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

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

Watching the Shard

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

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

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

Bedroom Tax

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

Another small success on Personal Independence Payment regulations

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

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

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

What are the big policy issues this month?

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

Energy Bill

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

Justice and Security Bill

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

If campaign

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

Scots Together

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

February Recess

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

Prince’s Trust

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

Royal Society MP Pairing

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

Dumbiedykes & Prestonfield

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

Around the Constituency

‘New Blueprint for the Royal Mile’

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

Learning Mandarin at Leith Academy

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

A Street Audit in Craigentinny

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

A Lidl in Portobello? 

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

Protecting the Meadows – are there too many events?

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

Review of the Craigmillar Urban Regeneration Framework

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

Young People’s Taster Sessions and Consultation Event

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

Castlebrae Community High School

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

Dates for your Diary

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

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July 2012 enewsletter | edition 22

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

New Legislation

Following the Queen’s Speech two new bits of legislation have started the legislative process in the House of Commons. One is the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill which includes the formal establishment of the Green Investment Bank (which arguably isn’t a bank, won’t have much to invest and may not be very green) in addition to changes to Employment Tribunals, which will introduce more conciliation and mediation to the process. The ‘wilder fringe’ ideas of Beecroft which I covered last month are not part of this Bill, nevertheless ‘deregulation’ was a major theme from Government backbenchers during the Second Reading debate on 11th June.

The other new Bill is the Electoral Registration & Administration Bill which introduces ‘individual registration’ of voters. At the moment registration forms are filled in by one member of a household on behalf of the whole household. The proposed system would also require people to show some proof of identity such as national insurance number when registering. There have been many concerns that this could lead to a substantial drop in the number of people registered to vote. This may be particularly so in places, like Edinburgh city centre, where there is a very mobile population and many multi-occupied flats. Registration is already very low there. The draft Bill was looked at by the Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee which suggested several changes, the Government subsequently applied. Concerns remain and I spoke on this at the Second Hearing on 13th June (See http://bit.ly/Qpor4j).

More debate on Disability Issues

I attended a short Westminster Hall debate secured by a Labour colleague on the impact of the Work Capability Assessment (the assessment for eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance). This test has proved particularly problematic for people with fluctuating conditions like Parkinson’s. In these half hour debates speeches are only made by the person who applied for the debate and the Minister charged with replying. However I was able to make a couple of brief interventions. This debate brought out some interesting points, not least Minister Grayling’s statement that the ‘Gold Standard Review’ was underway, as previously promised. Previous questioning of the Minister had failed to get a date for this work. This Review will be looking particularly at proposals which have come from charities for a different way of assessing fluctuating conditions as well as ‘mental health and cognitive’ conditions.

Much of the debate on ESA has been around the WCA test, but this debate also touched on what happens to people who are placed in what is now called the Work Related Activity Group. This is for people who are not at the time of the test ‘fit for work’ but who are expected to recover in time. Parkinson’s is a particularly problematic condition in this respect. At the moment there is no cure and although the rate of impact differs greatly the concept of ‘returning to fitness’ may be problematic for many who will still be subject to repeated tests. Many people would welcome assistance to return to some sort of work but they report that in practice very little help is given. I’m keen to follow up the experiences of Parkinson’s sufferers in Scotland and plan to have a meeting with Scottish members of Parkinson’s UK over the summer. (Watch the debate here http://bit.ly/LEP7zD.)

Parkinson's UK

On the following day I spoke in an Opposition Day debate on Disability and Social Care. This was wide ranging and considered benefits changes, the cost of care and what is happening to Remploy factories. Among other things I referred to a Report prepared by Learning Disability Alliance Scotland called ‘Worse Off!’ (see http://bit.ly/MD7Gzy) which had looked at the likely impact of the proposed tests for the new ‘Personal Independence Benefit’ by applying the proposed ‘test’ to real people and showing how the changes might affect them. See the debate at http://bit.ly/LEPmuq.

Many questions

No success at PMQs this month, but several opportunities at Departmental questions of various types. At Scottish Questions I got the chance to return to the issue raised by my colleague Kezia Dugdale MSP about the re-badging of existing jobs as apprenticeships. The Minister agreed with our concerns. Sadly you don’t get a second follow-up question as I would like to have pointed out that there are similar concerns about the apprenticeships in England, boasted of by the Government he supports. McDonald’s for example renamed their new starts as apprentices and claimed for the training they would have done anyway. A spokesman from the firm stated in the Sunday Times a few months ago that they had created no new jobs with this money. See the question here: p4 http://bit.ly/LEPmuq.

I make a particular effort to be in both DWP and Treasury questions as these are the areas where I’m trying to concentrate. This month I managed to get questions in at both sessions although I hadn’t been successful in the ‘draw’. My question to the DWP was about the lack of hard information about work experience for young people. At Treasury questions I asked the Government to U turn on the withdrawal of Working Tax Credits for low paid couples working less than 24hours a week using, a real local example of how employers are increasingly offering short hours. See p13 http://bit.ly/Qpvsly and p13 http://bit.ly/Qpvw4S.)

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

The Burmese democracy campaigner spoke to a packed Westminster Hall last Thursday afternoon. She is the first non-head of state to be accorded this honour. We live in a society where we are free to be as cynical as we like about voting and politics, but hearing a speech like this is a salutary reminder of how important but fragile democracy is.

Carers Week

In all the many events I get invited to there are some which jolt you out of complacency (the choice of potential meetings and events some days is truly bewildering). A Carers’ Week event on Monday 18th June at Westminster did that for me. Billed as ‘speed-networking’ – presumably to attract busy MPs – it was an opportunity to meet a variety of carers and carer organisations.

Carers week

I found myself staying longer than I’d originally intended because the stories were so gripping. One woman had spent several years caring for her father and an uncle who had both suffered from Parkinson’s. She then got involved in a local Parkinson’s’ Society only to have her husband struck down by the same illness. She cared for him at home for 16 years. He is now in residential care. Not only did her husband have to stop work early but she too had to leave work at age 52. Her own health has been affected and family income reduced by her early withdrawal from paid work. She needed to spend her savings adapting the house to meet her husband’s needs. She is now topping up her husband’s care home fees from her own pension.

At the other end of the age range I met a young woman who at age 16 became the main carer for her sister and her mother when her mother suffered a stroke. She had to leave school to do it. Now in her early 20s her mother is recovering a bit and she is trying to find some employment but she is finding that employers focus on the ‘gap’ in her qualifications and CV and do not rate her experience – as the household organiser, as advocate, in demonstrating responsibility and reliability. I’m sure if she could get through to the interview stage employers would soon snap her up, as her confidence and poise was remarkable.

Every year there is an outpouring of cross party sympathy from MPs towards carers. But there are huge differences of approach – at one of the ‘tables’ I networked with a Tory MP this came home to me when this MP declared that the problem was that ‘care’ was too expensive due to over regulation. Proponents of this view believe we should drive down costs and the ‘problem’ of social care will be solved. Seeing what has happened to home care Edinburgh, where the council has employed a policy of driving down costs through tendering makes me disagree profoundly with that opinion.

Constituency Report

Craigmillar Books for Babies – five years of activities ahead, and remembering Helen Crummy

Craigmillar Books for BabiesI am delighted to hear that the Craigmillar Literacy Trust has received a Big Lottery Fund award to facilitate Books for Babies activities over the next five years. Craigmillar Books for Babies is an early literacy project based in the area which works with mums, dads & carers with children under 3. The scheme promotes reading as a worthwhile activity to enhance children’s development. As a keen reader I am thrilled that the project is receiving this funding, which will now have the resources to approach families and young people in Craigmillar who might not usually engage with the projects. The full programme of summer events is available at www.craigmillarbooksforbabies.org.uk. I intend to drop into a Rhymetimes session over the summer.

On a similar note, members of the community in Craigmillar are seeking to erect a figurative statue created and erected outside the new East Neighbourhood Office and rename Craigmillar Library in her memory when it is opened. It is so important to the community in Craigmillar that we remember Helen’s work – not simply because she should be commemorated for all she fought for, but so that her legacy will continue inspire others, including the children that will benefit from the Craigmillar Books for Babies programme. She was determined that the people of Craigmillar should have access to the same opportunities in art, drama, and music as people from any other area of the city, and should be duly commemorated. I have written to the Neighbourhood Manager in support of the proposals; if you wish to view my letter, click here: http://bit.ly/LB21N0.

Innertube map 2012

I’m pleased to hear that ELGT, The Bike Station and the People’s Postcode Trust have started work to promote and enhance Edinburgh’s cycleways and off-road paths over the summer. Groups have already been out clearing fly tipping and tackling invasive species along many of the paths, so everyone can take advantage of the network over the next few months. I am also pleased that last year’s highly successful Postcode Challenge Treasure Hunt on Wheels will return on Sunday 1st July. For details of the work and the treasure hunt, go to: http://bit.ly/NwETwi.

I Love cycling and Innertube Map

Bike-related events are in full swing this time of year, and while I couldn’t attend Spokes’ bicycle breakfast on 20th June, I made sure I joined in totalpolitics call to get as many MPs as possible joining the I Love Cycling campaign – you can see my pledge here: http://bit.ly/N00IHj.

Protecting Guide Dogs

New figures that were released in June showed attacks on guide dogs are at an all time high and now running at an average of eight a month. The government is currently consulting on compulsory microchipping but has said its preferred option is to microchip puppies only. Under this plan, it would take 10 to 15 years before all dogs are microchipped. I have joined the campaign organised by Guide Dogs UK which calls for action to protect guide dogs from attacks by other dogs. Compulsory microchipping is one step that would make a real difference. Ultimately campaigners are calling for changes in the law so an attack on an assistance dog is treated as seriously as an attack on a person because the harm caused to the dog seriously impairs the freedom of the owner.

Property Conservation developments

Many of you will have read that the Director of City Development has been suspended from his post as the Statutory Notice investigation continues (see http://bbc.in/LPoX9G). Mr Anderson was responsible for overseeing the City Development department when it held responsibility for Property Conservation across the city. Back when I started receiving complaints, and before the investigation started, constituents and I experienced considerable delays when any complaints or simple queries were raised. At the time I didn’t feel that the department was handling the complaints properly or acknowledging that there were problems with the system. In light of the managerial suspension, I have written to Sue Bruce, Chief Executive of the City of Edinburgh Council, to highlight that many concerns were raised in advance of the investigation. The Leader of the Council, Cllr Andrew Burns, has also indicated that reports due before Policy and Strategy Committee in August will highlight how the Council will deal with the current problems and outline how a new service will function.

Campaign for High Speed Rail (CfHSR) update

Together with other Edinburgh MPs I am calling on Edinburgh residents to show their support for high speed rail. The Spectator has recently predicted that the Government is set to make a U-turn on its commitment to build HS2. It asserted that there was ‘a lack of enthusiasm among the people it was supposed to impress: northerners, Midlanders and business.’ Once the second phase of this major infrastructure project is complete, the Edinburgh to London journey will be cut by an hour to 3 hours 30 minutes, benefitting Edinburgh and Scotland as a whole. Scottish MPs have been calling on the Government to build the second phase beyond Leeds and Manchester and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow and it would be a disaster if the project were dropped altogether. HS2 will benefit Scotland from the outset, and today we are encouraging Edinburgh residents to show their support by going to www.campaignforhsr.com/signup

Southside buses update

Having written in the May edition about the re-routing of the number 2 away from St Leonard’s Street, I thought it might be welcome news that Lothian Buses has made further changes in the city centre to serve the Lauriston and University areas. For over 18 years there has been no direct bus linking Newington, the Southside and Tollcross, however, from the 24th June, the number 47 has been re-routed to serve the area. The 47 will run from Surgeon’s Hall via Nicolson Square, Potterrow, Lauriston Place, Tollcross, Festival Square and Lothian Rd to rejoin its former route at the West End. This will be the first time in decades that a bus will link Newington, Southside and Tollcross, and I am sure it will be a welcome amenity. The new route also provides a route to the West End which avoids the tramworks! The revised timetable is available at http://bit.ly/Or3fO6.

Bongo Lives!

Late last month, I was very relieved to hear that one of Holyrood’s best loved institutions has been given a reprieve. I’m referring to the Bongo Club of course – after months of campaigning and petitioning the University of Edinburgh, the Bongo Club has had its lease extended for the Hogmanay period and into 2013. The extra time will allow the management of the club space to continue trading through the crucial festival period, before the management finds new premises. For the thousands of people who visit the Bongo Club every year and those who appreciate its value to the city, the news will be very welcome.

Over the summer months

Since the regulated period of the local elections ended I have been on a number of roving surgeries in Lochend, the Southside, and in the City Centre. When I hold a roving surgery I write directly to constituents and ask if they would like a visit, instead of advertising my usual surgeries which require constituents having to come and see me. Folk that I meet really enjoy the opportunity to raise their concerns in their own home. Holding the surgeries also means that individuals with mobility issues can speak to me without the worry of having to plan a journey. I intend to hold a few more roving surgeries over the summer – if you would like me to visit your street, please contact me on 0131 661 7522 sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

Dates for your diary

Saturday 30 June – Craigmillar Olympic Fun Day – 12:00-16:00 – off Niddrie Mains Road at Wauchope Terrace – more details at http://bit.ly/LrXRTo.

Saturday 30 June – Pride Scotia Rally and March – from 13:00 – meet at the City Chambers Quadrant, Royal Mile – further details at http://www.pride-scotia.org/

Sunday 1st July – Postcode Challenge Treasure Hunt on Wheels – 13:00-16:00 – for full details see http://bit.ly/NwETwi.

From Monday 2nd July to 14th July Tuesday 3rd July –Bus Stop Lottery Photography Project Exhibition – free exhibition 10:00-16:00 – Craigmillar Community Arts Centre, Newcraighall Road

Tuesday 3rd July – The Welfare Reform Bill – What is it? Is it Right? Is it necessary? What can you do? –1830 onwards – Northfield Community Centre, Northfield Road.

Wednesday 4th August 2012 – Free Holyrood Wellbeing Walks (summer programme) – from 13:00 – every Wednesday until 8th August – book on 0131 652 8150

Thursday 5th August 2012– Edmesh 25th Anniversary Garden Party –13:00-14:00 – Duddingston Kirk, Duddingston Village – Edinburgh ME self-help group anniversary meeting, further details available at: http://bit.ly/Or0z2T.

Saturday 7th July– Portobello Organic Market – 9.30-13.30 – Brighton Park – full list of stalls can be found here: http://bit.ly/LCVBx5.

Saturday 28th July– Donkeyfield Community Orchard Workday – from 10:00 – Donkeyfield orchard near Brunstane Rail Station – further details at http://bit.ly/LrYoET

Craigmillar Books for Babies – summer programme available at www.craigmillarbooksforbabies.org.uk/whatson.htm.

Friday 10th August– Portobello and Craigmillar Family Summer Bash – 13:00-16:00 – Jack Kane Centre, Niddrie Mains Road – all activities are free

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Two weeks in Westminster

If you have been watching the news recently you will surely have seen how busy things have been in London.

Sheila Gilmore and Ian Murray with Edinburgh uni protestor

Ian Murray and I with Edinburgh uni protestor

One of the most notable events in Westminster in the past two weeks was the NUS demonstration against the increase in English top up fees. Those who turned to violence were wrong to do so. As well as causing unnecessary damage to private buildings (not just Tory HQ) they distracted the public from the whole purpose of the well-organised demonstration. On the day I met with tens of students who came from Edinburgh University. Whilst Scottish students will not be directly affected by the increases unless they study in England, the changes will affect the funding to Scottish Universities. On the day I asked Nick Clegg about the increases during PMQs (see http://bit.ly/cnCoUn) and was later interviewed on Sky News.

Also that week I criticised plans to cut housing benefit. I asked why the Government was making blanket cuts to Housing Benefit in places like Edinburgh to solve a problem of very high rents which only applies in London. (see http://bit.ly/9Zcfg9).

Last week I spent a substantial amount of time debating the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill which will set the next UK General Election to be held on 7 May 2015, and every five years after this date. In the House of Commons I mentioned the difficulties that all devolved parties will face as they effectively are fighting two ‘General Elections’ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Minister later told Parliament that he will be writing to devolved administrations for their input on the process with the possibility of the devolved elections taking place earlier or later than the General Election (see http://bit.ly/c28CcK). This movement in the Government’s position represents a small triumph that the nations are finally being considered, but we will have to await the results of any consultation. The Minister’s concession came at the very end of the debate and there was no time to ask questions about the details.

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Rolling back the state

Another week when the Coalition Government’s ideology became even clearer! The big announcement was on the funding of Higher Education – I asked a question of the Minister (http://bit.ly/9iiIoT).

Basically this means that the State is largely withdrawing from the funding of higher education (except in some courses – mainly science & engineering where it is being reduced but not eliminated) with the cost being transferred to graduates.

(In a similar way the Government is proposing to transfer the cost of building new ‘affordable’ homes to new tenants)

Earlier in the week a considerable time was taken up with the final stages of the Parliamentary Constituencies and Voting Systems Bill. My efforts to speak in this debate were unsuccessful. It all may sound abstract but as well as setting up the referendum on the Alternative Vote, this Bill will reduce the number of constituencies in Edinburgh to four, and lead to boundary changes all over. See http://bit.ly/ca9wLO.

Edinburgh East constituency

Much of my time this week was spent sitting on a Committee on the Bill which abolishes the Child Trust Funds, the Health in Pregnancy Grant and the Savings Gateway proposals – a subject I spoke on at second Reading (http://bit.ly/9WhFbZ). It seems a bit odd that the Tories should be abolishing savings mechanisms ! Bill Committees sit intensively so we had four sessions this week averaging three hours each.

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Last week in Westminster

Last week was a busy week in Westminster. The Government finally gave out details of the Strategic Defence Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Personally I spoke on matters relating to the use of medical evidence in benefits reviews (http://bit.ly/aeF00e p6) and social mobility (http://bit.ly/aeF00e p18).

In keeping with my commitments to reform the voting system and my role on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee I voted on several amendments to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (http://bit.ly/aeF00e). On Wednesday I spoke on the Bill during its committee stage. The Bill removes the requirement for public enquiries when changing constituency boundaries which I fear will give Ministers power to create meaningless constituencies and reduces participation in democracy (http://bit.ly/diPSoK p49).

Last week also saw the return of Private Members Bills. I stayed down to support the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill which reduces the regulatory burden on Trade Unions in relation to the balloting and notice requirements for lawful industrial action. Unfortunately the Bill did not pass as delaying tactics from the Tories meant that there was not enough MPs to carry the bill to the next stage (http://bit.ly/bnNhxh).

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