Turning Point Scotland Turnaround

Turning Point ScotlandThis morning I was invited to attend an open day at Turning Point Scotland Turnaround, which is a criminal justice service that is a an alternative to custodial sentences in the community.

The organisation is focussed on reducing re-offending. Reducing re-offending is so important as it helps to make communities safer and hopefully, because they have been supported, helps people address issues that have lead to them committing offences.

The open day was very well attended, and I had the chance to speak to a number of professionals regarding the programmes and community service that are undertaken there.

It was a really worthwhile and informative day, and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to speak to me about the Turnaround facility.

For more information on what Turning Point Scotland do, click here.

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296 weeks of missed targets

Today at First Minister’s Questions Acting Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, raised the issue of Accident and Emergency waiting times. And more specifically the fact that the four-hour waiting time target of 4 hours has been missed for the 296th week in a row. 296 weeks is over 5½ years.

Nurses, doctors, auxiliaries and all of the people dedicatedly carrying out various and complex jobs across our health service are working incredibly hard. These targets are not being missed due to a lack of effort on their part. However, in many departments – despite an increase in staff numbers – the increase in demand means that there aren’t enough staff and crucially the number of hospital beds in Scotland has gone down by more than 1,000 since 2007 so patients are held up in A&E instead of being moved to other areas of the hospital.

These are valid concerns, and asking questions about this issue, and others like it, is exactly what parliamentarians should be doing. It would seem that not everyone shares that opinion.

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Marine Tourism

Today there is a debate Marine Tourism taking place in the Chamber.

In South Scotland, many ports and areas rely heavily on marine tourism including Stranraer, Ballantrae, Girvan, Ayr, Port Logan, Eyemouth and Dunbar which all look forward to the development of marine tourism in the future.

Marine tourism is one of the sleeping giants of the Scottish economy. In 2014, the British Marine Federation estimated that the economic value of marine tourism in Scotland was around £360 million. And tourism as a whole was recorded, by Deloitte, as being crucial to Scotland’s cultural and economic wellbeing as it sustains a great diversity of business throughout the country, contributes some £11 billion to the Scottish economy (both direct and indirect spending) and supports somewhere in excess of 200,000 jobs.

Given that promoting marine tourism could be of significant benefit to ports around South Scotland and the rest of the country so I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in the debate this afternoon.

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Scottish Parliamentary Elections 2016

A number of constituents have asked about my intentions next year in respect of the Scottish elections so I thought it would be helpful to make my plans clear here.

I believe the Parliament benefits from an input from members who bring experience from out with the Scottish political scene to the debate. That is why in 2011 I intimated that I would commit to working in Parliament for one term and that I would not stand again in 2016.  I confirmed my intentions some weeks ago in writing to the Scottish Labour Party to fulfil that promise.

I have been privileged, with the support of my staff, to serve constituents from across the South of Scotland and trust that members of the public have found my efforts on their behalf worthwhile.

There are still many months remaining.  I intend to continue to contribute as best I can on behalf of the people of South Scotland whilst ensuring the voice of Scottish Labour is heard in the public domain.

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Shanghai Education Fair in Edinburgh

Shanghai Education Fair in Edinburgh 2015 pic 2 Shanghai Education Fair in Edinburgh 2015This morning I was delighted to attend the opening of the Shanghai Education Fair at the Hub in Edinburgh this morning.

The Consul General Pan Xiutian and Feng Zhi, Second Secretary from the Education Section of the Chinese Embassy took part in the opening ceremony of the Fair, which was being held in the UK for the first time.

The fair involves over 30 universities and high schools who are all seeking to promote Sino-Scottish educational cooperation. Senior representatives from the Shanghai Municipal Development & Reform Commission; Shanghai Municipal Education Commission; Shanghai Municipal People’s Government; and  Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau are also at the Fair.

I was greatly impressed by the tremendous effort by the various universities and schools to establish and improve their links across Shanghai.  Sport, Engineering, Sciences, Languages, Politics and much more were represented at the stalls around the hall with academics there to brief and engage visitors on the nature of the learning opportunities available.  As always the Chinese grasp of English is both impressive and embarrassing given our own track record in that regard.

The group who were organising the Fair had come to Scotland for the first time. Travelling yesterday from Ireland, staying in Falkirk before opening their exhibition for one day and leaving for London tomorrow.  And yet, despite all this travel, they were enthusiastic in their presentations this morning.

Consul General Pan; Mr Weiren, Director of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, and along with Mark Boyce, Head of the China and Americas Team at the Scottish Government welcomed the opening of the event – and were all impressive doing so.

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Stonewall Scheader-bannerotland have a long record of standing up against anti LGBTQ+ discrimination. Recently they have launched #nobystanders campaign aimed at tackling discrimination.

Through this campaign Stonewall Scotland are challenging teachers to step in when they see a child being bullied at school and school pupils to stand up to their friends when they hear discriminatory language. Colleagues and managers are being asked to make a commitment to challenge discrimination in all its manifestations, and people are being called on to send the message that bullying and discrimination have no place in our society.

99 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people hear phrases like “that’s so gay” being used in a derogatory manner on a daily basis; and 97 per cent hear phrases like “poof” and “dyke” being used in our schools. Stonewall Scotland’s research shows that this language and behaviour is also taken out of the playgrounds into our streets, public services, and workplaces.

We must all work together to eradicate homophobic and transphobic abuse in our schools and beyond. For more information, please visit http://nobystanders.org.uk/.

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Anthony Nolan Campaign

The blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is searching for more local heroes across the country to join its bone marrow donor registeranthony-nolan and help in the fight against blood cancer.

The charity has revealed today that there are 459 selfless people willing to donate their stem cells, or bone marrow, to save the life of a stranger. More than 550,000 people are currently on the Anthony Nolan register and the average per constituency is 790.

Anthony Nolan was the world’s first bone marrow register. The charity has been saving lives for four decades by matching remarkable people willing to donate their bone marrow to patients in desperate need of a transplant.

Two thirds of UK patients will not find a matching donor from within their families; instead they turn to Anthony Nolan to find them an unrelated donor.

In Scotland the charity works with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and
Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to recruit donors, but currently a perfect match can only be found for 60 per cent of transplant patients.

The work that this organisation does is invaluable. Anyone with an interest should visit www.anthonynolan.org/ for more information.

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Historic Child Abuse Inquiry Announcement

Yesterday the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Angela Constance, told survivors and the Scottish Parliament of the Chair and the remit of the Historic Child Abuse Inquiry which she first announced in December.

The Inquiry, which will be Chaired by Susan O’Brien QC, will have statutory powers to compel witnesses and evidence. The Inquiry is expected to be working by October and is expected to  take approximately four years to complete.

The remit will include allegations of abuse in institutions, foster care, long-term hospital care and boarding schools. However, there has been some criticism from survivors who consider the terms of reference too narrow and who were hoping for a judge-led Inquiry.

It is essential that this Inquiry has the support and confidence of survivors – and that it, in turn, provides survivors with the support that they need to be able to tell the Inquiry about the abuses committed against them and the impact that abuse has had on their lives.

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Community Champions sought to change stigma on mental health

See Me

See me Scotland are launching a Community Champions programme in South East Scotland.

The organisation is looking for people who can identify the mental health stigma that exists in the area and lead in taking action to change it.

If you know somebody or are that somebody click here for more information.

1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any one year, and 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems have experienced stigma and discrimination through work, education, by health professionals or from family members.

Tackling the prejudice, ignorance, and misguided stereotyping about mental illness is essential and See Me is one of the fantastic organisations in Scotland doing just that. Stigma and discrimination can make people who are mentally unwell feel worse. It can stop them asking for help and ultimately could be the difference between life and death.

If you want to help tackle this stigma in your area, go to the See Me website and see how you can get involved. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect and to receive fair treatment if they are ill or distressed. A broken leg takes time and medical support to heal. A broken mind is no different. And although it will not go away overnight, with the right support, two thirds of people diagnosed with mental ill health go on to make a full recovery.

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The Epilepsy Consortium Scotland comes to Holyrood

Supporting the Epilepsy Action Plan

This week Allana Parker, Chair of Epilepsy Consortium Scotland, and colleagues were in the Scottish Parliament to promote the World Health Organisation global resolution to do something for epilepsy.

I was delighted to speak to Allana, and to add my support to the resolution, and to help promote the updated SIGN national guideline on managing epilepsy in adults.

Studies show that while just over half of people with epilepsy have seizure control, seven in ten could become seizure free with optimum care.  The revised SIGN guidance can play a vital part in addressing this treatment gap and improving services over the next decade.

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