Thank you

As many of you will now know, following last week’s election I am no longer the MP for Edinburgh East. Thank you to everyone who campaigned and voted for me – it really is very much appreciated!

I’d also like to thank all the people who I’ve come into contact during my time as MP. Between 2010 and 2015 I helped over 6,000 people with problems like tax credits and pensions, and replied to nearly 10,000 emails, letters and phone calls about issues from phone hacking to arms sales. I also got behind community campaigns like those to save Castlebrae High School, stop a biomass power station being built in Leith, and prevent an oversupply of student accommodation in the Southside.

It’s been a real honour and privilege to represent everyone in Edinburgh East – regardless of how people vote – over the last five years.

Undeniably last week’s result was very bad for my party both in Scotland and across the UK, and it will take time for us to examine what went wrong and rebuild for the future. However I think it’s always important to recognise that – despite the strength of our disagreement over the constitution – there is much more that unites us on the left in Scotland than divides us. We must not lose sight of this, or we all be poorer.

For now I’m going to keep this website as resource:

I wish everyone all the best for the future,

Sheila

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Thursday is polling day!

Now is your chance to vote for a hardworking local representative and a Labour Party committed to creating a fairer and more equal society.

Since 2010 I’ve helped over 6,000 people when they’ve had problems with things like tax credits or pensions, and replied to nearly 10,000 calls, letters and emails about issues ranging from cuts to disability benefits to arms sales.

I’ve also got behind community campaigns like those to save Castlebrae High School, secure the Number 60 for Dumbiedykes residents, and help pensioners across the constituency get wet floor showers .

My party and I believe that Scotland does well when hard working families do well. A Labour Government would:

  • Raise the minimum wage to over £8 an hour
  • Introduce a Mansion Tax to fund 1,000 more nurses in Scotland
  • Guarantee jobs for all under 25s out of work for a year
  • Ban exploitative zero hour contracts
  • Abolish the Bedroom Tax
  • Tackle climate change by decarbonising our electricity supply
  • Continue to spend 0.7 of national income on aid
  • Allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in all elections

As your MP I have been a strong voice in Parliament with a proven record, and I want to continue that work over the next five years. I hope I can count on your support.

Sheila

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Think long-term on student flats

In yesterday’s Evening News I called on the council to block the sale of sites in the Southside earmarked for student accommodation so as to maintain a balance between students, families and pensioners in this part of the city. You can read it on the paper’s website, but I’ve also reproduced it in full below.

ONE of the joys of studying at the University of Edinburgh is that students live and work alongside a vibrant and varied residential community.

598LuttonUnfortunately this could be about to change, with a flood of planning applications for student accommodation in the Southside threatening to alter irrevocably the character of the area.

One of the applications – to build flats for 240 students at Lutton Court – was rejected by councillors on the planning committee but approved on appeal.

However, the council could still stop this proposal in its tracks, as crucially, it still owns the land.

I appreciate the estates department has an agreement to sell to the developers, and may have to pay compensation, but this may be a price worth paying in the long term.

Once land is sold it is gone. The opportunity to develop it for affordable housing, to attract more families and pensioners to the area, would be lost.

Regrettably such joined-up and long-term thinking is conspicuous by its absence in the estates department.

Just last month it announced that the shortlisted bidders for another piece of land on Potterrow are all student accommodation providers.

And in a separate but related story, the department is set to lease the Old Royal High School on Calton Hill to a luxury hotel chain, necessitating the construction of two obtrusive new wings to the building that could threaten the city’s Unesco World Heritage status.

While the council is clearly under pressure to raise additional revenue, I believe that before considering a sale of council land there should be a full appraisal of all the options.

Against the short-term gain of a capital receipt, other priorities must be weighed, such as shortage of affordable housing, the needs of local small businesses or the heritage which brings tourists flocking to the city.

In some cases the right decision may still be to sell on the market, in others the long-term interests of Edinburgh residents would dictate other options.

As there are no MPs at present, I am merely Scottish Labour’s candidate for Edinburgh East at the general election.

However, regardless of the result of the vote on May 7, I’ll continue to lobby the council to work for balanced, sustainable communities, and development that respects our city’s architectural heritage.

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Dissolution Newsletter

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Dissolution Notice

Parliament has today been dissolved. I therefore have ceased to be the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East.

During the period of dissolution my office is permitted to accept casework from constituents. My office however does not have access to the Parliamentary privilege or resource enjoyed since 7 May 2010. During the period of the election campaign, government agencies and public bodies can refuse to accept new casework I raise with them. This means I cannot guarantee my office will achieve positive results, nor that will the request be considered.

Where it is clear that my involvement as former MP would be immediately advantageous to the constituent I would be happy to make enquiries. In some circumstances constituents would obtain a quicker or more effective response from an advice agency or elected representative still in post and my office would signpost accordingly. Alternatively, the enquiry can be held pending the outcome of the General Election.

I would like to thank every constituent of Edinburgh East for their support and engagement during this Parliament, and I am grateful for your cooperation at this time.

Kind regards

Sheila Gilmore

For information regarding the General Election in Edinburgh please visit www.edinburgh.gov.uk/elections. For electoral roll enquiries please visit
www.lothian-vjb.gov.uk.

Westminster Report

Budget 2015
The Chancellor delivered his final budget of the parliament on Wednesday the 18th of March. There were no great policy innovations to steal the headlines, so most commentators – including me in my speech in the budget debate – focussed on the Government’s proposed spending plans for the next five years. These involve very deep cuts in 2016/17 and 2017/18, and then a significant easing off in 2018/19 and 2019/20 – the so-called spending roller coaster.

Most of the changes contained in the budget are actually implemented through a Finance Bill, which this year was rushed through the House of Commons in a day. In my speech during the bill’s committee stage, I highlighted the differences in spending plans of the Government and the opposition. While we don’t deny the deficit needs to be reduced, I noted that our plans involve only £4 billion of spending reductions compared to £55 billion under the Conservatives, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Housing Benefit and the Bedroom Tax
One of the ways in which parliament scrutinises Government spending is through Estimates Day debates. This involves taking a Select Committee report that relates to a particular item of departmental spending, and on 3 March the Work and Pensions Committee – of which I am a member – led a debate on our report on Housing Benefit.

In my speech I noted the broad consensus that Housing Benefit spending is too high, but then highlighted the contrasting approaches of the Government and opposition to bringing it down.

Over the last five years Ministers have salami=sliced away at entitlement to the benefit – one of the most infamous examples of this being the Bedroom Tax – but despite the damage and distress caused to individuals, spending has continued to rise.

In contrast I believe we need to tackle the root causes of higher spending, chief amongst which is a lack of affordable social housing. Only once we get building will we reduce upward pressure on rents in the private sector, and bring down Housing Benefit spending in the long term.

MPs’ second jobs
Research released earlier this month shows that the 20 MPs who earned the most from second (and often third or fourth) jobs spoke in 22 per cent fewer debates and submitted 39 per cent fewer written questions than the average MP. I spoke out in the Guardian, saying that MPs should focus on representing their constituents and scrutinising the Government, and calling for a ban on paid directorships or consultancy work

Constituency Report

Towerbank Catchment
TowerbankJust over a decade ago Towerbank Primary School was an undersubscribed. Fast forward to 2015 and demand for a space at the school outstrips the number of spaces available. Tens of parents have recently contacted me raising considerable concern that the Council has now started an ‘informal consultation’ on redrawing the catchment area, before the formal stage begins.

The Council must listen to parents’ concerns and ensure that it responds with solutions, including pursuing a sibling guarantee for families who already have children at the school. These families have not chosen their situation and to redraw the boundary will cause considerable disruption for households settled in Portobello and Joppa. I know that having children at two schools is both incredibly unfair on families but presents very real logistical difficulties on a daily basis. I have written to the Chair of the Children & Families Committee supporting parents’ who have been in touch.

Baronscourt Residents’ Success
I’m delighted that the Northfield Willowbrae Community Council and residents in Baronscourt successfully fought off an application for a late hours catering license earlier in the month. Residents can now be assured that this residential area does not become a focus for the night time economy. When Dominos first opened three years ago the franchise owner gave assurances there was no intention of seeking to open late, but we have seen from similar applications elsewhere in the city attempts to get restrictions lifted follow a few years after the initial opening. The applicant is entitled to appeal the decision through the sheriff court, but otherwise cannot reapply for the next year.

Brunstane and the LDP
A couple of weeks ago, it was reported the second development plan could be at risk of being cancelled by the Scottish Government, which could force the City of Edinburgh Council to start the process all over again. You will recall that in October last year I responded to the Local Development Plan consultation and objected to the proposal for up to 1330 homes at the Brunstane. Reiterating the calls I have made regarding development proposals at Newcraighall I am clear that instead we should be developing swathes of Brownfield land within the city, rather than have the Scottish Government force the council’s hand and let developers cherry-pick easy sites to develop. Housing at the Brunstane site would cause further traffic congestion and place a huge amount of pressure on local services.

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Homebase & Lutton Court Update
In support of local resident’s petitions calling on Homebase to stay in the Southside, I’ve written to the Managing Director requesting that he respond to the campaign. As in my comments on the planning application for the site, I made clear my concerns at the potential loss of the store to local community, which is valued greatly. It is welcome that there is a store which provides ‘DIY’ and gardening goods without having to leave the centre of Edinburgh and truly complements the retail offering on the Nicolson Street corridor. Remember to sign the newsletter online if you haven’t already! Separately, I have now submitted my comments calling to the Homebase appeal to be dismissed; view it at http://goo.gl/vT4Pel.

A couple of weeks ago I learnt the devastating news that residents chose to withdraw from their statutory appeal against the Reporter’s decision on Lutton Court. With the legal process exhausted, it is up to the Council to decide whether it will proceed with the sale of the land, or renege on its contract in the interests of local residents. On the back of concerning deals surrounding the Potterow land, and the Royal High lease, I have become increasingly concerned that the pursuit of one-off profits is failing to deliver long term benefits for Edinburgh residents. Residents and I have written to Council leader, Andrew Burns asking that the decision is reviewed before it is too late.

Issues Paper
Just last week another application at Meadow Lane was given the green light. That application, for mews type properties and a new purpose built accommodation block on Buccleuch Street was accepted at committee, even though the student population is over 40% already. It was argued the site was so close to the University of Edinburgh that the concentration issue was not a material consideration, a matter which has angered local residents.

In my response to Student Housing Issues Paper I have called for thorough strengthening of the 30% threshold and to throw out any notion of the University of Edinburgh having any ‘campus’ within the city centre. I have also argued for the need for a holistic review of the growth of the education sector across the city to ensure that the planning authority and residents can continue to accommodate this huge industry. To see my submission, head to http://goo.gl/XvjeEB. Remember to respond to the consultation at https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/ before 24 April.

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March 2015 Newsletter

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Westminster Report

Smith Commission: New powers over Disability Benefits
After last year’s referendum the Smith Commission recommended that significant new powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. At the beginning of last month I wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News about the need to start discussing how we use these new powers, and in particular what we will do about Disability Living Allowance.

Smith CommissionAs part of the current Government’s attempts to cut public spending, DLA is being phased out and replaced with Personal Independence Payment, with the assessment set to ensure thousands of Scots that currently get DLA won’t get PIP. But if we want to stop this from happening, We need to start discussing now what we in Scotland would do differently. Here is our chance to shape our own system. Should it be one completely different, or do we revert to DLA as it was before?

Winding Down
The first ever fixed five year parliament is stumbling to a close. The date for the general election has been known for the last four years, and some people argue that all it has done is lead to the ‘longest ever’ election campaign. The last few weeks will see some pieces of legislation completed, such as the Modern Slavery Bill which is nearly finished its stages in the House of Lords. Several Select Committee reports have been recently published, or are about to be completed, including one from the Public Accounts Committee on the Government’s flagship ‘universal credit’. The Committee remains very critical of the pace and cost of this.

Tax Avoidance
Tax avoidance has been in the headlines following the revelations over HSBC’s Swiss bank and David Cameron’s decision to make the firm’s then Chief Executive a Government Minister in 2011. I told the Huffington Post that ‘The revolving door between David Cameron’s government and HSBC casts new light on this Government’s failure to act over alleged wrongdoing.’

Then a clip of George Osborne from several years ago re-emerged, in which he encourages people to avoid tax. I reacted by saying ‘this shows the Tories really do believe that everyone does it’, referring to the remarks of Tory Treasurer Lord Fink.

Prior to this a series of business people had voiced concerns about the prospect of Labour Government, but I suggested to the Huffington Post that they might not be entirely objective in their analysis, highlighting their connections to the Conservative Party.

Arms exports
Constituents regularly contact me with concern about arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records. The Government claim they don’t permit sales where they have evidence that the weapons in question will be used for internal repression or external aggression. However on 20 January I used Foreign Office Questions in the House of Commons to argue that Ministers should go further. Following a discussion with a constituent, I argued that Minister should use restrictions on arms exports to encourage regimes to respect human rights, even where there is no evidence that the specific arms will be used improperly. You can read my exchange with the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond here, but I thought this was a good example of how writing to your MP can lead to your views being put directly to senior people in Government. Keep the letters and emails coming!

News in brief
I popped into the Labour Campaign for Mental Health reception to celebrate Time to Talk Day, which highlights the importance of battling mental health stigma.

Mental HealthI’ve also agreed to become an Arthritis Champion. Musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis affect a huge number of people and are a significant cause of disability in the UK. There is much work to do to prevent and cure these conditions, and we need to improve the services available to those living with them now.

Constituency Report

Legal Highs
Legal Highs ShopLast month I was frustrated and concerned to see that yet another ‘legal high’ shop had opened in Edinburgh East. A number have sprung up in the Southside, with the latest appearing on Easter Road. I told the Evening News that ‘These legal dealers are making money while destroying users’ health and causing havoc for local residents.’ The shop assistant who responded appeared to show a blatant disregard for public health and ignores the fact that trade of these substances is impacting residents across the city, as they put up with the impact locally, but also because public services are being stretched dealing with the disruption. Unfortunately banning specific substances is difficult because of the sheer number of new ones becoming available each week – instead the council need to use its planning powers to stop further stores opening up, and investigate banning their use in public spaces, which could act to dent demand. Earlier this month Lincoln became the first place in the UK to do this, and I wrote to council leader Andrew Burns urging him to consider following suit.

Old Royal High School
Old Royal High SchoolAlthough just outside my constituency, a number of people have contacted me worried about the proposed redevelopment of the old Royal High School on Regent Road into a luxury hotel. Initial plans can be found online. No formal planning application has yet been lodged so there is time to make sure that there is a wide debate and information is disseminated. This is an important building for the city and I will keep a close eye on developments and will be speaking to council colleagues about it.

Homebase appeal, petition, and Student Planning Guidance consultation begins
With the Lutton Court statutory appeal just days away, residents have been notified of Unite’s appeal submission to the Scottish Government, following the City of Edinburgh Council’s recent refusal of the application. Residents have now set up a petition calling on Homebase to stay in the Southside. In my objection to the initial application I highlighted how valued the store is locally. If you use the store, sign the petition!

91351206-8ae4-4171-a747-4a2a13b1f867At the same time the Council has begun to consult on both planning and HMO licensing policy in the city. While the schedules and meetings should run together the consultations are officially separate, and details of the HMO consultation are not fully clear at the time of writing. Running from Monday, 16th March until 24 April 2015 the student accomodation planning guidance consultation will be placed on the Council’s Consultation Hub at https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/. The process, I am told, should include workshops with groups including the Southside Association and Living Southside but will also the Edinburgh universities, and student housing providers. Watch out for details of a Living Southside meeting all residents are invited to attend to discuss the group’s response.

Potterow
I was also concerned to learn that the Estates Department has only shortlisted student accommodation developers who have bid as part of a sell-off council-owned land at Potterow. Meaning another application for student accommodation is likely to come forward. This will only make it harder to prevent an over-concentration of student accommodation in the area – a key issue these reports have focused on over the past two years or so. Instead of focusing on one off profits, the council should have a longer term outlook and listen to residents who would like to see the land passed to an affordable housing provider so that we can retain the balanced, vibrant community that currently exists in the area.

Cameron House Community Centre
Following the Council agreeing its latest budget, money from the Community Learning and Development budget has been transferred to Heath and Social Care to help with the ‘delayed discharge’ crisis in the NHS. I know a number of constituents were concerned that Cameron House Community Centre might close as a result. I have received assurances that the Council is committed to keeping Cameron House open and is currently looking at ways to maintain the present level of service provision. This is a much-valued community facility – and one which opened less than 10 years ago – and I will be carefully monitoring this situation.

Third Age Computer Fun
Third Age Computer FunLast month I reported the sad news that Third Age Computing Club, which organised computing classes for 50+ communities across Edinburgh East and the central belt, was to be dissolved. However I’m pleased to report that all 12 individual clubs are set to remain open under a new organisation so that classes can continue. The clubs in Edinburgh East that will remain open are in Craigmillar, Restalrig, Tollcross and the Southside. See here for more information.

Dumbiedykes bus
Dumbiedykes BusLast year the council started funding the new Number 60 bus service between Dumbiedykes and the Southside. This is a vital link for many elderly residents who do their shopping on Nicolson Street and Clerk Street, but who struggle to make it up the hill on foot. Unfortunately new figures show the service is only carrying between 25 and 32 passengers per day, meaning it is currently very costly to run. The criteria for assessing supported buses is due to change to take account of issues such as the lonlieness caused by being unable to get about, but it is clear that we need to ensure that the bus has enough passengers. I’m encouraging local residents, and businesses such as the Parliament and Rockstar Games, to get people using the service more often, so it can be maintained for those who really need it. If you live in the area – hop on!

Dates for your diary

  • Wednesday 18 March – Budget DayLive online from 12.30pm
  • Thursday 26 March – Spokes’ Spring Public Meeting: The bicycle in the City Centre, with Lesley Hinds, Council Transport Convenor, and other experts – Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge – 7.30pm (doors at 6.45pm)
  • Monday 30 March – Dissolution of UK Parliament
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