Iain backs union’s campaign against child poverty

Iain Gray MSP met with representatives of the EIS teaching union at Holyrood last week and gave his support to its new Child Poverty campaign.

The campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the consequences of inequality in society and highlight child poverty, specifically in relation to the impact on learning and teaching in Scottish education.
EIS will be highlighting the campaign to its members and local communities in the coming months with the intention of influencing the approach of the Scottish Government, as well as local authorities.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome this new EIS campaign and the important focus it is putting on the educational impact of child poverty. More than one in five children in Scotland currently live in poverty, meaning they lack many basic needs taken for granted by others. But it’s clear that the impact of poverty goes beyond financial and material needs. It affects the ability of children to learn, their emotional resilience and wellbeing, and their social interaction and development.

“Part of the campaign’s focus is about exploring local action aimed at counteracting the negative effect of poverty on educational attainment. East Lothian Council is already working hard on this issue and its investment in initiatives such as Support from the Start and Place2Be are certainly welcome.”

MSP speaks to Dunbar pupils for school’s ‘World of Work’ week

County MSP Iain Gray visited Dunbar Primary School last week to speak to P7 pupils as part of the school’s ‘World of Work’ event.

Parents and carers also participated in the programme of meetings and talks which took place between 18th and 21st February. The event gave all P7 pupils at the school the opportunity to hear more about the range of career opportunities that are available to them.

Mr Gray spoke about his role as East Lothian’s Member of the Scottish Parliament and answered some of the pupils’ questions about his work.

Speaking after the event, Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to be invited to speak to Dunbar pupils at the school’s ‘World of Work’ event. Bringing parents and carers with a range of different job and career experiences into the school gives pupils a chance to learn more about the employment options that may be available to them.

“It’s really important to give children opportunities like this in order to help them to start thinking about the sort of job they might want to consider doing. While being a politician was possibly not the week’s most exciting career option, the pupils listened intently and asked some great questions. I hope I didn’t put any potential future MSPs off a career in politics.”

Letter from Holyrood: An end to locally delivered justice

There is less than a year until Haddington’s Sheriff and JP Courts are due to close. I remain firmly of the view that closing the county’s courts is wrong and will effectively snuff out the local delivery of justice in East Lothian.

One of the many arguments against closing our courts was the uncertainty surrounding capacity at Edinburgh’s courts. Official figures released last year showed a 50% increase in the number of in summary complaints registered at Edinburgh’s JP Court for the three months ending August 2013. They also showed outstanding summary complaints had risen by 139%. The number of Edinburgh Sheriff Court summary complaints increased by around 42% for the same period, with outstanding complaints rising by around 49%.

These huge increases have come about before Edinburgh’s courts have started taking on the additional caseload from Haddington and appear to confirm fears about the potential future capacity in Edinburgh. I was pleased that East Lothian Council raised these concerns directly with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and urged him to think again on the court closures. I have also written to Mr MacAskill and echoed the Council’s concerns. I pressed him to remain open to the possibility that Haddington’s courts should not close if those in Edinburgh are incapable of taking on the additional workload.

I do not want victims and witnesses in East Lothian to face ever longer waits for court appearances and for justice to become inefficient and remote. When SNP ministers took the decision to close the courts they also made vague promises of introducing videolink facilities and family hearings in Haddington to retain some local administration of justice. Months later, there is still no sign of a coherent plan for delivering this.

As things stand, it seems that locally-delivered justice here in East Lothian really will come to an end next January.

Parliamentarians welcome confirmation that Tranent front counter will remain open

Local Labour politicians have welcomed confirmation from police chiefs that the front counter at Tranent police station will remain open to the public.

Police Scotland have confirmed via email that following further consultation with key stakeholders, the decision has been made to keep Tranent police station front counter provision open between Monday to Friday 0900 – 1700 hours. As set out in the amended proposal circulated in December, the counter provision at Haddington police station will change to Monday to Friday 0900 -1700 hours.

Iain Gray MSP, Fiona O’Donnell MP, and Labour Fa’side councillors, Donald Grant, Jim Gillies and Shamin Akhtar, led the opposition to the original plans to close the front desk. Their campaign included securing hundreds of local signatures for a petition urging Police Scotland to rethink the plans, making a strong submission against the closure to the public counter consultation, and tabling a motion opposing the proposal at East Lothian Council.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome this final confirmation that the front desk at Tranent police station will remain open. Local people, including Fa’side’s councillors and Tranent and Elphinstone Community Council, played a key part in campaigning against the original closure proposal, and I want to pay tribute to everyone in Tranent and the surrounding villages who supported the campaign.

“Senior police officers in East Lothian also deserve credit for listening to the views of local people and rethinking their original plans. As the SNP Scottish Government’s £140m cuts to policing begin to bite, further difficult decisions will have to be made on local policing priorities, and I hope that this willingness to engage and listen will continue.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP added:

“The proposed closure of the police public counter in Tranent raised many uncertainties and fears among local people and the communities of Fa’side were united in their opposition to it. I think it was that strong desire to keep the front desk open and the station accessible to the public that made the difference and ensured that the police acted on the concerns.

“I also want to add my thanks to all the people across Fa’side who signed our petition and supported the campaign.”

Under the new arrangements, the front counter provision for East Lothian will be:-

Musselburgh Police Station – Monday to Sunday 0800 – 1800 hrs
Tranent Police Station – Monday to Friday 0900-1700 hrs
Prestonpans Police Station – Front Counter provision previously withdraw (no change to this provision)
Haddington Police Station – Monday to Friday 0900 – 1700 hrs
Dunbar Police Station – Monday to Friday 0900 – 1700 hrs
North Berwick Police Station – Monday to Friday 0900 – 1700 hrs

The new operating times will take effect on the 3rd March 2014.

Iain welcomes local pupils to Holyrood

Pupils from two local primary schools were welcomed to the Scottish Parliament by Iain Gray MSP last week, in the latest of a series of educational visits by youngsters from the county.

Mr Gray met the groups of pupils, from Sanderson’s Wynd and Yester primaries, at the Parliament and answered their questions about how it operates and his own role as East Lothian’s constituency MSP.

The visits were part of the Parliament Education Service’s ongoing School Visits programme to introduce children to Holyrood and how it works. Several East Lothian schools have now taken advantage of this service to visit the Parliament and provide their pupils with the opportunity to find out more about how it functions and what MSPs do there.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I always enjoy welcoming pupils from East Lothian to Holyrood. It’s great that local schools work so hard to help ensure children are well informed about our political process. Many schools from around the county have now visited the Parliament, with hundreds of children benefiting from the experience.

“The pupils from Sanderson’s Wynd and Yester primaries were very engaged and asked some great questions – definitely quite a few politicians in the making I think! I hope that they found their visits interesting and useful, and look forward to welcoming many more local schools to Holyrood in the future.”

Visit www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitandlearn/Education/613.aspx for more information about the Parliament’s education service.

Iain meets local rural leader at Holyrood reception

Iain Gray MSP attended a parliamentary reception for Scottish rural leaders this week and met local businesswoman Nicola Simpson from Fenton Barns Nursery.

Ms Simpson is a participant in the Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme, which supports those playing an active part in Scotland’s rural economy to become a strong advocate for rural issues, and understand the rural planning and decision making processes.

The programme was established in 2006 with the aim of enhancing business performance through developing rural knowledge and political awareness to improve the professionalism of rural Scotland at all levels.

The current group is made up of a diverse mix of rural occupations including farmers, those involved in tourism and the food and drink sectors as well as vets, auctioneers, estate managers, the processing sector, supply trade and many other rural businesses.

The Holyrood reception gave participants in the programme the opportunity to meet with their local MSPs and discuss issues of concern to them and the rural communities they are part of.

Speaking after the reception, Iain Gray MSP said:

“Businesses operating in the rural economy in East Lothian and elsewhere in Scotland often face very specific challenges. It is right that tailored support and advice is available to rural leaders to help them to rise to these challenges and make their business performance as effective as possible.

“The Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme is an excellent initiative that helps local rural leaders to develop the knowledge and skills required to be strong advocates for their communities. It has a reputation for high quality training of emerging rural talent and I welcome the fact that Nicola and other rural leaders in East Lothian have been able to benefit.”

Campaigning for ‘Justice for the Coalfields’

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP are supporting a new campaign urging UK Government Ministers to begin to put right the wrongs of the miners’ strike and the damage done to coalfield communities, including those in East Lothian.

Earlier this month newly-released cabinet papers revealed that the Thatcher Government had a secret plan to close 75 pits at the cost of some 65,000 jobs; that the Government did seek to influence police tactics to escalate the dispute; and that they actively considered declaring a state of emergency and deploying the Army to defeat the miners and unions.

The ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign, launched this week by the Labour Party, is urging Ministers to:

• Make a formal apology for the actions of the Government during the time of the strike
• Set out all details of the interactions between the Government and the police at the time
• Release all information about Government-police communications around Orgreave, with a proper investigation which might go a little way to rebuild public confidence.

Labour believes this must happen before the 30th Anniversary of Orgreave on June 18th this year. Ms O’Donnell and Mr Gray have written to the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to demand an apology a response on these three points.

Both politicians are also backing renewed calls for the SNP Scottish Government to conduct a review into the arrests and convictions made during the dispute, a proposal it has so far refused.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The 1984-85 miners’ strike caused significant and lasting damage to East Lothian’s coalfield communities. The men involved in the dispute, as well as their families, friends and neighbours who supported them, suffered terribly and it is now clear that this was due to an orchestrated campaign by Ministers in the Thatcher Government.

“These latest revelations also reinforce the case for the SNP Scottish Government to order a full and independent review of all cases of miners arrested in Scotland during the strike. To date, calls for action have fallen on deaf ears, but I am backing new demands for the Justice Secretary to initiate a review and ensure justice for all those who were arrested and convicted during the dispute.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“For those of us who lived through the strike and who saw the impact it had, what was revealed in the cabinet papers may not come as a surprise. But it is no less shocking to consider that far from being neutral, as was claimed at the time, the Government took a deliberately calculated political approach guided by a complete hostility to the coalfield communities.

“The present Government may want to sweep these events under the carpet, but the scars of the dispute and the subsequent closure programme remain on the memories and landscapes of coalfield communities in East Lothian. Thirty years on from the dispute, I believe the time is right for Ministers to deliver the transparency which coalfield communities, including those here in East Lothian, deserve.”


Iain welcomes Council’s call for courts rethink

East Lothian Council’s latest bid to persuade the SNP Scottish Government to rethink its planned closure of Haddington’s Sheriff and JP courts has been welcomed by local MSP Iain Gray.

The Council’s chief executive Angela Leitch has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to highlight concerns about recent figures for Edinburgh’s JP and Sheriff Courts, which show significant increases in the number of summary criminal cases being dealt with in the three months ending August 2013.

Councillors have expressed concerns about the figures because they fear that the closure next year of Haddington’s courts will lead to further increases in the number of cases being dealt with. This could have a negative impact on the efficient administration of justice, the interests of victims and witnesses, who could face longer waiting times till a possible court appearance, and the effectiveness of any community-based punishment ordered by the court.

In light of this information, the Council has asked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to reconsider his decision to close Haddington Sheriff Court in January next year. Mr Gray has also written to the Justice Secretary to back the Council’s concerns and urge him to think again.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Those of us who led the campaign to save Haddington’s courts consistently expressed concerns about the capacity of Edinburgh’s courts to deal with the extra workload that the SNP’s court closures will create. These figures make it clear that Edinburgh’s courts are already bursting at the seams and adding cases from East Lothian and other smaller courts will put real pressure on their ability to administer justice efficiently.

“I don’t want victims and witnesses in East Lothian to face longer and longer waits for court appearances and for justice to become inefficient and remote. East Lothian Council is absolutely right to highlight these concerns and press the Justice Secretary to reconsider his closure plans. I will back their call and continue to make the case for the retention of Haddington’s courts to preserve local justice in the county.”

Letter from Holyrood: Decision year on independence

Happy New Year to all ELN readers. This is the year when Scots decide if they wish to live in a separate independent Scotland, or a Scotland which is part of the United Kingdom with its own devolved parliament.

Late last year the SNP Scottish Government published its “White Paper” on independence. It had several hundred pages of “Questions and Answers”. Unfortunately these were the likes of “What will Scotland be called?” (Answer – “Scotland”), and none of the important questions about why Scotland would be better off were answered at all.

The SNP want to keep the British Pound, the British Queen, British TV programmes, the British energy market, and a British banking system. They claim that we would simply carry on as members of the EU, and of NATO and that the rest of the United Kingdom would happily pay for Scottish renewable energy, build naval ships in Scottish yards and bail out Scottish banks if they failed.

Independent experts have rubbished these claims, but even if they were true this is a strange kind of independence, with no control at all over our economy including things like mortgage rates. The truth is that the way to keep all these things, and the benefits the White Paper admits we need, is to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The biggest promise in the White Paper is an increase in childcare availability. Yet that is already devolved and the Scottish government already control childcare provision! It really is a cheek to tell Scottish families that the government will not extend childcare unless they vote the way the SNP want in the referendum.

Constituents have complained to me about the hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on producing and promoting this document. That has been raised many times in Parliament, but the SNP Government’s view is that they won an election in 2011 and so they are entitled to spend as much public money as they wish on their independence project. My view is that they would be better spending that money on things like childcare and education right now.

Disappointment as withdrawal of traffic wardens is confirmed

County MSP Iain Gray has expressed his disappointment at Police Scotland’s confirmation that East Lothian’s traffic wardens are to be withdrawn next month.

Mr Gray had spoken out on the potential cost and impact on local parking of the police proposals and urged police chiefs to look again at the traffic warden provision. However, the decision to implement the proposals to remove the traffic warden service from Monday 3rd February was made shortly before Christmas.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The confirmation that our traffic wardens are to be withdrawn is very disappointing news for communities across the county. At the end of last year, I spoke out about local people’s concerns regarding the potential impact of this proposal and urged Police Scotland to rethink its plans. So the decision to go ahead with the withdrawal of traffic wardens here is a real blow for our town centres.

“With experts suggesting that it could take up to three years for local councils to put replacement traffic warden services in place, it is imperative that Police Scotland takes urgent steps to ensure the county will not face the kind of problems many fear this policy will bring about. This means working closely with East Lothian Council to avoid traffic chaos until an alternative can be implemented.”