March 2015 Newsletter

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Westminster Report

Smith Commission: New powers over Disability Benefits
After last year’s referendum the Smith Commission recommended that significant new powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. At the beginning of last month I wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News about the need to start discussing how we use these new powers, and in particular what we will do about Disability Living Allowance.

Smith CommissionAs part of the current Government’s attempts to cut public spending, DLA is being phased out and replaced with Personal Independence Payment, with the assessment set to ensure thousands of Scots that currently get DLA won’t get PIP. But if we want to stop this from happening, We need to start discussing now what we in Scotland would do differently. Here is our chance to shape our own system. Should it be one completely different, or do we revert to DLA as it was before?

Winding Down
The first ever fixed five year parliament is stumbling to a close. The date for the general election has been known for the last four years, and some people argue that all it has done is lead to the ‘longest ever’ election campaign. The last few weeks will see some pieces of legislation completed, such as the Modern Slavery Bill which is nearly finished its stages in the House of Lords. Several Select Committee reports have been recently published, or are about to be completed, including one from the Public Accounts Committee on the Government’s flagship ‘universal credit’. The Committee remains very critical of the pace and cost of this.

Tax Avoidance
Tax avoidance has been in the headlines following the revelations over HSBC’s Swiss bank and David Cameron’s decision to make the firm’s then Chief Executive a Government Minister in 2011. I told the Huffington Post that ‘The revolving door between David Cameron’s government and HSBC casts new light on this Government’s failure to act over alleged wrongdoing.’

Then a clip of George Osborne from several years ago re-emerged, in which he encourages people to avoid tax. I reacted by saying ‘this shows the Tories really do believe that everyone does it’, referring to the remarks of Tory Treasurer Lord Fink.

Prior to this a series of business people had voiced concerns about the prospect of Labour Government, but I suggested to the Huffington Post that they might not be entirely objective in their analysis, highlighting their connections to the Conservative Party.

Arms exports
Constituents regularly contact me with concern about arms sales to regimes with poor human rights records. The Government claim they don’t permit sales where they have evidence that the weapons in question will be used for internal repression or external aggression. However on 20 January I used Foreign Office Questions in the House of Commons to argue that Ministers should go further. Following a discussion with a constituent, I argued that Minister should use restrictions on arms exports to encourage regimes to respect human rights, even where there is no evidence that the specific arms will be used improperly. You can read my exchange with the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond here, but I thought this was a good example of how writing to your MP can lead to your views being put directly to senior people in Government. Keep the letters and emails coming!

News in brief
I popped into the Labour Campaign for Mental Health reception to celebrate Time to Talk Day, which highlights the importance of battling mental health stigma.

Mental HealthI’ve also agreed to become an Arthritis Champion. Musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis affect a huge number of people and are a significant cause of disability in the UK. There is much work to do to prevent and cure these conditions, and we need to improve the services available to those living with them now.

Constituency Report

Legal Highs
Legal Highs ShopLast month I was frustrated and concerned to see that yet another ‘legal high’ shop had opened in Edinburgh East. A number have sprung up in the Southside, with the latest appearing on Easter Road. I told the Evening News that ‘These legal dealers are making money while destroying users’ health and causing havoc for local residents.’ The shop assistant who responded appeared to show a blatant disregard for public health and ignores the fact that trade of these substances is impacting residents across the city, as they put up with the impact locally, but also because public services are being stretched dealing with the disruption. Unfortunately banning specific substances is difficult because of the sheer number of new ones becoming available each week – instead the council need to use its planning powers to stop further stores opening up, and investigate banning their use in public spaces, which could act to dent demand. Earlier this month Lincoln became the first place in the UK to do this, and I wrote to council leader Andrew Burns urging him to consider following suit.

Old Royal High School
Old Royal High SchoolAlthough just outside my constituency, a number of people have contacted me worried about the proposed redevelopment of the old Royal High School on Regent Road into a luxury hotel. Initial plans can be found online. No formal planning application has yet been lodged so there is time to make sure that there is a wide debate and information is disseminated. This is an important building for the city and I will keep a close eye on developments and will be speaking to council colleagues about it.

Homebase appeal, petition, and Student Planning Guidance consultation begins
With the Lutton Court statutory appeal just days away, residents have been notified of Unite’s appeal submission to the Scottish Government, following the City of Edinburgh Council’s recent refusal of the application. Residents have now set up a petition calling on Homebase to stay in the Southside. In my objection to the initial application I highlighted how valued the store is locally. If you use the store, sign the petition!

91351206-8ae4-4171-a747-4a2a13b1f867At the same time the Council has begun to consult on both planning and HMO licensing policy in the city. While the schedules and meetings should run together the consultations are officially separate, and details of the HMO consultation are not fully clear at the time of writing. Running from Monday, 16th March until 24 April 2015 the student accomodation planning guidance consultation will be placed on the Council’s Consultation Hub at https://consultationhub.edinburgh.gov.uk/. The process, I am told, should include workshops with groups including the Southside Association and Living Southside but will also the Edinburgh universities, and student housing providers. Watch out for details of a Living Southside meeting all residents are invited to attend to discuss the group’s response.

Potterow
I was also concerned to learn that the Estates Department has only shortlisted student accommodation developers who have bid as part of a sell-off council-owned land at Potterow. Meaning another application for student accommodation is likely to come forward. This will only make it harder to prevent an over-concentration of student accommodation in the area – a key issue these reports have focused on over the past two years or so. Instead of focusing on one off profits, the council should have a longer term outlook and listen to residents who would like to see the land passed to an affordable housing provider so that we can retain the balanced, vibrant community that currently exists in the area.

Cameron House Community Centre
Following the Council agreeing its latest budget, money from the Community Learning and Development budget has been transferred to Heath and Social Care to help with the ‘delayed discharge’ crisis in the NHS. I know a number of constituents were concerned that Cameron House Community Centre might close as a result. I have received assurances that the Council is committed to keeping Cameron House open and is currently looking at ways to maintain the present level of service provision. This is a much-valued community facility – and one which opened less than 10 years ago – and I will be carefully monitoring this situation.

Third Age Computer Fun
Third Age Computer FunLast month I reported the sad news that Third Age Computing Club, which organised computing classes for 50+ communities across Edinburgh East and the central belt, was to be dissolved. However I’m pleased to report that all 12 individual clubs are set to remain open under a new organisation so that classes can continue. The clubs in Edinburgh East that will remain open are in Craigmillar, Restalrig, Tollcross and the Southside. See here for more information.

Dumbiedykes bus
Dumbiedykes BusLast year the council started funding the new Number 60 bus service between Dumbiedykes and the Southside. This is a vital link for many elderly residents who do their shopping on Nicolson Street and Clerk Street, but who struggle to make it up the hill on foot. Unfortunately new figures show the service is only carrying between 25 and 32 passengers per day, meaning it is currently very costly to run. The criteria for assessing supported buses is due to change to take account of issues such as the lonlieness caused by being unable to get about, but it is clear that we need to ensure that the bus has enough passengers. I’m encouraging local residents, and businesses such as the Parliament and Rockstar Games, to get people using the service more often, so it can be maintained for those who really need it. If you live in the area – hop on!

Dates for your diary

  • Wednesday 18 March – Budget DayLive online from 12.30pm
  • Thursday 26 March – Spokes’ Spring Public Meeting: The bicycle in the City Centre, with Lesley Hinds, Council Transport Convenor, and other experts – Augustine United Church, 41 George IV Bridge – 7.30pm (doors at 6.45pm)
  • Monday 30 March – Dissolution of UK Parliament
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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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Mail Room: Controlled Foreign Companies

A lot of people have contacted me over recent weeks with concerns about the rules that apply to tax payments from British companies abroad. Many of you are concerned that the proposed changes to the rules may make it easier for these companies to avoid paying the tax they owe. You can see my response to this here:

Thank you for your recent email regarding Controlled Foreign Companies.

You express your support for the cross-party consensus on giving 0.7% of our Gross National Income as aid by 2014. However you state your concern regarding the contents of the draft Finance Bill 2012, which you suggest could make it easier for UK companies to use tax havens in order to avoid meeting their financial obligations in developing countries. You ask me to raise your concerns with HM Treasury.

I share your worry that large UK companies could avoid paying tax in developing countries. For this reason, I have written to the Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, raising your concern with him. In my letter I emphasized the importance of ensuring that UK companies do not undermine the UK’s approach on development issues. I will inform you when I receive a response.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Here is the reply that I received from David Gauke MP, a Minister in the Treasury:

(If you can’t read the text of this letter you just need to click on it a couple of times to view it in full screen and then again to zoom in)

I found the Minister’s response quite disappointing as he failed to convince me that the Government have thought through the impact of their proposals thoroughly enough. I set this out in a further letter to my constituents that you can see below:

I have recently received a letter dated 7 March 2012 from David Gauke MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, regarding Controlled Foreign Companies (CFC) rules. Please find a copy attached. This was sent in response to my letter of 28 February which I sent following your initial enquiry.

In my letter I expressed your concerns that the Finance Bill may introduce rule changes which allow UK companies to avoid paying tax in developing countries. I welcomed the cross-party agreement on international aid and development matters, noting that it is therefore important that UK companies do not undermine the UK’s approach on development issues. I urged the Government to rethink the proposed rule changes before the Budget, ensuring that the impact of any future changes be thoroughly assessed before they are introduced.

Mr Gauke states that the Government does not believe that any assessment of the impact of the CFC rule changes, including the one advocated by Action Aid, would be sufficiently robust or accurate to be of value. Due to this he notes that no official assessment has been made. The Minister acknowledges the importance of allowing developing countries access to sustainable sources of revenue, including taxation. He states the UK Government’s commitment to aiding this process through capacity building, improving exchange of tax information and increasing transparency in the order to crack down on corruption. He notes that the Government was successful in obtaining a commitment from the G20 on multilateral tax information exchange at the Cannes summit last year.

I acknowledge that this response is disappointing; however I fear that further correspondence with the minister will be unlikely to change the Government’s mind on this issue. If you wish to discuss this issue further with me I would be happy to meet with you at one of my regular surgeries. Please call my constituency office on 0131 661 7522 if you wish to make an appointment. Otherwise thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Of course if you would like to comment further on this issue, you can contact me by email on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

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