MSP and MP visit successful local bakery

Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have visited the Premium Bakery factory in Prestonpans to find out more about the successful local business’s progress since it relocated to the county in 2017.

The family business, started in 2007 by Peter Ford and his son Graeme, was initially located in Loanhead and moved to its new purpose-built factory in Prestonpans two years ago. The bakery provides a range of over 60 different products to customers in the Edinburgh and Lothians area and beyond.

It is also a strong supporter of community activity, sponsoring a number of local teams, societies, organisations and initiatives with a percentage of its profits being allocated each year to these causes.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Peter is a successful businessman who has a very genuine commitment to the wellbeing of the local community. He has given a huge amount back to the area over the years and continues to do so with the support the business provides for various different clubs and projects.

“I’m very pleased to see the bakery employing so many local people and doing so well, and hope it continues to go from strength to strength.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“I was delighted when Peter and Graeme announced their plans for relocating their bakery business to Prestonpans. Given their longstanding connection to East Lothian it obviously made sense for them to bring their new factory here and it has clearly been a great success.

“Having the business here is good for the local economy and jobs. It has also helped to boost local community activity thanks to the sponsorship provided by Premium Bakery.”

Parliamentarians given tour of award-winning local distillery

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have visited NB Distillery for a tour of the award-winning business and an update on its recent progress.

The NB Gin brand was launched by husband and wife team Steve and Viv Muir in 2013, with NB Vodka and NB Rum following the opening of their custom-built distillery last year.

Mr Gray and Mr Whitfield met with the distillery manager Steve Ross and colleague Rhona Hartley and were given a tour of the facility.

As well as producing the various spirit brands, the distillery can also provide tours, corporate events and private parties, while its little ‘cellar door shop’ offers a range of gifts unique to the distillery.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“East Lothian’s reputation for food and drink excellence has been further enhanced by the fantastic success of NB Distillery, with its NB Gin, NB Vodka and NB Rum brands, over the last few years.

“Having been started at home only six years ago by husband and wife team Steve and Viv Muir, the business is a remarkable success story and another great asset for the local economy.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“NB Distillery has made incredible progress in a relatively short space of time, so it was a pleasure to meet Steve and Rhona and have a tour of their fantastic facility.

“As well as offering a great visitor experience here in East Lothian, its first-class products are breaking into new markets, helping to boost the county’s outstanding reputation for high quality food and drink.”

Rhona Hartley, NB Distillery’s Corporate and Retail sales manager, said:

“It is fantastic that our politicians are taking such a proactive approach to understanding the success and challenges of local businesses. NB Distillery has grown from strength to strength and is now actively seeking an investor to continue to grow locally and internationally.”   

Praise for walled garden’s remarkable progress

The historic Amisfield Walled Garden has been praised by local parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP following a visit this week.

The politicians visited the garden on the outskirts of Haddington to meet Amisfield Preservation Trust Chairperson, Kate Rycroft, and volunteer co-ordinator, Alasdair McDougall, and discuss the latest progress on site and its future development plans.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I have had the privilege of following the remarkable progress at Amisfield Walled Garden for a number of years now. Kate and the Trust’s other volunteers have worked incredibly hard to bring the garden back to life and make it a real asset for Haddington and the whole of East Lothian.

“It is now a really fantastic local attraction and focus for learning and wellbeing at the heart of the county, and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has not yet visited.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“Over the last few years a dedicated team of volunteers have transformed the walled garden from its previously sadly neglected state into a beautiful community garden with a venue for education and training for people of all abilities.

“It was clear that all the hard work they have undertaken has helped the garden become increasingly popular as a visitor destination, with an annual programme of events and activities helping to attract well over 1,000 visitors a year.”

Kate Rycroft, Chairperson, Amisfield Preservation Trust, said:

“It was a pleasure to meet Martin and to welcome back Iain to the garden. We were delighted to have the opportunity to show them the work that has been carried out by our volunteers and to discuss ways that our project can further benefit the local community.”

Find out more about Amisfield Walled Garden at www.amisfield.org.uk/

Update on Seabird Centre’s progress

Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have visited the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick to catch up on the latest developments at the prestigious local charity.

The parliamentarians met with the Centre’s Chief Executive, Susan Davies, and received an update on the improvements she has overseen since coming into post at the start of this year.

One of the county’s most popular visitor attractions, the upstairs of the Centre underwent significant refurbishment earlier in the year. Plans are also under way for a significant upgrading of the discovery centre, and the classroom, all happening later this year

The meeting was also a chance to chat about the Centre’s plans for celebrating its 20th anniversary next year – which coincides with Scotland’s “Year of Coasts and Waters”.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I have long been a supporter, and member, of the Scottish Seabird Centre. It is some time now since Susan took over as Chief Executive, so summer was a good time to visit with Martin to catch up with her and learn about recent changes and future plans for the Centre.

“The new more open layout of the shop and Cafe area really do give it a “bigger” feel, and, as always, the views from the cafe are spectacular. If you are in North Berwick, don’t forget to drop in to the Centre, and if you are not already a member, please do join!”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“The Scottish Seabird Centre is an important local visitor attraction and education facility. As well as its important local role, the Centre also has a well-deserved national reputation for its conservation activities.

“I’m pleased that the prestigious Centre is located here in East Lothian and welcomed the opportunity to meet Susan and chat to her about recent developments and its plans for the future, including next year’s 20th anniversary celebrations.”

Susan Davies, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said:

“We were delighted to host Martin and Iain for a visit at the Scottish Seabird Centre and to talk through our plans to develop our wider marine conservation, education, community activities for 2020-2025. 

“We were also able to show them around the first phase of our refurbishment and give an overview of the exciting changes ahead for our discovery experience later this year.

“Their ongoing support and encouragement for our activities is welcomed and much appreciated; especially as we approach our 20th anniversary in 2020.”

Local charity leader receives Points of Light Award

Iain Gray MSP joined his Westminster colleague Martin Whitfield MP as he formally presented Beach Wheelchairs charity founder Alison Brown with her Points of Light Award for improving accessibility to beaches for wheelchair users.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May gave Alison the award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others, last month before her premiership ended.

Gray and Whitfield visited the charity’s beach hut at North Berwick harbour to congratulate Alison and her team on the award and catch up on its latest activity.

Speaking afterwards, Iain Gray MSP said:

“It’s always a pleasure to visit Beach Wheelchairs and hear about their latest activity. It’s clear from chatting to Alison and the volunteers that the charity is going from strength to strength, with its new electric chair proving to be particularly popular, and I wish them continued success in the years ahead.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It was a real honour to formally present Alison with her Points of Light Award. Beach Wheelchairs has had a powerful impact over the last few years by facilitating access to the beach for those who could not previously enjoy the experience. It’s exactly the kind of volunteer-led initiative that the award was designed to recognise and celebrate.”

Alison Brown said:

“This award is very much a reflection of the masses of hours so many people dedicate in North Berwick and Portobello and our joint project in Seton Sands. I can’t believe how far we’ve come and wonder what the future holds for us! I’m delighted that it raises the profile of our charity on a national platform and indeed highlights access issues for people with disabilities.

“Thank you to all volunteers, supporters and customers and here’s to many more years of picnics on the beach and first paddles!”

Alison is the 1231st winner of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA. Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK.

There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.

Toasting Port Seton pub’s revival

Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have visited The Seaglass Inn in Port Seton to toast the pub’s revival following a £425,000 refurbishment by Heineken-owned Star Pubs & Bars and new licensees, mother and daughter team Christine O’Brien and Sarah Couch.

The development of the pub – formerly called The Wemyss Hotel – has turned it into a quality, family friendly pub and created 16 new jobs. The overhaul has given The Seaglass Inn a stylish contemporary look, created a stunning outdoor area for alfresco eating and drinking, added BT and Sky Sports and installed a kitchen.

A new drinks selection ranging from barista coffee to craft beer and cocktails has been introduced, as well as freshly prepared food. Ingredients are locally sourced, and dishes include pub classics such as home-made steak pie as well as more unusual options such as pan-fried sea bass with salsa.

Christine O’Brien – who grew up in Prestonpans and also runs The New Plough Inn at Tranent – said:

“The pub looks beautiful, and they can’t believe the transformation. They love the new design and ambience and having a family-friendly pub that caters for all in Port Seton.

“We’re seeing a real mix of ages and people who never visited the pub before: groups of ladies for prosecco; guys watching the football and families enjoying a meal out. The community has backed us right from the early planning stages, and we’re very grateful for their support.”

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Good pubs play an important social role as hubs for the communities they serve. With so many people moving into this part of East Lothian, it’s good news to see a local pub given a new lease of life.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It’s great to see such major investment in an East Lothian pub and new jobs created. The Seaglass Inn is a welcome addition to the area for local residents and another attraction for visitors to the county’s coast.”

Star Pubs & Bars area manager Jeremy Williams said:

“We’re delighted that The Seaglass Inn has been so well received and is proving a popular meeting place for the whole community and those from further afield. Christine and Sarah are passionate about giving Port Seton a pub it can be proud of, and we wish them every success.”

The Seaglass Inn’s refurbishment is part of Star Pubs & Bars’ £4 million investment programme for Scotland’s pubs in 2019.

Parliamentarians visit award-winning local community woodland

Local parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have visited the award-winning Gifford Community Woodland to find out more about the project’s work and plans for the future.

Mr Gray and Mr Whitfield met with Project Manager Nev Kilkenny and Chairman Adam White at the woodland to see for themselves the work that is being undertaken to restore the woods and make them accessible.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This was my first visit to Gifford Community Woodland and I was impressed with the progress they have made. It is a fantastic initiative with genuine support from the local community which has made huge strides in a relatively short period of time.

“It was easy to see why they were recognised at this year’s Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards in the Large Woodland category. The team also have some great plans for the future of the village’s woodland and I was pleased to hear more about them.” 

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“Gifford Community Woodland is a huge local success story. In just a few years the project has successfully purchased the woodland around the village and then undertaken significant work to restore it and develop it as a real asset for the community.

“Nev and Adam took us on a walk around some of the woodland to see the work they have been undertaking. They provided us with a really useful update on the project’s progress so far and how they see it developing in the future.”

Find out more at http://giffordcommunitywoods.blogspot.com/

Iain visits foodbank as schools return

Iain Gray MSP has visited East Lothian Foodbank to catch up with the team there and discuss its vital lifeline service for local people facing food poverty.

Mr Gray visited the Foodbank on the day children returned to school, which is often a time when it sees a spike in referrals for support.

As well as discussing the charity’s recent progress with Peter and volunteers, Mr Gray also lent a hand with preparing food parcels for local people.

Speaking after his visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

I was pleased to catch up with Peter and the volunteers, and also help with preparing food parcels to go to those who need them.

“One of the lesser known effects of children returning to school is that there is sometimes a spike in referrals for support, possibly as families find themselves under financial pressure through buying new uniforms, school shoes etc.

“Whatever the reason, the foodbank continues to be a vital lifeline for far too many families in East Lothian – an organisation we should not need at all, but unfortunately do. The truth is the demand on the foodbank is growing, not reducing as we would like to see, and Peter and his team of volunteers do an amazing job week in week out.

“As always, donations are needed, and most of our supermarkets have a donation point, so when you shop, please do think about buying some extra items and placing them there.”

Peter Dicker, Manager of East Lothian Foodbank, said:

“It’s always nice to see our elected politicians getting involved with the Foodbank and coming in to help. Iain was able to see the great and varied work that our volunteers do, and spoke to the ones at the Foodbank that day and listened to their concerns.

“We would not be able to do what we do without our much valued volunteers. I discussed with him that we, The Foodbank, do not want to be here, but we are, and we are providing a vital service to the community in East Lothian.”

Lack of co-ordinated support for children with Additional Support Needs

Fewer than three percent of children with additional support needs, who are also being supported by social work services, are having their needs met via a coordinated support plan (CSP).

Scottish Labour analysis of the latest figures show that there were 21,906 young people with additional support needs, who were also being supported by social work services, in 2018 – but only 621 (2.8 per cent) within this group had a CSP.

CSPs are statutory support plans and should be prepared for eligible pupils who need support due to complex factors affecting their education, have needs that are likely to last more than a year, and need significant additional support from other services such as social work.

A CSP is the only legal planning document in education and allows parents and guardians to challenge local authority provision and make use of the Additional Support Needs Tribunal for Scotland.

Since 2009, there has been an obligation on local authorities to assess whether children who are looked after should have a statutory support plan – such children qualify as they are supported by both educational and social work services.

Scottish Labour raised concerns about the lack of coordinated support for children with additional support needs, which has occurred against a backdrop of the SNPs 7.5 per cent real terms cut to local government funding.

Scottish Labour Education Spokesperson Iain Gray has called upon the SNP Government to take immediate action to improve access to support services for young people with additional needs.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“These statistics are incredibly worrying, and reveal just how badly the SNP Government is letting down young people with additional support needs.

“Co-ordinated support plans are vital to families in ensuring their children receive the correct level and type of support. It is inconceivable that only 3% of qualifying children need a coordinated support plan and the rights that gives them.

“This is just the latest in a long line of recent evidence which has highlighted how stretched support services for children with additional support needs are.

“Local government needs urgent reinvestment to ensure councils have the capacity to deliver services that meet the educational and support needs of every child.”

Benefits system failure revealed with nearly 7,000 local advance payments made

New figures reveal that East Lothian residents have received nearly 7,000 advance payments totalling more than £2.5 million since Universal Credit began full service, one of the highest anywhere in Scotland.

The data, released in a Freedom of Information request, also reveals that more than 200,000 advances, totalling some £80 million, have been made across the whole of Scotland. In May 2019, there were 184,537 Scots on full service Universal Credit.

Advance payments for Universal Credit were introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions as a mechanism to prevent people falling into hardship during the five-week wait for their first payment.

These latest figures follow reports that scammers are fraudulently claiming advance loans through misuse of the system.

The county’s MSP and MP have warned this latest revelation is yet further evidence that Universal Credit is failing those that it is intended to help.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“As a UC pilot area, East Lothian was one of first places to experience the damaging chaos caused by the new benefit, with hundreds of people driven into further debt and poverty.

“Across the country tens of thousands are still suffering the misery of Universal Credit – made to choose between paying the rent, heating their home or eating. 

“The government should accept its UC system has failed and urgently reform the system to make it fair for all.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It’s beyond belief that over £2.5 million has had to be paid out in advance loan payments for local residents since Universal Credit was rolled out into full service. 

“More and more people are being pushed into hardship – and the system is clearly set up in a way that means it is not helping those who need it. Those on UC shouldn’t be forced into claiming advance payments that have to be paid back.

“The UK government must halt this shambolic system and take immediate steps to fix it and ensure those in greatest need do not lose out.”

The figures emerged in the same week that Martin Whitfield MP is hosting a Universal Credit roundtable event with key local stakeholders to discuss problems with the new system and explore additional ways of supporting people who are struggling with it.