April 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderWestminster report

Spring in St James' ParkSpring is here and politicians’ minds turn to…… Elections! Normally at this stage of the political cycle we would be in a middle of a ‘will he/won’t he’ media frenzy about a possible General Election. The introduction of a five year fixed term Parliament has put paid to that. The downside is that it already feels that Parliament is becalmed, with much Parliamentary time taken up either with relatively uncontroversial legislation or with ‘general’ debates. Last year’s Queen’s Speech was thin in content, and the assumption is that the same will happen this June, not least because it will be followed by a short Parliamentary session ending around this time next year. That, of course, should not be mistaken for Government not governing, because there is plenty of government action going on, and plenty for Select Committees to monitor.

We’ve All Got Budgets George
BudgetIn recent years Chancellors have been criticised for ‘leaking’ so much of the Budget that the main event is a bit of a bore.  This year Osborne promised a ‘rabbit’ out of his red box.  This proved to be proposals on pensions .  So much of a rabbit some are worried that an almost throwaway proposal in a Budget, sketched out on the back of the proverbial envelope, may have unintended consequences for pensions, savings and pensioner incomes long into the future.  Others have hailed the freedom the proposals give to people to spend ‘their own money’.  It will take some time to find who is right.  I can’t help but remember that the last Government which ‘freed up’ people in the pensions field was in the 1980s.   Then people were given the freedom to opt out of the state earning related pension scheme (SERPS)  and encouraged to take up private pensions instead.  I think it is agreed by most observers that this led to considerable pensions mis-selling, and many people not paying into a pension at all.  I would be interested to hear your views.

Following the Budget there are four days of budget debates and I spoke on the first day this year.

Dodgy Jobs Statistics
At the start of the month the UK Statistics Authority upheld yet another complaint from me regarding the use of statistics by the Department for Work and Pensions – the fourth in the last year. This followed a Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing in November 2013 during which senior civil servant Neil Couling quoted unpublished data to defend the Government’s Work Programme. Without prior access to the data, it was difficult for my committee colleagues and I to hold Mr Couling – and the Ministers to whom he reports – to account, something the chair of UKSA Sir Andrew Dilnot described as ‘a matter of regret’. This story was picked up by the Huffington Post.

Dodgy Jobs Websites
C4newsI then appeared on Channel 4 News to discuss claims that more than 11,000 positions currently advertised on the Government’s Universal Jobmatch website may be bogus. On top of that Channel 4 had shown that as many as one third of the jobs advertised were duplicates or in ‘self employed’ opportunities such as catalogue distribution where the first thing you have to do is pay £150 up front to get started. In a debate last year I likened this to the unemployed in the 1930s going on the road as brush sellers. My colleagues and I have been flagging this up for some time but it was good to get Channel 4 highlighting this.

In preparation for the rollout of Universal Credit, existing Jobseekers Allowance claimants have been required to use the site since March 2013, or face having their benefits stopped. I made the point that people shouldn’t have to waste their time applying for jobs that don’t exist, and that DWP must get better at identifying and deleting suspicious adverts. The trouble is that the contract they entered into didn’t include this kind of regular monitoring.

Personal Independence Payment
On 18 March the DWP Select Committee published a report on Personal Independence Payment, which replaces Disability Living Allowance for people of working age, and is intended to help with the additional costs of living with a disability. The main issue our report highlighted is the long delays – sometimes up to six months – people are facing before they are given a decision on whether or not they qualify for support. This is driving vulnerable people to real financial and emotional hardship, something I emphasised in an article for Progress. Our committee also criticised Iain Duncan Smith and Tory Chairman Grant Shapps for using statistics to promote ‘negative views’ of disabled people, something that was picked up by Political Scrapbook.

Bedroom Tax
As part of a feature for the House Magazine I participated in an email exchange with Tory MP Stephen Mosley on the Bedroom Tax. This policy reduces a claimant’s Housing Benefit award by around £14 for every spare room they have. Stephen argued that this simply mirrored changes made by the previous Labour Government to Housing Benefit in private rented sector, but he failed to acknowledge that this only applied to new tenancies – it wasn’t applied retrospectively as the Bedroom Tax is. In response I emphasised that even if tenants wanted to downsize, they can’t due to the lack of affordable housing, and the policy could well end up costing more overall than it saves.

Housing
The Scottish Fabians have published a pamphlet called ‘A Pragmatic Vision for a Progressive Scotland’, which contains a series of essays from Scottish Labour MPs on what a new offer from our party might look like.

598tenementsI took the opportunity to highlight the current shortage of affordable housing, which is forcing people on low incomes into the private rented sector, where rents are expensive, and can only be paid for with help from Housing Benefit. As a result only £1 of every £20 spent by Government on housing goes on actually building homes, while £19 goes on subsidising rents. I set out various ideas about how we might redress the balance, using Edinburgh as an example.

High Speed Two
On 17 March the new Chairman of HS2, Sir David Higgins, published his review of the project. HS2 offers the prospect of faster journeys between Edinburgh and England’s big cities, which would make our city a more attractive place to do business and create jobs. In the long term it could also allow rail to compete with air travel, reducing the number of short-haul flights and carbon emissions as a result. The first phase of the line to Birmingham is due to open in 2026, with trains then travelling at conventional speeds to Scotland. I welcomed Sir David’s report as it suggests extending the line to Crewe by 2027, and completing the whole project by 2030 – three years earlier than previously planned.

Social Care
Social Care is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and so I don’t normally get involved in debates on the issue at Westminster (although the issues the rest of the UK face are very similar to those in Scotland). However I have for some time been campaigning for a change in the law so people in one country of the UK can freely move to another, safe in the knowledge that any care package they receive from their current local authority will move with them – something that isn’t guaranteed at present. Earlier this month the Care Bill went through its Report Stage in the House of Commons and I proposed an amendment to address this problem – you can read my speech here. Although the Government rejected this, the Minister committed to bring forward a set of principles by November that would deal with this issue.

Youth Jobs Guarantee
Too many young people in Scotland are struggling to find work and are not seeing any economic recovery at all, something parents in Edinburgh East know all too well. The number of young people in the UK aged 18-24 claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for over a year has doubled from 28,300 in May 2010 to 56,100 today. Being out of work is demoralising for anyone, but when you can’t get your first step into the working world the effect on young people can be very harmful.

JobsGuaranteeI’d like to see the next government build on the success of the Future Jobs Fund and work with the private and voluntary sectors to ensure that young jobseekers, who have been on benefit for 12 months or more, get a chance to work. My colleagues and I would ensure adults aged 25 or over claiming benefits for more than 24 months would also be included in the scheme. Government could cover a portion of training and admin costs in addition to wages and employee’s national insurance. See more on my website.

Badger Cull
Badger598A large number of constituents have contacted me about the Badger Cull. There is now considerable evidence that it has not actually worked – leaving aside the cruelty involved in the process. Another debate on this took place on Thursday 13th March in the House of Commons. There was strong cross party support for ending the cull and looking more energetically at the alternative of vaccination. Despite the overwhelming vote for this (albeit Government ministers and many of their backbenchers were ‘not present’ it seems the Government is again going to ignore this and are likely to be going ahead with more culling in the near future.

Constituency Report

Student accommodation
Southside residents and I are relieved Development Management Sub-committee members agreed with officers and refused the application for student accommodation at Lutton Court. With plans for further student accommodation in this area this application has been a much needed test of the Council’s own policies in relation to student numbers.

Local residents made an excellent address to members explaining the impact high student numbers can have on local communities. They appealed to planners and the University to manage the concentration of the student population in this part of the city. Recognising the vitality and economic benefit students bring to our city, residents called for planners to ensure student populations revitalise parts of Edinburgh where the council regeneration is ongoing.

We must now see Lutton Court put to good use. I’d like to see the council work with partners to encourage different buyers to come forward. Residents have their own ideas about future use and said they would welcome mews type homes to satisfy demand for family housing in the Southside.

Meadow_Lane

And more blocks could be in the pipeline –
Last month I wrote of plans from Unite at the Homebase site. While I hope it is clear that plans for further student accommodation in this area will not be welcome, details of three more blocks have been published in the Council’s weekly lists:

  • Meadow Lane (14/00884/PAN). This application is at the ‘PAN’ stage which is a 12 week consultation conducted by the developer. A public exhibition will be held 4.30pm-7.30pm on 23rd & 24th April at David Hume Tower Conference Room.
  • Lothian Street (14/00731/FUL). A much smaller development opposite Potterrow, this proposed conversion of a care home is for 11 studios. Submit comments by 4th April using reference number 14/00731/FUL on the Council’s planning portal.
  • Stanley Place (14/00877/FUL). Proposed demolition of garages and construction of 100 studios next to the East Coast Main Line. Residential proposals at this site were refused at site in 2009. Submit comments by 12th April using reference number 14/00877/FUL on the Council’s planning portal.

Craigmillar Town Centre regeneration consultation begins
CraigmillarTCconsultationParc has now started its consultation on plans for Craigmillar Town Centre. With plans for a new high school, retail superstore and affordable housing to be fine tuned, now is the time for residents to have their say. An exhibition on the plans was held today (Thursday, 27th March) but the plans and details of how to respond are available on Parc’s website. Let me know your thoughts as I’d be keen to incorporate these into my own response.

Craigmillar Police Station stays open… for now
SaveOurStationsIn autumn 2013 Police Scotland announced plans to close front desks at ten stations across Edinburgh and cut opening hours at seven more as part of its £4.2 million cost-cutting plan. Portobello has seen its hours cut and Craigmillar residents were told that services would move to the new East Neighbourhood Centre. With most of the closures taking place on 3rd March a bit of a mystery remains about the situation in Craigmillar. As I told the Evening News I’m relieved Craigmillar station is still open (for now). However, I have not been told when the promised move to the new East Neighbourhood Hub will take place with plans still being discussed. Local officers work really hard to get the best results for Craigmillar and I can imagine it is difficult working with such uncertainty.

Events in Parks Response
Last month I provided details of the Events in Parks Manifesto consultation. You can now read my submission on my website.

Meadows to Innocent Railway cycle route
In my December update I gave details of the consultation to improve the Meadows-Innocent Railway cycle link to enhance the safety of this key part of the National Cycle Network. It is expected that the proposals will be made available to the public the week beginning 7 April here.

50th Craigmillar Festival: Volunteers Needed
Volunteers are needed to help organise the Craigmillar Fun Day on 28th June. If you can help make this 50th fun day one to remember please head along to the volunteer meeting on Thursday 3rd April at 6.30pm at The White House. Help is required making costumes, flags & musical instruments for the parade, as well as running activities on the day. If you can’t make it, get in touch on 0780 400 6357 or CFFDC@hotmail.com.

Dates for your Diary
Thursday 3 April 2014 – Understanding Leith Public Meeting: Census 2011 Results Information and Discussion – Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pairce (Parkside Primary School) 139B Bonnington Road – Tour of the School at 6.15 pm, Sign-in and refreshments from 6.45pm

Wednesday 23rd & Thursday 24th April – Meadow Lane Student Accommodation PAN – 4.30pm-7.30pm – David Hume Tower Conference Room

Pedal on Parliament – Saturday the 26th April 2014
Last year I joined 4000 cyclists who pedalled on the Scottish Parliament calling for a more cycle-friendly Scotland. POPers will maintain their momentum and meet again for the third time on 26th April.

The main ride gathers at the Meadows from 11:30am for a 12 noon start. The route will be no more than 1.5 miles and the pace will be slow enough for even the littlest legs, ending at the Scottish Parliament building for speeches. You can see the route on the POP website. Feeder rides are also being planned, including one starting in Portobello from 10.00am at Portobello Swimming Baths.

Craigmillar Books for Babies
Saturday Rhymetimes at Craigmillar Library:

  • Saturday 26th April – How Does Your Garden Grow? – 11.00am-12.00pm
  • Saturday 31st May – 16th Birthday Celebration-Songs, stories and birthday cake. Gift book for every child! For mums, dads, carers and children under 4 – 11.00am-12.00pm
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Press Release: MP: Craigmillar Regeneration Must Be Family and Community Led

MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has today led discussions with community representatives and senior housing leaders to discuss future regeneration and housing provision in Craigmillar.

Hosting the summit at the newly reopened White House Roadhouse, Ms Gilmore has highlighted the need to build more family housing and create quality open spaces, in addition to purpose built housing for elderly households. Ms Gilmore spoke of the need to ensure that a regenerated Craigmillar provides high-quality accommodation which varies in size, format and shape ensuring residential diversity.

Ms Gilmore called the meeting as the City of Edinburgh Council revealed the number of people who have Gold Priority for rehoming due their medical or disability needs has risen to over 600. At the same time more than 700 families are living in homes which are too small for their needs. These families are at least two bedrooms short. While their priority for moving home has been recognised but the homes needed to rehome them become available at a rate of about two a month.

Regeneration in Craigmillar has slowed since the financial crash in 2008 and following cuts in government grants to build new homes, leaving vast areas of brownfield land undeveloped without housing, or a new Castlebrae Community High School. Ms Gilmore has identified that the time is now, before regerneation begins in earnest, that the vision is family and community led.

Cllr Cammy Day, Vice Chair of the City of Edinburgh Council Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee and Cllr Gordon Munro, Vice Chair of the Economy Committee attended the round table event along with Alister Steele, Managing Director of Castle Rock Edinvar, and Ewan Fraser, Chief Executive of Dunedin Canmore housing association.

Speaking after the event, Ms Gilmore said:

‘The impetus to arrange this meeting came following a number of discussions I have had with community representatives and other elected representatives, as well as with housing developers and providers.

‘What is key is the need to build a good mix of house sizes and types to create a balanced community, where families can move on as their circumstances change. But now is the time to introduce those changes and ensure we rebuild Craigmillar to maximise the success of regeneration.

‘All too often developments are made up of two bedroom flats, because they are cheaper to build and developers can achieve the densities required to ensure they get a sufficient return on investment, but that does not necessarily meet the needs of those looking to be homed. To ensure that the future community of Craigmillar is diverse and encourages all families to live here, we need greater variance in the stock we build.

‘After the difficulties of the last few years caused by the recession it is of utmost importance that City of Edinburgh Council to recommit strongly to the rebuilding of Craigmillar with the involvement of the local community. Progressing with this ambitious reconstruction would provide opportunities not just for those living in the area but for the many people looking for affordable housing in the city’.

ENDS

Notes

1. Following a Freedom of Information request Ms Gilmore obtained data from the City of Edinburgh Council which indicated the numbers of registered ‘Edindex’ users who hold valid priority and are waiting to be rehomed. See responses attached.

2. That data, dated 31/03/13 and 30/09/13 provided details of applicants in the following categories:

a. Gold – due to medical or disability needs;

b. Silver – Homelessness;

c. Silver – Demo or Officer Panel (special award of priority);

d. Silver – Overcrowded (i.e. requiring two or more additional bedrooms);

e. Silver – Underoccupation (i.e. with two many spare bedrooms);

f. No Priority – regarded as adequately homed;

g. Total – the number of Edinburgh residents looking for affordable housing.

March data: EDIR 883 Information
September data: EDIR 1607 Response

 

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

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

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 
whitehouse.JPG
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?

595waste.jpg
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

598candlelighters.jpg
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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A White House for All

The official re-opening of the White House as a community asset is an important step in the sometimes rocky road towards the full regeneration of Craigmillar.

photo (14)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.  At an event recently a now middle aged man was pointing out to me the corner he and his mates used to hide in so that his Dad, whose local this was, wouldn’t see him.

The decline of the White House mirrored the decline of the area.  There are many views of what caused the decline, but the very prominence of the White House was a highly visible sign to anyone passing along Niddrie Mains Road.  Its closure it was a sad reminder of that decline.  The building remained in the hands of an owner who wouldn’t sell or maintain it and the landmark deteriorated badly.

Now the building stands proud and white again, with help from Historic Scotland, the Scottish Government and the City of Edinburgh Council.  Internally the 1930s features have been preserved and enhanced.

But it is going to be more than a building.  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.  The next exciting step is the opening of the Cafe which will become a place for friends to get together, a place to have meetings with colleagues, and somewhere for people to stop off on their way in or out of town.  And because this is a not for profit community enterprise the fruits of its success will be reinvested in the community.

The regeneration journey has not been easy but we are now seeing more new homes springing up, with construction ongoing in Greendykes, the Thistle and Wauchope.  New plans have been drawn up for Niddrie Mill School and this autumn the rest of the town centre plans will be out for consultation again. The new Library and council offices are already open and serving the community.

The ‘Community Trust’ was a fragile germ of an idea some 3 years ago.  It was established with an aim to build up a portfolio of community assets as a means of regenerating the area from the bottom up.  Thanks to the enthusiasm and persistence of the trust members we now have the Greenhouse thrift shop and a reinvigorated White House.

Congratulations to all involved!   Now for the next project?

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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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