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.

Parliamentarians praise local summer lunch clubs

Iain Gray MSP and Martin Whitfield MP have heaped praise on two local lunch club initiatives being run over the school summer holidays.

Both men visited the Fa’side Lunch Club at Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School, while Mr Whitfield has also attended the Preston, Seton, Gosford club at Preston Tower Primary School.

Both community initiatives are offering summer holiday provision and helping tackle holiday hunger in their respective communities by providing a providing a mix of childcare, nutritious food and fun activities.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“We know that the school summer holidays can be difficult for many parents, especially those on low incomes, with some even struggling to feed their children. Everyone involved in running these clubs deserves great credit for the important difference they are making for local children and parents.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“These lunch clubs are fantastic initiatives for the summer holidays which are helping to provide much-needed childcare provision and tackle holiday hunger. It was great to meet some of the children and hear more about how much they enjoy being at the clubs and playing with their friends.”

 

Poorest pensioners in East Lothian missing out on more than £4.5 million

Pensioners in East Lothian are missing out on millions of pounds in unclaimed pension credit, a leading charity has revealed.

Independent Age estimate that around £4.5 million in pension credit is going unclaimed in the county with the Tory UK government doing virtually nothing to ensure pensioners get the help that they need.

Across Scotland, more than £300million is going unclaimed by 123,000 households.

Commenting on the shocking figures, Iain Gray MSP said: 

“The last Labour Government took action to cut pensioner poverty, but the Tories have disgracefully allowed it to go up on their watch.

“It is shocking that East Lothian’s poorest pensioners are missing out on more than £4.5 million in vital support and something must be done urgently to increase take-up of Pension Credit.”

 Martin Whitfield MP said:

“Across the UK the poorest pensioners have missed out on £7 billion of Pension Credit since the last election, which means vulnerable people are being left without much-needed income.

“The Tories’ idea for encouraging people to apply for Pension Credit – an ‘online toolkit’ – would be laughable if this wasn’t so serious. They must right this wrong immediately.”

Motion welcomes Gifford Community Woodland’s award success

Iain Gray MSP has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament welcoming Gifford Community Woodland’s success at a prestigious national awards ceremony.

The community-owned woodland won in the Large Community Woodland of the Year category at this year’s Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards, which were presented at the Royal Highland Show last Friday.

Commenting on the success, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This is fantastic and very well deserved recognition for everyone involved in Gifford Community Woodland. The fact that they have been presented with this award only two years after the community bought the woods is a huge tribute to the hard work that has gone into developing the area for local people and visitors.

“I was keen to welcome this outstanding achievement in Parliament and wish all of the group’s volunteers continued success with developing the woods for the local community.”

The full motion is as follows:

Gifford Community Woodland Success at Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards

That the Parliament welcomes Gifford Community Woodland’s outstanding success in being named Large Community Woodland of the Year at the 2019 Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards; notes that this achievement comes only two years after the woods were purchased by the local community; congratulates the volunteers, board and steering committee on this fantastic achievement, and wishes them continued success with their work developing the woodland as a valuable resource for the whole of the local community.

Celebrating Armed Forces Day in East Lothian

Iain Gray MSP joined councillors, including Provost John McMillan, council officials, other dignitaries and veterans at East Lothian’s Armed Forces Day flag raising ceremony today at Haddington Town House.

The Council is flying the special flag to help mark this year’s UK Armed Forces Day which takes place on Saturday 29th June.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to join dignitaries, including Provost Councillor John McMillan, and local veterans at East Lothian’s flag raising ceremony for Armed Forces Day this morning in Haddington.

“Our county has a close association with the UK’s Armed Forces, with many local families proud of their connection to the Services. It is right that we honour their contribution and thank them for all they for us on this special day.”

Find out more about this year’s Armed Forces Day atwww.armedforcesday.org.uk/

Visiting award-winning local games studio

Iain Gray MSP and Iain Gray MSP have visited the East Linton office of award-winning games developer 4J Studios following its key role in Minecraft becoming the best selling game of all time.

Established in 2005, 4J has its Headquarters in Dundee, while most of the software development work is undertaken in East Linton. It has an extremely experienced core team of designers, technology and games programmers and artists. The company’s ethos is to combine innovation, creativity and technical excellence with efficient production practices.

Minecraft has now sold over 176 million copies worldwide, making it the best selling game ever. 4J is best known for developing Minecraft Console Edition which is a version of the game released on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U and Nintendo Switch, and this version has contributed over 66 million sales to the overall figure.

Following this remarkable milestone, Mr Whitfield and Mr Gray tabled motions in their respective parliaments marking the achievement and congratulating the 4J team in East Linton on their part in this success. The pair were welcomed to 4J’s East Linton office by CEO Paddy Burns to meet the team and hear more about the work undertaken there and at the company’s HQ in Dundee.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“There are many remarkable success stories in East Lothian and 4J Studios is right up there with the best of them. Staff in the East Linton office have played a central role in Minecraft’s stunning worldwide success and can rightly be very proud of their achievement.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to meet the team in East Linton and discuss how they developed Minecraft for consoles, as well as some of the company’s plans for developing new games. Its clear that 4J is set to go from strength to strength and it’s great that East Lothian is a part of the company’s success.”

Martin Whitfield MP said:

“It is wonderful that a business located here in East Lothian has enjoyed such phenomenal global success with Minecraft. It is a game that has brought so much enjoyment to children across the world and has also been an inspiration to anyone interested in gaming technology.

“I was pleased to help mark the game’s international success and the contribution of the team in East Linton with a motion at Westminster and look forward to continuing to follow 4J’s innovative work in the future.”

Paddy Burns, CEO of 4J, said:

“It’s been incredible to have played a part in the Minecraft phenomenon for the past eight years, and to be able to do this from East Linton in East Lothian shows anything is possible!”

Find out more about 4J Studios at www.4jstudios.com/