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a Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing in November 2013 during which senior civil servant Neil Couling quoted unpublished data to defend the Government’s Work Programme.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
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

My speech in the budget debate – cost of living, unemployment, childcare and taxes

Yesterday I spoke in the first day of debate following the budget. You can read the full debate here, but I’ve reproduced my speech in full below.

In June 2010, the Chancellor led his band of merry men, straw men and tin men on the yellow brick road towards his emerald city: the elimination of the deficit by 2015, the cutting of public sector net borrowing to £60 billion in this financial year—in fact, it will be £108 billion—and growth of about 2.5% every year during this Parliament. The trouble was that he fell off his yellow brick road fairly quickly and started wandering around in the wilderness of low growth and higher borrowing. Suddenly, after four years, he seems to have found himself back on his road, albeit not as far down it as he expected. Like all expeditionary leaders, he is quick to tell us that he always knew where he was, and where he was going, and that it was all part of his long-term plan, despite the fact that he has not gone as far as he expected.

Does all that matter? It does, for a number of reasons. We are being asked to believe that someone who gave us that fantasy journey can still give us something credible. It also matters very much to the people who had to accept the austerity measures that we were told were essential to get us down the road as quickly as possible. People have suffered, and to find out four years on that we have not actually made much progress is bitter gall for many.

What about the people left behind? The cost of living crisis is real. People’s real earnings have fallen. All the Treasury and Institute for Fiscal Studies figures show, slightly differently, that the people who have lost out most are those at the bottom and the top of the earnings scale. However, for someone to lose 5% when they are earning £3,000 or £4,000 a week is very different from losing 5% when earnings are £150 or £200 a week. The impact on everyday life in the latter case is far greater, because the issue is not about having to cut out a few little extra luxuries—perhaps not go out for a meal as often as one might otherwise have done—but about basic foodstuffs, heating the house and buying clothes for the children. It is not good enough to say that the situation is all right because the people at the very top have also seen an income drop, which makes it fair; in the real world, that is not fair.

The other group that the Budget has rather lost sight of is the unemployed. People often say that unemployment has dropped by such and such a percentage, but the number is still very high. In April to June 2010, 2.46 million people were unemployed; according to today’s figures, the number is 2.33 million. I make that only 130,000 fewer than in 2010. Unemployment, of course, went up between 2010 and now and has come down again, and that doubtless explains some of the percentage drops that people are talking about. However, 130,000 fewer unemployed people, although better than before, is quite marginal.

What are we doing for the 2.3 million unemployed people? There are still 700,000 more people unemployed than before the recession. Where are the measures to get those people into work and to help the young people about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) spoke so eloquently? There are very few such measures. Talking about percentages going up and down as if we have solved the problem is no answer to people struggling on very low incomes who, in many areas, cannot find jobs no matter how hard they try.

On the child care proposals, at least one Government Member made a lot of the fact that child care costs for those on universal credit are now to be met by up to 85%. We have now had, or will have had, at least five years of this Government cutting help with child care costs from 80% to 70% for people on tax credits—the predecessor of universal credit. So for each of these five years, those people will have found things much more difficult. It is not clear when families in this situation will even be on universal credit, given how that is going at the moment. Will this provision start when the tax relief starts, or will it start only when these families finally get on to universal credit, if that happens? We have not been told.

Moreover, the proposal is to be paid for not by people who are better-off but by another group of people on universal credit. We do not know which group of people because we have not yet been told; apparently, we will know in the autumn. The change will be financed entirely out of the universal credit budget, so some families with children on universal credit will get a little bit more, but somebody else is going to get a certain amount less.

We always make choices in policies, and that is why debates about matters such as raising the tax threshold are exceptionally important for all of us. The 5 million people who are already below the tax threshold will get nothing out of this move. Some 10% of the total cost, which has already been about £10 billion, goes towards lifting people out of tax; 15% of it goes to people on median earnings of up to £26,000; and three quarters of it goes to people earning above the median. That choice has been made, but it could have been made differently. The money could have been used, and could still be used, to help people on lower earnings. If we want to help low-earning families, there are number of other measures that we might want to use, but we are not using them. This is a choice that the Government are making. Constantly portraying it as something that is there only to help low-earning families does a disservice to those families. They know the situation; they know that they do indeed have a cost of living crisis that is not being resolved by today’s Budget.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cost of living crisis must end

On Monday I wrote a column for the Edinburgh Evening News on insecurity at work. I’ve reproduced this in full below.

Families in Edinburgh are facing the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, and this is being compounded by rising insecurity in the workplace.

Recent figures show that the number of people feeling insecure at work has almost doubled from 6.5 million to 12 million since 2010. There are a number of factors at play here.

For a start there has been a rise in the number of employees on zero-hours contracts, with some figures estimating there could be as many as one million people now employed on them. Just last week I met a constituent who was waiting every week for a text message from her employer, a private homecare firm, to tell her what hours, if any, she would be working that week. This caused her budgeting problems from week to week. Luckily her daughter was now a teenager so short notice calls didn’t cause her childcare issues, but for others they do.

In addition, the number of people working part-time but who want to work full-time has risen by more than 350,000 to more than 1.4 million over the same period. And many of these people are paid the minimum wage which has declined in value by almost five per cent over the last four years. Finally, changes to the law have made it easier to fire workers instead of hiring them.

This is a shocking situation. While both employers and employees need flexibility, this shouldn’t mean people in Edinburgh lacking job security and struggling to afford the weekly shop.

That’s why Labour’s plans to deal with this issue are so important. We would ban zero-hours contracts where they exploit people, end the scandal of false self-employment, strengthen the minimum wage, and incentivise employers to pay a Living Wage through “make work pay” contracts.

Insecurity at work is a huge challenge and this will still be the case after the next election in May 2015, whichever party is in power. But only by taking real action will government have any chance of tackling the issue. And only then will people Edinburgh be able to earn their way out of the cost of living crisis.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

December 2013 and January 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster report

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

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

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

Osborne_Autumn_statement_1475605

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

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

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

Food_banks_graph_2013

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

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

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

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

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

598welfare_poverty

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

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

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

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

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

eastcoast

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

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

Constituency Report

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

598tenements

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

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

4214590890

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

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

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

To_review_the_Local_Development_Plan_proposals_in_your_area_head_to

To review the proposals for your area click here.

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

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

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

Edinburgh2

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

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

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

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

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail