships.scot.

Making case for boosting Council powers to aid Covid recovery

Iain Gray MSP and Scottish Labour have supported moves to ensure that councils will receive greater control on how local authority money is spent and more powers to run local services.

Councils across Scotland are struggling with a £550m budget black hole and have repeatedly asked the Scottish Government for greater support to enable essential services to continue.

Speaking after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Scottish Government has presided over a decade of chronic underfunding for our local councils, refusing to pass on the funding they have received for this, and leading to £937m of cuts to non-core funding.

“This has had a direct effect on the ability of councils, including East Lothian, to continue providing essential services, and to protect public sector jobs, creating a financial crisis which has been made worse by the pandemic.

“Yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, I argued that a strong, sustainable and fair economic recovery will only be possible with well-resourced local government and they will be central to growing local economies through job creation, investment, regeneration and reducing inequality.

“If the SNP is truly committed to improving key infrastructure, it must provide councils with the financial levers to do so, to invest in housing and schools, and start to build back better for our communities.”

Mr Gray’s full speech can be viewed at www.facebook.com/iaingrayeastlothian/videos/693789497961928

Travel figures show need for public transport recovery plan

Iain Gray MSP is backing calls for the Scottish Government to provide a recovery plan for transport as new figures out this week reveal that public transport usage was falling year-on-year even before the Covid pandemic struck.

The 2020 Edition of the Scottish Transport Statistics report reveal that from 2018-19 to 2019-20:

  • Car Traffic increased by one per cent
  • ScotRail passengers fell by 1.4 per cent
  • Bus Passengers fell by 3.2 per cent

The long-term trend shows bus passenger numbers falling by 20 per cent over five years, while car traffic increased by 6.5 per cent and the distance driven by motor vehicles on roads increased by eight per cent. The report also revealed bus fares have increased by nine per cent above inflation over the last five years, more than twice as fast as Britain as a whole (four per cent).

The Scottish Government established targets to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030. Scottish Labour has said that a Public Transport Recovery Plan will be crucial to reducing car use and achieving the SNP government’s public transport and climate goals.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These figures make a mockery of the SNP’s promises to promote public transport and reduce car use. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on public transport usage, but it’s clear that targets for reducing car use were not being met even before Covid hit.

“In East Lothian, bus and rail networks had seen incremental improvements for passengers, including some significant investment by local bus operators. We need to ensure that they receive the support needed to keep going through the downturn in passenger numbers and continue providing services in the future.

“Investment in buses and rail must be a priority if we are serious about tackling climate change, growing our economy and ensuring we have a modern and reliable public transport system in place post-pandemic.”   

Time to end rail franchising and put passengers first

Iain Gray MSP is backing a transport union’s call for the Scottish Government to follow the Welsh Government’s example and renationalise rail services.

Responding to the Scottish Government consultation exercise on the future of the Abellio ScotRail franchise, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) has demanded that Ministers explain their reluctance to follow the Welsh Government and renationalise rail services now, as passenger numbers tumble.

In the response, TSSA General secretary Manuel Cortes said, “No private operator is going to be able to turn a profit from ticket sales alone so the only incentive to private operators would be the subsidy from the public purse.”

Scottish Labour has said more public subsidy for private rail firms – including handing out hefty management fees – is unacceptable and that the Scottish Government should follow the Welsh Government’s lead, end the current Abellio ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises, and bring both under public ownership and control.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Before the pandemic, rail passengers in East Lothian faced constant delays, cancellations, overcrowding and price hikes – not the world-leading service we were promised by the SNP.

“It’s clear from the Scottish Government’s budget for the year ahead that the SNP plans to prop up private rail firms with taxpayers’ money for some time to come.  

“There is growing support for a publicly-owned and run rail system that puts passengers first, not the profits of private rail firms. Now is absolutely the right time for the SNP to kick the franchise system into touch and renationalise our rail services.” 

National guidance needed to sort out prelim ‘postcode lottery’

John Swinney must show leadership by delivering national guidance on prelims to prevent a “postcode lottery” that could harm the prospects of students, Iain Gray MSP has said.

 In a letter to the Deputy First Minister, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray raised the issue that, due to John Swinney stating that the decision of holding of prelims was “up to schools”, there was now a postcode lottery over access to prelims.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The lack of national guidance from the SQA and the Scottish Government is leading to hugely varying assessment methods between schools and in some areas I understand there are cases where schools are embarking on a second round of prelims while others are taken the decision to hold none at all.” 

Calling for action to end this postcode lottery, Mr Gray said: 

“The lack of national guidance on prelims has caused yet more uncertainty and anxiety for thousands of pupils, teachers and parents who fear that they may be disadvantaged by their schools’ decisions to either procced with prelims (cutting into teaching time) or to not procced (leading to less evidence for teacher judgement).

“I therefore believe that further national guidance from the Education Secretary would be welcome to provide greater consistency and fairness for pupils across the country and additional assurances and evidence that the inconsistent approach that has been allowed to develop will not negatively impact on students’ attainment this academic year.”

Iain welcomes vision for future of outdoor residential education

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed the launch of a new vision paper on the future of outdoor residential education in Scotland.

Written by a coalition of groups, including The Outward Bound Trust, Scottish Outdoor Education Centres and Scouts Scotland, “A Vision for Young People 2021-2031” sets out to help embed outdoor education across the curriculum and guarantee all young people in Scotland an outdoor residential experience.

The vision paper already enjoys cross-party support, as well as the backing of a wide range of other organisations engaged in outdoor residential education.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome this bold and ambitious plan for the next decade of outdoor residential education in Scotland and recognise just how vital learning in the outdoors is to providing young people with as wide a range of experiences as possible, strengthening their potential and increasing learning opportunities.

“The next generation of young people who have had their learning impacted on by Covid-19 related lockdowns, home learning and remote learning need access to outdoor education opportunities more than ever.

“All the evidence shows outdoor learning can help close the poverty related attainment gap and provides significant educational, health and wellbeing, social and personal development benefits.

“This vision sets out all the reasons outdoor residential education matters, and why all levels of government in Scotland need to provide the adequate support and resources the sector needs to deliver for the next generation of young people.”

The vision paper can be found at https://bit.ly/3qwD78r.

Performance of SQA and Education Scotland ‘not good enough’

Iain Gray MSP has today said that the SQA and Education Scotland have failed to meet the challenges of the pandemic and have failed to support teachers and pupils adequately.

Speaking in the chamber during the education debate, Iain Gray said:

“When the pandemic hit, teachers, who, yes, did a heroic job to move to remote learning virtually overnight, were left for months without leadership from Education Scotland to support these efforts.

“The Cabinet Secretary talks about the Education Scotland reviews of remote learning in the second lockdown, but those are reviews mostly of what everyone else is doing to make remote learning work – they are not what Education Scotland is doing.

“Meanwhile, the SQA ignored months of advice that they were designing a certification model which was an accident waiting to happen – and indeed it happened.

“And we seem to have learned so little. Only today, we saw yet another iteration of SQA advice, months after the exams were cancelled for the second time, with time running out yet again, and teachers saying for many weeks they needed this information earlier.

“ And It was this Parliament, seized of the seriousness of these issues prior to the pandemic, and without confidence in Education Scotland or the SQA to even recognise these problems never mind fix them, that forced the Cabinet Secretary to  the review. 

“And now we discover that although their work is in his hands, he intends to use the pandemic as an excuse to deny this Parliament sight of their findings.

“That is not good enough, and the performance of Education Scotland and the SQA has not been good enough either. It is not gratuitous to say that this afternoon – it is absolutely necessary.”

Watch Mr Gray’s full contribution to the debate here.

Iain welcomes call for action to protect those with learning disabilities

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed a call from parliamentary colleague Jackie Baillie for the Scottish Government to take urgent action to protect the human rights of those with learning disabilities during the pandemic.

In her capacity as Convener of the Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Learning Disability, Ms Baillie has written to the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, following statistics showing that those with learning disabilities are three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than others.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been incidences of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notices handed out to those with learning disabilities and there are ongoing issues concerning access to vaccination.

Commenting, Iain Gray MSP said:

“All too often during this pandemic those living with learning disabilities have been forgotten about or not listened to.

“The human rights of those with learning disabilities have been disregarded repeatedly, and still we are hearing that many people with learning disabilities are struggling to access vaccination.

“Those with learning disabilities are three times more likely to die from Covid-19 than others. This is unacceptable and has undoubtedly been affected by the decisions taken that fail to recognise their human rights.

“I welcome Jackie Baillie’s call for the Health Secretary to take immediate action to protect those with learning disabilities and ensure that this never happens again.”

In the letter, Ms Baillie calls on the Scottish Government to:

  • Urgently clarify the number of DNACPR orders issued in Scotland for people who have a learning disability during the pandemic.
  • Confirm the status of guidance issued to health and social care staff since the first wave of the pandemic, that having a learning disability is not sufficient rationale for applying a DNACPR order, and will not be tolerated.
  • Urgently issue guidance to primary care staff to encourage all people who have a learning disability to come forward as Priority Group 6 for the vaccination, in line with the approach taken by NHS England this week.
  • Urgently issue guidance to ensure that all people who have a learning disability who live in a care home setting have been offered the vaccine, regardless of age.
  • Take steps to ensure that the visibility of people who have a learning disability in public health data is improved.
  • Reassure people who have a learning disability in Scotland that their social care support will be restored to pre-pandemic levels as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Confirm progress for the cohort of people identified in the 2018 Coming Home report in leaving long stay institutional settings.

National strategy needed for end-of-life care

Iain Gray MSP has joined Scottish Labour colleagues in backing calls for improved end-of-life and palliative care as new research shows show that by 2040, 95% of people who die in Scotland may need additional support in their care.

Marie Curie Scotland says another 60,000 people are projected to be dying with a terminal condition by 2040 – with an increase in people dying in the community rather than hospital – and has urged end-of-life care to be made a priority for the Scottish Government with a new national strategy.

Scottish Labour has said a rethink of how palliative care is delivered is urgently needed and that any national strategy must address the changing face of care.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The pandemic has really driven home the value of end-of -life care, and the additional pressures families and carers are under as they struggle with lockdown restrictions or limits on visiting relatives in care homes or hospitals. 

“We need an urgent rethink of how best to manage palliative care to ensure that people at the end of their lives receive the care and dignity they are entitled to.  

“A national strategy will help ensure that those living with and dying from terminal illness and their families will get the support they need to live as comfortably as they can with the time they have left.” 

Ambitious green recovery needed to help end fuel poverty

Iain Gray MSP has welcomed calls from environment, housing and anti-poverty campaigners to boost the budget for energy efficiency measures, saying the move could provide jobs, cut emissions and heat homes.

Friends of the Earth Scotland, Living Rent and Existing Homes Alliance say the Scottish budget should be increased to £244million for the coming year, up from just £145.6m allocated for over five years in the recent budget, to help achieve environment goals.

Currently, one in four households in Scotland lives in fuel poverty, with homes across the nation causing 15% of climate emissions. Scottish Labour has said that the Scottish Government must be more ambitious if it is to address the matter and meet climate targets.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Too many people in East Lothian and across Scotland are living in fuel poverty, and lack of proper energy saving measures in homes are contributing to emissions. This is not acceptable when action could be taken now to tackle these issues. 

“The Scottish Government has set a target for over a million homes to be energy efficient with zero heat emissions by 2030 but this will require bold and transformative action with immediate effect, focusing on retrofitting and tackling fuel poverty. This could bring up to 17,000 new skilled local jobs across Scotland alone. 

“Last week Scottish Labour called for a budget increase of £244million for the coming year, with radical action on energy efficiency to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lift families out of fuel poverty. 

“It is time for the Scottish Government to listen to charities and environment groups, boost the climate budget and seize this opportunity to effect a lasting, green recovery for Scotland as we come out of the pandemic.”