Praise for county’s only malt whisky distillery

Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP visited the county’s only malt whisky distillery at Glenkinchie today to discuss its important contribution to the local economy and community.

The parliamentarians were given a tour of the facility by Site Operations Manager Scott Sneddon, and chatted to staff about various aspects of the business, including its burgeoning role as a local tourist attraction.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“As well as its contribution to Scotland’s thriving whisky industry, Glenkinchie distillery also has a first class visitor centre and attracts thousands of tourists to East Lothian each year. I was pleased to hear more about its plans for further developing this aspect of the business.

“I also welcome Glenkinchie’s strong and longstanding links with other local businesses and communities, which it is also continuing to enhance. I enjoyed visiting the distillery again and wish all the staff there continued success for the future.”

“There are so many reasons this is the best County in Scotland, and Glenkinchie is one of them.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“This was my first visit to Glenkinchie and I enjoyed learning more about the distillery and the process involved in making the whisky. It makes an important contribution to the local economy as a high profile business and employer, as well as a vital tourist attraction.

“It is also important to remember that Scotch whisky makes a huge contribution to the Scottish and UK economies. I was keen to hear about the growth markets for premium whiskies like Glenmorangie.

“The history of the site is fascinating and the enthusiasm of the staff for the product they make was infectious. I want to thank all of them for taking the time out to talk to us and make us so welcome. I’m sure it won’t be long before I return for another visit.”

Scott Sneddon, Glenkinchie Site Operations Manager, said:

“It was a real pleasure to show Fiona and Iain around the distillery and to discuss the part we play in the local economy and community.

“As the only malt whisky distillery in East Lothian we have a strong role in the local tourist economy and we’ve had a fantastic year in 2014. We look forward to working with our local stakeholders, including Fiona and Iain to build on that in the New Year.

“We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in East Lothian a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

County parliamentarians thank Royal Mail staff

County parliamentarians Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP paid a visit to the Royal Mail sorting office in Tranent today to meet staff and thank them for their hard work at this busy time of year.

The politician were shown around the depot and introduced to the staff who are working hard sorting and delivering mail for local people in the run-up to Christmas.

Speaking after the visit, Iain Gray MSP said:

“With just over a week before the last posting date for First Class Christmas delivery, I know that postal staff are working around the clock to make sure everything is delivered on time. They do a brilliant job handling so much additional mail and parcels in this hectic period.

“So I was pleased to meet some of them at the Tranent sorting office. The increased workload that comes with the Christmas rush was very evident, and I want to thank them for their skill and sheer hard work in sorting and delivering our letters, cards and parcels.”

Fiona O’Donnell MP said:

“Our postal workers do such an important job at this time of year. I heard from the posties that the increasing number of people doing their Christmas shopping online makes this an even busier time of year. Royal Mail staff are all working flat out to make sure people receive them on time.

“I was glad to have the opportunity to meet the staff in Tranent and see firsthand the hard work they are doing. I would like to thank them for all their efforts throughout the year and wish them all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.”

The recommended last posting date for Christmas delivery for Second Class postage is Thursday 18 December and for First Class it is Saturday 20 December.

For further details about Christmas post and deliveries visit www.royalmail.com/greetings

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.