December 2013 and January 2014 Newsletter

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Westminster report

Autumn Statement
The political seasons seem to extend themselves these days. We have become used to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement arriving in December.

The Statement itself was a particularly noisy affair. I know people have varying views on the question of ‘Commons Noise’ and to an extent lively banter across the Commons Chamber gives debate an energy and immediacy that polite silence would not. For example, there are times when there is genuine anger at proposals the ‘other side’ is coming up with, but the way in which Ed Balls was barracked when he replied to the Chancellor was, in my view unacceptable, not simply because he is of my party, but because it was a constant wall of noise. Some of my own colleagues do their share of shouting and heckling on such occasions, but generally it is a response to specific things being said. I found it difficult to hear what he was saying, even though I was sitting in the row behind the Shadow Chancellor.

Watching the TV reports later that evening I was struck by the grins and laughs of Cameron and Osborne. They had scant regard for the many people who are struggling with cuts in real wages and the millions still out of work (Unemployment is only a little lower than it was in 2010), not to mention those households hit by the bedroom tax.

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(POST SCRIPT: PMQs was a particularly quiet one the first week back after Christmas, partly because it was overshadowed by the death that day of a very popular and well respected MP, Paul Goggins. But the verdict of the sketch writers, was ‘boring’! – see Ann Treneman in The Times (paywall), and Michael White in the Guardian)

Nelson Mandela Tribute Debate
This took place on 9 December. Many, many MPs spoke, with some extremely good speeches, including those from Gordon Brown and Peter Hain. I didn’t put into speak not least as we had a long session that afternoon at the Work & Pensions Select Committee with Iain Duncan Smith. Had I done so it would have been to recall that the Anti Apartheid movement was one of the earliest political movements of which I became aware. It is humbling to recall that it was nearly 25 years after my first wearing of the iconic badge, Mandela was released from prison and apartheid crumbled. A long road indeed.

Food Banks Debate
The last Opposition Day debate of the year was on foodbanks. Speakers on our side far exceeded the time available by some considerable margin. But I think we had hit a raw nerve for the Government by choosing this topic, as Tory attendance in the Chamber was well above average, and emotions were running high. Speakers on the Government side were anxious to refute the idea that the expansion of food bank use had anything to do with their policies. Citizens’ Advice Scotland’s evidence obtained from its bureaux shows that 73% of the referrals they make are benefit related.

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Employment and Support Allowance
In December I kept up my work on Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who can’t work due to an illness or disability. Regular readers will know I’ve been concerned for some time that the assessment process for ESA is flawed. Thousands of applicants, who clearly cannot work, are being declared fit to do so and as a consequence they are refused benefit.

Earlier this year two claimants – supported by a number of charities – took legal action, arguing that when people with mental health conditions apply for ESA, the Government should take responsibility for collecting supporting evidence from appropriate professionals, such as their GPs. The court ruled in their favour in June, but the Government subsequently appealed. On 4 December the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s arguments, and I posted my reaction on my website.

In a separate development I’ve become aware that the number of incorrect assessments could be far higher than previously thought, because the current figures appear to only count cases that go to formal appeal before a tribunal judge, not those resolved by civil servants. I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about this just before Christmas, and you can my letter on my website.

Finally I released some comments following the publication of Government’s latest independent review of the ESA assessment on 12 December.

Lobbying Bill
I have received a lot of correspondence from constituents on this Bill. After three years of no action on lobbying the Government brought forward a Bill just before the summer last year which paid no attention to the extensive criticisms summed up by the Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee, and then tacked on proposals which will inhibit campaigning by voluntary organisations and charities. After rushing it through the Commons, the Government agreed to a ‘pause’ in the Lords for further ‘consultation’. Considerable work was done by peers and representatives of the voluntary sector to suggest changes. Following this the Government made some concessions but not enough. The Bill suffered three defeats on amendments in the Lords, and these came back to us last week, with only four hours of debate allowed. The Minister spoke for 47 minutes of the two hours allowed on the amendment to the first part of the Bill!

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Despite some Tory and LibDem MPs voting to support the Lords Amendments they were defeated. When that happens the Bill goes back to the Lords who vote again on whether to insist on their amendments. At this stage some cross bench peers in particular take the view that the elected chamber should prevail – and the Government got its way, after a tied vote in one case.

Whatever one thinks of the substance of this Bill, the process has been a lesson in how not to produce ‘good’ legislation.

Welfare Reform
January started with my Huffington Post article on the Government’s flagship welfare reform Universal Credit. While I acknowledge that UC isn’t a bad idea in principle, and that it could improve work incentives for some, any benefits won’t be felt for years due to IT overspends and poor project management. Meanwhile another element of the project – the heightened conditionality and increased use of benefit sanctions – is already in place and negatively impacting many claimants. Universal Credit, in my view, is presently ‘All Stick and No Carrot!’

It’s also worth highlighting a speech I made on the 13th of January – you can read a transcript here – in a debate on the impact of welfare policy on poverty. It’s often the same people who are affected by the Government’s various changes, and despite all the hardship caused, the Treasury isn’t making much in the way of savings.

East Coast
On 9 January I spoke in a debate on intercity rail investment, focussing on the Government’s decision to privatise the intercity services on the East Coast Main Line. You can read my speech here and I produced a summary of my arguments for the think-tank Progress.

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A week later the shortlist of bidders to take over the franchise in February 2015 was announced, and I circulated a press release which is available on my website.

High Speed Rail
On a related note I lead a 90 minute debate on High Speed Two in the Commons ante-chamber Westminster Hall. Focussing on the economic benefits of the project, I reminded colleagues the project will shave up to an hour off Edinburgh-London journey times, giving businesses in both cities a boost. Over 500 people who oppose the project emailed me in advance of the debate and thus had the opportunity to address their arguments on the day. It’s worth noting that many of those who contacted me live along the proposed route, but I am very clear that MPs whose cities stand to benefit from the project will robustly endorse it. You can read a transcript of the debate on 14 January here and a joint press release I issued with Edinburgh North and Leith MP Mark Lazarowicz here.

Constituency Report

The Real Cost of Homelessness
Lack of affordable housing brings many people to my office and surgeries. The Scottish Government claims Scotland has the best homelessness legislation in Europe, but that’s a hollow boast when there just aren’t the homes for people to move into. In December I wrote an article on these issues which is available on my website.

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Caltongate Disappointment
On Wednesday, permission was granted to redevelop the Caltongate site. This was the second such vote in as many weeks where developers were successful.

I agree that development at this site is much needed, but these plans have been waved through regardless of the fact it is within our World Heritage Site. Bland, square blocked offices and hotels with flat roofs (see above) will bear no likeness to the organic medieval architecture of the Canongate. Indeed the development could be any new build site, in any city across the country.

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It is without a doubt that the Old Town thrived when permanent residents, who formed stable communities, made it a vibrant and prosperous place to live and work. But plans for just 185 apartments over a 5 acre site means that any population growth here will be minimal. There is a danger the Caltongate will become a bland haven for office workers and tourists staying at budget hotels. Any bursts of vitality and civic life will be shortlived these visitors head off home.

I’m very disappointed the community spent months contributing to the consultation process and lobbying elected members, their views have not been properly taken into account. It certainly seems current planning policies are failing to serve local communities.

The Shape of Things to Come
Last week a cross party group of MPs and MSPs met to be briefed by city planners for an update on the Local Development Plan. The Scottish Government recently rejected the view from the south east Scotland group of local authorities that the sites designated for housing should be phased rather than all done upfront. Granted, there is going to be a growth in housing demand over the next 15 to 20 years, but if too many sites are designated for housing now, there are concerns (shared by all elected members present) that developers will cherry pick the ‘greenfield’ sites, while ‘brownfield’ remains undeveloped. The Council remains committed to seeing outstanding brownfield sites (such as Craigmillar in this constituency) developed as soon as possible, but that may prove more difficult than we had hoped. I simply do not see why sites could not be designated on a rolling phased basis so that development can be properly planned.

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To review the proposals for your area click here.

Newcraighall Residents Feel Ignored
In January the Council’s Development Management Sub-committee approved plans for developers to build 220 homes on greenfield land between Newcraighall and Gilberstoun. Needless to say the two communities, who have fought tirelessly against the plans, are devastated by the decision.

A former mining village, Newcraighall has just 150 households at present. Residents thought the matter was closed when permission for 160 homes was granted in 2012. However developers came back for more and succeeded in pushing up the number of houses at the site. David Hewitt of the Newcraighall Heritage and Community Association, and ward councillors Maureen Child and David Walker, made rousing speeches against the plans at a public hearing where the application was determined. My full report on the hearing is on my website.

Employment Plus Local
Just before Christmas I was invited to open the Salvation Army’s ‘Employment Plus Local’ at East Adam Street. With staff on hand jobseekers, homeless or not, can get help to improve skills and meet the requirements to spend several hours a week ‘job searching’ which is demanded by Job Centres. E-learning courses are also available making use of the computers provided at the centre.

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Green Homes Cashback pays off
A constituent recently received some much needed news which will see her family through the chilly winter months. Weeks after having to replace her boiler she found out grants from the Energy Saving Trust were available under the Green Homes Cashback scheme. The scheme offers grants for anyone looking to install a new boiler and insulation to improve the energy efficiency – regardless of your income, and whether you are an owner, tenant or landlord.

My constituent submitted her request after the installation had taken place and was refused at first. Being on Working Tax Credits she would have been eligible for a replacement boiler and increased insulation. However, I contacted the Trust which reconsidered her position and made a retrospective payment. The family now has a much warmer home and reduced heating bills – for free. Whether you receive benefits, work and get Tax Credits, or are a higher rate taxpayer, owner or tenant, head to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk to see what you are eligible for.

Council Finally Cracks Party Flats
Just last week the Council reported on the progress it has made in dealing with ‘party flats’. Thanks to a great deal of hard work from Councillor Karen Doran and her colleagues, plus a legislative change at Holyrood thanks to the efforts of Sarah Boyack MSP, officials are now able to deal with this problem on two fronts: taking over problem flats under a ‘Management Control Order’ and requiring future party flat landlords to seek planning permission. Taking over as landlord for two flats the Council reported it was able cancel bookings for ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ parties, inspect the properties for Health and Safety concerns, and start to manage future rental more closely. The MCO was the first issued in Scotland and local residents agree there has been a real change. Properties in Holyrood Road, Lothian Road and Old Tolbooth Wynd, all in Edinburgh East, are also under investigation.

Carer Support Payments
Carers across our communities and around the UK do great work assisting loved ones, for little pay and without much recognition. It is one of my priorities to ensure that carers receive support to do that work. That’s why I am pleased the City of Edinburgh Council has reopened its scheme to award one-off carer’s support payments of £250 to those who provide unpaid care for a friend or relative who lives in Edinburgh.

If you are an unpaid carer, providing substantial and regular care for a partner, relative or friend who is over 16 and receives DLA (Care), PIP (Daily Living) or Attendance allowance you may be eligible and should head to www.edinburgh.gov.uk/carersupportpayment for further information. Funds are limited and you must apply by the end of February.

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October update: Syria, my Capability Assessment, White House relaunch, Southside exhibitions, Community Council nominations

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Westminster Report

Syria & Recall

Travelling down for the Parliamentary recall I received a text from the Whips Office saying ‘There will still be important votes; your attendance is essential.’ It is very easy to be a bit cynical about this call when you are an opposition faced with a majority of over 70.  But to be fair our whips do not cry wolf, and ‘essential’ means something more than a normal 3 line whip. There was a point when I thought I might have to tell the whips attending was nevertheless ‘impossible’ – as my train reached Newcastle we were told that the service was suspended because of lines being down near Newark and people were even being given the choice to return to Edinburgh and travel the next day!  Luckily I was able to get a train to Sheffield and then another to London St Pancras.  Other MPs were also affected up and down the line.  Fortunately we arrived in good time for the vote, because this was an occasion where each vote really counted.

The situation in Syria is dreadful for its citizens, and the behaviour of the Syrian Government towards its own people is indefensible.  It has provoked very violent behaviour from those opposing the regime, with the whole situation being complicated by the support of other countries, sectionalist groups in the region and further abroad.  However I fundamentally believe that a ‘western’ intervention, as initially proposed by the Prime Minister, would not have improved the situation. The unintended consequences of what are often initially described as ‘short and sharp’ interventions are often profound.

The Government put down a motion that was hastily drafted and ill thought through. Labour put down an amendment that offered a clear roadmap to consider any decision relating to the use of military force in Syria.  I voted for the Labour amendment.  I did this, as did many of my colleagues, while being clear that this did not mean that I would support intervention if it came to a second vote.

Our amendment was defeated, so my party colleagues and I then voted against the Government’s motion. A significant number of Government backbenchers also chose to do so, leading to the motion being defeated. This is highly unusual, but reflected the strength of feeling in the Commons and across the UK.  The Prime Minister subsequently made it clear that the UK forces would not be involved in any military action in Syria.

The transcript of Ed Miliband’s speech and the rest of the debate is available from p11http://bit.ly/1dvgo1m.

What has happened since shows that diplomacy had not been exhausted, and hopefully some real progress can be made towards a negotiated settlement.

September Sitting

Parliament was back in session for the first fortnight in September. On the first day back I spoke in a debate on cycling, which demonstrated the high level of interest there is amongst MPs of all parties. There was considerable cross party agreement, but despite the media berating politicians for being too confrontational, when consensus does break out it generates little media interest. (See p70 http://bit.ly/1aYKPiT).

Lobbying Bill 

There was no lobbying bill in the Queens Speech in May this year. Then there was yet another lobbying ‘scandal’ and the Government rushed to say it would be producing a Bill after all.  Their Bill was published just before the summer recess, and the Government chose to rush through both the second reading and committee stages during the September sitting.  Two other issues were ‘tacked on’ to the Bill, which had received no advance scrutiny.  One was introducing additional checks on trade union membership lists in relation to unions balloting their members. The second was seeking to introduce restrictions on ‘third party campaigning’ during elections.  This in particular emerged without warning, and it quickly became clear that the Government has not consulted charities and other campaigning organisations, nor has it taken advice from the Electoral Commission, which would have to administer these rules.  The Electoral Commission had considerable criticisms of the proposals as drafted.

Despite the shortness of time, campaigning groups and charities did manage to get an effective ‘lobbying’ campaign going (not all ‘lobbying’ is bad!) to alert MPs to what the proposals could mean.  I received over 350 emails from constituents in the first few days of September.  By the time we reached the Committee stage of the Bill in the second week, the Government was promising to bring forward its own amendments to this part of the Bill.  This staved off a major Government defeat, but we are still to see exactly what these amendments are going to be.  They will be debated on the first day Parliament sits after the ‘conference recess’ period, but Ministers promised to make them available well in advance.  Of course, if this proposed legislation been properly consulted on, and the draft scrutinised, this rush of amendments could have been avoided.  Drafting amendments ‘on the hoof’ is bad practice and usually produces poor legislation.

My colleagues and I voted against all parts of the Bill, instead proposing a considerable number of amendments.  The original core of the Bill on lobbying will do very little to control lobbying.  Only a tiny number of ‘consultant lobbyists’ are covered. Both transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry agreed that the proposals would make things worse not better. As the proposed register has no code of conduct or sanctions, it is a step backwards from the voluntary register that already exists.  My own speech on this at second reading is here available from p65 at http://bit.ly/1dvaY6k.

Adjournment debate on Employment & Support Allowance

I ‘drew’ the graveyard shift for an adjournment debate on ‘Reconsideration of Work Capability Assessments’, part of my ongoing campaign to highlight the failings of the system and what changes are needed.   My slot was the last of the week, coming immediately after the charade that is a Friday of private members’ bills.

Knowing the interest many of my colleagues take in this subject and the over-supply of potential speakers whenever we have a debate, I would reassure people that the timing was the problem, with most people in their constituencies.  My speech is available at p73http://bit.ly/1dvbp0s.

I felt that some useful issues came from the Minister’s reply & I have put detailed comments on this on my website http://bit.ly/1dvc6a2.

Separately, I have maintained my support for Rethink Mental Illness campaign calling on the Government’s fit-for-work test to be made fairer for people with mental illness.  I took part in an MP Capability Assessment, which mirrors the Work Capability Assessment, the controversial test used by the Government to decide whether thousands of people with mental illness and other disabilities, are entitled to financial support in the form of the Employment and Support Allowance.

Private Members’ Bills

I rarely stay for debates on Private Members’ Bills which take place on a certain number of Friday mornings when Parliament is sitting.  Being in Westminster waiting for my adjournment debate reminded me why I don’t.  The morning started with a Bill from a Tory backbench on Deep Sea Mining.  Someone had described this to me as a ‘government hand out bill’ i.e. one which the government was quite keen to be pursued in this manner. So working in my room with the House of Commons Chamber feed on ‘mute’ I was surprised to see a handful of Tory backbenchers showing all the signs of talking it out. When I went over to the Chamber I realised that it was not this Bill they were trying to kill but one from Michael Meacher on tax avoidance. There is a small group of Tory MPs who seem to see it as their mission to a talk out these Bills.

On this occasion the Government Minster responding on Deep Sea Mining talked for over an hour, clearly part of the filibustering plan. (Remembering this is a bill encouraged by Government, and bearing in mind that even in a major second reading debate such as that earlier in the week on lobbying, the Minister will generally get 10 minutes for a reply).  This whole procedure urgently needs reform.  A recent Report has been published with proposals for change, and I hope that this happens very soon.

Universal Credit – an Empty Bookcase? 

Following a highly critical Report from the National Audit Office, Iain Duncan Smith had to come to the Commons to answer an Urgent Question on his flagship policy which seems to be floundering. I’ve written an article on the failing of this policy on my websitewww.sheilagilmore.co.uk/universal-credit-an-empty-bookcase.

Constituency Report

Summer in Edinburgh

Recess in Edinburgh gave me a chance to increase my door to door visits around the constituency.

Having the MP appear at the door makes some people think they missed hearing that an election has been called.  ‘No’ I explain, ‘I aim to be knocking on doors somewhere in the constituency nearly every week of the year.’

As well as picking up on the day’s problems and my constituents’ views, one of the bonuses this summer has been meeting a number of residents who have lived in their areas for many years and have painted a picture of the changes they have seen.  One was a lady in her 90s who started married life in the ‘old’ miners’ cottages in Newcraighall, moving from there to the Jewel Cottages, also now demolished, recalled the lack of bathrooms back then.  Her husband worked at Woolmet pit and later Monktonhall (then the ‘new’ pit) before getting a council home in Niddrie where she lived for over 30 years.

While the cottages have gone, replaced with homes with bathrooms(!) some of the old names associated with mining have been well preserved (the Jewel although now a supermarket; Parrotshot, North Greens and so on) but so much has changed from what she remembers.

Newcraighall – Too many houses

Although the pits have gone, and many of the original miners’ cottages have also gone, the village of Newcraighall has up until now managed to retain its identity as a village.  Many fear the plans for housing developments on both sides of the village will change it forever.  We lost the argument about retaining these sites as greenbelt but residents had managed to get the Planning Committee to agree to fewer houses being built in Newcraighall North than the developers wanted.  Unfortunately developers have come back with yet another application, pushing numbers up to 219.  I have put in an objection to the Council which is available at http://bit.ly/1aQlLHm.

A White House for All 
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Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending the community re-launch of the White House as a community asset with my colleague Councillor Maureen Child. The official re-opening is an important step in the sometimes rocky road towards the full regeneration of Craigmillar.

When Craigmillar was first developed in the 1930s the White House was a symbol of a confidence in suburban development of the city, part of a new world where people were starting to travel out of town to ‘road houses’ for entertainment.  Its shape and colour made it a landmark.  It was however always a place where local residents gathered.

Now the building stands proud and white again, and the 1930s features have been preserved and enhanced.  It will be run by a community development trust firmly based in the Craigmillar community, as a venue where public and private events can take place.  Local exhibitions have already been held here and in June Castlebrae School leavers held their Prom dance here.   To read more on this crucial phase in the regeneration, see my full piece atwww.sheilagilmore.co.uk/a-white-house-for-all/.

Excess waste – what is the Council policy?

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Nearly every time I am in a street, or making home visits on a street surgery, residents ask me what the Council’s policy is on collecting excess waste.  With recent changes to collections confusion is high, especially when a street has both household wheelie and tenemental communal bins.  I’ve now sought a definitive response on what Council binmen are meant to do if there is excess waste piled up in the street.

Refuse collection teams are meant to empty communal bins even if it is overflowing with domestic waste, however large flytipped items are not usually removed – this must be reported separately. If the communal bin is located at a new development, where there is usually sufficient recycling available, excess will not be collected.

Finally, excess waste will not be collected from individual wheelie bins, as sufficient recycling facilities should have been supplied.

As ever, if you see irresponsible waste disposal, flytipping or misuse of bins, make sure it is reported to the Council on 0131 200 2000.

Southsiders: Portrait of a Community

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Now the festival is very much over, Edinburgh starts its annual programme of projects with local residents.  Open Doors is coming up (see below) and on Saturday 7th September I attended the launch of an exhibition of photographs of people living and working in the Southside, each in a setting important to them.  This makes the exhibition a story of both place and people. The project was an activity of the Causey Development Trust, which aims to restore West Crosscauseway as a pedestrian and cycle friendly link between parts of the Southside.  Hence some of the photographs are on outdoor display there. All the photographs and audio of the people talking about their lives and links to the area are on the websitewww.edinburghsouthsiders.co.uk.  There is a public panel discussion at the Southside Community Centre on Friday 4th October from 7pm to 9pm – all interested are welcome. The photographs and interviews have also been published in a magazine, copies of which are circulating in the Southside.  I found it very inspiring and urge people to find out more.

Caltongate 

The summer has been busy with a number of planning applications, possibly a sign that there is finally more confidence in the economy.

Formal plans to develop the Caltongate south sites at Market Street and New Street have now been lodged with the City of Edinburgh Council.  Consultation on this matter is ongoing until Friday (27th September) and if you have any comments these should be submitted via the Council Planning Portal.  Enter references 13/03406/FUL and 13/03407/FUL athttp://bit.ly/15HGuwl.

The revised plans for the south of the Caltongate propose retaining the Canongate Venture and the frontage of the Sailor’s Ark.  Unfortunately I feel that the design of the proposed new build units are not ambitious enough for the area and planners have put very forward very ‘safe’ designs like those of recent fashion across many UK cities.

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Consultation has now closed on the proposed conversion of the former Stratstone Land Rover car sales room.  The developer, Lidl Scotland, proposes demolishing the existing premises and erecting a new superstore at the out of centre site.  After consultation with constituents I have submitted comments on the plans recommending refusal of the application.

My objection, available on my website at www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/lidl-craigentinny, does not oppose the principle of a supermarket in the area; rather the recommendation is based on comments from a majority of constituents who have contacted me with very real concerns about traffic management problems at the Seafield junction.  Traffic causes considerable congestion at this junction at peak times and residents feel this development will only add to the problems.  Many constituents also raised concerns about the affect an out of centre store will have on nearby Portobello town centre, as it will divert trade and footfall from the local high street.   To view the plans enter reference 13/03189/PPP on the planning portal.

Residential conversion of Niddrie Mill Primary School

An exhibition of new proposals for the site of the former Niddrie Mill School took place a few weeks ago. Residential development has always been intended here but the recession put a brake on plans.  The new proposals are to retain the brick facade of the building but to demolish the interior and build new flats retaining that classic red-brick facade.  The Memorial will also be protected.  Part of the plan is to build 40 affordable homes with a housing association partner.  These would mainly be 2 bedroom flats.

All too often the ‘affordable’ element on developments is in flats rather than a mix of flats and houses, and I don’t think that constructing a full development of two bedroomed flats meets the most urgent housing needs in the city, which are for both smaller and bigger homes.  We need to accommodate single people hit by the bedroom tax and the 900 families already overcrowded in two-bedroom properties.  A good mix of sizes also makes for a more balanced community.  To view the plans enter reference 13/02691/PAN on the Planning Portal.

Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition 

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Many constituents who contact me about welfare matters raise concerns about the way their illnesses are perceived by the public and media who fail to understand the extent of these conditions.  Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival runs annually in October, in venues across Scotland and aims to support the arts and challenge preconceived ideas about mental health.

The festival is one of Scotland’s most diverse cultural events, covering everything from music, film and visual art to dance and literature.  CAPS Independent Advocacy based in Abbeyhill has been involved with the festival for several years and is running nine events in 2013.   CAPS are involved in a large scale collaborative exhibition, “Out of Sight/Out of Mind” at Summerhall.  The exhibition of works by individual artists with mental health issues is set in the unique spaces of the Old Animal Hospital.  I shall be attending the opening of this provocative exhibition which explores perceptions of reality, labelling, discrimination, confinement and medication.  Works include photography, painting and narrative.

For more information on the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival head towww.mhfestival.com or search twitter for #smhaff2013. The Out of Sight/Out of Mind Exhibition runs 5-19 October 2013, 11am – 6pm daily at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL

Canongate Youth Project is looking for new Board members

The Canongate Youth Project is looking to expand the experience and skills of its Board. The organisation is currently going through significant but positive change.  The Project is looking for new board members with expertise in business, Human Relations and fundraising with knowledge of nearby communities and  young people living locally to the Southside and City Centre.  Since 1977 the Project has successfully provided support, recreation and training opportunities for 5-25 year olds to help them overcome barriers and secure a great future.

A Board meeting is held monthly on a Monday from 4.00pm-5.30pm and the time commitment is 30-40hrs per year.  If you are interested in joining the Board of CYP please contact Vicki Ridley on 0131 556 9389/9719 or email vicki.ridley@canongateyouthproject.org

City Wide Review of Licensing Statement

The City of Edinburgh Licensing Board is required to publish a statement of licensing policy every three years and the Board is now preparing the statement of policy for November 2013 onwards.  Since being elected in 2010 I have made submissions on a variety of licensing matters across Edinburgh East and know that residents are keen to have better control of matters such as Late Hours Catering licenses and liquor licensing.

The Board’s current Statement of Policy is available online at:https://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/3032/licensing_board_policy_statement_2010.  If you have comments or representations with regard to any aspect of licensing, make sure your comments are heard before 21 October 2013. Email your responses toRobert.millar@edinburgh.gov.uk or Nicholas.fraser@edinburgh.gov.uk

Edible Edinburgh: a Sustainable Food City

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Edible Edinburgh is hosting a Feed the 5,000 event in Bristo Square on Saturday 5th October. Head along for a free lunch, to find out more about food initiatives in the city and have your say on how you would like to see Edinburgh develop as a sustainable food city. The Edible Edinburgh initiative aims to motivate residents to choose healthier and tastier food.

The Edible Edinburgh steering group has drafted a consultation document to encourage everyone to join in the debate about your food.  You can get involved by completing the short survey.

Community Council Elections – get your nominations in this weekend

The deadline for Community Council nominations and registration of local interest groups is coming up on Monday (23rd September at 4pm).  Nomination forms are available on the Council’s website at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/communitycouncils   and you can find out which Community Council covers your area by entering your postcode atwww.edinburghnp.org.uk/community-councils/.

By joining your local community council you can make a real difference to your neighbourhood. Community Councils across the city are represented on respective Neighbourhood Partnerships and meet with the local Councillors, representatives from Police Scotland, NHS Lothian, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the voluntary sector to agree local priorities and develop and deliver your Local Community Plan.  Further details on the election process is available at the website above.

Dates for your diary

7 September – 5 October 2013 – Southsiders – Portrait of a Community: An exhibition by Peter Dibdin – outside display in The Causey – Find out further details atwww.edinburghsouthsiders.co.uk

Monday 23rd September at 4pm – Deadline for nominations for Community Council elections – Nomination forms: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/communitycouncils   further informationwww.edinburghnp.org.uk/community-councils/.

Friday 27th September – Consultation on Canongate proposals closes – make comments at http://bit.ly/15HGuwl.  Enter references 13/03406/FUL and 13/03407/FUL to access the plans.

Friday 4 October – Southsiders: Portrait of a Community – Public panel discussion event  – Southside Community Centre – 7.00-9.00pm

Saturday 5th October – Feed the 5000 – 12.00pm-4.00pm – Bristo Square  – more info athttps://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/info/202/sustainable_development/1703/sustainable_food/3

5-19 October 2013 – Out of Sight/Out of Mind exhibition – 11.00am-6.00pm daily – Summerhall, Edinburgh

21 October 2013 – City Wide Review of Licensing Statement – Email your responses toRobert.millar@edinburgh.gov.uk or Nicholas.fraser@edinburgh.gov.uk

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Edinburgh East June 2013 update: Shapps rebuked, Engine Shed closure? Duddingston nursery success, debating effectiveness of PSL, plus Canongate Venture ownership clarification

Westminster Report

Prorogation of Parliament

The second session of the current Parliament (the first was an unusually long two year session) ended on Thursday 25th April.  The Government sets the Parliamentary timetable, and as this session came to a close it felt very much like a Government that had run out of steam.  The big ticket item of the May 2012 Queens’s Speech was of course House of Lords Reform when this collapsed in summer 2012 it left a hole in the Government’s legislative programme.  There were some relatively small but important measures like the Groceries Code Adjudication Act which had all party support (and because of this was actually improved by amendment as it went through its various stages) but the session was a relatively ‘light’ one.   Prorogation Day was not pre-planned.  Half way through a committee session came the message ‘that’s it’ and committee adjourned.  As I had a bit of time in hand before catching my train (I hadn’t anticipated the mid-afternoon finish) I thought I would go into the chamber to see how it was done.  I knew Black Rod came along but thought he would just say something like ‘be off with you’ but found myself swept along to the House of Lords where several proclamations were read out, and royal consent given to some remaining bills.  Oh well that’s another ‘Parliamentary experience’ ticked off!

Queen’s Speech

Queens Speech

Twelve days later came the next bit of tradition with the Queens Speech itself.  I didn’t go in for it this year, but found myself in the wrong place, unable to cross the street, just as the carriages were leaving again.   Plenty of pomp and colour – but arguably more like a fairy tale than a 21st Century democracy.  Six days of debate followed on the Government’s programme on was in it and what wasn’t.  What was marked this year was a shortage of government backbench speakers on most days, showing the lack of enthusiasm for the actual programme.  On Day 2 (home affairs including immigration) there were 13 opposition speakers to 7 from the government; on Day 3 (jobs and growth) 8 opposition to 4 government speakers.  Government backbenchers were apparently more involved in planning an amendment to the Queen’s Speech deploring the lack of a Bill on a Referendum on Europe.  I spoke on the day devoted to cost of living issues, concentrating on affordable housing. See my speech p50 http://bit.ly/11azhSv.

Private members ballot

The ballot for private members’ bills takes place just after the Queen’s speech.  Sadly no luck again, and only 3 out of 20 successful members were Labour.  Quite often people have a run of luck, with Sheryll Murray (Conservative) being drawn this year and last, and John McDonnell (Labour) coming top two sessions running.  With so many Tories in the draw they were spoiled for choice for someone to take on a Bill for a Euro referendum. Piloting a private members bill into law is extremely difficult normally. This one however will have tacit support and encouragement from at least one part of the Coalition.  One of the ironies is that nearly all of the small group of Tory backbenchers who usually enjoy ‘talking out’ other people’s private members’ bills are ardent Euro-sceptics.  Will they find the tables being turned?

Statistics

In recent months I’ve become increasingly concerned about the use of statistics on benefits claimed by disabled people, both by Ministers and the press.

I complained to the Sunday Telegraph last month when they ran a story http://bit.ly/11dMCJO  suggesting 900,000 people on Incapacity Benefit had dropped their claim rather than undergo a medical assessment for the new Employment and Support Allowance. The article was peppered with quotes from Tory Chairman Grant Shapps. The true figure was a mere 19,000. For more detail see my article for Total Politics here: http://bit.ly/11dMyd9.

I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about this and I received a response yesterday; http://bit.ly/11dMt9c.  This confirms that Grant Shapps and the newspaper deliberately misused statistics on disability benefits.

While this is welcome, it won’t stop the continual stream of stories that appear in the right wing press. Just this week we had Iain Duncan Smith in the Mail and the Express referring to one million workshy benefit claimants, when in reality, one third have been certified as medically unable to work for the time being and another third are single parents looking after children of school age.

This letter is yet more evidence that my colleagues on the Work and Pensions Select Committee and I can use when we question DWP Ministers on this issue in the coming months. Hopefully then this practice of deliberately misusing benefit statistics will stop.

That’s why I decided to call for the Work and Pensions select committee – of which I am a member – to hold an inquiry into this issue.  Persuading the Tories on my committee wasn’t easy.

For a start the Government that they support relies on this practice of misusing statistics to give it political cover.  In its attempts to reduce the deficit, cutting welfare is seen as more of a priority than taxing the richest.  That’s why at the same time that disabled people are being hit by the Bedroom Tax, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut of over £100,000.

Secondly Conservative Central Office have clearly decided that, as the Government has failed so spectacularly on the economy, welfare is now their only hope of getting the public back on side.

As my Select Committee colleagues were under pressure not to give ground, we were only able to agree to a more limited look at the issue in the context of our regular examination of the DWP’s annual report and accounts http://bit.ly/11dMnhS.  However this should allow us to speak to both the UK Statistics Authority and DWP ministers. And once an initial assessment of the problem has been made, this might prompt a broader piece of work.

Work & Pensions Select Committee

The Select Committee published three reports this month. One was the result of a short scrutiny of the draft Pensions Bill which propose to introduce flat rate pensions.  Although most of our witnesses welcomed the proposals in principle, there are concerns about whether some people will gain little or even be worse off as a result.  Women who have recently experienced acceleration of the rise in pension age are particularly concerned about the timing of the new system.  You can read the report here http://bit.ly/13ZcdHx.  The Pensions Bill was included in the Queen’s Speech.

Work and Pensions Select Committee

One of the aims of the flat rate State Pension is to encourage saving, and with the decline in ‘defined benefit’ occupational pension schemes (where a pension is linked to years of contribution and outcomes known in advance). Many people are now enrolled in ‘defined contribution’ schemes where you build up a fund which at retirement is converted into an annuity.  In recent years many people have been disappointed with the pension they receive from such schemes.  I response the Select Committee issued a Report called ‘Improving Governance and Best Practice in Workplace Pensions’ on 25th April. http://bit.ly/11aBPQB.   One recommendation to ban consultancy charges in auto-enrolled schemes has already been accepted by Government and will be included in the Pensions Bill. Ministers have also agreed to start a consultation on capping charges more generally. High charges, which are not always made clear to savers, can substantially reduce the pension eventually received.

The latest publication is ‘Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?’ to which the Committee’s unanimous answer is ‘not without many changes’. The full report is available at http://bit.ly/11aBtJD.

The Work Programme is the Government’s programme to help people find work.  It is a payment by results scheme contracted out mainly to large ‘public services’ companies such as Ingeus, G4S etc, who in turn subcontract part of the work to others. Most of the payment they receive comes only when someone is sustained in a job for at least 6 months.  Clients who are harder to place attract a higher payment, but of course only if they are found long-term employment.  The funding structure was intended to ensure that the companies did not simply concentrate on those for whom it is easier to find work. A key finding of our Report is that this system does not seem to be working. With payment only coming in to the companies with ‘success’ they were meant to front fund the help people needed from their own resources.  We found that this doesn’t seem to be happening enough so that many advisers are working with very large caseloads.  Local feedback I get from constituents reflects many of these problems.  I am still very interested to hear of local experiences, both good and bad, so please let me know if you have had a similar experience.

East Coast Campaign Update

Stop the East Coast Privatisation As I explained in the previous newsletter I’m campaigning against the Government’s plans to re-privatise services on the East Coast Main Line. Since then I’ve written for the think tank Progress on why keeping East Coast public will improve services and save taxpayers money http://bit.ly/11dN7Ub.

I’ve also been focussing on securing a debate in the House of Commons on this issue. This has involved encouraging Labour colleagues to submit applications for debates in Westminster Hall (in effect the Commons ante-chamber). Fortunately Andy McDonald from Middlesborough did so and was successful in the ballot. His 90 minute debate will take place on Wednesday 5 June at 2.30pm and I hope to speak.

After that I intend to apply for a second debate, this time through the Backbench Business Committee (http://www.parliament.uk/bbcom). Successful applications require cross party support, so I’ve spent some time speaking to Tory, Lib Dem, SNP and Green MPs. Finally I’ve met with Labour’s Shadow Transport Team, who are backing this campaign all the way.

If you want to help stop the privatisation of East Coast, sign my petition here at www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/eastcoastmainline Constituency Report

Bongo Club Lives!

‘MP goes clubbing’ may be an unusual headline for me, but I was pleased to be invited to the launch of the Bongo Club in its new Cowgate premises. But this is no ordinary nightclub. In its own words:

“Truly independent, we’re owned by local arts charity Out Of The Blue, which has an established track record as a catalyst for creativity in Edinburgh. This allows us to put the sounds of the underground and imaginative aspirations before the mighty dollar, encouraging the community to get involved and use our space to do their own thing.”

Bongo Lives

Last year it looked as if the Bongo Club was going to be homeless when they had to leave their premises at Holyrood Road.  But after inspired partnership between Out of the Blue, the University and the Council it has risen again in the Cowgate.  There is a pleasing partnership knowing the Club is ensconced at the foot of the building better known as Central Library, a real cultural miscellany.

Student Accommodation – Better than HMOs?

One of the few growth sectors in construction in the last few years is purpose built student housing.   Here in Edinburgh East we already have examples in Lauriston, at Chalmers Street, and on the site of the former Deaconness Hospital. A very large development is already planned at Holyrood Road and this month two further proposals for student accommodation have been announced, one at Abbeyhill (on the current Chatham’s garage site) and the other at Lutton Place. An exhibition of plans for Lutton Place is being held at Lutton Court on Thursday 27 June, from 3pm-7.30pm (details correct at time of writing, but may change according to developers).

For many years there have been concerns about the growth of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) in our city centre tenements.  Would be owner occupiers have been priced out due to the demand from landlords able to get rents from 3, 4 or even 5 tenants in one property.  High turnover and lack of care by tenants and landlords, noise and parties have led to long term residents moving out.  Consequently, tenement living as family living has all but disappeared in many areas.  When Community Councils campaigned for limits on the number of HMOs to restore balance to local communities, much of the opposition came from students’ organisations, and the universities, arguing that any such limits would be detrimental to students finding accommodation potentially discouraging them coming to study in Edinburgh.  One suggestion made by Community Councils was that more purpose built student accommodation should be available.  This is now happening and with 24 hour management on site these new developments appear to be less problematic for neighbours. If so (and let me know if your experience is different) perhaps the time has come to revisit the policy on limiting the number of HMOs given the expansion of purpose built accommodation?  At the very least the council should be assessing the impact of the building of so much student accommodation.

Portobello Indoor Bowling

I have been contacted by a number of constituents upset at the announcement that Portobello Indoor Bowling Centre is to close at the end of June, and that the building will in future be used as a centre for soft play and other family activities.  Many have pointed out that there is no similar facility within reasonable travelling distance, while there is a number of other nearby centres which offer facilities for families, such as soft play. Portobello Indoor Bowling is a ‘turn up and play’ facility whereas alternatives (in Gorgie and East Lothian) are not.  Regulars stress the facility is important not just for the elderly, but to encourage youngsters to learn the game, and it is used by disabled bowlers.  In response, Edinburgh Leisure point to declining numbers, and their overall reduction in funding.  Users of the centre feel that at the very least there should have been proper consultation, with an opportunity given for them to suggest ways of overcoming the problems.  Here is part of what I have said in a letter to the Chair of the Board of Edinburgh Leisure:

“I appreciate that finances are tight and that Edinburgh Leisure’s grant from the City of Edinburgh Council has been reduced. In turn doubtless they would state that their funding from the Scottish Government has been reduced and the Scottish Government would doubtless ‘blame’ Westminster. However at all levels choices are made as to where to reduce spending. This will also be true for Edinburgh Leisure and the question my constituents have is why this facility has been particularly affected. They understand that other venues also are loss making (although without publication of figures they have no means of judging if the bowling centre is loss making).”

The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/114nYHp.  At the time of writing I am still awaiting a reply.

Engine Shed

The Engine Shed

Something of an Edinburgh institution, many people have enjoyed lunch or a coffee at the Engine Shed cafe.  It is well known for providing good value and quality in addition to the invaluable training for young people with learning disabilities.  So it was not perhaps surprising that within 5 days of a newspaper report saying the Engine Shed might have to close more than 5000 people had signed a petition against closure.  Over 7000 people have now signed the petition which can be found at http://chn.ge/13ZdYEu.

It is understood that the Economy Committee of the City Council is planning to make changes in the way it helps people with illnesses and disabilities get into employment.  Recommendations from the Scottish Government state that service providers should concentrate more on getting people into mainstream employment and give them ongoing support to stay in such employment.  It would appear that a variety of organisations will be invited to tender for this work, and this would include current providers such as the Engine Shed.  With all such tendering processes a lot depends on the specification of the service being asked for, and until this is available it is difficult to know how easy it would be for the Engine Shed to bid for this work.

There is due to be a report providing the full details which should be discussed at the next Economy Committee meeting on Tuesday 25 June 2013 and the papers usually become available one week before at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/cpol.

I was worried when I saw the newspaper report and especially some of the comments attributed to the council, because it sounded very similar to the approach being taken by the Coalition Government in relation to the Remploy factories, many of which are earmarked for closure.  One of the Government’s main arguments for this was that it would be better for disabled people to be in mainstream employment rather than in ‘segregated’ or ‘sheltered’ workplaces. This has led to a considerable debate both about the principle (is segregated or sheltered employment always bad for instance?) and the practicalities especially at a time of when jobs are generally scarce.  There are concerns that many Remploy workers may end up unemployed.

The ‘model’ the Scottish Government recommends (which it appears the council is adopting) is one where organisations help disabled people search for jobs, and work with employers to encourage them to employ people they might not otherwise consider (e.g. by guiding them to funding sources for workplace adjustments).   The work done by the Engine Shed is rather different giving people longer term training opportunities in their social enterprise, and is not clear how the other model would  allow that to continue.

So the issue is a bit more complex than simply a ‘cut in grant’ and we will have to watch this space when committee meets in June.  The petition is still open for signature at http://chn.ge/13ZdYEu and I know many people have also contacted their local councillors to express their views.

Duddingston Nursery

Duddingston Nursery The campaign by the Parents’ Council for a replacement building for the nursery at Duddingston Primary School was rewarded with the decision by the City Council in May to fund a new permanent building, which also provides the opportunity to expand. Instead of taking 40 children each morning and afternoon session the nursery will be able to take 60 children each session.  This will be welcome news to many families in the area.  This year will see the initial planning work with build taking place in the 2014/15 financial year.

Private Sector Leasing Scheme – boon or trap?

One of the reasons I spend a great deal of my time knocking on doors and visiting people all over the Constituency is that there is no better way of finding out the real impact of policies of local and national government on people’s lives.  In the last few weeks I have met several constituents who have found themselves ‘stuck’ and unable to move on with their lives as a result of a policy which was well  intended but has had some perverse consequences. Talking to these constituents has reinforced my view that there need to be changes, some which can be delivered locally, while other national changes are needed.

PSL - has it worked?

Faced with mounting applications for housing roughly eight years ago, the Council started a scheme whereby it leased flats from landlords for up to 5 years to use as temporary accommodation.  This was called the Private Sector Leasing scheme (PSL).  The scheme worked financially for the council provided tenants were entitled to receive housing benefit. The council was able to fund a substantial expansion of temporary accommodation (around 1500 flats) with the costs met by national government (through housing benefit).  Now – I have to hold my hands up and say that I was Council’s executive member for housing when this scheme was introduced.  It helped resolve a crisis, for individuals and the council.  The alternative was placing families in B&B accommodation which came about due to the lack of homes available.  Like many well-intended plans it was never designed to be long term.  The scheme costs us all as taxpayers, but just as important it can trap people.

For one constituent I met, the offer of a PSL flat when she was going through a difficult separation was a relief, giving her a chance to get the life and that of her children back to stability. Now she is ready to move on and is looking for work but is worried about ‘making work pay’. If she works 35 hours at minimum wage she would have pay £487 of her £957 rent.   In contrast a council rent for this size of house would be £424.  While she can again make a homeless application she would be no better placed to get a permanent council tenancy than someone who first became homeless this week, despite having been in a form of temporary accommodation for two years.

Talking to her and others in this situation has set me thinking what practical steps can be taken to change the system. I have written more about these ideas on my website: http://bit.ly/13Zfs1K.

Anne Frank Exhibition – Leith Academy

This month second year pupils at Leith Academy presented an exhibition about Anne Frank, telling the story with extracts and illustrations, to fellow pupils, to parents and to other visitors.  They were clearly moved by the fact that this was a story of a girl who was their own age when she and her family had to go into hiding, a girl who worried about her appearance, who wasn’t always sweetly patient – and who so very nearly survived.  It’s a story which we need to remember even if it never fails to move me to tears. Well done to pupils and staff.

Pedal on Parliament

I was pleased to be part of the second Pedal on Parliament which took place on Sunday 19th May. Cyclists gathered at the Meadows, but many had ridden there from much further afield. (I confess that living a stone’s throw away from Meadows as I do my ride there was pretty short!) From there the riders made their way down to the Scottish Parliament (which meant the ride back was uphill for nearly everyone). The gathering was bigger than last year, and as several speakers pointed out there was a great diversity of riders, from the lycra clad sporty types to those of us who just like to go about our daily business by bike. Lots of families were there too.

Pedal on Parliament

The main message remains that so much can be done to make cycling easier and safer for at are relatively small cost compared with the overall transport budget.  Three Edinburgh MPs were cycling (Ian Murray, Mark Lazarowicz and myself),  three MSPs came along with their bikes (Sarah Boyack, Kez Dugdale & Alison Johnstone) and so did at least one of Edinburgh’s regular councillor-cyclists (Cameron Rose) so it was a full cross party event.  The afternoon was very well attended.

Castlebrae Update

At a meeting of the Council’s Education, Children & Families Committee on 21st May the Council reaffirmed its commitment to keeping Castlebrae Community  High School open until a new school is built.  A Working Group of councillors, council officers and community representatives (3 from the Parents Council, 2 from the wider community) has been set up and will also work with a panel of external experts to come up with proposals for improving the school.  There will be a Report to the Council in December but in the meantime steps will be taken to boost the school’s intake and to encourage other activities in and around the school.

In support of this the school is holding a Vocational Extravaganza on Wednesday 12th June from 6.00pm till 7.30pm – make sure you head along!

Castlebrae Extravaganza

Newcraighall

The developers seem to be circling again at Newcraighall.  Many village residents were very disappointed when consents were given last year for housing on both the Newcraighall North and East sites.  Nothing has happened on the ground yet but it seems that the would-be developers are again trying to increase the numbers of houses which can be built.  A specific application is about to come forward to increase numbers on the Newcraighall North site from 160 to 200 and the developer interested is now Barretts.  There is to be a consultation event 19th June at Newcraighall Primary School between 4.30pm and 8.30pm.

LDP plans

This is all taking place against a background where the Council is under pressure to make more land available for housing.  I’ve written in more detail about this on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/too-many-houses-newcraighall-again/.  One early result of this pressure is that the latest version of the draft Local Plan (LDP) has now upped the number of houses which are thought to be viable on these two sites. This would create a presumption in favour of more units if finalised in this form.  You can comment on the LDP by 5pm on Friday 14 June 2013. They can be submitted electronically to: localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk or by post to Local Development Plan Team, City of Edinburgh Council, Business Centre G.3, Waverley Court, 4 East Market Street, Edinburgh EH8 8BG.  The Newcraighall Residents Association is helping people to submit comments. They are planning to go round doors but if you miss them, and would like to get help with commenting email me and I’ll pass your details to David Hewitt, Newcraighall Heritage and Residents Association.

Thistle Foundation

The Thistle Foundation is planning a series of events for Older Adults this summer, and all local residents are welcome.

Thistle Foundation

Starting in July staff will be running a Lifestyle Management and an Exercise Based Lifestyle Management course specifically for adults over 60 years of age; this is in addition to classes in T’ai Chi at the Thistle dependent on demand.   The current classes are led by trained volunteers who are proving to be popular.

If you’re interested and would like to learn more the Foundation is holding an informal coffee and chat session at Wighton House on 27th June from 10am to 12 noon to introduce you to the classes. If you have any further queries please give Emma a call on 0131 656 7343.

Do You Have A Southside Story?

The Causey Development Trust and local professional photographer Peter Dibdin are looking for people who live, work, or have a specific connection to the Southside to participate in an exciting photography project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘All our Stories’ programme, and Foundation Scotland.

‘Southsiders: Portrait of a Community’ aims to use photography to help celebrate and discuss perceptions of the Southsider identity through portraits, and by gathering stories and memories about the area and community.   More info – edinburghsouthsiders@gmail.com.

Caltongate update

Residents are still concerned that planning permissions were extended on all the sites. This was agreed by a majority of the planning committee. While Artisan has committed to submit new applications for the southern sites, residents point out that if Artisan back out before the Caltongate is redeveloped then the sites they hold – and the options – could be sold on with planning permission.  While these concerns are very much hypothetical, and Artisan have said they are very much committed to the site, any new owner is at liberty not to pursue the Artisan line.

We must now wait for the next set of applications from Artisan, which will cover the redevelopment of these southern sites.  I still feel it is important to clarify the legal position in respect of the ownership of the Market Street arches and the Canongate Venture.  I wrote to Sue Bruce, City of Edinburgh Council Chief Executive about this and I have now received the following response confirming the Council currently retains ownership: http://bit.ly/11CrIpy.

Community cleanup

Community Cleanup

Last month the renovated and resurfaced Restalrig bike path was reopened.  To ensure that the path was looking tip-top for users heading back to the path, I was pleased to take part in the a community cleanup along with Cllr Joan Griffiths, and Cllrs McVey and Tymkewycz, along with many local residents pleased to see the improvement works complete.  The path links Seafield with Easter Road.

Dates for your Diary

Saturday & Sunday 1st & 2nd June – Meadows Festival – Music, stalls, children’s entertainment, football and Taylor’s funfair – all the details can be found at http://www.meadowsfestival.org/

Wednesday 12th June – Castlebrae Vocational Extravaganza – Castlebrae Community High School, Greendykes Road – 6.00pm-7.30pm

Friday 14th June – 5pm deadline for all comments on the Local Development Plan – full details at  http://bit.ly/ZgA4Rc comments via localdevelopmentplan@edinburgh.gov.uk

Wednesday 19th June – Newcraighall North PAN exhibition – Newcraighall Primary – 4.30pm-8.30pm – use reference 13/00562/PAN at https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk

Thursday 27th June – Thistle Foundation informal coffee morning on activities and classes – Wighton House – 10.00am-12.00pm

Thursday 27th June – Lutton Place Student Accommodation PAN – Lutton Court – from 3.00pm-7.30pm – use reference 13/01513/PAN at https://citydev-portal.edinburgh.gov.uk

Event details

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March 2013 enewsletter: One Billion Rising, February recess report, Lady Boys of Bangkok Meadows concerns and Old Town engagement

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

Watching the Shard

The Shard; credit www.habitables.co.uk-tag-the-shard Sitting for several days this month in a Bill Committee I have had a wonderful view of London’s latest addition to the skyline.  The window opposite had the Shard in its centre. As with all new buildings this has been controversial but I have to admit I am a fan. The play of different light conditions has been fascinating; sometimes it looks opaque, in other lights almost transparent. Lights sparkle in it as daylight fades. Partly because of the way the Thames bends, the Shard looks remarkably close from a variety of places in the city. Pity though that the cost of going to the top has been set so high.

‘One Billion Rising’ and debating sexual violence in conflict.

One Billion Rising An innovation in Westminster Parliament procedure since 2010 is the Backbench Business Committee which has dedicated debating time made available for subjects chosen by backbenchers. Sometimes there are votes, although often not, but there is no direct impact on Government policy. It can put pressure on Government and raise the profile of issues which are hugely important but aren’t always in the front of any Government’s mind. A few months ago for instance there was a debate on mental health which many campaigning groups hailed as being an honest opening up of a subject often hidden away. On Thursday 14th February there was 5 hours of debate on two issues around violence against women. One marked the One Billion Rising Campaign which is an international coalition of campaigners speaking out for action to tackle violence against girls and women across the world. 160 countries and over 27,000 individuals have signed up.  Many events were taking place across the UK on this date. The second debate (in which I spoke) focused on the prevalence of violence in conflict zones.  This is an issue which the British Government has committed itself to acting on.  Significantly – I hope – William Hague and Douglas Alexander not only spoke but also stayed throughout the whole of the debate.   This is one of those issues where there is a high degree of cross party consensus – but whether that actually leads to effective progress remains to be seen.  See p67 http://bit.ly/WrtUJr.

Bedroom Tax

The campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ has gained momentum this month.  This is only one relatively small part of the Government’s Welfare Reforms, but is very significant for the individuals involved.  In cash terms people in Edinburgh affected are typically being asked to find around £50 per month towards rent payments (if they have one ‘spare’ bedroom).  Ed Miliband focussed on this at one PMQs session this month, the matter featured heavily in DWP questions on 28th January, and at Scottish Questions on 13th February. I used housing availability figures for Edinburgh to illustrate the problem and asked Michael Moore to revere these plans.  Read Hansard from p5 http://bit.ly/15ixonn, or watch the session at http://bit.ly/WhGW1t. I expanded on this in a press release: http://bit.ly/V9NcH1. Scottish Questions The other day I heard a good example of the way this is affecting constituents when I met a couple who, after six years of waiting in unsuitable accommodation for a wheelchair accessible house, had finally been able to move to a two bedroomed ground floor flat which met their needs.  The wife is able to get in and out of the property fairly easily and the space makes it possible not just to move around but store equipment – but they are required to pay more to make up the difference in Housing Benefit. I hope that they stand a reasonable chance of securing a ‘discretionary housing payment’ to help them meet the rent, since the Council has said people with chronic disabilities and illness will be among those prioritised for these payments.  Edinburgh Council has also agreed to put additional money towards such payments to ‘top up’ what is coming from the DWP. Judging rightly that if they don’t do this, extra costs are likely to be incurred in chasing up rent arrears if people can’t meet the shortfall.  But in terms of ‘saving the public purse’ this in fact simply shifts costs from central to local government – not really a saving at all. There were some signs last week that Iain Duncan Smith might be looking again at the position for disabled people – almost as if he had just not realised there might be a problem until now, although all of this was argued over in the original debates. Responsible local authorities are taking steps to mitigate the impact over and above the discretionary payments. Although there is a very real shortage of smaller properties, council and housing association landlords can adapt allocation policies to give priority to people wanting to move – on the other hand this could simply make it even slower for people waiting to get a tenancy. One of the main reasons why Edinburgh council lets 2 bedroom properties to single people was the mismatch between applicants (the majority of whom are singles) and the available property sizes (the majority of which having 2 bedrooms). Building or buying more properties would also help, but to make rents affordable there has to be subsidy and the level of funding to councils and housing associations from the Scottish Government has fallen in the last couple of years.  New builds in Scotland dropped from 7900 a year two years ago to 3400 now – and some of these are fairly expensive ‘mid market’ rents – which bar applications from tenants who claim Housing Benefit.

Another small success on Personal Independence Payment regulations

I reported last month that on 21st January the Work and Pensions Select Committee had a session with the Disability Minister on the implementation of Personal Independence Payment (PIP). One of the issues the Minister was pressed on was the fact that the final draft regulations did not include a reference to whether someone could carry out an activity ‘safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period’.  The Government initially wanted to put this in guidance only, not in regulations, but announced a change of heart earlier this month. This will now be included in regulations. This will help a lot of people who can sometimes manage to do things like ‘move 50 metres’ but at other times are exhausted part way and have to stop.  This phrase will apply to all activities, not just mobility.  The Government has not made any decision to change the distance for ‘higher rate mobility’ under PIP to 20 metres from the 50 mentioned in the original drafts, but still it shows that campaigning does work!

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The second reading of this Bill took place on 5th February. There are some consequential issues applying in Scotland but primarily this legislation applies to England and Wales. The Scottish Government has indicated an intention to legislate on this subject but has not actually done so to date.  All parties had a free vote.  This has been a controversial issue and I received correspondence from constituents on both sides of the debate.  I voted in favour of the Bill.  I know that some constituents have very strong contrary views, and are concerned that this legislation will have profound social consequences.  I know there is no consensus on this, but that is an aspect of democratic debate.

What are the big policy issues this month?

Every month I receive hundreds of emails and letters from constituents about a wide range of policy issues. The top three issues over the last month have been the Energy Bill, the Justice and Security Bill and the If Campaign on international development.

Energy Bill

The previous Labour Government set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. To meet this target we will have to completely decarbonise our electricity generation, and the Government’s Energy Bill – introduced to parliament late last year – presented an opportunity to put this commitment into law. Unfortunately, Ministers have deferred a decision until after the next election, in effect kicking the issue into the long grass. This uncertainty means investment in renewable energy will continue to drop. The UK will miss out on green jobs and growth as a result. Labour has tabled an amendment to the bill that would reinsert this decarbonisation commitment. I can assure constituents that I will be voting in favour of it when the bill returns to the House of Commons at report stage. You can keep up to date with progress at http://bit.ly/15itWZK.

Justice and Security Bill

This bill will allow for greater use of what are called Closed Material Proceedings (CMPs) where evidence used is sensitive or would pose a threat to public safety if it were heard in open court. While I acknowledge that openness and transparency must remain a central tenet of our justice system, I accept that there are certain limited circumstances where these principles should be deviated from. However my Labour colleagues and I believe that the bill as it stands does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure CMPs are only used as a means of last resort. My Labour colleagues in the Lords amended the bill to provide for such safeguards but these changes were overturned when the bill passed through its committee stage in the commons. A similar amendment has been re-tabled for commons report stage and I can assure you that I will be voting in support of it. Again you can keep up to date http://bit.ly/15itY3S.
Sheila Gilmore MP

If campaign

There has been real progress in recent years in addressing global poverty under the framework of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I am proud that the previous Labour Government played its part by trebling aid spending so as to work towards the international standard of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on aid. However there needs to be renewed international efforts to build on the achievements of the MDGs and make progress on areas like gender equality, maternal health, climate change and food security. The UK has a real opportunity to pursue this as President of the G8 in 2013 and the If campaign – currently supported by over 100 charities – has called for the Government to do precisely this. I also support the campaign’s calls for more action on tax avoidance by multinational companies so that developing countries can build their own tax base and move away from a dependency on aid. Next month I will meet with pupils at Preston Street Primary School to speak to them about the campaign. I’ll collect artwork and written letters they have produced and present them to the Government in due course.

Scots Together

ScotsTogether, part of UKTogether Scots Together, a collective energy switching initiative aims to get a better deal on energy prices for people living in Scotland by buying energy together, launched on 18 February and runs until 17 March. Collective switching involves getting people together to review their electricity and gas tariffs to ensure they are on the best deal they can get. While Scots Together will primarily be promoted in the South East Scotland area, it is open to everyone living in Scotland. Anyone who pays a household electricity and/or gas bill in Scotland can join Scots Together. The biggest saving in the UK so far is a jaw-dropping £786 a year for one member in Edinburgh! Householders will be offered up to three options through the switch, meaning a bespoke service for each individual. The options cover: ·         The price obtained through the collective switch auction (there’s an offer for prepayment meters too) ·         A comparison of the whole market provided by uSwitch ·         A greener tariff. Full details can be found at http://www.scotstogether.com/how-it-works/

February Recess

‘Half term’ at Westminster is an opportunity to catch up with visits and events in the Constituency. 

Prince’s Trust

One visit I made was to see something of the work being done by the Prince’s  Trust to help young people get ready for employment.  Throughout 2011/12 the Trust supported over 5,000 disadvantaged young people in Scotland, with almost 4,000 achieving and sustaining positive outcomes such as education, training, employment or self-employment. Particularly impressive were the Young Ambassadors and Job Ambassadors who use their experience to pass on to others – they provide ‘peer education’ rather than hearing from adults whose lives may seem totally different.

Royal Society MP Pairing

Last autumn I wrote about the Royal Society scheme where MPs and scientists were ‘paired’. My ‘pair’ came to Westminster in October and during this recess we did the ‘return match’.  I had the opportunity to hear from a number of researchers, largely in the Nursing Studies department of the University.  Nurse education is a hot potato at the moment with some people suggesting that the move to degree level training for nurses has been a mistake.  We discussed that issue ,  but I also heard about some of the research being done.  One example was a project to encourage mothers of young children to reduce ‘secondary smoke ‘ in the home – something I hope will get taken up across the country.   Another important piece of work was looking at the follow on care for people who have had a period in the Intensive Care Unit, the medium to long term consequences of which are not well understood. Hopefully this will lead to improvements in practice based on evidence.

Dumbiedykes & Prestonfield

Visits to groups in these areas share some of the practical consequences of the much debated ‘challenges of an ageing population’.  I was in Dumbiedykes to talk with residents who are campaigning for the restoration of a direct bus route to the Southside.  The ‘old’ Dumbiedykes was an integral part of the Southside, and Dumbiedykes Road ran all the way up to join St Leonard’s Hill.  The road link was cut with the redevelopment in the 1960s, but for many people their social networks remain in that direction, hence the need for a bus. Many older residents find the hills are a real barrier. In the picture here the building directly behind the pram is now the Braidwood Centre where we met. Dumbiedykes Road There’s another link between Dumbiedykes and Prestonfield, besides both having a high proportion of older residents. Many of the people rehoused to the new Prestonfield estate in the 1930s came from the Southside/Dumbiedykes area. The specific issue I was in Prestonfield to talk about with the Neighbourhood Centre as well as the Tenants’ and Residents’ Group was the difficulty many of their older people have in qualifying for showers. Despite the lip service paid to the importance of ‘prevention’ and enabling people to stay in their own homes, the eligibility criteria for help with getting a shower has been raised substantially in recent years.  This is an illustration of the pressures faced by councils in trying to provide social care which I have written about previously. My response to Alex Neil’s comments in The Herald: http://bit.ly/Wrr5Im; and a previous blog post http://bit.ly/HjSYtl discuss the issue. Even where tenants were getting a whole new bathroom as part of the council’s modernisation programme, the Council has insisted that wet floor showers (which the council prefers to shower cabinets) could only be installed if the tenant were assessed and met the very high level of need under the criteria.  A concession was finally made about 18 months ago that showers would be given if requested by tenants in sheltered housing. In somewhere like Prestonfield, however, there are many very elderly tenants who are just as much in need who do not live in sheltered housing. As the area is due to be included in the bathroom modernisation programme in the coming year, we thought this was an appropriate time to raise this issue yet again, bearing in mind that there is a new council administration. One lady I met who lives in a ground floor flat was 85,  had multiple health problems and had been a council tenant for 60 years, but had been advised that ‘modernisation’ would only provide an overbath shower despite her being unable to climb in. We also agreed to approach the Council about the need to review the eligibility criteria more generally, and the lack of any proper appeal structure when people are refused adaptations.

Around the Constituency

‘New Blueprint for the Royal Mile’

The Council’s planning department has produced a draft ‘Royal Mile Action Plan’. In it are suggestions such as reducing ‘tartan tat’, making more of the street traffic free, and banning double decker buses (both tourist and ordinary services).  What about the needs and opinions of the many local residents?  How are they being involved in this? Not enough says the Old Town Community Council! There’s an opportunity to make your voice heard on this and other Old Town issues as the Old Town Community Council is hosting an event to encourage greater community participation and constructive debate. The OTCC wants to gather views and develop ideas about how to improve the area. The previous meeting proved to be both informative and useful for all who attended in identifying problems and developing solutions. If you want to attend head along to Augustine United Church Hall, George IV Bridge, on Monday March 11th from 7pm – 9.30pm (doors open 6.30pm) Further public exhibitions on the Caltongate plans are due to be held on Thursday 14th March between 11am and 8pm and Saturday 16th March between 10am and 12.30pm at the Canongate Venture building.

Learning Mandarin at Leith Academy

Sadaf Ashraf, Ereen Florendo, Karolina Olszewska, Mihaela Dolbinska, and Michelle Whitelaw I had the chance to meet a group of Leith Academy pupils who had won a place in the finals of a schools Mandarin speaking competition held at the British Museum in London.  Although they didn’t win, getting to the finals was a tremendous achievement. The girls (they were all girls as it happened) were a credit to their school.  In the photo above the group were ready for a joint performance. Immaculate Kahembwe also took part in the individual category of the competition.

A Street Audit in Craigentinny

On Saturday 26th January I went out with Councillor Alex Lunn and a group of local residents to ‘walk the streets’ around Craigentinny Town Centre.  This was organised by the Craigentinny/Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership and supported by an organisation called ‘Living Streets’. The group came up with priority recommendations for actions: Short term: 1.    Implement an effective litter management regime including strategies to tackle dog fouling and fly-tipping. 2.    Implement an effective weed management regime, including timing spraying to achieve the maximum effect and following this up with weed removal. 3.    Cut back overgrown vegetation to ensure that pedestrian passage is safe and unimpeded. Street Audit in Craigentinny Longer term: 1.    Repair the disintegrating wall around Craigentinny Primary School. 2.    Increase street light provision on Loaning Road. 3.    Develop an effective strategy and action plan that will resolve the problem of pavement and double parking, particularly on Loganlea Gardens. There were other recommendations too & now the Report goes to the City Council. Whether this was all worthwhile depends on what action is actually taken by those who have the power to do it.

A Lidl in Portobello? 

The site of the former Land Rover garage at the corner of Wakefield Avenue has been lying empty for a while now. The Lidl chain is proposing to build a store here.  This is currently at the ‘pre application consultation’ stage but I am currently gathering comments for a submission. The main concerns being increased traffic given the proximity of the busy Seafield Junction. Send your views to me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk. Full details are available at www.lidlcraigentinny.co.uk.

Protecting the Meadows – are there too many events?

The annual application by the ‘Lady boys of Bangkok’ to use the Meadows during the Festival has gone in. While the promoters have already started to sell tickets for their annual festival show, the area of the Meadows where the showground is based is still recovering from last August. The City of Edinburgh Council has now sought urgent comments on proposals to hold the event in the same place this year. Events on the park have added to the variety and vibrancy of the festival season, but concerns remain about the health of the land and the damage following the event. You can see my objection on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/protecting-the-meadows-are-there-too-many-events/. Meadows If you live around the Meadows and would like to get involved with the ‘Friends of the Meadows’ there is going to be a public meeting on the use of barbecues on Monday 18th March (7.30pm)  at the Pillar Hall, Barclay Viewforth Church. Read their newsletter http://www.fombl.org.uk/nl33.pdf.

Review of the Craigmillar Urban Regeneration Framework

The Council is undertaking a review of the Craigmillar Urban Design Framework. A review document has been prepared on the basis of feedback received at a drop-in day held in October 2012. The review sets out options for change which residents are entitled to contribute to.  I’ve prepared a draft of my comments; please request a copy if you would like to see the themes I will discuss. The deadline for comments is 5pm on Friday 29th March 2013 before which I will publish my final response at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/craigmillar-urban-design-framework-review/.

Young People’s Taster Sessions and Consultation Event

CLD are linking up with Edinburgh Leisure, CLD’s Open All Hours provision and the Craigentinny and Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership, to offer a free activities based evening with the opportunity for young people to have a say about issues that affect them, using voting pads.
A group of young people have helped to organise this event with CLD staff and hope to produce a presentation of the results for the Craigentinny and Duddingston Neighbourhood Partnership.  If you want to go along, doors open from 6.30pm on Friday 8th March.

Castlebrae Community High School

The response of the Council’s Children & Families Department to the consultation on the proposed closure of the school was published on Thursday 21st February. The report is available at http://bit.ly/15QeOnT. Castlebrae Community High School The report responds to the various points submitted by parents and local residents. I regret the report still reaches a conclusion to recommend closure. The Councillors will meet to make a final decision on this on March 14th. The Council is still looking at the school in isolation from the wider issues of economic and housing regeneration in Craigmillar. There is a welcome commitment to re-energise the regeneration process, but this should be a chance to look at education in this context rather than taking decisions which will have long term consequences in the future. I have prepared some initial comments which I have now passed to Council colleagues. You can see this on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/castlebrae-consultation-outcome-report/.

Dates for your Diary

Friday 8th March – Young People’s Taster Sessions and Consultation Event – Meadowbank Stadium – from 6.30pm til 9.00pm Monday, 11th March – Old Town Community Council Community Engagement event – Augustine United Church Hall, George IV Bridge, – from 7pm – 9.30pm (doors open 6.30pm) Thursday, 14th March – Caltongate exhibition – 11.00am to 8.00pm – Canongate Venture, New Street Thursday 14th March – City of Edinburgh Council Full Meeting including decision on Castlebrae Community High School – from 10am – watch live at http://www.edinburgh.public-i.tv/core/ Saturday, 16th March – Caltongate exhibition – 10.00am to 12.30pm – Canongate Venture building. Sunday 17th March – Deadline to take part in ScotsTogether – further details in main body and at www.scotstogether.com Monday 18th March – Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links monthly meeting – from 7.30pm – Barclay Viewforth Church

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Edinburgh East December Update: Season’s Greetings, Castlebrae consultation, Universal Credit analysis, and lots of Craigmillar news

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

WESTMINSTER REPORT

Season’s Greetings

Christmas card design produced by Liam Turner, Castlebrae Community High SchoolIn November I asked students from Castlebrae Community High School and children from the Castlebrae Family Centre to produce several festive designs for my 2012 Christmas card. They were all lovely, but I chose Liam Turner’s bauble design to feature on the card. The five runner-up designs are also displayed below.

Both Castlebrae School and Family Centre are currently under the threat of closure. The designs featured here provide a glimpse of the fantastic work pupils and staff in Craigmillar produce. As I have mentioned in previous reports, pupils and local residents feel this is the type of work that is ignored by the consultation process, which instead focusses on figures and statistics. To make sure this creativity is considered as part of the consultation, add your views at http://bit.ly/Trg3RL, before the 7th December deadline. I will be adding my contribution shortly.

This year the Kings Manor Hotel & Fountain Spa, and Asda Jewel generously sponsored the Christmas card, which will now be sent to 4000 households across Edinburgh East.
Runner-up designs produced by children and pupils attending Castlebrae

Westminster Report

My Month in Westminster

Despite the lack of ‘big ticket’ items since the collapse of House of Lords Reform, November has been a busy time at Westminster. Oral questions happen every day from Monday to Thursday, with different Departments answering on different days. The Prime Minister responds every Wednesday of course. Getting a definite ‘slot’ depends on a ballot, and I didn’t have a lot of luck this month.  Sometimes even when you do get a ‘slot’ the Speaker doesn’t get to you in the time available – that happened in this month’s Scottish Questions.  I’m most interested in DWP and Treasury matters and although I was not selected, I managed to get a question in on both.  I asked the Disability Minister how many people who had been placed in the Employment and Support Allowance ‘Work Related Activity Group’ and required to take part in the Work Programme had been found work.  The answer was that figures would be published soon (they are due before the end of the month). See p3 http://bit.ly/V3rKQr.

At Treasury Questions I asked about the often quoted figure that there have been one million new private sector jobs created since the election. In fact half of these were in place within 8 months of the election, something that can be put down to the previous government’s economic stimulus package. See p13 http://bit.ly/V3rPDR.

Speaking in the Chamber

High Speed Rail

There’s another type of ballot – for short debates in the second debating chamber, Westminster Hall. This month I secured time for a debate on extending High Speed Rail to Scotland and the implications that separation might have for such plans.  You can see my press release about what I said on my website (http://bit.ly/V3s8OU) and the full speech in Hansard (from p87 http://bit.ly/V3rPDR).

Changing Disabled Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment

I was also in Westminster Hall on Thursday 25th October when the Work & Pensions Select Committee report on the DLA changeover to PIP was debated. Many of those present were Select Committee members but it was also an opportunity to hear from the new Disability Minister Esther McVey who had to answer the debate. She had been challenged about some of the language used previously in the media, (which some believed had originated from the DWP & its Ministers), and she stated that ‘we need to be more careful about how we talk.’  The other main issue she responded to was the issue of the ‘cut’ in spending:

The actual sums that were paid out were £12.5 billion in 2010-11, and by 2014-15 the expected, real-terms spending will be £13.2 billion. The 20% cut that people talk about was the cut in the expected rise in the benefits, because they had risen exponentially by 40% in 10 years and everybody felt that that was unaffordable. Therefore, if we wanted to give the benefits people wanted, if we wanted to look after those who were most in need of support, but equally those with great needs as well as the greatest need, this is what had to be done to be sustainable.’

The impression the Minister is trying to convey is that this isn’t a real cut – but it is:  the ‘expected rise’ is real benefits paid to real people. To reduce this expected rise has to mean that some of these people will have to lose benefit.  Those already over pension age are not affected nor are children, so the ‘reduction’ is concentrated on those of working age.

My speech is on my website http://bit.ly/V3t1Hd and if you want to read the whole debate you can find it from p73, here: http://bit.ly/V3sN32.

Once More in Committee

Another month, another Bill Committee – this time the Public Services Pensions Bill.  I spoke in the Second Reading debate on 29th October (see p67 http://bit.ly/V3tt8z) and then asked to serve on the Committee.  Many of the changes already made or forthcoming in public sector pensions aren’t actually in the Bill but have been negotiated by the unions. Our position at second reading was that the Bill should be amended, although I’m afraid our amendments were not successful. Rather more worrying was the ‘sub text’ coming not from the Minister, but from Tory backbenchers on the committee, who constantly repeated the point that even with these changes, public sector workers will have far better pensions than most private sector employees – true, but only because pension provision in the private sector is so poor.  Many people in the private sector have no pension cover. Even with auto-enrolment coming in over the next few years, a private pension is generally of the ‘defined contribution’ type. This means there is no guaranteed size of pension at retirement age. Instead the employee builds up a ‘fund’ which at retirement is converted into an annuity.  In recent years these funds have performed badly (because interest rates and investment returns are low) and so have the annuities.  The real problem is not ‘too good’ public sector pensions, but poor private sector ones.

Usefully the Work & Pensions Select Committee has just started a piece of work on private sector pensions.  In our first evidence session on Wednesday 21st November we heard about the way in which charges levied can substantially reduce the amount of the eventual pension – what can seem like a small difference in annual charges adds up to a huge difference in outcome. The more I hear the more convinced I am of the need for a radical overhaul of the pensions industry. Next week though we have industry representatives speaking to us who will no doubt try to persuade us otherwise!

The Royal Society MP Pairing Scheme 2012

For a week this month I was ‘shadowed’ by a scientist from Edinburgh University as part of a scheme trying to bring greater understanding between science and politics.  Early next year it will be my turn to see something of my pair’s work.  I think what struck her most of all was the lack of an evidence base for much of what is done by government and legislation.  Sitting in on a Select Committee meeting where we heard from the DWP Permanent Secretary (top civil servant), her comment (without necessarily being up to speed on the subject matter)  was how ‘smooth’ he was, not intended as a compliment, except I suppose to his excellent ‘Sir Humphrey’ style training!

“Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system by bringing together a range of working-age benefits into a single streamlined payment.”

–      Department of Work and Pensions

Universal Credit is Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘flagship’ policy. Anyone who has struggled with the form filling of benefits applications will welcome simplification.  However it is easier to declare ‘there will be a single benefit’ than to achieve it. Several benefits remain outside Universal Credit (contributions based JSA & ESA; council tax benefit; DLA and its replacement Personal Independence Payment), but even inside Universal Credit there are going to be various arms and legs, each ‘bit’ with its different conditions.

Universal Credit will start for new applicants in parts of the north of England from April 2013.  In the last few weeks a number of important reports have been produced – all of which might be described as ‘constructively critical’. Whether the DWP will heed them remains to be seen. When Iain Duncan Smith and David Freud (one of the Ministers) appeared before the Work and Pensions Select Committee in September they seemed full of confidence that all was going ‘swimmingly’.

The Centre for Social & Economic Inclusion (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) in ‘Implementing Universal Credit’ asked the question ‘Will Universal Credit (UC) improve the service user’s experience of the social security system by addressing complexity and will benefit reform be supported by quality employment support?  ‘This Report raises similar concerns to those I reported on last month in the ‘Sink or Swim ‘Report, about the move to monthly payments made to one member of the household, and the ‘all digital’ delivery mechanism.  However it also is sceptical about the ‘work will always pay’ promise, not just because of the ‘localisation’ of council tax benefit but also because, while the structure of the new benefit incentivises working short hours, it has less impact for people working longer hours and for second earners in a household.

Select Committee Report

My Work & Pensions Select Committee has also been looking at the implementation of Universal Credit. Our cross party committee published its Report on 22nd November, warning that ‘significant concerns remain about the potential impact of the changes on some of the most vulnerable benefit claimants.’   You can get the whole report at http://bit.ly/TvndXZ.

Dame Anne Begg MP

Universal Credit & Single Parents

Yet another perspective on Universal Credit from Gingerbread, called ‘Struggling to make ends meet’.

While single parents working very short hours may be better off, the government’s plans could create a situation where working longer hours doesn’t pay.

Getting People into Work

Behind Universal Credit is the desire to ‘get people into work’. Crucial to this is the role of Job Centre Plus advisers in helping people into training and jobs. In theory less paper shuffling in applications should release staff time for this work, but at the same time an increasingly punitive ‘sanctions’ regime is in force (since October the minimum sanction for failing to do things like attend for an appointment on the right date is 4 weeks loss of benefit). There is a tension here between advising and policing, which may make it difficult for staff to give the help needed.

In Work Conditionality

Universal CreditUnder current rules people working 16 hours (for a single person or single parent), or 24 hours (as a couple between them), can receive tax credits (including childcare tax credits) if their income is beneath the cut off point. Under UC someone will be able to work less than 16 hours (indeed the Government is keen to encourage ‘mini jobs’ of as few as 4 or 6 hours a week) and claim credit.

The question is whether people will be stuck in low paid, short hours jobs, forcing more families below the poverty line.

The Government believes that one way of preventing this is to apply ‘conditions’ to people in work claiming benefit in a way that has never been done before. Anyone earning less than the equivalent of working 35 hours (at minimum wage) will be expected to look for more hours of work/a different job and to ‘prove’ they are doing this. (There will be exceptions e.g. one parent of children aged 5-12 will only have to look for work during school hours). Generally details of exactly how UC would work are sparse at the moment.

Resolution Foundation Report – ‘Conditions Uncertain: Assessing the implications of Universal Credit in-work conditionality

The bit that’s ‘missing’ is where these jobs are to be found, especially at a time when so many firms are only offering short hour jobs to fit their business needs.  According to the most recent employment figures:

2012 figures

Taking a slightly longer period here is the trend:

2007-2012 figures

‘Did Nick Clegg Sell out in Vain?’, the Independent asked on the 25th October on the back of a report suggesting that the Government’s fees reform could end up costing almost as much as the old system.

This is for three reasons:

1. The government initially said that only a few universities would charge anywhere near the maximum of £9000. In calculating the cost of the policy the Government assumed that the average fee would be £7500. In fact the average is £8300. This means that students have to borrow more and the government’s outlay is therefore higher.

2. The report concludes that the government has been overoptimistic about the amount graduates will earn and therefore that less will be paid back than previously assumed.

3. The report calculates that the fees regime will add 0.2percentage points to the Consumer Price Index so increasing the cost of pensions (and other benefits) unless the government changes the rules on this.

During the debates on fees the Opposition repeatedly raised the issue of whether the Government’s sums were wrong. Ministers dismissed this.

The reason Clegg gave for his change of mind was the need to deal with the deficit. We pointed out that if the Government was right in saying that the deficit would be eliminated by 2015 then this was not a deficit reduction measure. (Of course Osborne now has had to say that the deficit won’t be eliminated in that timescale.)

But if the Report is right the new policy hasn’t shifted the burden away from the taxpayer. While still leaving graduates with both the worry and the reality of large student debts, then it leaves the LibDems having indeed sold themselves for a ‘mess of pottage. ‘.

The SNP government might want to pat themselves on the back for sticking to free tuition. But it has come at a price, namely the squeeze on further education colleges. Independence won’t solve this problem without finding more revenue (and not just for education of course.)  In the last few weeks the Scottish Media has finally started to show some interest in the problems the colleges are facing.

Cycling, Poppies & Industry

I was honoured to be invited to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday at Portobello Old Parish Church.  In less than two years we will be ‘commemorating’ the start of World War 1, a war whose images – photographic and literary – still resonate. Reading all the family names on a World War 1 memorial, whether here or in France brings home the huge impact it had.  Perhaps it is the contrast between the cheerful naivety of that war’s beginning and its reality which makes it so poignant.  No generation since has probably been quite so unprepared. And yet ‘lest we forget’ has not stopped conflict, with people dying in Afghanistan, in Syria, in the Congo, in Gaza even while we laid our wreaths.

Cycling, Poppies & Industry sounds a bit like one of those quiz questions from Radio 4’s ‘Round Britain Quiz ‘where the contestants are asked what links seemingly unrelated items. I was taking a – brief! – turn on the exercise bike as part of a fundraiser organised by   the Industry and Parliament Trust.  This was a 24 hour charity cycle ‘ride’ in the Houses of Parliament to raise money for The Poppy Factory.

Industry and Parliament Poppy Ride

The Industry and Parliament Trust is a registered charity dedicated to promoting mutual understanding between Parliament, business, industry and commerce for the public benefit.  MPs are encouraged to do a ‘fellowship’ with the Trust to learn more about business and industry. I’ve chosen the financial services sector, partly because of its importance to Edinburgh, and because I’m trying to increase my understanding of Treasury issues. I’ve been on visits to Lloyds/Scottish Widows and Standard Life with visits to HSBC to come soon.  So it seemed appropriate to ‘do my bit’ on their bike.

Payday loans – Westminster

As the sale of credit remains a Westminster responsibility my East Lothian colleague Fiona O’Donnell MP and I are supporting a new effort launched by Citizens’ Advice Scotland to  ensure that payday lenders are signing up to the new industry-wide Good Practice Charter. The charter requires pay day lenders to reign in some of their practices and lending to reduce the difficulties many customers encounter. CAS Scotland still needs to establish whether or not the firms are compliant and improving the way they do business, thus they have set up a survey to feed in any information, or concerns, people may have. The survey can be found www.cas.org.uk/paydayloans. In the Scottish Parliament, Kezia Dugdale MSP is calling on the Scottish Government to improve the way pay day loan type debt advice is provided when problems occur.

Constituency Report

 

Caltongate Exhibition

On 3 November I visited the exhibition put on by the new developers on the Caltongate site.  I sent in my views on their ideas which you can see on my website (see http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/east-market-street-new-street-and-caltongate-development/).  There will be further consultation early in 2013.

Meeting with Forth Sector

One of the meetings I had this month was a ‘catch up’ at Forth Sector, a social enterprise, which runs three businesses – St Jude’s Laundry, Edinburgh Embroidery Services and The Scottish Soapworks.

Forth Sector, based in Craigmillar

Their other main work is providing employability support to aid the recovery of people with mental health problems. In part this is linked to the businesses, as people may be offered work placements or permanent jobs within these businesses, but many are also helped to secure employment elsewhere in the city.  Some of the referrals come as a subcontractor in the Government’s Work Programme, but organisations like this who work with those who need the most help only receive part of the payment even if successful.

The organisation has just started work at Duddingston Yards where new buildings are going to house all three of the businesses and the employability work.  When I was there demolition was just starting.

Meeting with Community Renewal

I also met with Community Renewal who provide employability services in East Edinburgh under a contract with the City Council.  They are working with people who are not (yet) involved with the Government’s Work Programme. This includes many young people.

Meeting with Crisis

Crisis client

During a meeting with Crisis, a national homelessness charity, to discuss various policy issues, it was suggested that I see some of the work they are doing in my constituency. So on Friday 23rd November I met with a couple of participants in one of their outreach support projects working with people in the Salvation Army hostel in the Pleasance. One of the things they are working on is their own newsletter and they wanted to interview me on various aspects of ‘welfare reform’. The interviewers were very well prepared and we could have gone on for far longer than the allocated hour. I look forward to seeing the results!

Castlebrae & Portobello

During November there have been a number of both formal and informal consultation meetings about the proposal to close Castlebrae High School.  These were well attended and the Council representatives present were asked very searching questions. The consultation closes on 7th December. I shall be making a submission but would urge others to do so too, if you have not already done so.  Full details on the consultation can be found at http://bit.ly/Trg3RL.

Portobello High School was again on the agenda of the Council meeting on 22nd November. The main recommendations are to go ahead with the proposal to seek a Private Bill in the Scottish Parliament to allow use of the site in Portobello Park, and to put in a bid for the purchase of the former Scottish Power site at Baileyfield. The outcome will probably not be known until late January.

Consultation on the Private Bill process is to be undertaken as soon as is practicable in December 2012 and running through to 31 January 2013. Allowing sufficient time for the assessment and analysis of the responses and the production of the other accompanying documents, it is intended that the proposed Private Bill would be taken to Council for consideration on 14 March 2013 and, if approved, lodged with the Parliament as soon as possible thereafter. However it could be as late as January 2014 before that process is concluded according to this month’s report.

The details of the consultation will be published soon but there will be a ‘roadshow’ travelling around various community venues, two public meetings, exhibitions at local libraries etc.

You can read the whole of the Council Report on Portobello here: http://bit.ly/Trgc7H.

Craigmillar Community Arts celebrates ten years

Ten years ago, Craigmillar Community Arts was established to support and explore the creative side of greater Craigmillar. Over the years the organisation has encouraged residents to explore their artistic talents – whether it be sculpture, painting or photography – the organisation has had many successes. One of the most recent programmes, the ‘Bus Stop Lottery Photography Project’, has taken parents and children across the city on Saturdays to photograph different views and images of Edinburgh. What could be more enjoyable than hopping on a bus and getting creative? Once this latest project concludes, an exhibition will be held at the CCA centre on Newcraighall Road. If you want to get involved, or you would like to see the full programme, go to http://www.craigmillarcommunityarts.org.uk/1.html.

Probably the oldest housing estate in Scotland

Craigmillar, Niddrie and Greendykes are to be included in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s All Our Stories project to encourage local residents to find out more about their local history. The original All Our Stories project was run in conjunction with the BBC Two series, The Great British Story – A People’s History, and was seen as a great success. This time round, the ‘oldest housing estate in Scotland’ will be run by Caring in Craigmillar.  Elderly residents will be asked to document and research the changes in the area over the past century, as well as learning how to read historical maps, utilise online resources and create a ‘community tree’. Bearing in mind this is where Mary Queen of Scots lived for a time, the area had thriving brewing and coal industries throughout the 20th Century, and is now undergoing further regeneration, there will be plenty to be documented.

East Neighbourhood Centre and Library

East Neighbourhood Centre

My staff and I have watched this building go up with great interest, as it is situated directly opposite my constituency office.  Residents in East Edinburgh can now access a whole host of services at the centre. The new Library is a fantastic resource and has had a state of the art upgrade for the whole community to enjoy. Various offices from across East Edinburgh have also been moved into this one building to help improve the coordination of Housing, Social Work and Community Safety services.

Dates for your diary

Wednesday 5th December – One Parent Families Scotland: a living wage for carers? – from 5.30pm – 13 Gayfield Square – call 0131 556 3899 to reserve a place

Friday 7th December – Deadline for submissions on the proposed closure of Castlebrae Community High School –  details at http://bit.ly/Trg3RL

Wednesday 12th December  – Age Scotland & Edinburgh City Policing Community Event – Portobello Town Hall  7pm-9pm

Wednesday 19th December – Craigmillar Writer’s Club Christmas Party – from 7pm – Jewel Miners Club

Tuesday 15th January – Age Scotland & Edinburgh City Policing Community Event – City Chambers Business Centre – 7pm-9pm

Saturday 22nd December – Craigmillar Books for Babies Christmas Party – 10.30am-11.30am – East Edinburgh Neighbourhood Centre, 101 Niddrie Mains Road

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