Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP calls on council to investigate banning legal highs

Scottish Labour MP Sheila Gilmore has today called on Edinburgh Council to investigate banning the use of so-called ‘legal highs’ in public spaces. This follows the decision to introduce a ban in Lincoln, the first place in the UK to take such a measure.

Legal Highs ShopSheila Gilmore said:

Today I’m calling for the council to follow Lincoln’s lead and investigate introducing a ban on the use of legal highs in public spaces.

The use of legal highs is spreading in Edinburgh, with specialist shops opening up initially in the Southside and now on Easter Road.

Not only do these drugs cause considerable harm to users – they also lead to a rise in antisocial behaviour on the city’s streets.

While banning legal highs in public spaces is only one of a number of options that need to be looked at, I believe it could be an important measure in discouraging their use.

In her letter to Council leader Andrew Burns, Sheila Gilmore said:

I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the consumption of legal highs is growing significantly in the city. In the Southside the number of shops selling legal highs has increased, with residents reporting that users have been queuing up outside these outlets before nine o’clock in the morning. It now seems that they are spreading further across the city, with a shop selling legal highs recently opening up on Easter Road.

In a recent report commissioned by the council, it was revealed that six people died in Edinburgh between January and October 2014 as a consequence of taking legal highs. The report also stated that there has been a ‘rapid increase’ in the use of these drugs. This has resulted in a rise in infections from needles, and health experts have warned that users could experience long term mental health problems. Police have also reported a growth in violent and antisocial behaviour on Edinburgh’s streets from users of legal highs.

I was interested to see that Lincoln City Council recently voted to ban the use of legal highs in public spaces. Whilst this is only one of a number of regulatory options that need to be looked at, I believe that this could be an important measure in discouraging their use and reducing levels of antisocial behaviour.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP slams ideological East Coast privatisation

28 February 2015 – for use on 1 March 2015

On the day Virgin Trains takes over from the publicly owned East Coast, Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has once again slammed the UK Government’s ideological decision to privatise intercity services between Edinburgh and London.

Sheila Gilmore and Mark Lazarowicz campaign against East Coast privatisation

Sheila Gilmore MP and Mark Lazarowicz MP campaigning against the East Coast privatisation last year.

 

Sheila Gilmore, who campaigned against the plans to re-privatise the line since they were first announced in March 2013, said:

Passengers recognised the improvements to services that East Coast made under public ownership. They also appreciated that all profits were retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.

But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, Ministers decided to press ahead with their ideological privatisation of services before the General Election.

If the franchising programme had simply been restarted after its collapse in October 2012, both the West Coast and Great Western routes would have been let first, and East Coast would have been dealt with later this year.

But because the Conservatives were embarrassed by the success of a nationalised railway, East Coast was instead pushed to the front of the queue.

A UK Labour Government would take a different approach. At a minimum we would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, but in addition we would review the entire franchising system so that passengers and taxpayers get better value for money. In Scotland Jim Murphy has also set out plans to take Scotrail back into public hands.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Please see following links for photos of Sheila Gilmore MP campaigning on this issue last year:
  • 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 were 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 was expected to make premium payments to the Treasury, and it has returned over £1 billion by the end of the current financial year.
  • In addition all profits – totalling over £40 million over the last four years – have been 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.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP pledges to become arthritis champion for Edinburgh East

Sheila Gilmore has today agreed to become an ‘Arthritis Champion’, supporting Arthritis Research UK in their efforts to find a cure for arthritis while calling for policy change to prevent its onset.

By agreeing to become an Arthritis Champion, Sheila Gilmore has pledged to:

  • campaign to make musculoskeletal conditions a public health priority
  • fight to ensure that people with arthritis get high-quality care at the time they need it
  • champion the UK’s leadership role in medical research

Speaking about the manifesto, Sheila Gilmore said,

I am pleased to become an Arthritis Champion. Musculoskeletal conditions affect a huge number of people and are a significant cause of disability in the UK. These are painful conditions which can have a massive impact on every aspect of people’s lives. We need to see change that creates the best possible policy environment in which to prevent and cure these conditions, and we need an urgent transformation of the services available to those that are living with musculoskeletal conditions now.

Dr Liam O’Toole, chief executive officer of Arthritis Research UK, said,

I’m delighted that Sheila Gilmore has become an Arthritis Champion. Our Arthritis Research UK manifesto sets out an exciting vision for the future of musculoskeletal conditions. We are calling for policy changes to support the prevention, transformation and cure of musculoskeletal conditions. There is much that can be done: but we can’t do it alone. We need to work in partnership to put the needs of people with arthritis on the political agenda and transform the lives of people living with arthritis.

For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.

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January 2015 Newsletter

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Westminster Report

Smith Commission
In November the Smith Commission recommended that significant further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and on 22 January a new draft law was published that would make this a reality.

Combined with the additional powers already legislated for in the last Scotland Act of 2012, we have opportunities now to plan how we can use these powers to make Scotland a fairer and more equal country.

Smith CommissionHousing

 

Housing
With the publication of the draft legislation in mind I used an article in the Edinburgh Evening News on 2 December to call upon the SNP Scottish Government to use the new powers over tax and borrowing to boost investment in affordable house-building. Not only would this create jobs in the construction industry and improve our housing stock, but it would also reduce rents in the private rented sector and the overall Housing Benefit bill.

Fracking
FrackingOn 24 January Scottish Labour announced that we would use both the existing planning powers of the Scottish Parliament – and those over licensing that are set to be devolved – to freeze all fracking for shale gas in Scotland. While this isn’t my party’s position in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, during a Commons debate on the Infrastructure Bill on 26 January, the Coalition Government were forced to accept that fracking could only go ahead in the rest of the UK under strict new regulations put forward by my colleagues on the Shadow Environment team. Many constituents wrote to me on this issue and I’ve now posted my response on my website.

Labour’s Economic Policy
In January I received a lot of correspondence about the Government’s Charter for Budgetary Responsibility, which commits any future Government to balancing day-to-day public spending as soon as possible. This is Labour policy, and so we voted in favour of the charter on 13 January. It’s important to stress that there’s a big difference between our approach and that of the Conservatives. Following the Autumn Statement, the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston highlighted the significant differences in our approach:

The gap between the spending cuts or tax rises required by the Tories and Labour to hit their fiscal targets for the next parliament is a very significant £50bn.

How so?

Well the Tories are signed up to generating a surplus on the overall budget of £23bn in 2019-20.

And Labour is only committed to balancing the so-called “current” budget by then – that’s day-to-day spending on public-sector wages, benefits, pensions and so on – while being prepared to finance capital investment with debt.

And since net public sector investment is forecast to be £27bn in 2019-20, a Labour government would require less austerity to the tune of £23bn plus £27bn – or £50bn.

This is a massive difference.

News in Brief

Carrier Bag Charges
SainsburysAfter the recent introduction of a carrier bag charge in Scotland, I discovered that Sainsbury’s are the only supermarket that don’t give shoppers the option of bagless deliveries when ordering online. This contravenes guidance from Zero Waste Scotland, something I highlighted in a press release.

Social Security Work
I am keeping up my work in parliament on social security, speaking in the commons on both sanctions against those claiming Jobseekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance. The Work & Pensions Select Committee has been taking evidence on the issue of sanctions over the last few weeks and we will be publishing a Report on this in March.

I have also spoken on the lack of support for people who need to challenge decisions that they are fit for work.

The Coalition Government has always made a big issue of its Benefit Cap – the ‘rule’ that, with some exceptions, no household should receive more than £26,000 in benefits. This was introduced in the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 which my party voted against. The amount ‘saved’ by the Benefit Cap is in practice fairly low and Ministers have clearly wanted this as a way of trying to drive a wedge between those in work and those not. Since its introduction the Government has claimed that the Cap has been successful in getting people into work. I questioned this claim on Huffington Post, twice!

1,000 Extra Nurses
Following Jim Murphy’s announcement that he would use the proceeds of Labour’s Mansion Tax to help recruit 1,000 extra nurses for the NHS in Scotland, I hit back at the suggestion from some London MPs that this represents ‘expropriation from London’. This sort of pooling and sharing of resources is similar to how the tax revenue from North Sea oil is used to fund investment in public services like schools and policing across other parts of the UK, and is one of the key benefits of our United Kingdom.

Same-sex Marriage
It emerged in December that senior Tories Liam Fox and Owen Paterson had addressed a right-wing fringe group which has questioned whether same-sex marriage causes earthquakes. I told the Pink News, Independent and Guardian that the Conservative Party ought to explain why it allows some of its most influential MPs to associate with a group pushing such vile views.

Network Rail Flights
Following the post-Christmas engineering overruns at Kings Cross that caused havoc for people travelling between Edinburgh and London, I hit out at Network Rail executives who choose to fly to meetings rather than take the train.

Constituency Report

Legal Highs on our High Streets
In recent months a number of constituents have contacted me with serious and worrying concerns about the increasing sale of the so-called ‘legal highs‘ in shops on our high streets, especially in the Southside and near Easter Road. The problem is particularly acute in the Southside area, where there are several such outlets. Some users are injecting and used syringes are being found in public spaces and common stairs. Because the highs are intense and short-lived the Council and NHS know there has been a rapid increase in injecting frequency. In turn there is more disruption experienced by residents, with some reporting that forced entry to stairs has increased into in order for users to find somewhere to inject. Some users become aggressive and the police are encountering an increase in fights and antisocial behaviour.

I met with representatives from the Council, Health Board and the Police recently to hear what is being done to tackle this issue. The good news is that they are very well aware of the problem and are working closely together. The difficulty is that supply remains legal and banning of specific substances has led to others, only slightly different, appearing. Government needs to look at the possibility of more widely drawn bans, and I believe the Council needs to look urgently into whether those selling these substances should be licensed.

Homebase and Buccleuch Place applications
Decisions made at that Development Management Sub-Committee on Wednesday produced mixed results for Southsiders. On the one hand the Council’s Planning committee refused the application for 579 student beds at the Homebase site at St Leonards. As such the planning committee has once more upheld its policies which seek to sustain balanced communities in our city. Congratulations are again due to the individuals and residents groups such as the Southside Association and Living Southside which have worked so hard to make the case for the community. As expected the developers hardly waited for the decision before they indicated they were going to appeal.

Unfortunately for residents in Buccleuch Street, the committee agreed a plan to convert Georgian tenements at Buccleuch Place from offices to residential flats for students. Unfortunately this determination was made in haste due a concern that the Council was being too slow coming to its decision. On the day there was wrangling over the status of these properties and whether or not they will require HMO licenses. It was questioned whether officers adequately advised committee members on this issue just two weeks ago. My own submission in response to this application, and a subsequent email to committee members in January, highlighted my view that licenses, and HMO planning policies, were relevant. You can watch a recorded webcast of the committee on the Council’s website.

We now await the joint consultation on both HMO and purpose built student accommodation policies, which I have been promised should start soon.

Engine Shed Closure
Engine ShedIt is with great sadness that the Engine Shed has confirmed it will close later this month. I have long been an advocate of the Engine Shed and the supported employment the social enterprise provides. In September it was announced the Engine Shed would lose 40 per cent of its income from City of Edinburgh Council. As a training facility the Engine Shed is first class and it remains to be seen whether the young people it trained are able to get ‘real jobs’ elsewhere and if the in-work support promised under a new employability scheme is really available and sustained. The final day of trading will be Saturday 21 February.

Third Age Computing Closure
Third Age Computer FunSince being elected I’ve promoted the work of the Third Age Computing Club which organised computing classes for 50+ communities across Edinburgh East and the central belt. It was a real shame to learn late in December that the board had decided to dissolve the charity. A number of clubs will remain open under a new organisation so that classes can continue. Go to the TACF website to register your interest in these.

George Pitcher
George PitcherThis week I learnt that George Pitcher, a true activist who served the Southside community, passed away. I have fond memories of my work with George over the years and he will be very missed by all who knew him.

Niddrie Mill Redevelopment Begins
Niddrie MillLast month I received a notification that the redevelopment of Niddrie Mill Primary has begun. Developers have circulated a newsletter with contact details for residents who have queries. It is unfortunate the images used look like stock images and fails to mention the historic frontage developers will retain.

Phoenix House
Last month an application to convert Phoenix House, a vacant office building on Portobello High Street, to residential dwellings was submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council. Considered a small application, the window for comments was just 21 days. While I welcome more homes in Portobello, including an affordable component, I have some concern about the materials the developer hopes to clad the existing structure with, and have submitted comments accordingly.

Pre-application Notications
Former Royal Infirmary Residential Redevelopment
A pre-application notification has been submitted to convert the Surgical Buildings of the former Royal Infirmary. This proposal is for residential development and an exhibition of the plans will take place on Tuesday 24th February from 2.00pm-8.00pm at The Marketing Suite, 1 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh.

“Skoda” Garage Residential Redevelopment
Hot on the heels of the Stanley place student accommodation application a 12 week consultation period has begun for the residential redevelopment of the former “Skoda” garage (4 Abbey Lane 6 Comely Green Crescent Edinburgh EH8 8HH). Details on the planning portal are scarce at this stage, however in the developer’s application form the date and time of an exhibition of their plans will take place on Thursday 26th February at Abbeyhill Primary School between 4.00pm and 7.00pm to allow you and other residents review the plans.

Carr Gomm Community Growing
Community GrowingCarr Gomm would like to hear from you if your organisation or community is interested in developing any outdoor space into an area to grow food. Based at The SPACE in Craigmillar you can contact Karin Chipulina on 07824 838 364.

Dates for your Diary

  • Monday 16th February – Spring Meeting of the Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links – 7:30 pm in the Pillar Hall, Barclay Viewforth Church
  • Tuesday 24th February – Quartermile Surgical Building PAN on residential development – 2.00pm-8.00pm – The Marketing Suite, 1 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh.
  • Thursday 26th February – “Skoda” Garage Residential Redevelopment PAN exhibition – between 4.00pm and 7.00pm – Abbeyhill Primary School
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Evening News column: Start debate on disability benefits

Earlier this week I wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News on the need to start discussing how we use the new powers Scotland will receive following the referendum. You can access the article here but I’ve also reproduced it in full below.

Following last year’s referendum the Smith Commission proposed giving the Scottish Parliament new powers over issues like tax and welfare.

Two weeks ago a draft law was published that all three main UK parties have committed to passing after the election to make this a reality. Now we need to start talking about how we’ll use these powers to build the fairer and more equal society that we all want to see.

One of the areas of welfare set to be devolved is supporting folk with the additional costs of living and working with a disability or chronic illness.

Since the 1990s people have been able to claim Disability Living Allowance, which is paid regardless of income, and for many is the difference between holding down a job and not. But back in 2010 the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat coalition announced it would replace DLA with a new benefit – Personal Independence Payment – to cut spending by 20 per cent.

While existing DLA claimants are set to start being reassessed for PIP later this year, I believe this should be delayed until control of these benefits passes to Holyrood. At that point we Scots will have a choice: do we want to press ahead with the switch to PIP or go back to DLA? Both options have their challenges.

If we go with PIP, many new claimants have complained of long waits to both get an appointment and receive their first payment. How would we address these delays? Should there be fewer face-to-face assessments? Should we continue to contract out this work to private companies?

Alternatively if we stick with DLA, where will we find the extra £200 million per year to pay for it? Do we ask people to pay more tax or cut spending elsewhere? And what of those who say that, once the delays are overcome, PIP is a big improvement for people with mental health conditions? Should we re-work DLA to take lessons from PIP into account? Can we develop a system that works better with care packages provided by councils?

Naturally, the focus of charities and campaigners over the last four years has been on helping individuals navigate the changing social security system, and campaigning against “reforms” based on savings rather than the needs of those affected. But we now need to think positively about what is needed.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these questions at present, but what I do know is that we need to start having this debate now so that we are ready to craft a benefit right for the needs of Scotland.

Scottish Labour has already proposed using new powers to freeze fracking in Scotland, bring Scotrail back into public ownership, and reintroduce a 50p tax on earnings over £150,000 – now we need to start talking about DLA and PIP.

After people were so engaged in discussing where power should lie during the referendum, it would be a tragedy if they weren’t involved in deciding how we use the new powers we will now have. For the sake of the people we all want to help, let’s have this debate now.

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