Police and Fire Officers affected by Milne case

I have been doing what I can to help a number of constituents who retired 10-15 years ago and whose pension entitlement was calculated using outdated pension commutation factors. 

The Pensions Ombudsman published his determination in a case concerning the lump sum paid to a firefighter on his retirement – Mr Milne. Mr Milne’s case was a test case and there are many others, including some constituents, who are similarly affected. Essentially, the Ombudsman determined that the pension commutation factors should have been reviewed twice between 1998 and 2006, specifically on 1st December 2001 and again on 1st December 2004. As such Mr Milne should now be paid any difference between what he did receive and what he would have received using the newly calculated figures; plus basic interest over the period since retirement and plus any tax liability which might be incurred as a result of receiving this payment.

Although the Ombudsman’s decision was welcomed by others who retired between late 2001 and late 2006, information regarding what it means for them – specifically information on the new commutation factors – hasn’t been easy to come by since.  

Thankfully the Government Actuary Dept has now made this information available. Click here for more details which includes tables of factors to be used in calculating redress and detailed guidance for scheme administrators to aid them in calculating the amounts owed to individuals.

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Rising Rents Must be Tackled

Rising private sector rents to be tackled by new laws. Information released by letting agents Your Move this week show the average rent in the South of Scotland standing at a new high of £512.

National figures from the research also shows a spike in landlord returns, and more tenants struggling to pay their rent on time.

I back banning rip off rent rises, and supported Scottish Labour proposals to the Housing (Scotland) Act last year to deliver them, only to see them blocked by the SNP Government.  The SNP Government should admit they got it wrong and revisit Labour’s plans.

These new figures show Landlords  making more whilst more tenants struggle, the SNP Government in Edinburgh cannot continue to turn a blind eye to rent reform.

We need to reform the private rental sector to make it work for everyone, rather than simply act as a cash cow for landlords it needs to serve families unable to get a foot on the property ladder or access to social housing.

I back Scottish Labour plans to ban rip off rent rises. This is about making the system fit for purpose. When the SNP opposed our plans last year they sided with Tories and bad landlords, rather than with tenants in the South of Scotland and across Scotland.

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Posted in Campaigns, Housing | Leave a comment

Herald Article on Police Scotland

The announcement on Sunday of Lamara Bell’s death is a sad outcome for the only ray of hope in this terrible situation. The sufferings experienced this week by the friends and families affected by the A9 accident near Stirling are horrifying.   The discovery that Police Scotland had failed for days to respond to a telephone call for assistance and thereby had effectively abandoned Lamara Bell for three days, lying alone, critically injured beside her dead boyfriend John Yuill, must have been extremely uncomfortable for all those in authority and should by now finally chime a warning to all of them.

The subsequent apology offered by the chief constable days later I feel sure was the result of long internal discussions about how to handle the situation.  After all it was only last month Sir Stephen described to his Police Authority those of us who have commented on the problems at the heart of Police Scotland as merely ‘people who want to make some headlines [and] just have another go at Police Scotland and the service centres’.

In that light his belated apology on Friday must have been a bitter pill for this chief officer to swallow and an apology I truly wish had not been necessary.  But under the supervision of the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland has become engrossed in the task of handling the media, controlling the message and issuing positive statements instead of serving the actual needs of the public.  Mr House in his apology said that he could not go into the facts of the situation because the circumstances were being investigated.  Yet he felt able to point a finger by saying an ‘experienced officer’  at Bilston Glen call centre answered the relevant call in six seconds reporting the accident and that the details were not recorded in the police systems for a response.  As with previous incidents causing recent public concerns such as the death of Sheku Bayoh, the authorities have adopted a habit of releasing only those details that suit before hiding behind a ‘protocol’ allegedly preventing further information being forthcoming to the community they serve.

In my view such responses indicate that there are few signs that the command team at Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority or the SNP Government are capable of acknowledging the reality behind the current situation.  The stark and indisputable truth in this case reveals further evidence that police systems, culture and structures are failing to properly support those on the front line across our national police service.

For four years now, I and others, (merely seeking that headline), have tried to encourage proper accountability and governance of all things ‘policing’ in this new service.  Controversies around the removal of more than 2000 staff jobs, some in control centres, through redundancies, stop and search, police use of firearms and the hasty closure of control rooms across the country have all been dismissed by the SNP Government as attacks on those working hard for the public on the front line.  Nothing could have been further from the truth!

At every stage Government Ministers supported by their back benchers have cooed over the additional 1000 police officers they provided the Service as the solution to every problem.  Lamara Bell and John Yuill desperately needed just one officer when their car crashed yet Police Scotland failed to deliver that officer.  It took two days for the chief constable to formulate his brief statement whilst neither the Police Authority nor a Government Minister sought to step forward to enlighten the public as to their intentions in this matter.

In the absence of proper management structures, levels of responsibilities, effective IT systems and true accountabilities no organisation can operate a culture designed to demonstrate good policing.

We’ve had denials of target setting from the Executive of the Force along with  various commitments on stop searches and police use of firearms from senior officers – all found to be worthless.  We have had allegations of a culture of bullying and stress from Superintendents in this new force.  We’ve even had allegations in the Herald newspaper alleging cheating on the prestigious UK Command Course by a member of Police Scotland’s Executive team!

Without a strong culture encouraging candour and integrity demonstrated by their actions and not solely their statements, it will remain impossible for the chief officers of the Service to maintain the confidence of communities across Scotland.

It is to be hoped the events on the A9 this week will bring about a sea change in the way in which governance and oversight is delivered across Scotland.  Something positive must be rescued from a sorry state of affairs that currently affect those charged with delivering policing in Scotland.  It cannot all be left to the front line to deliver. Lamara Bell and John Yuill deserve nothing less as their legacy.

It’s time for those in command to take responsibility for their duties, for those ‘in charge’ at the Police Authority to deliver good governance, for Government Ministers to stop worrying about positive messages and ensure the Authority delivers on its responsibilities  and for those in Parliament to continue to ask the difficult questions and expect honest responses.  Only then might we deliver policing by consent and thereby a confidence in the Police as an organisation fit for purpose.

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Calls for action to address staffing and leadership problems in our NHS

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Scotland has published a report today, Learning from Serious Failings in Care, which has said that major changes are needed to address “systemic failures” in the NHS in Scotland.

The report’s authors looked at problems of staffing and leadership at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI); above-average mortality rates at NHS Lanarkshire; and the worst-ever outbreak of C-difficile infection, at Vale of Leven Hospital.

They identified key issues to be addressed, including:

  • Poor leadership from senior staff
  • Poor leadership from NHS boards
  • Staff shortages
  • Poor staff morale

This report is a significant intervention by health experts and staff who are becoming increasingly concerned by the challenges our NHS face. The people working in our hospitals do a wonderful job but they need to be supported and resourced properly if they are to provide the care we all expect.

The scale of the problems that are being faced by those working in the NHS are significant. It is essential that the Scottish Government take notice of this important report, and work to address these failings as a matter of urgency.


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Posted in Health, NHS | Leave a comment

20 Years of Food Train

FoodTrainI was pleased to be able to celebrate 20 years of the excellent Food Train service.

The organisation and its’ volunteers provide help to older people, including grocery shopping home deliveries, household support services and befriending services.

The organisation originally had only a handful of customers, but now helps over 1,700 people. Many volunteers have helped the organisation for more than a decade.

Food Train has helped so many people in the last 20 years. I have no doubt it will help even more in the next 20.

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Graeme calls for answers on ScotRail shambles

Graeme Pearson MSP has called for answers from the SNP Government in Edinburgh on Scotland’s railways, as Sunday train services across Scotland suffer. 

Services across Scotland will be reduced by a third on Sunday due to ongoing disputes with Aslef, the train drivers’ union.

Graeme said that drivers having to volunteer for Sunday shifts was ‘ridiculous’ as it  emerged Dutch firm Abellio, who run the franchise, did not bid for the service on the basis of a seven day working week.

The South of Scotland MSP backs a Peoples’ ScotRail, where a non-profit public sector organisation could bid to run Scotland’s railways.

Scottish Labour has called for Transport Minister Keith Brown to answer why the bid wasn’t for a seven day week, and what, if any, agreements in the deal have been breached.

This is a complete and utter shambles, it seems beyond belief that in 21st century Scotland a seven day working week was not factored into a multi-year, multi-million rail service that the people across Scotland are paying for.

No one wants to see industrial action but to end up in the situation where drivers have to volunteer for shifts to get them covered is ridiculous.

Last year the SNP Government in Edinburgh hailed this deal, worth hundreds of millions of taxpayer cash, as world leading and cost effective – so why is it running into such problems so soon?

The SNP need to explain why a seven day working week wasn’t factored into the bidding process, and clarify what, if any, agreements in the franchise have been breached.

If there have been breaches to the agreement months into the deal, then the SNP Government should be looking for compensation to the public purse – taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for cancelled services.

Scottish Labour back a People’s ScotRail which would allow for a public sector non-profit bid to run the railways, an operator that would be more accountable to the Scottish public. After the problems since Abellio took over, it is an idea whose time has come.”

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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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Posted in Chamber, Tourism | Leave a comment

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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Posted in Election 2016, Parliament, Scottish Labour | Leave a comment