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.


March 2015 Newsletter


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 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.

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

Press release: 39,000 Edinburgh workers set to benefit from Scottish Labour living wage pledge

  • Party would introduce Make Work Pay contracts incentivising firms to pay Living Wage
  • 39,000 people in Edinburgh working for less than the living wage
  • Average £445 rebate to businesses meaning over £17 million available to capital firms

B_rPvy2UYAEsLW_Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has hailed Scottish Labour’s plans to incentivise firms to pay the living wage.

Under Make Work Pay contracts, employers would receive a tax rebate of up to £1,000 for every low paid worker who gets a pay rise. With 39,000 people in Edinburgh estimated to be working for less than the living wage and the average rebate set to be £445, this would see £17 million made available for capital firms who pay the living wage.

If all 400,000 low paid workers across Scotland were given the living wage, business would get a windfall of over £180 million.

Research that shows paying the living wage leads to a 25% fall in absenteeism, while 80% of employers believing the living wage has enhanced the quality of the work of their staff and 66% report a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation.

The SNP have previously voted with the Tories against Scottish Labour plans to extend the living wage to the private sector.

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore said:

A lot of businesses in Scotland want to give a pay rise to their staff but the conditions aren’t right.

That is why Scottish Labour will introduce make work pay contracts to incentivise them to pay the living wage.

This could give a pay rise to as many as 39,000 workers in Edinburgh alone, with over £17 million in tax rebates available to firms.

Businesses would also benefit in the long term through lower absenteeism and staff turnover, and higher performance and morale.

When Scottish Labour tried to extend the living wage before the SNP Government in Edinburgh voted with the Tories to block our plans. The SNP were wrong to deny thousands of Scots a pay rise. Scottish Labour will not let these Scots down.

In May Scotland can decide the general election. We can deliver a Labour Government that will make work pay; we can deliver a government which delivers a living wage.



  • Make Work Pay contracts will mean that, in return for paying the living wage within the first year of a Labour Government, businesses will receive back 12-months’ worth of the resulting increased tax and National Insurance revenues received by the Government.
  • If the Government introduced this now, firms could receive a 12-month tax rebate of up to £1,000 – and an average of £445 – for every low paid worker who is moved onto a living wage.
  • The estimated number of people working for less than the minimum wage in Edinburgh is 39,000. 39,000 x £445 = £ 17,355,000.
  • For every extra pound employers pay to raise workers from the National Minimum Wage to the living wage, the Treasury saves on average 49p in the form of lower social security payments and higher tax revenues.
  • Labour’s Make Work Pay contracts would mean that employers could claim back the entire increase in tax revenue – an average of 32p in the pound – for the first year.
  • Although the bulk of the money in the first year would be paid back to employers, the Government would still see a net saving through lower social security and tax credit payments, and increased tax revenues in future years.
  • We will also require listed companies to report on whether or not they pay the living wage.
  • List of living wage benefits from the Poverty Alliance available here:
  • The SNP has consistently voted against Scottish Labour’s call for the Living Wage to be included in the procurement process. Most notably in Stage 3 of the
  • Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act, details found here:
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or

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.


Notes to Editors:


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.


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