Ayr College closing of Cumnock campus

Late last week it was announced that Ayr College were going to close their Cumnock Campus.

As a result, I tabled a topical question to ask the Minister directly about the impact such a decision could have on Cumnock.

The Cabinet Secretary lamented the decision of Ayr College to close, but said it was due to fall in student numbers.  I made the Cabinet Secretary aware that the perception locally is that students were being encouraged to transfer to other campuses and courses had been allowed to weaken in terms of support.

I also asked about what opportunities will be provided to people in Cumnock and additionally raised the possibility that the College board may also close crèches at other campuses.

In terms of support for people locally she said that students resident more than two miles from a campus will receive financial support for travel costs. She also stressed that she will take an interest in the educational decisions affecting the area. With regard to the creches, the Cabinet Secretary indicated that they were not well supported with child attendances and were costing the college more than £400k  per annum.

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Police Scotland staff survey released

Police Scotland carried out a survey of police officers and staff earlier this year. All the responses were submitted by June, and today the results were finally released. 

It is a damming report which gives an insight into the incredible pressure officers are under whilst their reputation has been dragged through the mud by a summer of scandal.

These pressures are a direct result of decisions taken by the SNP Government in Edinburgh – budget cuts, reductions in civilian staff numbers, the closure of services and a lack of transparency from those at the top have all taken their toll on rank and file officers.

Front line officers and staff in Police Scotland work hard, support each other and are proud of their contribution to public safety. But at the same time we are seeing senior management and the Scottish Police Authority who appear to have  little interest in the wellbeing of their staff.

We all want a police service that we can have confidence in and protects our communities when we need it.  Working for Police Scotland should be a career to be proud of. Serving communities and keeping people safe.  Officers should swell with pride when they wear a uniform. Instead, because of intolerable pressures one in three members want to leave the service. That is a terrible position for Scottish policing to be in.

Among the findings in the survey:

  • 47% of respondents felt that pressure at work was affecting their performance at work.
  • 30% felt that they had the resources they needed to do their job properly
  • Only 36% of respondents felt that they got the right amount of information to do their job.
  • Officers feel they are losing touch with local people: “Police Officers also suggested that they felt their role was changing and expressed a concerned that they were losing contact with local communities rather than increasing their focus on local issues. Many of these comments mentioned a concern related to a policing model adopted where they felt “one size did not fit all areas.”
  • Only 8% thought that the organisation was genuinely interest in the wellbeing of its people
  • 33% of respondents also saw themselves leaving SPA/Police Scotland in the near future.

For more information on the survey, and also the findings click here.

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Promoting the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive

IMG_1688Ofgem were in the parliament last week to promote the high uptake of the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme across South Scotland.

7,640 renewable heating systems have been installed across Scotland since the financial incentive scheme was introduced in April 2014 – including 2725 in South Scotland.

The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (Domestic RHI), which opened in April 2014, is a financial incentive to promote the use of renewable heat. Switching to renewable heating systems can help reduce carbon emissions and heating costs for households.

I met with representatives from Ofgem E Serve, the energy regulator’s delivery arm, which administers this scheme on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It was interesting to find out that Scotland has a higher rate of applications that the Great Britain average.

In South Scotland households have installed more than 1,000 Air Source Heat Pumps, more than 580 Biomass Boilers,  and more than 100 ground source heat pumps.

I am pleased that so many of my constituents have accessed the Domestic RHI scheme. The scheme will especially benefit those who aren’t on the gas grid as they are likely to save money on their energy bills.

I would encourage anyone in South Scotland who has not looked into the Domestic RHI scheme to go on to Ofgem’s E Serve website.

The initiative is targeted at, but not limited to homes off the gas grid, those without mains gas have the most potential to save on fuel bills and decrease carbon emissions. Anyone who meets the joining criteria can apply, including people who own the homes they live in, social and private landlords and self-builders.

Participants are paid quarterly for seven years. The eligible systems are: biomass boilers and biomass pellet stoves, air source and ground source heat pumps and solar thermal panels.

  • Scotland has the highest per capita installation rate in Great Britain. In July 2015, Scotland is at 1.4 accreditations per 1000 people compared to the Great Britain average of 0.6.
  • As of July 2015 E serve received over 52,000 applications, and have dedicated account managers working with applicants such as NHS Scotland and Highland and South Lanarkshire Councils. 34% of Scottish accreditations are for Registered Social Landlords compared to 21% across the whole of Great Britain.
  • To incentivise the uptake of the Domestic RHI in Scotland we work closely with Home Energy Scotland.


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Borders Railway success

borders-railway-logoLast week the Borders Railway line was opened by the Queen to great fanfare and excitement.

The Railway, which runs from Tweedbank to Edinburgh Waverley is the longest new domestic railway to be built in the UK for over 100 years, and transports passengers from Edinburgh, through Midlothian, and into the Scottish Borders for the first time in almost half a century.

The line serves seven new stations – four in Midlothian and three in the Borders and trains run half hourly during the day, taking less than an hour to travel from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.

Since opening last week, thousands of passengers have travelled on the line. It seems that the demand has been more than anticipated as there has been some issues regarding a lack of carriages. However, Scotrail have announced that there will be more carriages for the busier trains that are running during midweek ‘peak’ and at weekends.

In terms of the midweek services, there has been additional carriages on the 16:24 service departing from Edinburgh to Tweedbank; however, these additional carriages will now run on the 17:54 Edinburgh to Tweedbank service. The 07.28 service from Tweedbank to Edinburgh will run additional carriages too.

On Saturday the half hourly services will run with either 1 or 2 additional carriages; and the Sunday hourly services will run with 2 additional carriages.

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20mph limit for Maybole

20 mphToday a 20 mph speed pilot scheme comes into force in Maybole on the A77 to benefit vulnerable road users and support road safety. Transport Scotland has introduced the Maybole scheme as part of a wider trunk road pilot that will see 20 mph schemes brought into force in five towns and villages across Scotland.

There have been a number of calls for lower speed limits, specifically 20 mph, and Transport Scotland considered the number of accidents and other factors such as traffic volumes and speeds, as well as HGV numbers and the characteristics of the location.

You can find out more here.

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British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament

This week the Scottish Parliament passed the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill. It is a Private Members’ Bill, lodged and navigated through the Parliamentary process by my colleague, Central Scotland MSP Mark Griffin.

The Bill aims to promote and raise awareness of BSL throughout Scottish society by requiring Scottish Ministers and relevant public authorities to prepare and publish BSL action plans.

As part of the Bill:

  • Scottish Ministers would be required to develop a BSL National Plan for Scotland, with a view to promoting and increasing awareness of BSL, and improving accessibility to information in BSL throughout Scotland.
  • A number of public authorities would also be required to develop action plans, in line with the National Plan.
  • While retaining collective responsibility for Ministers, the Scottish Government would assign BSL to a Cabinet Secretary or junior minister, who would have responsibility for updating Parliament on the progress of the National Plan and the public authority action plans, highlighting best practice and raising any concerns within the Deaf community concerning any lack of progress.
  • The Scottish Government would establish a National Advisory Board, made up of BSL users, and organisations representative of BSL users, to advise the Government on what should be in the National Plan.
  • The Scottish Government and public authorities would be required to consult on their respective plans with BSL users, organisations representing BSL users and organisations representing sign language interpreters.
  • All national plans and authority plans must be published in BSL

BSL is the first language of many Deaf and Deafblind people in Scotland. It is the only language some have ever known, or ever will know, yet getting access to basic information in BSL is incredibly difficult. This Bill should change that, to will hopefully begin to break down the barriers that face Deaf and Deafblind people in Scotland. And should make things that so many hearing people take for granted, such as arranging doctor appointments, or reporting a crime to the police, easier for those who communicate in BSL.


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Policing Review dates – updated

I have been asked to conduct a comprehensive review of Police Scotland to assess the effectiveness of the single police force and propose reforms to restore local accountability and reverse the impact of damaging SNP Government cuts to staff and services.

As part of the review I will be holding meetings around the country to speak to rank and file officers, civilian staff, community groups, victim support staff and others as part of a wide-ranging review of policing in Scotland.

My review will look at:

  • Local accountability
  • The relationship between Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Government ministers
  • Staffing
  • Targets

I will report back to the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale by the end of the year, and the proposals for reform will be included in the manifesto for 2016.

Scotland’s police officers are doing their best under very difficult circumstances. Instead of doing the job they trained for, too many are having to fill back office functions because of SNP Government cuts to civilian staff.

Scottish Labour supported the introduction of the single police force back in 2013, but something has gone badly wrong with its implementation.

Policing in Scotland needs a shake-up. We need to get back to the kind of community policing that made Scotland the envy of the world at one time.

I want to speak to Police Officers and Staff, to community groups and victim support staff about the way things are currently working, and they ways in which we can work better.

I will be holding meetings in major cities across the country, starting in Dundee on 10th September.

The meetings confirmed so far are:

  • Thursday 10th September: Room 2517, Kydd Building, Abertay University, 1 West Bell St, Dundee, DD1 1EX
  • Tuesday 15th September: Merkinch Community Centre, Coronation Park, Inverness, IV3 8AD Click here to register for the Inverness meeting.
  • Thursday 17th September: Georgetown Community Centre, Lochvale House, Georgetown Road, Dumfries, DG1 4DF
  • Tuesday 22nd September: Renfield St Stephens Church, 260 Bath St, Glasgow, G2 4JP
  • Thursday 24th September: St Georges Church, Tillydrone, Hayton Rd, Aberdeen AB24 2RN
  • Monday 28th September: Burns Monument Centre, Kay Park Cottage, Kay Park, Kilmarnock, KA3 7RU
  • Thursday 1st October: St Brides Community Centre, 10 Orwell Terrace, Edinburgh, EH11 2DZ

All meetings will start at 19.00.

For anyone who can’t attend, you can submit written evidence to pearsonreview@scottishlabour.email or by filling in the form here.  We want to hear from you!

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Posted in Justice, Police Scotland, Single Police Force | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Rural Scots get a raw deal as consumers

jil;Citizens Advice Scotland provide invaluable help and support to thousands of people every year across Scotland. Their work is hugely laudable and impressive.

They also produce research papers, in order to provide us with an insight into what is happening across Scotland. I am pleased that their most recent publication has focussed on rural communities.

The CAB say that Scots who live in rural areas have to pay over the odds for all types of consume
r service. Their report, Remotely Excluded, has a great deal of detail that needs to be studied closely by both the Scottish and UK governments.

The report looks specifically at the number of Scots who have sought CAB advice on consumer issues, dividing them into six geographical groups. While it is clear that every group faces significant problems, the evidence shows that those who live in rural and remote areas are hit hardest of all.

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My Scotland Competition

Teenage schoolgirls sitting at desk using digital tablet Image downloaded by anonymous anonymous at 12:40 on the 07/09/15

Teenage schoolgirls sitting at desk using digital tablet
Image downloaded by anonymous anonymous at 12:40 on the 07/09/15

Our greatest asset in Scotland is our young people, and the untapped potential they represent. We want young people to be not just heard by decision makers, but to be involved in designing the policies and campaigns that matter most to them, and will change their lives.

My Scotland is a competition for fifth and sixth years to help shape the future of Scottish politics.

We want you to tell us what you think Scotland will look like in 20 years – and what politicians should do about it now.

How to enter?

You’ll need to submit 500 words on what you think Scotland will look like in 20 years and what you think politicians should do about it now.

We want to know what you’re really interested in – but here are a few themes if you need something to help channel your ideas:

  • ENVIRONMENT: What will Scotland’s Environment look like in 20 years?
  • EDUCATION: Will our Education system be as futuristic as you imagine?
  • NHS: What kind of health service do you want to have?
  • SPORT: Will how we play sport be different in 20 years?
  • ARTS: What will music, arts and culture mean in Scottish politics in 20 years?
  • THE EU: What might have happened with the European Union?
  • HUMAN RIGHTS: What do you think will be the state of Human Rights in Scotland in 20 years?

The Rules

The deadline for essays is 9th October. Whilst this competition is organised by the Scottish Labour Party, it isn’t party political. It is open to young people with any and all political views.

Essays will be read by a judging panel consisting of Iain Gray MSP, Patrick McGuire from Thompson’s Solicitors (who are sponsoring the competition), Lindsay McIntosh, Scottish Political Editor of The Times and a Head Teacher.

What’s the prize?

The top 10 entrants will get invited to a special one-day event in Edinburgh or Glasgow where they’ll take part in training sessions about politics with some of the best guest speakers, campaigners and speech-writers Scotland has to offer.

This will be on Saturday 24th October – so make sure you keep that day free. The top 10 students will have the opportunity to hone their entry into a speech and learn how to push their idea out to the press.

Following that event, we’ll identify 4 young people as our finalists. They will get:

  • One-week work experience with both The Times and with law firm Thompsons to bring you even closer to fields related to political action
  • An iPad mini
  • The chance to give a speech at our Scottish conference in Perth at the end of October
  • Behind-the-scenes access and a tour of conference
  • Finalists will also be able to bring up to 5 friends and 1 teacher to the conference

What about the deadline?

You can submit your entries online until 5pm on Friday 9th October here.

We hope you’ll join us in getting the word out about this exciting competition. If you need any more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

– See more at: http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/blog/entry/my-scotland-competition-2015#sthash.ti9d8G1c.dpuf


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Federation of China Associations in Scotland.

Gala Dinner - Federation of China Assocations in ScotlandLast night I was delighted to attend a Gala Dinner organised by Federation of China Associations in Scotland.

It was a very enjoyable and interesting evening. Much of the discussion I was involved in concerned the possibility of a Chinese New Year Parade being organised in Glasgow City Centre next year. Discussions have been ongoing for some time, and there is a lot of enthusiasm and commitment to have such a celebration in Glasgow. The Chair of the organising Committee will be Andy Cheung, and from Anne McTaggart has been working as the parliamentary link.

I am delighted to support them in their endeavour.

Above picture: With Dr Michael Guo, Director of the Scottish Chinese Entrepreneurs Association and Lei Liu, Deputy President of Federation of China Associations in Scotland.

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