MSP speaks out on energy park at Holyrood petitions committee

County MSP Iain Gray attended the Scottish Parliament petitions committee today to speak in support of the CRA petition presented by Shona Brash. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to abandon the proposal for the development of an Energy Park at Cockenzie.

Iain Gray said:

“The CRA made the case powerfully for the halting of the current energy park proposal, and I was pleased to speak in their support. I made clear to my colleagues on the committee that the petition has the support of the local community, and that local people feel they have been neither consulted or considered.

“The site is one of national strategic significance but it is also of local strategic significance, at the very heart of the three towns of Cockenzie, Port Seton and Prestonpans. Those communities have supported Scottish Power and the power station’s contribution to Scotland’s energy needs for over forty years. They built the power station, worked in it and lived next door to it. Now that it has closed Scottish Power should take their interests into account when they dispose of the site.

“Only a part of the site is currently industrialised, and it includes considerable green space which the community do not want to lose. The Scottish Government proposal for an energy park, is not just an energy park burt the biggest facility they could possibly imagine on the site. It would hugely increase the industrial footprint, and worst of all cut these communities off from each other. I believe that we do need to see jobs provided on this site, but not at any cost.

“I do hope that this site can come into some form of public ownership, because if Scottish Power simply sell to a private developer then who knows what plans they might have. But we must abandon the current proposal, start all over again and this time work with the community to develop a plan for the site which addresses their interests as well as providing jobs.

“The committee agreed to write to Scottish Power, Scottish Enterprise and East Lothian Council for their response in the first instance. This is a good sign, because it means committee members believed that there was merit in the petition and a case to answer. It could well lead to further evidence being considered in committee. Several members of the committee expressed the view that it should be possible for interested parties to work together, with the community and I would expect them to seek answers as to why this has not happened.

“I have asked the convenor of the committee to keep me fully informed of the committee’s consideration of the petition.”

Scientists meet MSPs with warning for future of physics in Scotland

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray hosted the Institute of Physics at the Scottish Parliament last week, who came with a warning for parliamentarians.

The event marked the launch of the institute’s latest report, which surveyed over 1000 recent physics graduates from eight Scottish universities.

But while many of its findings were positive about the contribution of current graduates to the economy, the situation for physics in Scotland in future was cause for concern.

It cited the gender pay gap in physics jobs as a problem, potentially putting women off particular career routes in science. There was also a notable shortage of qualified physicists, and a seven per cent decrease in physics teachers since 2007.

The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society, working to advance the understanding of physics with the public and policymakers, and has a worldwide membership of over 50,000.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“It’s no secret that the future of our economy is through success in maths and science, with some reports putting these skills as being essential to over seven million jobs in the UK by 2030.

“That means that our future science graduates are at school now, and we can’t afford to put them off through lack of choice or resources.

“I welcome the Institute of Physics’ report and congratulate them on their work, but we can’t leave them to do all of the heavy lifting.

“The Scottish Government must take these warnings seriously, and I’ve asked for a parliamentary debate as soon as possible on this issue.”

Parliamentarians celebrate county’s small businesses

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP spent the morning in Dunbar on Saturday to support this year’s national day for celebrating and promoting small businesses.

The pair visited some local businesses on Dunbar High Street and then went to the Townhouse to give their support to local traders’ events and activities for this year’s Small Business Saturday.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“We had a really enjoyable morning in Dunbar and I was pleased to pick up some Christmas presents while I was there. The Dunbar Trades’ Association deserve great credit for the effort they put into the day. I want to thank them and everyone else who was involved in the activities for making Small Business Saturday such a success in Dunbar, and urge local people to continue to shop locally in the days up to Christmas.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Local traders in Dunbar made a terrific effort for Small Business Saturday this year. The activities and promotions they put on really helped to raise the profile of local retailers and businesses. They add a huge amount to the character and local economies of the county’s towns. I’m delighted that Iain and I have again this year had the opportunity to celebrate and promote the choice on offer to customers in our towns and the benefits of shopping local.”

Bus Regulation Bill gains cross-party support to proceed

Within hours of launching his Private Member’s Bill to create new powers for transport authorities over bus services, the county’s MSP Iain Gray has gained the support he needs for the Bill to proceed.

Over 18 MSPs have signed the proposal, including Patrick Harvie (Green) and Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat). This gives the Bill the cross-party support it needs to continue to its next stage in Parliament.

Mr Gray’s members’ bill, which was inspired in part by the local bus chaos experienced in 2012 after Firstbus withdrew most of its services in East Lothian, would give more power to local authorities in running bus services in their area. Currently, bus operators choose the most profitable routes, leaving local authorities to subsidise the remaining services.

Although the local problems from 2012 are largely resolved, Mr Gray still receives a lot of complaints from constituents about bus services on commercial routes in the county.

The situation has improved markedly since East Lothian Council established its local bus forum, in partnership with campaign group RELBUS, which has helped to resolve many of the more straightforward problems. However, there is still a need for new legislation to deal with the bigger concerns.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“The merits of this bill are clear: more power for authorities over local bus services will mean better services for passengers. The knock-on effects of that for our towns and cities, including communities here in East Lothian, could be revolutionary.

“I’m delighted to have the support of some Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs too, which shows a strong cross-party consensus as to how we improve bus services for the communities that rely on them. The last time someone tried this was Charlie Gordon’s bus bill in the last Parliament. That foundered because only Labour MSPs supported it. Now time has moved on and bus service problems across Scotland have convinced colleagues that the deregulated market is not delivering for passengers.”

“Indeed even George Osborne has suggested that he believes city regions in England should have these kinds of powers, as London already does.”

“I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will now come on board so that we can work together to improve bus services and give communities a democratic say in their own public transport. They have always resisted such moves previously, but that now leaves them trailing even George Osborne when it comes to reform of bus services. Surely they will see sense now.”

“Deregulation is clearly not working for bus passengers, and the time has come to change that.”

Barry Turner, Chair of the Rural East Lothian Bus Users campaigning group (RELBUS), said:

“RELBUS, the Rural East Lothian Bus Users campaigning group, supports in principle Iain Gray’s proposed parliamentary bill on bus regulation.

“Based upon local experience we agree with the premise that current arrangements for the provision of commercial bus services are letting down some communities and that the unregulated market has failed to protect those who depend on local services.

“We see the benefits of the proposed bill as giving a degree of democratic control over what is a key public service, greater public involvement in service provision and improved networks with better integration of services.”

Looking forward to Small Business Saturday in Dunbar

County parliamentarians Fiona O’Donnell MP and Iain Gray MSP will be in Dunbar on Saturday to give their support to local traders’ events and activities for this year’s Small Business Saturday.

The grass-roots Small Business Saturday campaign promotes support for small businesses in the local community and traders in Dunbar are holding a range of activities to encourage people to shop locally for this year’s event.

Ms O’Donnell and Mr Gray plan to visit some local businesses on the town’s High Street before heading to the Town House where a festive market, with stalls from various local businesses, is taking place and shoppers will be able to get their presents gift wrapped.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Small Business Saturday can bring significant benefits to small enterprises by highlighting what they offer to customers and I am pleased to give it my full support again this year. I want to encourage people in Dunbar and across the county to participate in the day in order to celebrate and support the vital contribution small businesses make to local communities.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Small Business Saturday is a fantastic way to raise awareness of the quality and choice provided by small businesses and help give them a boost in the run-up to Christmas. I am delighted to be supporting the exciting range of activities planned for this year’s event in Dunbar and look forward to joining local traders and shoppers in the town on 6th December.”

 

High school journalists quiz local MSP

On a recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, budding young journalists got a chance to grill a politician for real when they met county MSP Iain Gray in the parliament’s debating chamber.

Students from North Berwick High involved in producing the school newspaper visited the Parliament on a tour with the BBC, and met with Mr Gray to discuss his parliamentary work.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Journalism is an industry in flux, but its importance doesn’t change, particularly to politics – young people following that path then have to be encouraged and looked after.

“A school newspaper gives them an excellent grounding in the skills that will help them in future, whether they decide to pursue it as a career or not.

“I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the group, and am strongly hoping for an equally good write up from them.”

North Berwick HS editorial team at Holyrood

MSP completes work on Smith Commission

The Smith Commission report on more powers for the Scottish Parliament was published last week. East Lothian MSP Iain Gray was one of the ten members of the Commission, and spoke at the report’s launch in the National Museum of Scotland.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Today is a promise kept for the people of Scotland. Before the referendum we made a vow which today we honour. A stronger Scottish Parliament as part of the United Kingdom. An agreement which respects the sovereign will of the Scottish people. A transformative package of measures to deliver a powerhouse parliament.

“All five political parties represented. Diverse in their starting point. But coming together in common purpose and today reaching a common agreement. I want to pay tribute to our Chair Lord Smith, and to all our fellow members of the commission in reaching this agreement. Everyone had to make difficult decisions on behalf of their party, but we reached agreement. Not in our own interests, but in the interests of Scotland and the people we serve.

“They demanded change and through this agreement we meet that demand. A scale of change greater than many imagined ahead of a timetable many believed impossible. On tax, on welfare, on job creating powers. On the ability to create new benefits and uprate others. To better protect the most vulnerable and more effectively seize our opportunities to prosper.
Real change, real powers.

“Yet this agreement preserves the social and economic union of the nations of these islands. The guarantee and the solidarity of protection in old age, economic difficulty and building a family through the system of pensions, child benefit and social security. Consensus is not often a word used in politics, especially when five parties are involved. But a consensus is what we have delivered. All involved in the Smith commission have played our part in keeping a promise made. This is a good day for Scotland.”

The_Smith_Commission_Report_Unveiling

Letter from Holyrood: More to be done on the living wage

Earlier this month Living Wage Week was celebrated across the UK. The annual awareness week promotes the importance of the Living Wage and encourages companies and public authorities to become Living Wage employers. Support for the living wage is growing year on year, with hundreds of new employers signing up to the initiative.

Here in East Lothian, when Labour took back control of the council in 2012 it made the introduction of the living wage for council staff an early priority. As well as helping raise the income of council workers, this also set a great example for other local employers to follow. But there is still much more to do locally, as well as nationally.

Figures published by the accountancy firm KPMG to coincide with Living Wage Week estimated that some 5000 local people are currently paid less than the living wage. These workers tend to be concentrated in sectors such as cleaning, care, hospitality and retail. While low paid workers in these jobs benefited from Labour’s introduction of the National Minimum Wage in 1999, it is now time to take the next step and ensure work always pay.

I am backing plans to establish a Living Wage Unit and a National Living Wage Strategy which will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament. The strategy will target specific job markets and areas to deliver a pay rise in jobs where it will make a real difference so that the living wage is the expectation, not the exception.

I also welcome the fact that ending poverty pay has been such a central focus for the Scottish Labour leadership contenders. It is clear that whoever emerges as the party’s next leader will have a very strong commitment to prioritising this agenda and making the living wage the norm for Scottish workers.

Iain urges new Justice Secretary to reverse court closure

County MSP Iain Gray has written to the newly-appointed SNP Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, to urge him to ‘revisit and reverse’ his predecessor’s deeply flawed decision to close Haddington Justice of the Peace and Sheriff Courts.

Mr Gray’s letter highlights that, with the court due to close in January next year, there is only a very short window of opportunity for Mr Matheson to look again at the detrimental impact the decision is set to have on local people’s experience of the justice system.

It also sets out a summary of the many powerful arguments that have been employed against the closure, including the effect it will have on victims, witnesses, the police and local law firms, the detrimental impact on the administration of justice, and the significant and damaging effect on the town itself.

Mr Gray has also highlighted the fact that while the closure is meant to save the Scottish Court Service money, the cost to the public purse in lost time will far outweigh any savings there might be in the short term.

His letter concludes by urging Mr Matheson to seek out all the information about the closure, including the report published by an independent forensic accountant demonstrating the lack of savings, and look again at the decision while there is still time.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Nicola Sturgeon has said that she is open minded about listening to suggestions on how her Government can do things better. The deeply flawed decision to close Haddington’s courts, made with little or no real evidence to justify it and clearly against the wishes of local people, is an obvious contender for Ministers to reconsider.

“The case made by former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill for closing our courts was weak to begin with and has got weaker with every passing month. With only a few weeks now before the planned closure, I have urged the new Justice Secretary to revisit the evidence from local experts and reverse this wrong-headed decision. This is the last chance for the Scottish Government to see sense and do the right thing before it’s too late.”

Royal Mail missing person charity link welcomed

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP have welcomed the news that the Royal Mail has entered into a partnership with a national charity to support its work locating vulnerable missing people.

In Scotland this means that around 10,800 postmen and women will be assisting the charity Missing People to locate vulnerable missing children and adults, significantly increasing the number of people committed to help find them.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Local postmen and women develop a good knowledge of the communities they serve, which is ideal for helping to find missing people. This is a great initiative and I hope that it will prove to be helpful in ensuring that more missing people are reunited with their loved ones in future.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“This is an innovative and welcome initiative which is bound to bring great benefits to efforts to locate vulnerable missing people. It is particularly apt that the partnership should be announced at this time of year when families just want to be together over the Christmas period.”

Child Rescue and High Risk Missing People Alerts will be sent to the company’s extensive network of handheld scanners, used to track and sign for deliveries, on a geographically-targeted and, when appropriate, national basis.

The alerts will also appear on Royal Mail’s employee website and, where possible, on 1,800 television screens across its offices, reaching all 148,000 staff. This will be the first time an organisation has made its business-wide communication channels available to the Missing People charity.

Currently, 123,000 people directly receive Child Rescue Alerts, as well as other members of the public being informed of missing person appeals through Twitter, Facebook, digital billboards and media and corporate partnerships. The new partnership with Royal Mail will effectively double this across the UK.

Missing People is the only charity in the UK which specialises in, and is dedicated to, bringing missing children and adults back together with their families. It issues a public appeal when someone is reported to police as having gone missing.

The charity works in collaboration with a range of partners across the UK, including the National Crime Agency, local police forces, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS).