Iain marks nursing professional body’s centenary year

Iain Gray MSP has joined colleagues at Holyrood in paying tribute to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in its centenary year.

Mr Gray has signed a motion in Parliament which celebrates the pioneering work undertaken by the professional body and trade union for nurses. The motion highlights the RCN’s work on developing professional standards for nurses, promoting excellence in practice and helping to shape health policies.

It also praises the organisation for the work it does supporting nurses and promoting the importance of nursing staff and their contribution to patient care. The motion also reaffirms the Parliament’s support for and thanks to Scotland’s dedicated nursing staff and healthcare support workers.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) makes a unique contribution to nursing and healthcare in Scotland and across the UK. From humble beginnings in 1916 it has grown to become the largest professional association and union for nursing staff in the world.

“The RCN has been pivotal in developing standards and expertise in the profession and supporting nursing staff over the last century. It has also played a central role in helping to shape the development of sound health policy and improvements in patient care.

“I’m pleased to join colleagues in paying tribute to the organisation during its centenary year. It is also another opportunity to celebrate and thank all of Scotland’s nursing staff and healthcare support workers for the vital contribution they make to our health and wellbeing.”

Iain backs county youngster’s awareness call on animal cruelty

A young campaigner has taken her plea for more concerted action on tackling cruelty against animals to the Scottish Parliament and the county’s MSP, Iain Gray.

Dunbar schoolgirl Cerys Bryson collected over 2000 signatures on a petition on animal cruelty and then contacted Mr Gray to discuss her concerns. He invited her into the Scottish Parliament to hear more about the petition and her call for further action to prevent cruelty and ensure those who commit acts of cruelty face the full force of the law.

Mr Gray gave Cerys, her Sister, Hannah, and her Grandmother, Fran, a tour of the Parliament. He also agreed to support Cerys’s campaign by writing to Police Scotland and the Scottish SPCA to ask what action both organisations are taking to clamp down on animal cruelty.

The petition is timely with incidences of animal cruelty having been on the increase in Scotland. Figures for 2014 showed a record number of people banned from keeping animals following what the SSPCA described as “unimaginable” cases of cruelty.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I know that cruelty against animals is something many local people feel strongly about. East Lothian is a largely rural county and there is no doubt that acts of cruelty take place here, with some high profile cases having gone to court in recent years.

“When I heard from Cerys about her petition it was obvious how passionate she is about this important issue. I was pleased to invite her into Parliament to hear more about her concerns and talk to her about the legislation currently in place on animal cruelty. I commend Cerys for caring enough to take this action. It is yet another example of the county’s young people standing up for what they believe in.

“Cerys understands that cruelty to animals is against the law, but is concerned that these laws may not always be followed or enforced.

“Following our discussion, I have written to the Chief Constable of Police Scotland and the Chief Executive of the Scottish SPCA to ask what action is being taken to ensure that animal cruelty laws are properly enforced and the public aware of the penalties that can be faced for committing acts of animal cruelty.

“I also promised Cerys that I would try to use the good offices of the Courier to remind everyone in East Lothian that animals, including their pets, are protected by the law.

“The bottom line is that any acts of animal cruelty are unacceptable. It’s important that the majority of the public who are horrified by such acts remain vigilant and report any cruel or abusive behaviour towards animals, whether they be pets, other domesticated animals, or those living in the wild.”

Current information about animal cruelty and how to report suspected incidences of abuse or cruelty towards animals, both pets and wild animals, can be found at the Scottish SPCA’s website at www.scottishspca.org or call their Animal Helpline on 03000 999 999.

Local residents shouldn’t have to choose between heating and eating

Households in East Lothian should not have to choose between heating and eating. That’s the message from Iain Gray MSP as new figures reveal the SNP Government in Edinburgh plan to cut the fuel poverty budget by £15 million – a 13 per cent cut to the current budget.

The latest estimate from the Scottish House Condition Survey suggests that 34 per cent or one in three households in East Lothian currently live in fuel poverty, meaning they need to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income to pay for fuel bills.

Mr Gray is promoting plans for a Warm Homes Act, which will change building and planning regulations to tackle fuel poverty.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“No households in East Lothian should be in the position of having to choose between heating and eating.

“In 2001 the last Labour-led Scottish Government set ambitious legislation to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016. We know the SNP Government will miss that target, with the latest estimates showing that one in three of all households in East Lothian live in fuel poverty.

“So it beggars belief that the SNP Government in Edinburgh plans a huge cut to the fuel poverty budget. Scottish Labour will take real action on fuel poverty. We will deliver ground-breaking legislation in the form of a Scottish Warm Homes Act.

“With new powers coming to Scotland we have the chance to really do things differently. After nearly a decade in office, and with a majority in Parliament, there are no excuses for the SNP failing to tackle fuel poverty.”

Fair Start Funding proposal worth hundreds of thousands extra for county schools

Speaking during a recent Holyrood debate on Supporting Public Services, Iain Gray MSP highlighted the difference Scottish Labour’s proposal for Fair Start Funding would make to the county’s primary schools and nurseries.

The proposal to provide additional support for children from poorer families in nursery and school would see schools in East Lothian benefit to the tune of almost £900,000 every year.

Local schools currently receive nothing from the SNP Government’s Attainment Challenge Fund, despite one in five children locally living in poverty.

Speaking after the debate, Iain Gray MSP said:

“The First Minister and her team make grand announcements about cutting the attainment gap and doing more to help the poorest pupils succeed. Yet the reality of their plans means that the majority of those in greatest need are currently missing out on additional funding.

“East Lothian is a good example of the failure of their current policies on tackling attainment. Schools in the county will not receive one penny of the SNP’s Attainment Challenge funding, even though we know one in five children locally are living in poverty. The bulk of this extra funding has been given to a handful of councils, mostly in the west of Scotland.

“We need to ask why are the SNP denying our children the additional support they need and deserve?  It simply is not right.

“Under Labour’s proposal for Fair Start Funding all of the county’s primary schools and many nurseries would receive some additional funding to tackle the attainment gap. The allocation would be determined by the need of the individual pupils in each school and then given direct to the schools to use as they see fit to help reduce the attainment gap.

“Our schools would share almost £900,000 every year under this proposal.  Bigger schools, like Dunbar might have a fund of £60 – £90,000 each year to support children from poorer families.  They could employ extra teachers, extra classroom assistants, buy extra equipment, or whatever the Head thought would make a difference.

“Only by carefully targeting resources in this way will we be able to help schools turn around the current gap between pupils from the most well off backgrounds and those from poorer families.”

Holyrood motion praises role of local anti-poverty campaigner

Iain Gray MSP has tabled a motion at Holyrood praising a local schoolgirl on her leading role in a campaign to maintain progress on tackling poverty across the globe.

Mr Gray’s motion commends Dunbar Grammar School pupil Heather Cameron who was an ambassador for the Action/2015 campaign which advocated the importance of continued global action on poverty.

The motion also highlights the important role played more generally by young people as ambassadors for the sustainable development goals on eradicating poverty, reducing inequality and tackling climate change by 2030.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“When I meet young people from the county’s schools and chat to them about the issues they are concerned about, they always highlight their desire to help those around the globe who are in greatest need.

“The Action/2015 campaign was all about keeping up the momentum for concerted action to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and tackle climate change. It inspired thousands of young people to get engaged and take the campaign’s important messages to decision-makers.

“I was very pleased that Heather was one of the campaign’s ambassadors in Scotland. She played a key role in encouraging others to get involved in the campaign’s activities and communicating its objectives to politicians.

“The work undertaken by Heather and the other ambassadors was crucial in helping to secure the commitment of countries around the world to an ambitious new development agenda for the years up to 2030.

“They can be very proud of the campaign’s success which will help to improve the lives of millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Iain pledges support for plans to help first time buyers

Iain Gray MSP has pledged his support for plans to increase help for local first time buyers.

Mr Gray is backing the Scottish Labour party’s first manifesto pledge ahead of May’s vote, to effectively double the help first time buyers currently receive towards saving for a deposit.

Under Scottish Labour’s plan a person who currently saves through a first-time buyer ISA with a government top up to the value of £3,000 would be entitled to an additional £3,000 from a Scottish Labour Government to help toward the cost of a deposit to buy a property.

This means that the average couple in East Lothian each saving £100 a month would be able to save for a £15,000 deposit within three years.

Under the SNP Government the number of people in Scotland aged 34 and younger who have bought their own home with a mortgage has fallen by 15%. Just 28% of those aged 16-34 in Scotland now own their home with a mortgage – the lowest level since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Everyone deserves a home and a chance, but too many young people in East Lothian are either living at home with their parents or stuck in expensive private lets unable to get that first foot on the housing ladder.

“Home ownership is a big ambition for thousands of young people in the county but for many it remains an ambition rather than a reality. The expectation of home ownership, seen as almost a right for previous generations, is out of reach for too many people. That has to change.

“Under Scottish Labour’s plan we will effectively double the help towards saving a deposit for first time buyers, investing an additional £3,000 for first time buyers saving as part of our plan.

“We’ll fund our promise by reversing the SNP’s plans to cut air passenger duty. A tax cut costs money, and we think that money would be better spent helping make the aspirations of young people in East Lothian a reality rather than making a plane ticket cheaper.”

MSP blasts plan to downgrade surgery at new hospital

County MSP Iain Gray has blasted NHS Lothian plans to downgrade surgery carried out in Haddington when the new East Lothian Community Hospital is built.

Currently Endoscopy, minor surgery under local anaesthetic and day surgery under general anaesthetic are all carried out at Roodlands with two rooms available.  The original plans for the new County hospital included three rooms which would have permitted an expansion of local surgery.

Now NHS bosses have proposed instead cutting back on services, by stopping all procedures under general anaesthetic.  These include operations such as hernia and dental surgery requiring a general anaesthetic.

Staff at Roodlands were briefed on the proposals in recent weeks, and were so concerned that they contacted Iain Gray seeking his support to ensure that, at the very least, there is no reduction in the surgery service in East Lothian.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Only last week I was warning that we must be vigilant for any attempt to actually reduce services delivered locally when the new hospital is built.  Clearly my fears were well founded.  I am completely opposed to this idea.  Our new hospital should be a chance to increase the health services available without travelling to Edinburgh or Livingston, not reduce them.  Anything else would be a betrayal of the people of East Lothian who have waited a very long time for a modern hospital. 

“In the first instance I have written to the Chief Executive of NHS Lothian, asking that this suggestion be withdrawn immediately.  I intend to raise it in Parliament too, at the first opportunity in the New Year.

“Operations are carried out by consultants from the western, RIE and St Johns, so there is no patient safety argument here.  I suspect it is being proposed to suit the convenience of NHS managers with the interest of the people of East Lothian being ignored.  There is no doubt that being able to get these kind of procedures without travelling into Edinburgh is a boon to my constituents.

“Roodlands staff have made it clear to me that they are opposed to the idea, and I understand that at least some of the consultants share their concern. 

“The Scottish Government decision to turn the hospital into a “Scottish Futures Trust” PFI project has already delayed this much needed facility by ten years.  Now NHS Lothian are trying to downgrade it before it is even built.  That is just not good enough.  Midlothian’s community hospital was completed long ago, and the Scottish Government spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a “superhospital” in Glasgow.  It is about time East Lothian got a fair crack of the whip.”

Tranent football club’s award success celebrated in Parliament

The success of Tranent and District Community Football Club in being awarded the SFA’s Quality Mark Legacy Award, the first club in East Lothian to achieve the prestigious award, has been recognised in a Scottish Parliament motion.

The county’s MSP Iain Gray put down the motion in Parliament to acknowledge the Club’s huge achievement and congratulate all the volunteers, players and others involved in the Club.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“This award is a huge achievement for Tranent and District Community Football Club. It was only established two years ago, so to be recognised by the SFA in this way is a massive vote of confidence in everything the club is doing in the local community to encourage as many people as possible to participate in football.

“I wanted to formally congratulate the Club and all those involved in it on becoming the first local club to receive the award and a motion in Parliament seemed a fitting way to do that. I also wish all the coaches, volunteers, players and everyone else involved with the Club every success in the future.”

The full text of Mr Gray’s motion is as follows:

That the Parliament notes that Tranent and District Community Football Club has been awarded the Scottish Football Association (SFA) Quality Mark Legacy Award, becoming the first community football club in East Lothian, and one of only a few in the south east region, to achieve what it considers this prestigious award; understands that the SFA South East Regional Committee made this award to recognise the positive work undertaken by the club and the key role that it plays in facilitating and encouraging participation in football in local communities in and around Tranent; recognises that the club now consists of 50 teams and almost 500 players across children’s, youth, women’s and girls’, adult and disabled football, and congratulates the volunteers, players and everyone else involved with the community club on this welcome success.

Courier column: Colleges should be central in education not on the sideline

A couple of months ago I used this column to highlight the various pressures facing Scotland’s colleges and the impact this was having locally, including the loss of vital bus services for students. This has made it much more difficult for young people in East Lothian to access learning opportunities at Edinburgh College. Unfortunately things have now gone from bad to worse and the sector has reached crisis point.

Last week the EIS College Lecturers Branch protested outside the Scottish Funding Council. They also announced the result of a ballot on industrial action where over 90% voted yes. Given the scale of the problems facing the sector, this came as no surprise. The SNP government have been treating colleges as the Cinderella of the education system ever since they came to power.

Not only did they force through unwanted mergers, but they have also repeatedly slashed college budgets. In fact the FE budget is less now than it was when the SNP came to power in 2007. That has resulted in 140,000 fewer students at our colleges, 3,500 fewer lecturers teaching them, £90m spent on paying staff off (including some huge payments to former principals), and now the prospect of industrial action.

The one positive promise lecturers were made by SNP Ministers was that they would move to national pay scales, so that a lecturer in Dumfries would be paid the same salary for the same job as a lecturer in Dundee. But ministers have even walked away from that promise, and there has been little or no progress towards national pay scales.

Colleges should be at the centre of our educational offer, not sidelined and punished like this. It is second chance learners, women returning to work and people with disabilities who have suffered most. Traditionally colleges served them well, but now they have been pushed out.

The SNP’s record on colleges is shameful, and it is no wonder staff are so angry.

Government’s dithering puts county farmers at risk

Local farmers are facing a financial crisis because of delays by the SNP Government in processing EU subsidies from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, has been accused of putting the future of farmers relying on these payments at risk because of his “dithering” and the inability of his department to put in place a new computer system to process the payments on time.

Iain Gray MSP has raised the issue at Holyrood, asking Mr Lochhead if the Government would consider compensating farmers who incur extra interest payments on loans as a direct result of delayed payments.

Iain Gray MSP said: 

“Many local farmers are still in the dark as to when they will receive these vital EU payments which they are relying on to keep their businesses going.  Richard Lochhead is presiding over an absolute shambles. 

“Everyone knew that the EU support system was complicated, but the design and implementation of the Scottish Government’s payments system has been a source of worry for months now.  The computer programme developed to process the payments has been plagued by delays.  

“Back in June Mr Lochhead acknowledged that he knew that the Scottish Government ‘absolutely must deliver a system which comes in on time and is not brought to its knees by complexity’.  To date he has completely failed to deliver this. 

“Banks have had to put in place special lending options, but these are not universal and will come at a cost to farmers who will have to pay interest on these loans.  That is why I took the opportunity to ask the Cabinet Secretary if he would commit to compensating farmers for interest paid as a direct result of delayed payments. Unfortunately, I don’t think Mr Lochhead’s reply gave much reassurance to our hard-pressed farmers.

“This whole affair has been a botched job from start to finish.   Thousands of Scottish farmers, and the jobs and rural economies that depend on farming are relying on their EU subsidy to get them through the next few months. They deserve better from the Scottish Government.”