MSP asks for Auditor General Inquiry into Court Closure

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray has written to Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, asking her to investigate the impact of the closure of Haddington Sheriff and JP courts.

This follows a letter from the Justice Secretary in which he turns down the proposal from East Lothian lawyers to open a Summary Sheriff court in Haddington.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The ridiculous decision by the SNP government to close our courts is now a reality. To add insult to injury, the Justice Secretary has once again dismissed out of hand the proposal to replace the court with one of the planned summary sheriff courts.

“This eminently sensible idea, coming from the County’s faculty of Procurators, who know what they are talking about, has been treated in the most dismissive and high handed manner.

“The SNP Government’s attitude seems to be no better than, ‘we have closed your courts, so tough.’ Promises were made about justice facilitates being provided in East Lothian, and I am not about to let the Justice Secretary off the hook.

“I have also written to the Auditor General asking that she investigate the impact of East Lothian business being heard in Edinburgh. If, as everyone feared, this is causing delays and additional expense then I want this looked into. This was a foolish decision, and we will not accept it quietly.
The County has been treated with contempt by SNP Scottish Ministers in this matter.”

UN Lions roar into parliament

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray last week welcomed the Association of Lions Clubs into the parliament to celebrate Lions UN Day.  The event was chaired by County resident Lion Andrew Kerr Sutherland of West Barns, District Governor for Scotland and North East England.

The event heard speakers from young Lions ambassadors from across Scotland and the north east of England, as well as a youth representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

The Lions was founded as a service organisation in the US in 1917, and in 1945 its representatives helped draft the founding charter of the United Nations. This close relationship has continued since and its presence in the UK goes back to 1950.

It now has 1.3 million members and 46,000 clubs in over 200 countries.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“It is always uplifting to see young people with a passionate interest in changing their communities and the wider world.

“The Lions clubs are a brilliant way to do that – they breadth of their work and their global reach give many young people the opportunity to make a difference, be confident and learn new skills.

“I was delighted to host them in parliament and wish them well as they approach their centenary year.”

£2,225,000 to support Living Wage in East Lothian

Scottish Labour’s plans for a living wage for all will boost local businesses, say the county’s MP and MSP.

Scottish Labour’s Make Work Pay scheme would see £2,225,000 available for businesses in East Lothian who support the living wage for their staff. Under Scottish Labour plans, employers would receive a tax rebate of up to £1000 for every low paid worker who gets a pay rise.

The average rebate would be £445, meaning that if every low paid worker across Scotland was given the living wage, business would get a windfall of over £180 million.

Mr Gray and Ms O’Donnell highlighted the positive effects implementing a living wage for Scottish businesses. Citing research that shows a living wage leads to:

• 25% fall in absenteeism.
• 80% of employers believing the living wage has enhanced the quality of the work of their staff.
• 66% of employers reporting a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation.

Over 400,000 Scots are paid less than the living wage with an estimated 5,000 of those being in East Lothian.

Scottish Labour believes the living wage is best for business and best for fairness. The SNP have previously voted with the Tories against Scottish Labour plans to extend the living wage to the private sector.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“A lot of businesses here in East Lothian and across Scotland aren’t turning over millions. They are on the sharp end budgeting month to month, they might want to give a pay rise to their staff but the conditions aren’t right.

“That is why Scottish Labour has a plan to convince these businesses to pay the living wage. We will use make work pay contracts to incentivise better pay for staff – and better performance for business.

“When Scottish Labour tried to extend the living wage before, the SNP Government in Edinburgh voted with the Tories to block our plans. The SNP were wrong to deny thousands of Scots a pay rise. Scottish Labour will not let these Scots down.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“There are too many people in East Lothian who are working hard but feel they are worse off every year as their wages don’t keep up with the cost of living. Low pay is a moral scandal in and it is also holding Scotland’s economy back. Scottish Labour’s plan to extend the living wage could lift thousands of Scots out of low pay. We could give a pay rise to as many as 5,000 workers in East Lothian alone.

“The Make Work Pay scheme means local businesses will see a bonus too, with over £2 million available for businesses in the county. The research shows that absenteeism and staff turnover go down whilst performance and morale go up. It means a happier, more efficient workplace.

“In May Scotland can decide the general election. We can deliver a Labour Government that will make work pay; we can deliver a government which delivers a living wage.”

Iain demands Transport minister keeps promises on Dunbar rail

County MSP Iain Gray has written to the transport minister demanding that he deliver the local rail service to Dunbar, as promised, in the new Scotrail franchise.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was very worried, and angry to hear from local rail campaigners RAGES that they had met with Abellio, the new Scotrail operator, and had been told they would not start any such service before December 2018. This service was promised by the previous transport minister by the end of next year. To make matters worse, the new operators of the East Coast mainline are proposing to run additional trains, which will not stop at Dunbar, but which could jeopardise plans for the new local service. The SNP Scottish government are signatories to this franchise too.

“Local people have campaigned long and hard for a local service to Dunbar. East Lothian Council have committed significant funding they can barely afford to build a new station at East Linton. It is simply not acceptable for the transport minister to sit back and allow Abellio to side-line this crucial promised improvement to county transport. Abellio are being paid a lot of money by the government to run the Scotrail franchise, and the Minister needs to insist on Dunbar and East Linton getting the trains they were promised.”

Iain supports Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week

Down’s Syndrome Scotland, which supports people with Down’s syndrome, their families and professionals, organised an exhibition for MSPs at the Scottish Parliament to highlight Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week (16th-22nd March 2015) and the United Nations World Down’s Syndrome Day (Saturday 21st March 2015).

Iain Gray MSP welcomed the opportunity to learn a little more about Down’s syndrome to better represent and help constituents. The event gave MSPs a chance to obtain information on the condition and the importance of communication skills for people with Down’s Syndrome in Scotland.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Children with Down’s and their parents need continuous support with speech and language therapy. Better communication not only helps children and parents to bond but it also helps children and teenagers with Down’s to perform better at school and develop friendships.

“Being able to communicate also improves the chances of all adults with Down’s to maintain a good quality of life and maintain wellbeing. We know that by age 40, people with Down’s have an increased risk of developing dementia. Communications skills should therefore be at the core of delivering person-centred care.

“Communication is key to inclusion. By supporting people with Down’s to develop and maintain their communication skills we ensure that their voices can be heard in decisions affecting their lives and that their rights are upheld and respected by all.”

Pandora Summerfield, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, said:

“Through our work we have gathered evidence on the benefits of running communication groups for children with Down’s syndrome and their parents. To get it right for every child with Down’s, greater recognition and resources should be given to improving communication skills across the country.

“To gain employment, maintain relationships and take part in local activities, individuals need to communicate with each other. Some of them may also be affected by early onset dementia and it is crucial to make sure that they can continue to communicate with their carers.”

#isupportsport says county MSP

County MSP Iain Gray gave his backing to the Scottish Sports Alliance’s #isupportsport campaign this week.

Mr Gray also spoke with the Alliance about its #whysportmatters campaign to promote the importance of sport in advance of next year’s Holyrood election. #whysportmatters details the impact of sport and being active across all areas of society: health, mental health, older adults and social care, education, the workforce, the economy, communities and social cohesion.

Participating in sport/being active have been described as “the best buy in public health” – it fundamentally supports people to live longer, healthier and happier lives and provides benefits to individuals, society and the whole population.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I welcome #isupportsport and the #whysportmatters campaign. I have always believed that sport is much more than just physical activity or entertainment. It has the potential to have a positive impact on almost every aspect of society. Sport offers opportunities to develop new skills, assist with learning, improve health and wellbeing, boost the economy and support community cohesion.

“Initiatives like the Hibs Community Foundation, which I chair, are helping to make a difference in many of these different areas and we are seeing the positive results. But politicians have talked about these wider benefits of being involved in sport for many years now and there is always scope to do more to help maximise its impact on society.”

Kim Atkinson, CEO of the Scottish Sports Association, said:

“Already nearly one-fifth of our population participate in sport through one of Scotland’s 13,000 sports clubs. While having fun, they already reap the many benefits of being active – benefits that we’d like more people to enjoy. Currently 2,500 people in Scotland die every year from being physically inactive – yet participating in sport and being active can reduce the risks of premature mortality by up to 30%.

“We need to embrace the many benefits of participating in sport – from sheer enjoyment to positive contributions to health, mental health, education and economic productivity as highlighted by #whysportmatters. Our members provide opportunities for people of all ages to get active and we would encourage everyone to find their sport(s) and to join us in saying #isupportsport.”

Parliamentarians visit midnight league football session in Prestonpans

Bank of Scotland’s Midnight League programme got the seal of approval from the county’s parliamentarians last week, when Fiona O’Donnell MP and Iain Gray MSP visited the latest session at Pennypit Park, Prestonpans.

Young people from all over the area come to the venue for two hours of safe, organised football delivered by qualified Scottish FA coaches. The initiative, run in partnership with the Scottish FA and the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities programme, takes place weekly on Friday evenings. Local sessions are also held in Tranent and Dunbar.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear more about these Midnight League 5-a-side sessions and how they are run locally. They provide young people with such a positive activity which improves their health and at the same time gives them skills in team work and the discipline of training and playing the game. It’s an excellent example of organisations working in partnership to deliver something which will benefit local young people and communities.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“The Bank of Scotland Midnight League initiative is well established as a way of engaging young people and helping grow their confidence and skills. I enjoyed meeting the children who are involved in the local sessions. It was obvious how much they were enjoying the games and that they are getting something positive out of attending. It was also really encouraging to see girls taking part. Speaking to Sean, the SFA Development Officer, it is clear that word is spreading that this is great fun and that is the best way to get more young people involved.”

Greg Wallace from Bank of Scotland also attended and commented:

“To see so many young people attending the session on Friday night was fantastic, there was a great display of skill on show. Bank of Scotland is extremely proud of its 12 year association with the Midnight Leagues and we look forward to carrying on the good work throughout the rest of 2015.”

Now in its 12th year, Bank of Scotland Midnight League is a national network of diversionary 5-a-side football activity, targeting 12 to 16 year olds across the country. The Midnight League programme has expanded to be established in all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities.

The 2015 Midnight League programme will run in over 90 venues throughout the year.

For more information, please visit www.scottishfa.co.uk/midnightleague

Iain supports Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal

Wearing his daffodil with pride, Iain Gray lent his support to Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal at the Scottish Parliament on 4 March.

Iain met staff and heard about the work of the charity that cares for terminally ill people and their families across Scotland. He posed with a placard pledging support for people with a terminal illness.

The Great Daffodil Appeal is Marie Curie’s biggest fundraiser, which encourages everyone to give a donation and wear a daffodil pin in March. The money raised will help Marie Curie Nurses to provide more free care to local people with terminal illnesses in their own homes and in the two Scottish Marie Curie Hospices in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“I’m delighted to support Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Great Daffodil Appeal again this year. It has become a firm fixture on the annual fundraising calendar and I would encourage people in East Lothian to give it their support this March.

“Terminal illness very sadly affects so many of us, either personally or someone we know and care about. The work organisations like Marie Curie do in giving people a dignified end close to loved ones can’t be underestimated and should be well supported by local communities.”

Richard Meade, Head of Policy and Public Affairs Scotland said:

“It’s thanks to the support of MSPs such as Iain we can spread the word about the Great Daffodil Appeal and raise vital funds to support terminally ill people in Scotland. Every March millions of people across the UK support our biggest fundraising campaign and it’s easy to join in, simply give a donation and wear your daffodil pin. With the support of the Scottish Parliament Scotland will lead the way in caring for people with a terminal illness.”

To find out how you can get involved in the Great Daffodil Appeal visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/daffodil or call 0845 601 3107

Iain welcomes Open Farm Sunday initiative

Iain Gray MSP attended a LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) reception at Parliament with representatives from across the Scottish farming and food industry to encourage more farmers to engage with consumers by getting involved with Open Farm Sunday.

The Holyrood reception recognised the positive contribution Scottish farmers have made as part of LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday over the last nine years, in changing public perception and understanding of the farming industry. Mr Gray met local farmers Hugh Broad from Gifford and Allan Stevenson from Aberlady at the event.

2015 is Scotland’s Focus Year of Food and Drink and Open Farm Sunday, held this year on Sunday 7th June, will form an important part of the calendar of events. Since 2009, 55,000 visitors have attended Open Farm Sunday events in Scotland with 63 farms taking part to date. Last year, 20 farms across Scotland opened for Open Farm Sunday.

LEAF is calling on more farmers to take part on 7th June, so that even more Scottish families can experience farming at first hand and discover the story behind their food.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“East Lothian’s farming and food industry is among the finest in Scotland with many local farming products enjoying a world-renowned reputation. So Open Farm Sunday is a great opportunity for local farmers to allow consumers to learn more about their vital work and showcase their excellence to the public.

“I have visited Hugh Broad’s farm in the past as part of the LEAF scheme. It was a very enjoyable and informative experience and I would certainly recommend to others that they take advantage of Open Farm Sunday to discover more about what happens on our farms.”

Sponsors of Open Farm Sunday 2015 include: Aldi, Asda, BASF plc, Defra, Farmcare, Farmers Weekly, Frontier Agriculture, John Deere, Kellogg’s, LEAF Marque, Marks and Spencer, National Farmers Union, Syngenta, The Tesco Eat Happy Project, Waitrose, plus the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (from its BPEX, DairyCo, HGCA and HDC divisions).

Registration for Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm School Days is now open at www.farmsunday.org. LEAF provide free support and resources for farmers who register.

Iain addresses East Lothian Fabians

The AGM of East Lothian Fabian Society was addressed by local MSP Iain Gray on the Smith Agreement.

Mr Gray was one of Scottish Labour’s representatives on the Smith Commission, set up by the Prime Minister to recommend what additional powers the Scottish Parliament should have. A well-attended AGM heard Mr Gray describe the background to the commission and summarise its recommendations.

Iain Gray said:

“It is always a pleasure to speak to the County’s Fabian Society, one of the most active in Scotland. I was especially pleased to discuss with them the Smith Agreement, which will see Scotland’s Parliament transformed into one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world.

“When the agreement is implemented Holyrood will have power over around £20 billion of taxation, including all personal income tax, and some £2.5 billion worth of benefits. Yet being part of the UK will continue to guarantee support for citizens when they retire, if they are unemployed, or when they start a family. Being part of that Commission was something of which I am very proud.”

Local Fabian Society Secretary, Noel Foy said:

“Iain is a longstanding member of the Fabians, and it is always good to welcome him to our meetings. On this occasion he gave an excellent presentation on the Smith Commission and was able to give members a real insider’s view of their deliberations and conclusions.”