November 2014 Newsletter

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Merry Christmas

Christmas CardFriday ClubWith the mild weather holding winter back later than usual, it seems quite early to be sending my Christmas wishes. I’d like to wish you a peaceful and joyous festive period when the break does come around. While we spend time with family, remember some friends and neighbours are less fortunate, so please remember to check on them over the festive season.

The festive artwork featured below was kindly produced by the members of the at Ripple Project ‘Friday Club’ and will appear on my Christmas card which will now be distributed to 5,000 Edinburgh East households.

The Friday Club is a social and activities club for residents who are 60+ in Restalrig, Lochend, Craigentinny and surrounding areas. The group meets on a Friday 1.30pm-3.30pm at the Restalrig Lochend Community Hub to enjoy music, films, games and a variety of entertainment from guests. A dedicated group of volunteers help the afternoon run smoothly and provide refreshments.
For more information about the club, how to join, as well as the details of other activities at the hub for friends and relatives over 60, call 0131 554 0422.

Westminster Report

Devolution
Smith CommissionThe Smith Commission’s report on further devolution to the Scottish Parliament has now been published. There was a further House of Commons debate on this issue on 20 November, and in my speech I argued that we should start to move on from debating what powers should or shouldn’t be devolved, to how the Scottish Parliament uses those powers it has to create a fairer and more equal society. For example the new tax-varying and borrowing powers that already guaranteed following the Scotland Act 2012 could be used to significantly increase investment in affordable housing or social care.

Disability benefits
As regular readers will know, I’ve long been concerned about the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who believe they cannot work due to ill health or a disability – with at least one in ten decisions being overturned on appeal.

Atos Healthcare are set to walk away from their contract to carry out the face-to-face part of the WCA, and earlier this month the UK Government announced that this work would transfer to US outsourcing specialist Maximus. Unfortunately Ministers don’t appear to have taken the opportunity to reform the test so that the number of incorrect decisions is reduced – see this piece on my website. I also reacted angrily to reports that the Conservatives are considering cutting ESA payments for some claimants.

In other social security news:

  • It has emerged that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith knew his flagship welfare reform Universal Credit was late and over budget far earlier than he’s previously admitted – I gave my reaction to the Huffington Post.
  • After fellow DWP Minister Lord Freud had to apologise for suggesting disabled people could be paid less than the minimum wage, I highlighted his failure to address the concerns of my disabled constituent when I raised concerns on his behalf.
  • In the Guardian I argued that George Osborne’s new personal tax statement – which people should start receiving soon – fails to explain that most welfare spending goes on things that people support, such as disability benefits, housing costs, and tax credits for those in work.
  • I reviewed a new book – Good Times Bad Times: the welfare myths of them and us, by John Hills – for the think tank Progress.

East Coast
Over the last year and a half I’ve been campaigning against the UK Government’s plans to re-privatise intercity services on the East Coast Main Line, which have been run successfully by the UK public sector since 2009. On 24 November it was widely anticipated that the contract was set to be awarded to Eurostar and Keolis – and would stand to benefit French train passengers with profits being reinvested services there. My reaction was picked up in the Evening News and Herald amongst others. The Government has since announced that the franchise would in fact be awarded to Stagecoach and Virgin. Regardless of the fact the franchise has been awarded to British firms, it is highly disappointing profits will go to private companies, rather than to the exchequer, as happens at present. On Thursday morning the matter was the subject of an urgent question.

What did Labour do in the Scottish Parliament?
I spend time every week knocking on doors somewhere in the constituency and I recently had a conversation with someone who claimed Labour did nothing during our time in Government at Holyrood. Obviously I took a different view, and while it wouldn’t be appropriate to set this out here, I’ve reproduced my response on my website for other constituents to read.

National Health Service
This month I received a record 438 emails on the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, which would ensure that a new EU-US trade deal cannot change the way the NHS in Scotland is run – something I raised with David Cameron on 17 November – and stop the gradual privatisation of NHS services in England.

NHSMy Labour colleagues and I voted in favour of the bill at its second reading debate on 21 November, and it was passed by 241 votes to 18 (although unfortunately there are lots of barriers to it becoming law before the next election). For more on this see the response I sent to constituents on my website.

Gordon’s Fightback campaign successes
It was great to see my constituent Gordon Aikman attend a reception with Samantha Cameron at Downing Street as part of his fight back against Motor Neurone Disease.

Gordon's FightbackAnd in the past week he has had further successes! At the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, Gordon won a special judges award for the work he has done through his Fight back campaign. He then went on to secure agreement from First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for a review of the care provided to those suffering MND. For more information on Gordon’s campaign see gordonsfightback.com/#takeaction.

News in brief

International Development BillCitizen's Advice

Constituency Report

Supporting Afghan Women
On Friday 14th November I attended a play at Summerhall performed by the St Mark’s Amnesty Group in my constituency, called ‘Even if we lose our lives’. To be honest, on a cold evening, with a head cold brewing I went out of a sense of duty, but came away stunned and humbled by the performance which brought together the real life stories of three Afghan women; a teacher, a doctor and a family mediator. What these women had been through to defend human rights and provide services was a stark reminder of the ongoing problems of their country. But the message from all was that they were not going to give up.

Afghan WomenMore recently I attended a session at Westminster run by Action Aid drawing attention to similar issues and calling in particular for women and women’s issues to be centre stage in the forthcoming London Conference on development in Afghanistan. For more information on Action Aid’s campaign go to action.org.uk.

Remembrance Sunday
On Sunday 9th November I attended the wreath laying service at the Prestonfield War Memorial. When the new residents of Prestonfield and Priestfield moved here during the 1930s many of the names on the memorial would be well remembered fathers, uncles, brothers and husbands. And within only a few years many families saw their sons, and daughters, going off to war again. One of them was my own Dad whose family had not long moved to Cameron House Avenue. He was one of the lucky ones who came back.

Common Repairs and Statutory Notices
A big problem in the constituency is getting common repairs done. Despite the well-known problems of the Council’s previous system of dealing with Statutory Notices, many people support the retention of some method of council intervention when it proves impossible to get agreement among owners. Recently the Council has restricted its interventions to emergency work only. New proposals, for a service which would step in, but only after information and advice had been given with a view to assisting owners to agree among themselves, are now being considered. In some circumstances the council would be able in future, due to new legislation, to pay a ‘missing share’ where an owner refuses to co-operate. After looking at a number of ways of providing a service when agreement proves impossible, the Council has decided that an in house model will be used. I broadly welcome the recommendations; I had said previously that I thought something of this kind must be reintroduced. The report makes clear the importance of good communication with owners throughout the process, which was one of the flaws before. The new system won’t be fully up and running until autumn next year. For more information read the full report on the Council’s website.

HMOs – does Edinburgh need an over-provision policy?
This is a subject which provokes much lively debate in many parts of the city. HMO licensing has done a lot to improve the quality of the properties for rent and clamp down on gross overcrowding. But the unresolved issue is whether it is right to control the quantity of HMOs in certain areas. The Scottish Parliament gave councils the power to adopt an ‘over provision’ strategy in 2011, a matter which was discussed at a recent meeting of the Regulatory Committee, and was covered in a piece in the Edinburgh Evening News. Over the next few months Edinburgh Council will be consulting local groups and community councils to establish whether Edinburgh should adopt such a policy. I wrote an article for the Evening News on this subject which called for the consultation to be thorough and learn from the experiences in other Scottish cities. Let me know what you think, and look out for details of the consultation.

Canongate Youth project secures People’s Millions funding
I am delighted the Canongate Youth Project will receive a £38,000 grant from the People’s Millions fund for their Old School Cafe project after securing enough votes in a telephone poll held on Tuesday. The project will create a new city centre cafe in the South Bridge Resource Centre to improve the employment prospects of 25 unemployed young people providing on the job training and experience. Well done to all involved!

Edinburgh East’s new Crown Post Office
In November I opened the new Edinburgh City Post Office, located in Princes Mall. The Crown Post Office is now located in a new modern branch has nine staffed counters and longer opening hours (the ubiquitous self-service machine has also been introduced!).

Post Office

The branch move has come well in advance of St James Centre closing its doors next year; hopefully the new premises will be become familiar in advance of this big change for shoppers.

Planning update

Meadow Lane application – submit your comments now
The University of Edinburgh has now submitted its ‘full’ application for purpose built student accommodation at Meadow Lane. The university propose demolishing the 18th century coach houses and to build accommodation for 267 students. While this application is undeniably very close to the University area it is in addition to a proposal to return Buccleuch Place to residential use for students. The proposed density has angered Buccleuch Street residents who will feel swamped. When I attended the pre-application exhibition earlier in the year many said they were concerned about the distinctly modern design and height of the building, in this part of the Southside Conservation Area.

I will be submitting my own objections before the 12th December deadline. To review the plans and submit your own comments, use reference numbers 14/04674/FUL and 14/04682/CON on the Planning Portal.

Baileyfield decision due this month
Last month, I included details of my submission on the Baileyfield application, along with details of the Portobello Community Council consultation on the plans. I have now been informed that the application is due to be determined at the Development Management Sub-Committee on 17th December which will hold a ‘Hearing’ where local groups can make deputations.

Stanley Place application
Next month the developer proposing student accommodation intends to come back with a revised application to build student accommodation on a very narrow site next to the East Coast Main Line on Stanley Place. Residents have had the opportunity to meet with developers at an exhibition of the plans in November, but many report they are underwhelmed the plans have not changed enough. I have been provided with a copy of the boards displayed, please let me know if you would like a copy of these.

Billboard on Cairntows Park refused
In August JCDecaux submitted a number of plans for LED lit advertising hoardings at various sites across the city. This included on the Peffermill Road edge of Cairntows Park. As Southside residents have learnt previously, neighbouring properties are not notified of these applications, thus the Community Neighbourhood Alliance and I swung into action to object to this proposal, knowing that if approved this would not promote the amenity many campaigned for when they saved the park from development.

Inchview Terrace care home proposal
Last year, the Council refused an application for a Lidl store at the former Stratstone Land Rover premises at Inchview Terrace. New developers have now submitted a proposal for a 60 bed care home. You can view the plans on the Planning Portal using reference number 14/04780/FUL. Please get I touch if you have comments on this new proposal.

Dates for your Diary
White House2nd December – One World Shop Christmas Shopping Event and Website Launch – 5.00pm-7.00pm – St John’s Church, West End of Princes Street – All shoppers will get 10% off their purchases on the night, mulled wine and Christmas biscuits, and have the chance to enter into the raffle to win vouchers to spend online.

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Press release: Sheila Gilmore MP calls on David Cameron to support life-saving bill

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has called on David Cameron to enshrine the UK’s commitment to the world’s poorest people in law, completing a course set out by the last Labour government.

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Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development Mary Creagh MP

On Friday 5 December MPs will vote on a Bill to enshrine in law the UK’s promise to donate 0.7% of our Gross National Income to international aid – in line with aspiration first put forward over 40 years ago.

Both the Conservative manifesto and the Coalition agreement included a pledge to put the 0.7% measure into law, but David Cameron has since failed to keep this promise.

In November 2014, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he did not see the need to write the commitment into legislation. This has raised concerns that right-wing Conservative MPs may try to block the law coming before parliament.

Sheila Gilmore MP said:

The last Labour Government tripled the aid budget and dropped the debt, helping to lift three million people out of poverty each year and getting 40 million more children into school.

British aid makes a huge difference to millions – we should be proud of what our generosity can do for those in need and what it says about us as a country.

David Cameron should now face down his backbenchers and enshrine in the law our decision to spend 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income on international aid.

Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, said:

Under Labour, the UK led the world on international development. The vote on 5 December is David Cameron’s last chance to keep his promise to the world’s poorest people.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  • On Friday 5 December the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill will be debated in the House of Commons.
  • UK aid saves and changes lives – between 1997 and 2010 Labour:
    • Helped lift 3 million people out of poverty each year.
    • Helped to get some 40 million more children into school.
    • Improved water or sanitation services for over 1.5 million people.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Press Release: Sheila Gilmore calls for action at G8

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has backed Labour’s call for David Cameron to take action on aid, tax and transparency at the G8 for a world free from hunger.

There is enough food in the world for everyone. But 1 billion people still go hungry and 2.3 million children die from malnutrition every year.

The campaign, launched by Labour’s International development spokesman, Ivan Lewis MP, aims to highlight the crucial opportunity our Prime Minister will have to take action against this global injustice.

Sheila Gilmore said:

It is deplorable in this day and age that 1 billion people in the world go hungry. We must put a stop to this global injustice.

Hundreds of Edinburgh residents write to me every year on aid, tax and transparency and I’m happy to add my voice to those calling on David Cameron to fulfil his promises on these issues.

Ivan Lewis MP, Shadow Secretary of State of International Development, said:

With the G8 on our doorstep, the UK again has an opportunity to put in motion global reform that can lead to meaningful change. We share the concern of NGOs that David Cameron is not sufficiently preparing the ground to achieve agreement for radical improvements in this area. This has to change in the days ahead.

ENDS

For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.

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Osborne’s corporate tax concessions could cost developing countries billions

I’ve written a piece on corporate tax changes for the Labour Campaign for International Development. I’ve reproduced it below:

Since April I’ve been sitting on the committee of MPs scrutinising the Finance Bill – the annual legislation that puts into effect announcements in the budget. The bill covers big issues such as the scrapping of the 50p tax and introduction of the granny tax.

One of the less publicised but nonetheless significant measures involves changes to the rules on Controlled Foreign Companies. These rules deal with the problem of multinationals attempting to avoid tax on profits liable to UK tax by artificially diverting them to subsidiary companies in other countries. The changes to these rules, which could have a big impact on developing countries and were discussed and voted on last week. This is what happened.

Context
The UK previously operated a global corporation tax regime whereby if a company was headquartered in the UK it was required to pay corporation tax on the profits of any subsidiaries in foreign countries. In practice this meant that the UK headquarters were billed for the difference between what the subsidiary paid abroad and what it would have had to pay were it to be operating in the UK.

The last Labour Government launched a review of these 30 year old rules with the intention to move towards a more territorial corporation tax regime whereby the only profits that are taxed in the UK are those that arise from economic activity that takes place here. This was an attempt to encourage multinational companies to establish and expand their operations in the UK, although there were also concerns that the previous rules could be illegal under EU law. Despite the switch in Government George Osborne confirmed in Budget 2012 that he would press ahead with these changes.

Impact on developing countries
Following this announcement the development NGO ActionAid argued that the new rules would ‘open a loophole costing developing countries an estimated £4 billion and the UK £1 billion.’

ActionAid logo

This is best illustrated using the following example adapted from an ActionAid report Collateral Damage:

A UK multinational is made up of three subsidiaries with one in the UK, one in a developing country, and one in a tax haven. In an attempt to reduce its overall tax liability on profits across the company, management could transfer ownership of the company’s brand to the tax haven subsidiary and require the others to pay high royalty fees to use it.

However the current CFC rules mean that the UK subsidiary would be liable for the difference between the tax paid in the tax haven and the amount they would have had to pay had all the company’s profits been made in the UK. This discourages UK multinationals from artificially diverting profits from either the UK or developing countries to tax havens.

Under the new CFC rules only royalty fees from the UK subsidiary to the tax haven would be subject to an additional charge ‐ similar royalty fees from the developing country subsidiary would no longer be covered. This means that although the management would still have a disincentive to artificially divert profits from the UK, they would no longer have such a disincentive with respect to developing countries.

What went on in Committee
There were two amendments on these clauses considered by the Finance Bill Committee on 19th June (there were two sessions which can be accessed here and here). The first was moved by Stephen Williams (a Lib Dem) and would have prevented the provisions from coming into force until anassessment had been made of the impact on developing countries’ tax revenues. The second was a Labour amendment which asked for reviews of both the impact on developing countries and the UK tax base.

Treasury Minister David Gauke resisted both amendments. Broadly he argued that the advantages of making these changes outweighed the predicted loss of tax income to the UK. He also argued that the original rules were not introduced with a view to benefiting developing countries, but I pointed out that this shouldn’t mean the impact of changes is of no concern to us. The movers of both amendments drew attention to the potential for the new rules to undermine our international development efforts.

The Minister went on to say that it wouldn’t be feasible to produce the impact assessments because it would be too difficult to gather information from all countries that might be affected. He also argued that ActionAid’s estimate of a£4 billion loss was wrong, partly because it was allegedly based on data from only 10 UK multinationals. He said that many developing countries didn’t charge their ‘full’ tax rates in practice with many giving foreign companies ‘tax holidays’ to encourage investment. The Minister then managed to give a number of examples from countries such as Kenya and Rwanda – a remarkable amount of detail despite saying earlier that it was too difficult to gather the information needed for an impact assessment!

Gauke concluded by insisting that without these changes many more companies would leave the UK and that getting companies to stay or even relocate back to UK (such as advertising firm WPP) would be harder. He made the point that if companies leave altogether then no tax will be paid by them to the UK, and he claimed the benefits of encouraging them to stay would outweigh any tax lost from the changes. That said the Government clearly has its concerns about the potential for greater tax avoidance, with a new schedule to the Bill containing provisions to target no less than 10 anti-avoidance schemes.

At the end of the debate Stephen Williams withdrew his amendment. Labour sought a vote on ours but the arithmetic of the Coalition meant we lost by 13 votes to 18 with no abstentions. Frustratingly it is becoming standard practice for Lib Dems to table sensible amendments to obtain positive media coverage, only to withdraw them and vote against anything similar at the last minute (this was a recurring theme during the Welfare Reform Act’s passage).

Although pressure on time will be intense, my Labour colleagues and I will look to secure some further debate on this issue when the bill returns to the Commons Chamber at Report Stage. I’ll keep LCID updated if we are successful.

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Mail Room: Food Security

Food security is an issue on which I receive a lot of correspondence. Following on from campaigns run by a number of charities, particularly Save the Children, I have been inundated with letters and emails from constituents asking me to do what I can to ensure that UK aid for the developing world remains a priority for this government. This is of particularly importance in the context of the upcoming G8 Summit when the Prime Minister will have the opportunity to discuss issues of development with his international counterparts.

DFID Aid

You can see my response to constituents below:

Thank you for your recent email regarding food security.

It is a scandal that nearly one billion people face hunger every day. This issue has been exacerbated by the 2008 spike in food prices. With some figures estimating that staple grain prices will rise between 120 to 180% within the next two decades, it is clear that action needs to be taken now.

In your email you mentioned the action by Save the Children on this issue. I understand that they are calling on the Prime Minister to push this issue at the G8 with the aim of creating a food security initiative that focuses on nutrition, increased funding for proven solutions to tackle malnutrition and a global target to reduce malnutrition.

You have requested that I raise this issue during Prime Ministers’ Questions. A ballot takes place to determine which Members of Parliament have the opportunity to ask a question of the Prime Minister and whilst I submit a question every week, there is unfortunately no guarantee of getting picked. On this occasion I have been unsuccessful.

In any case, while David Cameron is often broadly positive when speaking publicly about international development issues, I expect he would be wary of making any firm commitments in the often heated atmosphere of PMQs. It is my belief that a far more effective way of taking action on issues such as this is to write directly to the Secretary of State for International Development, which I am please to inform you I have done. In my letter I urged the Minister to put the points you raised to the Prime Minister strongly ahead of the next G8 summits.

I will inform you when I receive a response from the Secretary of State, thank you for taking the time to write to me.

I am still awaiting a response from the Department for International Development Minister. The response will be posted here when I receive it.

As always, I would welcome any further comments you may have on this issue. Please feel free to contact me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

 

 

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