One of the main issues I’ve focused on since my election has been Employment and Support Allowance. I’ve been struck by the number of constituents that have contacted me who are genuinely unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so having undergone the Work Capability Assessment. The legislation that introduced ESA requires the Government to commission independent reviews of the WCA during its first five years of operation. The first three reviews have been carried out by occupational health specialist Professor Malcolm Harrington. Responsibility for the fourth review has been handed to Dr Paul Litchfield. He has issued a call for evidence and today I’ve made my submission. You can read it in full here. If you have any experience of the WCA, I would encourage you to make a submission – see here for more information. Make sure you do it this weekend – the deadline is Tuesday 27th of August 2013. Feel free to use any of the ideas (or even the wording) used in my own.
Edinburgh Labour MPs Sheila Gilmore and Mark Lazarowicz continued their campaign against the privatisation of East Coast yesterday by speaking to passengers outside Waverley station.
Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last four years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for public benefit, rather than lost to shareholders.
The decision to privatise East Coast puts this at risk and shows that David Cameron and his Ministers put ideology before the needs of passengers and taxpayers.
Mark Lazarowicz said:
East Coast has achieved success under public operation, receiving less subsidy than any of the other 18 private franchises and paying back more to the taxpayer than all but one.
It has done that with no certainty about how long it would continue to remain in public hands. Ministers should now drop their plans for privatisation to give East Coast stability so it can plan for for the future.
Notes to Editors:
- After privatisation intercity services on the East Coast Main Line were run by GNER from 1996 to 2007, and then by National Express until they broke their contract in 2009.
- Since then services have been run by East Coast, a subsidiary of Directly Operated Railways (DOR), a train operating company wholly owned by the Department for Transport.
- As with operators of other profitable franchises, East Coast is expected to make premium payments to the Treasury, and it has returned over £640 million over the last four years.
- In addition all profits – totalling over £40 million over four years – are reinvested in the service rather than paid out in dividends to shareholders.
- In 2011 East Coast introduced a new timetable involving:
- 19 additional services each day, some to new destinations including Lincoln and Harrogate, equating to an extra 3 million more seats per year;
- Faster journeys, with a daily 4 hour service between Edinburgh and London.
- A revamped First Class service;
- In late 2012 East Coast achieved the best punctuality on the line since records began in 1999 with 93.3% of trains arriving within 10 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
- Please find attached photo from yesterday’s session.
- For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 07742 986 513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Along with my fellow Edinburgh MP Mark Lazarowicz, I’m going to be leafleting and speaking to passengers at the Waverley Steps, Princess Street, Edinburgh at 1.00pm on Monday 12 August. If you feel strongly about this issue, then we’d like to invite you to come along. There will be a briefing note setting out the key arguments for first-time campaigners. If you’d like to join us then please send me an email at email@example.com. If you do come along its important to note that we won’t be allowed to leaflet or speak to passengers in the station itself or its entrances.
Parliament ‘rose’ for the summer recess on July 18th, after a couple of very hot weeks the Chamber itself was an oasis of coolness. Tradition still decrees that men wear jacket and tie in the Chamber and several commented that we women have it lucky. Some men however welcomed the summer in quite an array of coloured suits. The prize perhaps should go to Gerald Kaufman (MP for Manchester Gorton). He may be in his 80s but was sporting a very dashing flower patterned suit in this warm weather. Maybe it was the heat but certainly the last few PMQs of the ‘term’ were very heated. It has been far from the ‘silly season’ with very serious issues being debated throughout July, including the economy, the English NHS, plain cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing.
Towards the end of June the Chancellor announced his spending review for the year 2015/16. This did not cover several years as in 2010, either because he had to acknowledge there could be a change of government by then, or because, as some commentators more cynically suggested because he did not want to ‘frighten the electorate.’ (If you are interested in finding out more about this see a report called ‘Fiscal Fallout: The challenge ahead for public spending and public services’ from the Royal Society of Arts and the Social Market Foundation at http://bit.ly/16tCnB7.
One comment on the spending review from the Institute of Fiscal Studies acknowledged:
‘Despite the hype, net capital spending is not set to rise for 2015/16 (IFS). In 2010 capital was cut back substantially and has done a bit better this time as Coalition is edging towards accepting there needs to be capital spending… a lot of damage has been done in the meantime.’
In 2010 the Coalition promised the split between spending cuts and tax rises would be 80/20. This review moves it to 85/15.
On jobs – nearly 300,000 public sector jobs have been lost since 2010 already with another 300,000 reductions scheduled for the next two years. This Review suggests a further 144,000 reductions in 2015/16 will be made.
The Chancellor constantly points out that new jobs in the private sector have more than offset public sector job losses. The IFS states that this is true in every region but that there is no clear correlation between public sector job losses and private job creation. In regions like London, where public job losses have been relatively limited, there has also been a big increase in private sector employment.
Work and Pensions Select Committee
In late June select committee members went on a visit to Job Centres in Oldham and Ashton Under Lyme as part of our current enquiry into the work of Jobcentre Plus . This is the area where the new Universal Credit system is being piloted. Although our visits were highly ‘sanitised’ (which I am sure happens under any Government) we could see that even with very limited numbers covered by the pilot there were difficulties with the computer system. At this stage only single unemployed people with no children or sickness issues, and no existing claims are included in the pilot. A couple of weeks later we had Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud at the committee for an update session on Universal Credit.
We were told that the next stage of the rollout to further Jobcentres across the UK would begin in October although this programme would only apply to simplest categories of applicants. There is no doubt that the rollout process is considerably delayed over the original intentions. The government is seeking to make a virtue out of a necessity by saying how important it is to test the system properly before full implementation. Colleagues with experience in such matters knew it would never be easy to make major changes quickly and said so; originally these claims were dismissed well before implementation started.
Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform Changes on Disabled People
For some considerable time disability organisations and campaigners have been asking for the Government to carry out a study of the cumulative effect of their various changes on disabled people. The Opposition held a debate on this on 10th July. The Government continued to resist this saying variously: that it would be too difficult; it was too early to tell; and that they would be monitoring impacts of various changes on an ongoing basis. The trouble with the latter argument is that it rather misses the point that people wanted them to look at the way the changes interact. They also riposte that the last Government wasn’t in the business of performing a cumulative impact assessment either, but then the current Government constantly tells us that they are carrying out the biggest revolution in welfare provision since the establishment of the modern welfare state. Surely that needs a cumulative impact assessment!
I spoke in the debate (see p52 http://bit.ly/15qVTPY) as did many of my colleagues. The speech by Liam Byrne, shadow Secretary of State, outlined his thinking on alternative approaches (p31 http://bit.ly/15qVTPY).
Food Banks – the Big Society in Action?
Over the weekend of 5th to 7th July Tesco ran a national food collection in their stores in partnership with the Trussell Trust and FareShare (www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects, www.fareshare.org.uk/). I went along to Tesco at Nicolson Street to see how staff were doing. Customers were being leafleted as they entered the store and regular announcements were made over the tannoy. Collections made at Tesco stores in Edinburgh were being divided between a number of different local organisations.
Great work by staff and strong support from customers made this a very successful event. This is the first period in my lifetime when so many people have become in need of food banks. Families in modern Scotland should not have to rely on food banks to eat, but regrettably there is a real need for this type of service. My office has had to refer families to foodbanks because they simply have nowhere else to turn. This is a sign not simply of recession but of the impact of government policies.
The Trussell Trust, which is one of the largest providers, but by no means the only provider, has this year published the following statistics for households accessing a minimum of 3 days food help in a year:
The Government’s reaction is to applaud all of this as a sign of the Big Society in practice. The Prime Minister’s favourite riposte is to say ‘the number of foodbanks went up tenfold under Labour’. He doesn’t quote a source but it may well be based on data from Trussell Trust itself because it only started up in 2000. A tenfold increase could be from or 2 to 20! Trussell Trust now has 345 foodbanks in the UK and it opens three centres each week.
More recently the DWP minister in the House of Lords being questioned on the rise in foodbank use said that this was because foodbanks were advertising themselves better and that as it was a ‘free good’ people were bound to gravitate towards it. The implication presumably being that people didn’t really ‘need’ the help. Unfortunately, the help is limited and the foodbanks do have to scrutinise a request for help; any suggestion that families are choosing to rely on the foodbanks is disingenuous. Is Lord Freud trying to suggest that people should stop offering foodbanks because Cameron’s Big Society is having perverse consequences? I think it is evident Lord Freud did not want to admit that government policy was in any way responsible.
According to Trussell Trust statistics 30% of people were being referred because of benefit delays; 18% due to low income and 15% due to benefit changes. People have to be referred by other organisations, contrary to Lord Freud’s belief that people are making a choice to obtain food from the banks rather than shop at the supermarket.
The shortage of affordable housing
In recent weeks I’ve written a couple of articles on housing policy. One was on Labour Hame (see http://bit.ly/15qW3Xr, and on my website http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/bedroom-tax-snp-should-stop-blaming-westminster-and-come-up-with-solutions/) highlighting the substantial reduction there has been in the construction of new homes in Scotland.
Previous governments can be criticised for not building enough, although In the late 90s/early 2000s one of the big issues under discussion in the world of council and housing association housing was ‘low demand’ in many areas of the country. Even in Edinburgh where there has always been a shortage, there were some definite ‘difficult to let’ areas at that time – not anymore! The second article, in the Edinburgh Evening News, (see http://bit.ly/15qYN7l) was about the Scottish Government’s announcement of the end to right to buy. I argue that the impact of this in terms of supply is extremely limited because sales have already dropped to a low level, and, a ‘sale foregone’ does not turn into a house to let in the short term, because the tenant won’t be moving on. The real way to deal with supply problems is to simply to build more housing.
Westminster Report Pavement Parking
Every now and then there seems to be a regular theme to the enquiries I receive in my constituency office, one issue which is regularly cropping up at the moment is pavement and double parking in residential areas. This problem is always an inconvenience for pedestrians, especially those who have mobility issues, but worse, it can prevent emergency services getting to the address they have been called to. Currently it is only the police who have the power to take action if a motor vehicle is parked in this way. A private members bill, the Proposed Responsible Parking Bill (Scotland) (2) has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament to tackle this issue. The bill calls for powers to be passed to local councils, so that parking attendants can take action. The bill has gained substantial cross-party support and I’m encouraging residents who raise these issues with me to ask their MSPs to support the bill. Further details of the bill can be found at http://bit.ly/17tiNEm. To find out who your MSPs are – and how to contact them about this issue, go to www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps.aspx.
Housing Co-op Consulation
A few newsletters ago I mentioned that the City of Edinburgh Council has been consulting on how it can encourage the development of cooperative housing so that local residents can help deliver their own micro housing projects and have more say over a key service they rely on. The city’s three existing Housing Co-ops are very successful and very popular. They could be expanded through new build but do not currently have the capacity to carry out development themselves and would have to do it in partnership with one if the city’s ‘developing’ housing associations. That said, a co-operative or social enterprise model could be very helpful in dealing with common repairs, because of the lack of a factoring history in Edinburgh (other than more recently in new developments). While the consultation has now closed, my response to the consultation is available on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Housing-Co-ops.pdf.
Further details on the scope of the consultation can be located at: http://bit.ly/11H4jSx.
East Coast update – Edinburgh MPs petition Waverley passengers
Last month my colleagues, Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray, joined me and trade unionists from across Edinburgh to petition Waverley passengers to support the campaign to stop the East Coast Privatisation. On a sunny Friday we set up stall at Waverley steps to speak to passengers and shoppers on Princes Street. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive, with members of the public agreeing that the profits should be retained to improve services and passed back to the treasury, rather than to shareholders. In just one hour we added tens of signatories to our joint petition. We also took the opportunity to speak to East Coast staff about the improvements to services that East Coast has made under public ownership over the last four years.
To sign the petition head to www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/eastcoastmainline.
Craigmillar Town Centre Master Plan
The ‘town centre master plan’ is the plan for the area around Niddrie Mains Road where it is intended there will be shops, a new school and other community facilities. There had been much talk of this work being carried out by PARC in partnership with a private sector investor, but it has now been decided that PARC will be doing this itself. Fresh local consultation on the Plan will be taking place in the autumn.
The wider plan for Craigmillar, the urban design framework, has now been revised and is due to be approved at next week’s Planning Committee, on Thursday 8th August. Finally, officers have removed plans to develop Cairntows Park, after a hard fought campaign from local residents pointed out the absurdity of building on a park when brownfield land is awaiting development across Craigmillar! Hopefully Councillors will approve the plans as they are proposed without a hitch. To view the full papers head to http://bit.ly/17oMNkX.
Craigmillar Fun Day & Portobello/ Northfield Fun day
Both these community events took place on Saturday 29th June and were fortunate with the weather, with lots of sunshine, attracting plenty of people to both events.
Another Visitor for the Hub
Last month Restalrig Lochend Community Hub had a royal visitor. This month while I was enjoying some lunch at the HubGrub café in walked this sheep. The sheep and other animals were visiting from Gorgie City Farm. At first I thought maybe the sheep was there for the very busy knitters group who were also meeting there that day. As ever so much goes on at the Hub thanks to its enthusiast staff and volunteers.
Engine Shed update
Over the past few months the Engine Shed has received overwhelming support from all sections of the community in response to the uncertainties regarding funding for the training they offer. Parents and trainees organised a sponsored walk to raise money for the Lothian Special Olympics. A number of their trainees are actively involved with this organisation which also supports and encourages young people with learning disabilities to achieve their personal best. For further updates on the work of the Engine Shed, see their newsletter which I’ve uploaded to my website at http://bit.ly/17oOAX7.
LGBT 50+ Community Survey
LGBT Health and Wellbeing have been running LGBT Age, a groundbreaking project which currently provides a befriending service and social opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people over 50 in Edinburgh and Lothians.
LGBT Age is carrying out a Community Survey to obtain a better understanding of the needs of LGBT people across Scotland. The findings will be used to develop the future work the LGBT Age project and are wider work to promote the health, wellbeing and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland.
If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and 50+ the survey will take just 10 minutes to complete and can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/lgbtage Dates for your Diary
Wednesday, 7th August – Wauchope Summer Community BBQ – 4pm to 7pm – Wauchope Community Garden and Allotments (Niddrie Mains Terrace and Wauchope Terrace)
Friday, 9th August – Final Fling Summer Bash – from 1pm to 4pm – Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar – Activities include bungee trampolines and horse riding and much more
Tuesday 27th August – Dumbiedykes Bus Decision @ Transport and Environment Committee – from 9.30am – City Chambers, High Street – papers available from www.edinburgh.gov.uk/cpol one week in advance of the meeting
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The City of Edinburgh Council has been consulting on how it can encourage the development of cooperative housing so that local residents can help deliver their own housing and have more say over a key service they rely on.
The consultation has now closed, however, my response to the consultation questions is available here: Housing Co-ops.
Further details on the scope of the consultation can be located at: http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/info/917/housing/1975/developing_co-operative_approaches_to_housing