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.
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).
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com
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.firstname.lastname@example.org or Nicholas.email@example.com
Edible Edinburgh: a Sustainable Food City
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