Nominations for inaugural Scottish Children’s Health Awards

Nominations for the inaugural Scottish Children’s Health Awards 2020 have now opened.

Entry is free and the charity is seeking special people (or teams) who have made, or are making, a difference to the lives of children in six specific award categories.

They are also seeking children who have shown strength and determination and kept going with their treatment, when it might have been so much easier to give up.

Nominations will remain open until 5:00pm on Sunday 12 July 2020 and the Awards will be presented during Scottish Children’s Health Week (31 August to 6 September 2020).

Find out about the awards categories and how to nominate at www.childrenshealthscotland.org/events/awards

Plea to support County music festivals with Covid recovery plans

The importance of providing financial assistance to help Scotland’s live music festival sector, including popular local events, with recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been raised at Holyrood.

At this week’s Culture Questions in Parliament, Iain Gray MSP asked the Scottish Government how it is planning to give the sector the help it needs to ensure the return of such events next year.

Mr Gray used his supplementary question to highlight the need for state support including funding for local music festivals, such as Fringe by the Sea, Haddstock and the Lammermuir Festival in East Lothian, to help them recover from the pandemic and lockdown.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop agreed that live music plays a crucial role in Scotland’s cultural life and that she would explore provision of longer term support for music festivals as part of plans for recovering from the pandemic.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“East Lothian has a thriving arts and culture scene. Music is an important part of that scene and includes several successful local festivals. As well as providing important opportunities for local people to access the arts, these events also help boost tourism by bringing visitors to the County.

“However, like so many areas of life, cultural events, including music festivals, have been hit hard by the pandemic with many cancelled or postponed over recent months. As we begin the recovery from the impact of the virus, I am keen to ensure that our music festivals receive state support to help them.

“While I was heartened by the Cabinet Secretary’s reply to my question in Parliament, music festivals take a long time to plan and organise and they will urgently need to see concrete proposals for how the Scottish Government will support them with preparing for events in 2021.”

Watch Mr Gray’s questions and the Cabinet Secretary’s replies in full here.

Local charities in urgent need of support as full scale of funding crisis emerges

Following a new report highlighting the scale of the loss of income faced by charities across the UK in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iain Gray MSP is renewing his call for the Scottish Government to urgently establish additional funding to support the sector.

Analysis published this week by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and Charity Finance Group (CFG) revealed charities in the UK face a staggering £12.4bn loss of income as they continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic and social distancing measures.

This figure was reached following a survey of charities reporting financial loss and reforecasting their income for the year ahead. On average, respondents reported they were expecting a reduction of 24% to their total income for the year, which would mean a £12.4bn loss of income if the average was applied to the sector across the board.

The research also found that charities received 29% less income than they had budgeted for while 84% of respondents reported a decrease or a significant decrease in their total income. 92% of organisations reported a fall in trading income during the lockdown with just 5% reporting that income from trading had increased.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Third sector groups have been highlighting the problems they face with funding since the beginning of this pandemic. With donations falling and income from trading reduced during lockdown, many are now facing a perilous financial position in the weeks and months ahead.

“This is critical because charities and community groups, including the many excellent ones in East Lothian, frequently play a vital role in supporting and advocating for some of the most vulnerable in society. If we lose this support now it will have a profoundly damaging effect for years to come.

“I know East Lothian Council will continue to do all it can to support local third sector groups, but the damage caused by the pandemic is on such a vast scale that it requires a significant injection of funds from the Scottish Government to help keep the sector afloat until its funding recovers.

“I raised this issue directly with Nicola Sturgeon earlier this month and was disappointed with her reply. The Scottish Government must urgently come up with a plan for rescuing the sector and helping it through this crisis. If it does not, the long-term cost to our communities will be incalculable.”

Calling for a package of measures to support the sector, Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, said:

“This new research shows that the impact of coronavirus is going to have a hugely significant impact on charity finances for the year ahead.

“With social distancing remaining in place for the foreseeable future, and an exceptionally difficult time ahead for the wider economy, the fact that the charities who responded to the survey are planning for a loss of almost a quarter of their total income is extremely worrying. 

“The government urgently needs to review and enhance its emergency support for charities, with a further bespoke package of support, an extension to the Job Retention Scheme that specifically supporting those charitable activities which are still unable to take place, or both.”

Scotland’s umbrella body for third sector organisations, SCVO, is also calling for more funding for its members to help them through the pandemic.

David McNeill, director of development for SCVO, said:

“As predictions point towards some significant economic and social challenges as we begin to exit lockdown, organisations will be facing a greater demand for services which support those who have lost jobs, have seen their financial situations change, have faced abuse at home, are struggling without regular childcare or education, and much more.

“The initial response from the Scottish and UK Governments has been focused on the immediate needs of organisations who have had a sudden drop in income or can provide vital support to communities during the crisis.

“In the coming months, organisations will need support from all funders – including Holyrood, Westminster, local authorities, independent grant and trust funders and members of the public – to help them as much as they can to survive.

We know the voluntary sector has been Never More Needed than at this time, and SCVO will continue to champion the absolutely vital work that organisations are carrying out and work with funders to ensure the sector can continue to support communities during and after the coronavirus pandemic.”

Iain backs call for responsible use of countryside as lockdown eases

As the second phase in lifting lockdown restrictions is due to get underway, allowing larger groups to meet outside, Iain Gray MSP is backing a call from the NFU Scotland for people accessing the countryside to do so responsibly.

The union is producing new posters to raise awareness of some of the farming activities the public can expect to see when accessing the countryside and help them to be mindful of the fact that farmers need to be able to look after livestock and grow crops safely during this exceptional crisis.

NFUS Scotland has said that many of the thousands who have accessed the Scottish countryside in the past 12 weeks have done so responsibly and respected the work of farmers and others working in rural areas.

However, a minority have behaved irresponsibly, spoiling it for the majority. The Union has recorded:

  • People ignoring Government recommendations and travelling considerable distances to take access.
  • People walking through fields of cows with calves or ewes and lambs with dogs off the lead.
  • Failing to pick up dog poo and, in some instances, bagging dog poo then throwing it into fields.
  • People accessing farm buildings and farmyards.
  • Abandoning vehicles in gateways and farm roads to go for a walk or cycle.
  • Ignoring requests to use hand sanitiser when opening and closing farm gates.
  • Failure to take litter home.
  • Taking access across fields of crops, such as wheat and barley rather than walking round.
  • Gates not being left as they found them.
  • Groups holding picnics and parties, often with dangerous barbeques.
  • Arson, vandalism and property and posters being destroyed.

Commenting on the NFUS message, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’m pleased that most people accessing East Lothian’s beautiful countryside over the last few months have done so responsibly and without disturbing those who make their living from the land.

“Many local people are already knowledgeable about our county’s agricultural sector and respectful of its importance to the local economy. However, a small minority have acted in ways that can be harmful to our countryside and farming. This is unacceptable at any time, but particularly reckless during a pandemic when farmers are working hard to help keep food in our shops and supermarkets.

“As lockdown continues to ease, I welcome the NFU’s call for people to behave responsibly when accessing the countryside and to follow its four simple messages. By doing so they will be helping keep themselves and others safe, as well as respecting the importance of farming and food production.”

NFU Scotland Vice President Charlie Adam said:

“We continue to see a significant increase in the numbers accessing and safely enjoying the countryside, many of whom will be new to the outdoor experience.

“Farming operations and the production of food have continued throughout the crisis, giving people the opportunity to see the working countryside in action and learn a bit more about where their food and drink comes from.  However, the work and effort that many of our members have put in this spring to keep plates and glasses full has been spoiled by the poor behaviour of a minority.

“The majority of people are as appalled as we are at the catalogue of destruction, vandalism, livestock worrying and fly-tipping we have sadly seen in recent times.

“To help inform the public about farming activities that they may come across while taking access, and link those to food and the countryside, NFU Scotland’s Next Generation has produced a new range of colourful posters for our members and will launch these in the next few days.” 

As more people access the countryside in the coming weeks, the key messages from NFU Scotland are:

  • Please leave gates as you find them.
  • Leave no trace – don’t’ damage crops and take your litter home with you.
  • Be aware of livestock and keep your dog under control.
  • Adhere to signage requests.

Find out more at www.nfus.org.uk/

Strengthened animal and wildlife legislation welcomed

Iain Gray MSP has joined Scottish Labour colleagues in voting for amendments that will bring about more robust animal welfare laws and tougher penalties for cruelty offences, including new protection for mountain hares.

The amendments, which are rooted in the understanding that animals are sentient, also make sure that the Animals and Wildlife (Scotland) Bill improves animal rights in the face of the current global climate emergency.

The Bill now means there will be tougher sentences for the destruction of badger setts and nesting, resting places for wildlife, as well as for setting illegal traps or snares. It will also introduce a ban on the unlicensed culling of mountain hares and make them a protected species, an issue raised with Mr Gray by several constituents.

The amendments will also mean that courts are able to order empathy training as part of community payback orders in appropriate cases involving animal or wildlife cruelty.

Commenting on the legislation, Iain Gray MSP said:

“This legislation will deliver more meaningful and robust change in the protection of Scotland’s wildlife, a cause I know many East Lothian residents are passionate about. This is particularly the case with mountain hares, a species which has seen a decline in numbers over decades.

“The destruction of habitats can cause as much damage and risk of death as a direct attack on wildlife. East Lothian is home to some of Scotland’s most cherished wildlife and we should be doing everything possible to protect it.

“I was pleased that the setting of illegal traps and snares will now be a serious vicarious liability crime. It is disappointing that other amendments on vicarious liability were not supported though, as land owners have very limited liability for wildlife crimes committed on their properties.

It is also disappointing that the amendment to enhance Marine Protected Areas was not passed as it would have given the same protections to marine wildlife and relevant habitats in the marine environment as by land.

“However, passing this Bill is just the first step in improving how we tackle these crimes. It is now vital that these penalties are backed up with an enforcement system that is properly equipped to deal with these important issues.”

Scottish Labour’s amendments to the legislation also ensure the ability of public bodies to share information to ensure better protection for animals.

Iain announces he will retire from Holyrood next year

Iain Gray MSP has announced that he will not contest next year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Gray, the former Scottish Labour leader who has served as the constituency’s MSP since 2007, told local party members this week that he will not be asking them to re-select him as the party’s candidate for 2021.

In an email to members, Mr Gray announced his decision to retire from Parliament and thanked them for their support over the last 13 years, during which he was twice re-elected to Holyrood as the county’s MSP.  Mr Gray was originally elected as an MSP in Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, in 1999.

Speaking about his decision to stand down, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Serving the East Lothian constituency since 2007 has been one of the greatest honours of my life and I’ve enjoyed every moment of representing our unique and very special area at Holyrood. I often say that East Lothian is the best constituency in Scotland, and the best place in Scotland to live, and I mean it.

“I had the privilege of being part of the first Scottish Parliament intake in 1999, before East Lothian gave me the opportunity to return to Holyrood in 2007 and then serve as my party’s leader, and I will always be grateful for that.

“The decision to stand down is not an easy one, and was made even harder by the incredibly difficult circumstances we have all faced over the last three months. However, I will be 64 next year, almost 69 by the end of the next parliament and  after more than 20 years at the frontline of Scottish politics, next year is the right time for me to step aside and hand over to someone else to represent East Lothian’s interests.

 “I really, genuinely do want to spend more time with my family, especially my wife Gil who has supported me unstintingly through all the ups and downs of political life, and the seven fantastic grandchildren with whom I am now blessed.

“I want to say a huge thank-you to all of the constituents who’ve shown me such support and kindness over the last 13 years, and the many local organisations, charities and businesses that have welcomed me during that time. Special thanks are due to all of my constituency office staff over the years, the best in the business, who do the hard work while I take the credit. 

“I will, of course, continue to serve as the county’s MSP for the rest of my term and intend to do so to the best of my ability until the election in May next year.”

Backing those currently excluded from COVID-19 support

The aims of a campaign lobbying for those so far entirely or largely excluded from government COVID-19 financial support measures have been backed by Iain Gray MSP.

Launched last month, ExcludedUK represents a broad spectrum of individuals and businesses, all sharing one common thread – they have been excluded from COVID-19 support. The campaign is aiming to help enable the changes that are needed for those currently missing out to receive the support they need.

There are a variety of categories of people who have not received government support during the crisis, with the total affected estimated to be as high as 3 million across the UK. These include the newly self-employed, self-employed with +50k trading profits, PAYE freelancers, new starters, those denied furlough, Directors paid PAYE annually or paid in dividends and those ineligible for Business Grants.

Mr Gray has been contacted by several East Lothian residents who are in one of these categories. He has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes to urge her to raise the matter with her UK counterpart, and to explore what further support the Scottish Government can offer those who have so far been excluded.

Earlier this week the UK Parliament’s cross-party Treasury Committee published a unanimously-agreed interim report as part of its inquiry into the Economic Impact of Coronavirus called Gaps in Support.

The Chair of the Committee said that it has identified well over a million people who – through no fault of their own – have lost livelihoods while being locked down and locked out of the main support programmes. The report makes several recommendations to help those who have fallen through the gaps.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on nearly every sector of the economy. While governments across the UK moved quickly to put support measures in place to help businesses and individuals hit by the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that many people are still falling through the gaps and receiving no support at all.

“Earlier this week, the UK Parliament’s Treasury Committee confirmed that at least one million of those newly in employment, various kinds of self-employment and freelancers are currently left out of income support schemes.

“I’ve heard harrowing stories from constituents who have been unable to access the support they need to keep their businesses going or simply support their families and pay their bills. This cannot continue, and the UK and Scottish Governments have to listen to campaigners and take steps to support those who are currently missing out.”

Find out more or tell the campaign about your story at www.excludeduk.org/excluded-uk-an-inclusive-alliance-for-the-excluded.

Free service available for older people experiencing loneliness

This year’s Loneliness Awareness Week started on Monday and runs until Sunday 21st June, and as part of the week’s activities Age Scotland is highlighting a new service for older people who are experiencing loneliness.

The charity has launched a new free friendship call service that any older people who are feeling lonely can call for a friendly chat. You can call them for free on 0800 12 44 222.

Commenting on the new service, Iain Gray MSP said:

“We can all feel lonely at times. But for many people right now during lockdown, often shielding on their own, they are more lonely than ever. This Loneliness Awareness Week, please make an extra effort to reach out to people you know, especially those who live alone, and have a chat. It could mean the world to them.

“If you are older and feeling lonely, why not pick up the phone and call Age Scotland for a blether and a friendly chat. Call them for free on 0800 12 44 222. I know that they would love to speak with you.”

Visit www.age.scot/friendship for more information about the service and Age Scotland’s other work tackling loneliness.

Skills Development Scotland employment and redundancy advice

Skills Development Scotland has a comprehensive range of FAQs relating to employment and redundancy to help you if you have entered into a period of consultation with your employer, have lost your job or have questions about your employment.

Click here to view the FAQs and find other information on the range of career information, advice and guidance provided by SDS, including its online jobs hub and learning portal.

You can also call the agency’s helpline on 0800 917 8000 for advice.

Iain will back amendments to strengthen animal welfare laws

Iain Gray MSP will today back amendments to strengthen the Animals and Wildlife Bill by toughening legal penalties in cases of cruelty, selling illegal pesticides and failure to comply with protected marine areas.

The amendments submitted by Scottish Labour colleagues at Stage 3 of the Bill will also mean landowners are held accountable when crimes against wildlife are committed on their land, and will give courts the option of imposing restorative justice sentences aimed at developing empathy skills for offenders where appropriate.

If carried, these amendments will improve and reinforce the Bill as it is enshrined in law.

Commenting on the amendments, Iain Gray MSP said:

“All of Scotland is poorer when our biodiversity diminishes, and it is absolutely right that our wildlife, both land and sea, are offered better protections during a climate and environmental emergency.

“The Scottish Government has a chance today to improve its record on animal rights and agree to the holistic set of amendments tabled by my colleagues to tackle issues such as inadequate penalties for animal abuse and wildlife protection, poor information sharing, and the inconsistent use of Disqualification Orders.”