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.

Lidl Craigentinny

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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August update: the foodbank dilemma, Univeral Credit still faltering, sheep visits the hub and pavement parking issues, plus more Stop the East Coast Privatisation

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Westminster Report

Parliament ‘rose’ for the summer recess on July 18th, after a couple of very hot weeks the Chamber itself was an oasis of coolness.  Tradition still decrees that men wear jacket and tie in the Chamber and several commented that we women have it lucky. Some men however welcomed the summer in quite an array of coloured suits.  The prize perhaps should go to Gerald Kaufman (MP for Manchester Gorton).  He may be in his 80s but was sporting a very dashing flower patterned suit in this warm weather.  Maybe it was the heat but certainly the last few PMQs of the ‘term’ were very heated.  It has been far from the ‘silly season’  with very serious issues being debated throughout July, including the economy, the English NHS,  plain cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing.
Spending review
Towards the end of June the Chancellor announced his spending review for the year 2015/16.  This did not cover several years as in 2010, either because he had to acknowledge there could be a change of government by then, or because, as some commentators more cynically suggested because he did not want to ‘frighten the electorate.’  (If you are interested in finding out more about this see a report called ‘Fiscal Fallout: The challenge ahead for public spending and public services’ from the Royal Society of Arts and the Social Market Foundation at http://bit.ly/16tCnB7.

Spending Round 2013
One comment on the spending review from the Institute of Fiscal Studies acknowledged:
‘Despite the hype, net capital spending is not set to rise for 2015/16 (IFS). In 2010 capital was cut back substantially and has done a bit better this time as Coalition is edging towards accepting there needs to be capital spending… a lot of damage has been done in the meantime.’
In 2010 the Coalition promised the split between spending cuts and tax rises would be 80/20. This review moves it to 85/15.
On jobs – nearly 300,000 public sector jobs have been lost since 2010 already with another 300,000 reductions scheduled for the next two years.  This Review suggests a further 144,000 reductions in 2015/16 will be made.
The Chancellor constantly points out that new jobs in the private sector have more than offset public sector job losses.  The IFS states that this is true in every region but that there is no clear correlation between public sector job losses and private job creation. In regions like London, where public job losses have been relatively limited, there has also been a big increase in private sector employment.
Work and Pensions Select Committee
In late June select committee members went on a visit to Job Centres in Oldham and Ashton Under Lyme as part of our current enquiry into the work of Jobcentre Plus .  This is the area where the new Universal Credit system is being piloted.  Although our visits were highly ‘sanitised’ (which I am sure happens under any Government) we could see that even with very limited numbers covered by the pilot there were difficulties with the computer system.  At this stage only single unemployed people with no children or sickness issues, and no existing claims are included in the pilot.  A couple of weeks later we had Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud at the committee for an update session on Universal Credit.
We were told that the next stage of the rollout to further Jobcentres across the UK would begin in October although this programme would only apply to simplest categories of applicants.  There is no doubt that the rollout process is considerably delayed over the original intentions. The government is seeking to make a virtue out of a necessity by saying how important it is to test the system properly before full implementation.  Colleagues with experience in such matters knew it would never be easy to make major changes quickly and said so; originally these claims were dismissed well before implementation started.
Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform Changes on Disabled People
For some considerable time disability organisations and campaigners have been asking for the Government to carry out a study of the cumulative effect of their various changes on disabled people.  The Opposition held a debate on this on 10th July. The Government continued to resist this saying variously: that it would be too difficult; it was too early to tell; and that they would be monitoring impacts of various changes on an ongoing basis.  The trouble with the latter argument is that it rather misses the point that people wanted them to look at the way the changes interact.  They also riposte that the last Government wasn’t in the business of performing a cumulative impact assessment either, but then the current Government constantly tells us that they are carrying out the biggest revolution in welfare provision since the establishment of the modern welfare state. Surely that needs a cumulative impact assessment!
Liam Byrne, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
I spoke in the debate (see p52 http://bit.ly/15qVTPY) as did many of my colleagues. The speech by Liam Byrne, shadow Secretary of State, outlined his thinking on alternative approaches (p31 http://bit.ly/15qVTPY).
Food Banks – the Big Society in Action? 
Over the weekend of 5th to 7th July Tesco ran a national food collection in their stores in partnership with the Trussell Trust and FareShare (www.trusselltrust.org/foodbank-projects, www.fareshare.org.uk/). I went along to Tesco at Nicolson Street to see how staff were doing. Customers were being leafleted as they entered the store and regular announcements were made over the tannoy.  Collections made at Tesco stores in Edinburgh were being divided between a number of different local organisations.
Great work by staff and strong support from customers made this a very successful event.  This is the first period in my lifetime when so many people have become in need of food banks.  Families in modern Scotland should not have to rely on food banks to eat, but regrettably there is a real need for this type of service.  My office has had to refer families to foodbanks because they simply have nowhere else to turn.  This is a sign not simply of recession but of the impact of government policies.
The Trussell Trust, which is one of the largest providers, but by no means the only provider, has this year published the following statistics for households accessing a minimum of 3 days food help in a year:
Trussel Trust
The Government’s reaction is to applaud all of this as a sign of the Big Society in practice. The Prime Minister’s favourite riposte is to say ‘the number of foodbanks went up tenfold under Labour’.  He doesn’t quote a source but it may well be based on data from Trussell Trust itself because it only started up in 2000. A tenfold increase could be from or 2 to 20!  Trussell Trust now has 345 foodbanks in the UK and it opens three centres each week.
More recently the DWP minister in the House of Lords being questioned on the rise in foodbank use said that this was because foodbanks were advertising themselves better and that as it was a ‘free good’ people were bound to gravitate towards it. The implication presumably being that people didn’t really ‘need’ the help.  Unfortunately, the help is limited and the foodbanks do have to scrutinise a request for help; any suggestion that families are choosing to rely on the foodbanks is disingenuous.  Is Lord Freud trying to suggest that people should stop offering foodbanks because Cameron’s Big Society is having perverse consequences?  I think it is evident Lord Freud did not want to admit that government policy was in any way responsible.
According to Trussell Trust statistics 30% of people were being referred because of benefit delays; 18% due to low income and 15% due to benefit changes. People have to be referred by other organisations, contrary to Lord Freud’s belief that people are making a choice to obtain food from the banks rather than shop at the supermarket.
The shortage of affordable housing
In recent weeks I’ve written a couple of articles on housing policy.  One was on Labour Hame (see http://bit.ly/15qW3Xr, and on my website http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/bedroom-tax-snp-should-stop-blaming-westminster-and-come-up-with-solutions/) highlighting the substantial reduction there has been in the construction of new homes in Scotland.
Social Housing

Previous governments can be criticised for not building enough, although In the late 90s/early 2000s one of the big issues under discussion in the world of council and housing association housing  was ‘low demand’ in many areas of the country.  Even in Edinburgh where there has always been a shortage, there were some definite ‘difficult to let’ areas at that time – not anymore!  The second article, in the Edinburgh Evening News, (see http://bit.ly/15qYN7l) was about the Scottish Government’s announcement of the end to right to buy.  I argue that the impact of this in terms of supply is extremely limited because sales have already dropped to a low level, and, a ‘sale foregone’ does not turn into a house to let in the short term, because the tenant won’t be moving on.  The real way to deal with supply problems is to simply to build more housing.
Westminster Report Pavement Parking
Pavement ParkingEvery now and then there seems to be a regular theme to the enquiries I receive in my constituency office, one issue which is regularly cropping up at the moment is pavement and double parking in residential areas.  This problem is always an inconvenience for pedestrians, especially those who have mobility issues, but worse, it can prevent emergency services getting to the address they have been called to.  Currently it is only the police who have the power to take action if a motor vehicle is parked in this way.  A private members bill, the Proposed Responsible Parking Bill (Scotland) (2) has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament to tackle this issue.  The bill calls for powers to be passed to local councils, so that parking attendants can take action.  The bill has gained substantial cross-party support and I’m encouraging residents who raise these issues with me to ask their MSPs to support the bill. Further details of the bill can be found at http://bit.ly/17tiNEm.  To find out who your MSPs are – and how to contact them about this issue, go to www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps.aspx.
Housing Co-op Consulation
A few newsletters ago I mentioned that the City of Edinburgh Council has been consulting on how it can encourage the development of cooperative housing so that local residents can help deliver their own micro housing projects and have more say over a key service they rely on.  The city’s three existing Housing Co-ops are very successful and very popular.  They could be expanded through new build but do not currently have the capacity to carry out development themselves and would have to do it in partnership with one if the city’s ‘developing’ housing associations.  That said, a co-operative or social enterprise model could be very helpful in dealing with common repairs, because of the lack of a factoring history in Edinburgh (other than more recently in new developments).  While the consultation has now closed, my response to the consultation is available on my website at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Housing-Co-ops.pdf.
Lister Housing Co-op
Further details on the scope of the consultation can be located at: http://bit.ly/11H4jSx.
East Coast update – Edinburgh MPs petition Waverley passengers
Waverley - 19th July
Last month my colleagues, Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray, joined me and trade unionists from across Edinburgh to petition Waverley passengers to support the campaign to stop the East Coast Privatisation.  On a sunny Friday we set up stall at Waverley steps to speak to passengers and shoppers on Princes Street. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive, with members of the public agreeing that the profits should be retained to improve services and passed back to the treasury, rather than to shareholders. In just one hour we added tens of signatories to our joint petition. We also took the opportunity to speak to East Coast staff about the improvements to services that East Coast has made under public ownership over the last four years.
To sign the petition head to www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/eastcoastmainline.
Craigmillar Town Centre Master Plan
The ‘town centre master plan’ is the plan for the area around Niddrie Mains Road where it is intended there will be shops, a new school and other community facilities.  There had been much talk of this work being carried out by PARC in partnership with a private sector investor, but it has now been decided that PARC will be doing this itself.  Fresh local consultation on the Plan will be taking place in the autumn.
The wider plan for Craigmillar, the urban design framework, has now been revised and is due to be approved at next week’s Planning Committee, on Thursday 8th August.  Finally, officers have removed plans to develop Cairntows Park, after a hard fought campaign from local residents pointed out the absurdity of building on a park when brownfield land is awaiting development across Craigmillar! Hopefully Councillors will approve the plans as they are proposed without a hitch.  To view the full papers head to http://bit.ly/17oMNkX.
Craigmillar Fun Day & Portobello/ Northfield Fun day
Both these community events took place on Saturday 29th June and were fortunate with the weather, with lots of sunshine, attracting plenty of people to both events.
Another Visitor for the Hub
Just a wee visitor to the Hub
Last month Restalrig Lochend Community Hub had a royal visitor. This month while I was enjoying some lunch at the HubGrub café in walked this sheep.  The sheep and other animals were visiting from Gorgie City Farm. At first I thought maybe the sheep was there for the very busy knitters group who were also meeting there that day.  As ever so much goes on at the Hub thanks to its enthusiast staff and volunteers.
Engine Shed update
Over the past few months the Engine Shed has received overwhelming support from all sections of the community in response to the uncertainties regarding funding for the training they offer.  Parents and trainees organised a sponsored walk to raise money for the Lothian Special Olympics.  A number of their trainees are actively involved with this organisation which also supports and encourages young people with learning disabilities to achieve their personal best.  For further updates on the work of the Engine Shed, see their newsletter which I’ve uploaded to my website at http://bit.ly/17oOAX7.
LGBT 50+ Community Survey
LGBT Health and Wellbeing have been running LGBT Age, a groundbreaking project which currently provides a befriending service and social opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people over 50 in Edinburgh and Lothians.
LGBT Age is carrying out a Community Survey to obtain a better understanding of the needs of LGBT people across Scotland. The findings will be used to develop the future work the LGBT Age project and are wider work to promote the health, wellbeing and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland.
If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and 50+ the survey will take just 10 minutes to complete and can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/lgbtage Dates for your Diary
Wednesday, 7th August – Wauchope Summer Community BBQ – 4pm to 7pm – Wauchope Community Garden and Allotments (Niddrie Mains Terrace and Wauchope Terrace)
Friday, 9th August – Final Fling Summer Bash – from 1pm to 4pm – Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar – Activities include bungee trampolines and horse riding and much more
Tuesday 27th August – Dumbiedykes Bus Decision @ Transport and Environment Committee – from 9.30am – City Chambers, High Street – papers available from www.edinburgh.gov.uk/cpol one week in advance of the meeting

 

 

 

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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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May 2013 enewsletter: Porty High PAN application, keeping East Coast trains in public ownership, looking at attitudes to welfare, exploring the flaws in Govts Universal Job Match and more plans for the Edmonstone Estate

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

Attitudes to Welfare

The Easter period saw a ratcheting up of the rhetoric on ‘welfare’ on both sides of the argument. With increasing criticism of the bedroom tax in particular beginning to hit home, Government Ministers responded with renewed vigour.  ‘900,000 claimants who were on incapacity dropped their claims when faced with having to go for a test’ ran one headline, so by implication showing they were ‘fearties’  (not ‘fairies’ as Hansard writers once thought a Scottish MP had said when he used this word) .  If correct this would be truly big news, since that would be half of all of those on incapacity benefit currently undergoing reassessment.   But it wasn’t true – the correct figure being 19,700.  If you want to know the real picture I’ve written about this on my website – trouble is it takes much longer to ‘explain’ than to issue erroneous headlines. My response to The Telegraph is on my website, here: http://bit.ly/ZOgQOO.

That was even before we had George Osborne’s comments on the Philpott case.

In this heated atmosphere newspapers were quick to highlight opinion polls showing, for example, that around 67% of people approved the Government’s welfare reforms. The subtext being that Labour should stop opposing them because we were on the ‘wrong side’ of public opinion.  Interestingly one of these polls also showed that 63% said that no one could live on £ 53 per week. The same YouGov survey asked if the current £71pw level of Jobseeker’s Allowance was reasonable, 57% said yes and 31% ‘no’; when asked if they personally could live on this amount 44% said ‘probably’ and 48% said ‘probably not’.   The much quoted British Social Attitudes survey shows attitudes to ‘welfare’ spending have hardened in recent years, but also show distinctly increased support for helping the disabled and carers.

Table 1.2 attitudes to spending

To see more on this head to http://bit.ly/11NBG21.

Incidentally before we wrap ourselves in the belief that Scotland is different, it is worth looking at work done by Scot Cen Social Research (available at http://bit.ly/11NCkwp, published 2011)

1.    Scotland is more social democratic than England –but the difference is only modest 2.    However, Scotland has become less – not more –social democratic since the advent of devolution. 3.    As a result, the gap between Scotland and England has not widened at all. Rather, opinion in Scotland has moved in parallel with that in England, leaving the difference in outlook largely unchanged.

Attitudes are more complex and varied than the themes captured by opinion polling. It was well expressed in one conversation I had on the doorstep recently with a young working father who expressed his worry that he and his wife, with a toddler, were struggling despite both working. (Research such that from the Resolution Foundation – http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/ bears out that this is indeed the reality for many). He also said how angry it made him to see people who never seemed to work but seemed to get by better than him. But he was equally angry about what his own Dad was going through, as he suffered from emphysema and was worried that his benefits might be stopped following an ATOS test, and on top of that he was affected by the bedroom tax.

I think you could summarise this as saying that: people agree we all want ‘fairness’; we want work to be rewarded; we don’t want people who have genuine barriers to working being penalised; and we don’t see why people who live in ordinary sized council homes should be expected to up sticks after many years or lose a substantial chunk of an already low income.  They want those who play the system to be dealt with – even if many media reports exaggerate numbers, we know some exist. The fact that some of the rich also cheat through tax evasion and avoidance means that they should also be tackled; but this isn’t an excuse not to challenge the minority who are able to work but don’t even try. Afterall, the two wrongs don’t make a right.  The challenge for us as an Opposition is to attempt to develop a policy that encompasses all of that ensuring that fairness prevails.

Margaret Thatcher

Whatever you thought of her policies and performance as Prime Minister the response to her death demonstrated that she was indeed a significant political figure, one who was capable of arousing very strong responses more than 20 years after she ceased to be Prime Minister.

I didn’t go to London for the ‘recall’ session, considering it totally unnecessary. A Parliamentary sitting to allow MPs to express views was justified but it could easily have been fitted into week beginning 15th April when Parliament was sitting anyway.

Debating the Finance Bill

Most of the first week back after Easter was spent on debating the Finance Bill.  As well as a day on the ‘Second Reading’ of the Bill, two days were set aside for more detailed ‘committee stage’ debates in the main chamber.  Usually this stage of Bills takes place in a room tucked away on the Committee corridor, but it is traditional for some of the key aspects to be dealt with in a way that allows all MPs to participate. The oddest thing this week was the tiny number of Government MPs who made any effort to take part to support the budget. At the Second Reading Debate there were only 2 Tory and 1 LibDem back bench speakers, so the Opposition was left literally speaking amongst ourselves.

Finance Bill second reading

Okay so I know many people probably think that’s what we do all the time, but if we take democracy seriously, this was a very strange state of affairs. Much the same happened on the other two days. Did Government backbenchers not like the budget, or did they think it so unimportant that they found other things to do? As I said last month many commentators have said it will have almost no impact on the economy

In my speech on the Second Reading I wanted to make points about the sluggishness of the economy I gave an example of a constituent who had tried to get an increase on his 15 hour a week job to help pay the ‘bedroom tax’ but couldn’t.  I thought I’d also have a look at what jobs were available on the Government’s flagship ‘Universal Job Match’ website for someone like this constituent. I typed in ‘shop assistant’ and was genuinely shocked to discover that 57 out of 76 ‘entries’ for this type of work in the wider Edinburgh area were for catalogue delivery and selling jobs.

Universal Job Match example

Not so much back to the 1980s as ‘on the road’ back to the 1930s!  See more on my website at http://bit.ly/ZIJFQR.

Parliamentary Ping Pong

Not a new form of sport but parliamentary jargon for the process of amendments to bills being batted back and forwards between the Lords and Commons. We are approaching the end of the Parliamentary session (the new session starts with the Queens Speech on 8th May) and there are a number of bills which the Government wants to complete by then. There are a number of contentious issues where the House of Lords has passed amendments Government does not like e.g. on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board and Shares for Employment Rights. The Government managed to overturn most of these using its Commons majority on Tuesday 16th April. These will now go back to the Lords. At the time of writing we don’t know how many amendments the Lords will send back once more.

Stop the East Coast Privatisation

Trains on the East Coast Main Line – which links Edinburgh with Newcastle, York and London – have been publicly run for the last four years. During that time services have improved and profits have been retained for public benefit, rather than lost to shareholders. As a result Labour has pledged that, should we win the next General Election in May 2015, East Coast would be kept in public hands.

Stop the East Coast Privatisation

On Tuesday 26 March the Government announced its intention to privatise East Coast by February 2015. This is a cynical attempt by Tory Ministers to wreck Labour’s plan, and shows that the David Cameron and his Ministers put ideology before the needs of passengers and taxpayers. That’s why along with my fellow Edinburgh MPs Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray, I’ve started a campaign calling on the government to halt the privatisation plans. You can read the article I wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News here: http://bit.ly/11NEzjs.

You can sign up to my petition on my website: http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/my-work/eastcoastmainline/

There you’ll also be able to read the letter I’ve sent to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Constituency Report

April in Edinburgh

The first two weeks in April being Parliament’s Easter break, I was able to get along to a number of local community meetings and visits, as well as spending a lot of time getting around the constituency talking to people at home.

Preston Street pupils put me to the test

As part of a visit to Preston Street primary school I was asked some very challenging questions by primary 6 and 7 pupils about such things as whether it was right to bail out the banks, what would happen to the country’s debt if Scotland became independent and whether we could really afford to pay Aid to other countries. This was part of a longer visit where the whole school presented the results of work they had been doing around the Enough Food If campaign, looking not only at the food problems of developing countries but also at some of our habits at home. They had looked at practices such as supermarket promotions of ‘buy one get one free leading to many of us (myself included as I told them!) buying more than we really intended, and then possibly wasting it.   The enthusiasm for the project was infectious.

More on ‘Enough Food If’

I was also invited to meet with members of an Enough Food If campaign group at the Sacred Heart Church in Lauriston Gardens.  There was a lively and wide ranging discussion about how we could make some of the ideas coming from the campaign a reality, and especially around tax issues, both in developing countries and here in the UK.  Although there are many more things to be done, I always stress to campaigning groups the importance of demonstrating to the current Government that there is support for their commitments on aid.  There are many voices on the government’s own back benches who would like to see this cut.

Third Age Computing Fun

Third Age Computer FunAnother April visit was to the Third Age Computer Fun group which now meets in the new Craigmillar Library.  The group are delighted with the facilities here, with good wifi. This is an informal group where everyone works at their own pace with volunteers on hand to give advice. Want to find out more? Telephone 0131 346 1179, email info@thirdagecf.org.uk or tweet @thirdagecf

New Life for the ‘New Victoria’ (aka the Odeon?)

New Victoria. Credit: www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk

Those who have campaigned for many years to save the former Odeon cinema building from demolition were heartened to hear about plans for the building to be given a new lease of life as an entertainment venue.  Gerry Boyle came to the April meeting of the Southside Association to explain his plans to lease the ‘front’ part of the building, including the auditorium, for use as a cabaret venue, with both live and streamed entertainers.  Films could be shown once more.  Mr Boyle sought to reassure local residents that, while Las Vegas style entertainment might be shown on screen, there would be no gambling and no late night licences.  While for some, after all the frustrations, there was an element of ‘Believe it when we see it’, there was also optimism that finally this iconic 1930s building could be brought back to life.

End Polio Now

End Polio Now

This month I was invited to meet with the Portobello Rotary Club whose members wanted to tell me about their work supporting the End Polio Now campaign.  As a child at primary school in the late 1950s polio was the ‘bird flu’ of the day. The images that remain with me are of ‘iron lungs’ (did I see TV pictures?) and parents keeping their children away from swimming pools.  Since then vaccination programmes have been highly successful, not just here but all over the world. The Rotary is supporting the final push to make the world polio free. Fundraising is contributing to ongoing programmes targeting a few remaining areas where the disease remains a risk. One member reported on his experience taking part in a vaccination drive in India. I undertook to contact Ministers to ensure the issue stays on their radar too.

Portobello High School update

New Portobello High School

A PAN application has been submitted for Portobello High School at Portobello Park. This is nothing to be worried about, but the Council is submitting an application to renew the previous application, on the basis that it is due to expire next February.  The Council must restart the process and consult fully to ensure that planning permission is in place should the Scottish Parliament delay any decision to change the Common Good status of the park.

Make sure you submit your comments in support of the application to ensure that this procedural application is accepted.  One public meeting will be held at Portobello Town Hall on Wednesday 15 May from 7pm to 9pm, and a further workshop will be held at Portobello High School Library on Wednesday 22 May from 7pm to 9pm. For further details the background papers can be located at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu.

The Private Bill was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April. There will then be 60 days within which objections can be lodged.  A Private Bill Committee will be formed to hear evidence.  The Council is anticipating that the process will be concluded by February 2014.

Shared Repairs in Council Properties

Before last month’s debate on Shared Repairs I emailed comments to Councillors regarding the problem of mixed tenure ex-council blocks (see http://bit.ly/Xi77oh).  The Council-as-landlord seems to have stepped back from such repairs unless deemed to be emergencies, just as it has with statutory notices. I have had a number of responses which say that only emergencies will be dealt with at the moment because “At the moment, Edinburgh Council is currently reviewing its procurement and policy needs in relation to the Tenement Management Scheme and we are unable to lead in mixed tenure repair consultation”.  This has now been the issue for some months.

The most recent case I have is one where the Council still owns 50% of the flats. The most the Housing department, approached by me on behalf of a tenant, was willing to do was write to the owners asking them to organise repairs and that the council would pay its 50%.

It looks like officers have drawn too narrow a meaning on emergency, which is now affecting the Housing department’s ability to handle repairs where it is majority owner in a stair, adding further to the woes of residents who live in stairs with outstanding shared repairs. I’m taking this matter up with my colleagues in the Council.

Compost Giveaway for Green-Fingered Readers

Residents who recycle using their garden waste recycling service will wonder where this waste goes. The City of Edinburgh Council has announced it is giving away free bags at Brunstane Primary School at 3pm on Thursday 2nd May. You can claim one 20kg bag at the event, but supplies are limited so it will be on a first come firs served basis. Please be aware that the bags are heavy so please be prepared. Full details are available at http://bit.ly/ZIKLfl.

The Recycling team will be on hand to provide information on all recycling services.

Craigmillar Community Council – Edmonstone proposals

The most contentious issue at the April meeting was a proposal for new housing development on the Edmondstone estate. Although it is closer to Ferniehill than Craigmillar it falls under the remit of the Community Council, and development there has implications for the regeneration of Craigmillar. The land in question is not owned by the City Council.   Craigmilllar Community Council is concerned that giving consent build private homes here could reduce interest developing the brownfield sites in the Craigmillar area, and so affects the pace of regeneration. The site was originally proposed for use as a park, so there would be a loss of open space too. The would-be developer is stating that the land is not suitable for use as a park, and that it may end up neglected because the Council, which originally was going to upgrade the area under a 99 year lease, may not have the money to do so. The developer was suggesting that a contribution would be offered instead to help upgrade other open space in the area between Greendykes and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Medipark.

All of this is at a very early stage and there will be public consultation event held on 15th May at the Hays Business Centre (times to be confirmed) but from what I heard at the community council meeting I share the community’s concerns.

Tai chi centre

Credit: The Tiger's Mouth

An old garage in Marionville Road has been given a new lease of life as a national centre for the Taoist Tai Chi organisation, and was given a colourful opening (complete with dragon and lion) in April.  Members came from all over the UK and beyond to celebrate the opening and attend a five day workshop. Anyone interested in attending classes or just finding out more, head to http://bit.ly/17kbl0F.

Lyra Theatre Perfomances at ARTSPACE

Lyra Theatres, CraigmillarLyra Theatre would like to invite Edinburgh East residents to free two dance performances made especially for young audiences all the way from the Netherlands! ‘Alles (All)’ and No Man is an Island and My True North will be shown on Saturday 11th May at 2pm at Artspace and Monday 13th May at 7pm at Artspace.

Alles (All) features dance and drum for ages 4-7. No Man is an Island and My True North features two dazzling dance duets that push the limits of physical possibility and challenge the laws of gravity. Ages 8+. Performances are free but ticketed. Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Have your say – council consultations

Encouraging the development of co-operative housing arrangements

In 2012 the Labour Party campaigned in the local council elections on a programme of establishing more co-operative ways of running council services. These ideas were endorsed in the Capital Coalition document entered into by Labour and SNP groups on the council, and I know are supported by others too. To put some flesh on the bones of these ideas in the housing field the Council is starting a consultation on 1 May running through to July.  The document takes a wide view of what constitute ‘co operative arrangements’ from better partnership working to the provision of homes. Edinburgh East has two of Edinburgh’s three successful Housing Co-ops, Lister in the Lauriston Place area and Hunters Hall in Niddrie. Provision of much needed further housing through co-ops is hampered by the length of time it takes to set up a new co-op and the shortage of subsidy. Give your views for example on whether existing co-ops should be enabled to expand or is ‘small beautiful’ in the case of co-ops?  Other suggestions made in the consultation are whether the co-operative model could be used to set up factoring services for home owners (very relevant to Edinburgh in light of the continued discussion over common repairs.) I will be responding to the consultation in due course and will put my submission on my website. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Details of the consultation should be available at http://bit.ly/ZOfljv from 1st May.

City Centre Vision

The Council is also consulting on city centre plans, including some proposals for revised traffic management arrangements designed to make the city centre more pedestrian friendly (see http://bit.ly/ZOdZW2 ). These include making traffic one way along both Princes Street and George Street, with a two way segregated cycle lane along George Street only. Edinburgh East starts on the south side of Princes Street but the city centre affects all of us so take the opportunity to make your views known. The consultation closes on 9th May, to complete the survey, head to http://svy.mk/ZOdXNU.

Regenerating Craigmillar and Affordable Housing

Parc Craigmillar

In the debate about the future of Castlebrae Community High School I have constantly emphasised that the school is integral to the regeneration process, and that the Council should not have sought to look at the school in isolation. I was therefore pleased to hear some radio chat in advance of the Council’s Health, Well being & Housing Committee meeting on 23rd April that a Report was coming forward on affordable housing which would be emphasising the contribution of regeneration areas like Craigmillar (and Granton).

Reading the report – ‘A Business Case for Affordable Housing’ available at http://bit.ly/ZOeP57 – was a bit of a disappointment because there was no specific mention of the regeneration areas, and it was less of a detailed business case than an aspiration. What it pointed up for me was the need for much more emphasis on investment in housing from both the Westminster and Holyrood Governments.  Emphasis appears to be on expanding provision of what is called mid market rent, which is a good way from what has previously been seen as ‘affordable’ and will deliver an outcome very similar to the course being pursued by the Coalition Government, which has made clear its plan that all new council and housing association house building in England will be of homes at up to 80% of market rents’. The council is asking for comments on its Report, and I will be responding from a constituency perspective.  I’m putting together a further piece on Edinburgh’s housing options which will be on my website shortly at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/edinburghs-housing-crisis/.

Dates for your diary

Friday, 26th April – SPACE Green Day – 12pm to 5pm – 11 Harewood Road – Clothes recycling, crafts, tombola and music – entry £1

Friday 26th May – Bin the Bedroom Tax public meeting – hosted by Craigmillar Coalition against Poverty – Richmond Church, Niddrie Mains Road – from 7.00pm – further details at http://bit.ly/ZIHAEm.

Saturday, 27th April – Craigmillar Books for Babies 15th Birthday Celebration – 11am-12pm – Craigmillar Library, Niddrie Mains Road

Tuesday, 30th April – Abbeyhill Student Accommodation PAN Exhibition – 2pm-7pm – Chatham Honda Garage, Abbeyhill – Planning reference number 13/00726/PAN

Thursday 2nd May – Compost giveaway – Brunstane Primary School – from 3pm – full details at http://bit.ly/ZIKLfl

Thursday 9th May – Deadline for your comments on the ‘City Centre Vision’ – more details at http://bit.ly/ZOdZW2, and the survey can be completed at http://svy.mk/ZOdXNU.

Saturday 11th May – Performance of Alles (All)  –  2pm – Artspace, Harewood Road – Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Monday 13th May – Performance of No Man is an Island and My True North – 7pm – Artspace, Harewood Road – Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Tuesday 14th May – Exhibition on Edmonstone plans – Hays Business Centre – times to be confirmed

Wednesday 15th May – Portobello High School PAN renewal public meeting – Portobello Town Hall – from 7pm to 9pm – full details available at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu

Wednesday 22nd May – Portobello High School PAN renewal – Residents Workshop – Portobello High School Library – 7pm to 9pm – full details available at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu

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Bringing forward a new Castlebrae School

The efforts of Save the Brae were rewarded at the Council meeting on 14th March. Persistent hard work and a refusal to ‘give up’ paid off.

Key to what happens next is the promised re-energisation of the Regeneration process. I believe that the Council should now bring forward plans for the building of a new school. There is a design and a site. Planning permission should be applied for now. In December I suggested that the Council could approach the Scottish Government to request that this project be considered for inclusion in the use of capital funding due to come to Scotland in terms of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. See more at http://bit.ly/YVU5rU.

It was argued that the project wasn’t ‘shovel ready’, although it is as prepped as much as many projects put forward from other local authorities. Residents now need a real statement of intent from the Council to make this project shovel ready by applying for planning permission, rather than delaying to 2017.

Bringing the new school forward would address many of the concerns there are about the pressures of sustaining a school with such a small number and a reduced curriculum. More broadly it would be the kind of construction project the Regeneration process, and the whole country, needs to bring jobs and local traineeships to an industry which is struggling.

Together with Kezia Dugdale MSP I have written a letter to the Council leader urging this course of action. You can see the here.

Bringing forward a new Castlebrae School – Joint letter from Sheila Gilmore MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP by David Raine

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