April 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderWestminster report

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

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

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

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a Work and Pensions Select Committee hearing in November 2013 during which senior civil servant Neil Couling quoted unpublished data to defend the Government’s Work Programme.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constituency Report

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

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

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

Meadow_Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craigmillar Books for Babies
Saturday Rhymetimes at Craigmillar Library:

  • Saturday 26th April – How Does Your Garden Grow? – 11.00am-12.00pm
  • Saturday 31st May – 16th Birthday Celebration-Songs, stories and birthday cake. Gift book for every child! For mums, dads, carers and children under 4 – 11.00am-12.00pm
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March 2014 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderWestminster report

A considerable amount of my time in the last month has been spent working on social security issues. While the debate about the need for fairness of ‘welfare reform’ continues to rage in the media and in Parliament, what is increasingly clear is the incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions in the pursuit of its agenda is causing both financial loss and distress to individuals.

Personal Independence Payment
On 18th February I blogged for the Huffington Post about Personal Independence Payment, the benefit the government introduced following their abolition of Disability Living Allowance.

PIP – and DLA before it – is intended to help people with the extra costs they face as a result of living with disabilities. Ministers predicted that the assessment process for PIP would take between 12 and 15 weeks, but since the new benefit went live in June, many claimants have been left waiting for more than twice as long. This has had the effect of pushing many vulnerable people into financial difficulties.

In my blog I argued that this could have been avoided if the Department for Work and Pensions had properly piloted the assessment process in advance and ensured that its private sector contractors – Atos and Capita – had adequate staff and training to deliver the required number of assessments. By choosing to press on regardless, the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith is effectively using disabled people as guinea pigs – a conclusion reinforced by a highly critical National Audit Office report published on 27 February.

Employment and Support Allowance
Since being elected in 2010 I’ve been concerned that too many people who apply for Employment and Support Allowance – the main benefit for people who can’t work due to an illness or disability – have been incorrectly found ‘Fit for Work’.

Quarterly statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that they were getting about one in ten decisions wrong, but on 24 February I received a letter from the UK Statistics Authority confirming my suspicions that this is an underestimate. The Authority’s chair Sir Andrew Dilnot described the publication as ‘potentially misleading’ and questioned the figures’ status as ‘national statistics’.

On the same day it then emerged that the process of periodically reassessing existing ESA claimants had been suspended by DWP Ministers because of concerns over capacity of the contractor ATOS to cope with the numbers. I’ve always argued that the present arrangements mean people are called back too regularly, so this suspension is in some sense a welcome development. However as I emphasised in the Independent, this has come about as a result of incompetence on the part of Ministers, rather than an enlightened change of policy.

Bedroom Tax Loophole Closed
Just before Christmas the DWP had to admit that people who had been both tenants and housing benefit recipients since 1996 shouldn’t have been affected by the Bedroom Tax. The numbers involved were estimated at only 5000 by the DWP but local authorities thought the numbers would be more like 20,000. The Government laid regulations before the House to close this loophole. The Opposition called for a debate and vote on this on Wednesday 26th February. Being the last speaker I had just 3 minutes to make my points.

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of the Impact of Government Policies on the Disabled
The WOW (War on Welfare Reform) campaign got over 100,000 signatures on its petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment. A debate on this took place on Thursday 27th.

wow_splashHousing
In 1980 £16 of every £20 the Government spent on helping those on low incomes secure housing went on building homes, while only £4 went on subsidising rents. Last year only £1 of every £20 went on new homes and £19 on housing benefit. I used a comment piece in the Daily Mirror on 26 February to make the case for moving the balance back.

Scotland’s Place in the UK
One of the disadvantages of being a frequent speaker in the Chamber is being at the end of the backbench speakers’ list. When we had a well subscribed debate on Scotland at the beginning of February I was left with the last 2 minutes to speak!

ScotlandUKCost of Living
Recent figures show that the number of people who feel insecure at work has nearly doubled from 6.5 million to 12 million since 2010. There are a number of factors at play here, including the increasing use of zero hours contracts, people having to accept part time hours in place of full time work, the declining value of the minimum wage, and changes to the law that have made it easier to fire people. I used a comment piece in the Edinburgh Evening News to set out how Labour would tackle these issues.

Miners’ strike
The closure of coal mines following the 84/85 miners’ strike had a devastating impact on communities across Scotland. In January cabinet papers from the time were released revealing the scale of intent on the part of Margaret Thatcher and her Ministers to close pits and manipulate the police. As a consequence I wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude to ask for a formal apology from the current Government.

Votes at 16
At the last General Election, only 44% of those aged 18-24 voted. We need to take action to address this, not least so that political parties of all hues listen to young people and their concerns. That’s why I welcomed Ed Miliband’s pledge that the next Labour Government will legislate to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote at General Elections. Schools will be able to encourage young people to vote for the first time, meaning that they’re more likely to continue to do so in the future. On Wednesday 12 February I attended a lobby of parliament by the campaign group Votes at 16.

Votes16Students Stop AIDS
I also attended a meeting in Parliament organised by the Student Stop Aids campaign, as part of a tour of the UK by campaigners from Uganda and China.

BgOd4BPCMAA1tGgConstituency Report

More Student Housing for the Southside?
Southsiders have worked tirelessly to oppose plans for student accommodation at Lutton Court and officers have now recommended that the application should be refused. The officer’s report recommends refusal on the basis of the effect a high student population could have on the local area. For this reason the plans are also deemed unsympathetic to the existing setting, within the Southside Conservation Area. It is Development Management Sub-committee members who will make the final decision at a hearing on Wednesday 12th March. I hope that members agree with the recommendations and that this application is refused. Members must take the opportunity to recognise the strength of opposition voiced by local residents.

1541820395In February student accommodation specialist Unite announced plans to refurbish the Homebase store on St Leonards Street and build a five story block of flats on top. I formally objected to the proposal at Lutton Court and I pledged likewise in the Edinburgh Evening News should any St Leonards Street application be submitted.

When the former editor of the Evening News John McLellan then questioned my motives for doing so, I got the chance to set out in detail why I believe we must avoid over-concentrations of students in any part of our city. Further debate has followed, with contributions from members of the public.

Cabaret Night at Portobello High School
This month I had a relaxing and enjoyable evening at Portobello High School’s Cabaret Night. The quality and confidence of the young people taking part was impressive. ‘Eat your heart out’ Michael Gove, no shortage of talent and educational quality here. Now what could a school like Portobello achieve if it had the spend per head that many private schools have!

Holyrood Road Billboard
In December I congratulated Southsiders for their hard work and persistence in asking the Council to seek to remove a billboard wrongly erected on Council land. While we are waiting for that board to be removed, last month Development Management Sub-committee members voted to refuse an application for another board. That board does not have permission to be there, as it is larger than has previously been permitted. While local residents are cautious that Forrest Media may appeal the decision, or erect a smaller board, it’s another small success which should again be congratulated.

LIDL Easter Road Proposal
Lidl Scotland has now circulated its proposals for a new store at the site of the former B&Q store on Easter Road, which has remained empty since November 2012. No planning application for the superstore has been submitted to the City of Edinburgh Council, however permission would be required to make modifications to the building and to remove a ‘non-food’ usage condition currently in place on the site. Lidl has stated in its own literature that formal plans will be submitted by late summer and has begun the process of engaging with local residents. You can view the plans as they currently stand at www.lidleasterroad.co.uk/the-proposed-development.

If you have any comments on the general principle of the development, or if you would like me to make a submission on this issue email me on sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

Guide Dogs Scotland Blindfold Walk
Since being elected I have supported campaigns for more ‘talking buses’, and to protect Guide Dogs from attacks by other dogs. But this month I was taken on a blindfold walk, first with a long cane, and then with a dog. For my constituents who are registered blind Guide Dogs are an invaluable asset allowing them to get out and about and enjoy a real sense of mobility. Being out on the blindfold walk made me appreciate just how complicated junctions and poor pavements can impede mobility for those with limited vision. It really brought home how difficult many of our roads and pavements can be and how important it is that planners take this into account.

S_gilmore_Jenny_PacoBridgend Farmhouse Bid
In early February, the Bridgend Inspiring Growth committee submitted its bid to purchase Bridgend Farmhouse from City of Edinburgh Council. Working to this point for over three years, the committee has put in an incredible effort to this stage. The charity promotes sustainable living practices and outdoor learning for the local community. The charity is now looking to establish itself as a community benefit society and is proceeding with a share issue to co-operatively own and run the farmhouse. More details about what a community benefit society is available on their website at bridgendfarmhse.blogspot.co.uk. For those interested and willing to become a co-owner of the farmhouse the details and necessary paperwork is available at this website.

Get It Sorted Together
Do you have a project in mind that could enhance your local environment? The Edinburgh Evening News and the City of Edinburgh Council are looking for inspired residents and community groups to put forward their ideas for help with funding and resources to get your project going. Examples projects might include: Painting a community centre, planting bulbs on a community backgreen, tidying up a derelict piece of land, commissioning a piece of graffiti artwork for a wall. For further details head to goo.gl/B2XK3W.

GISHousing Bill Submission
The Scottish Government has recently introduced a housing bill, while fairly limited in scope I hope Parliament takes the opportunity to make more wide ranging changes. Most attention has been paid to the proposal to end Right to Buy but this is a less radical change than it appears. First it won’t come in till 2017. Second reduction in the discounts available dating back to 2002 have in fact slashed the rate of sales already. In 2012/13 in Edinburgh only 75 houses were sold (compared with over 600 a year before discounts changed.) If this small number had not been sold they might not have become available for sale for many years to come as the tenants would probably have stayed put. So stopping it altogether will only contribute a tiny amount to increasing the supply of affordable housing. This proposal offers much less than it appears. There are some modest changes in the way anti social behaviour can be dealt with (a big bit of my surgery caseload) and in housing allocations.

I’ve put in a submission to the Committee of the Parliament which is looking at the Bill. In it I’ve highlighted in particular the fact that I see increasing problems with private landlords failing to maintain buildings and gardens. I am suggesting that we look at ways of using the registration process to deal with this.

Raised beds at White House
Interested in growing vegetables, herbs and fruit? I’ve written before about the Community Trust which is running the White House as a community resource. Recently they have involved young people from Castlebrae and Holyrood High schools who are gaining work experience in building skills in constructing raised beds for the area at the back of the White House. What is grown here will be used in the cafe which is already up and running inside. More volunteers to help with this are needed – if you are interested in getting involved contact James Donald on 0131 661 1282 for more details.

WHraisedbedsOld Town and Northfield Willowbrae Community Councils
Efforts to reconstitute the Old Town Community Council are now underway. The Council’s Election Team has agreed to act as Returning Officer during the nomination period from 3 – 24 March. At the end of the nomination period, if there are more nominations than vacancies for elected members (11) an election will be held on 24 April 2014. Nominees must be over 16 years of age and on the electoral roll for the community council area. Forms to nominate yourself are available on the Council’s website.

The same principles apply for the Northfield Willowbrae Community Council; however nomination papers must be in by Monday 10th March.

Events in Parks
Edinburgh’s parks are a much loved asset by everyone across the city and serve as great venues for summer events. Naturally there are some concerns that excessive use means damage lasts much longer than the events themselves. Last year I wrote about local concerns regarding the use of the Meadows so I was pleased to see the Council has launched a survey about park usage on a city-wide basis. The Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links are keen to encourage a healthy response from interested residents.

Dates for your Diary

  • Friday 7 March – Leith Links Residents Association ‘Quiz and Banter’ Evening – from 7.00pm – Leith Franklin Cricket Club
  • Wednesday 12 March – Lutton Court student accommodation planning application Hearing – 10.00am – City Chambers, High Street
  • Monday 10 March – Deadline for nominations for Old Town Community Council – details at goo.gl/ANb4ws
  • Monday 24 March – Deadline for nominations for Old Town Community Council – details at goo.gl/7FWosE

Movies and Shakers: films which can help change the world
All at White Horse bar, 266 Canongate EH8 8AA and Circus Café, 8 St Mary’s St, Edinburgh EH1 1SU

  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room -Monday 10 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • Economics of Happiness – Monday 17 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • Shock Doctrine – Monday 24 March 2014, 7.30 pm, White Horse
  • 97% Owned – Monday 31 March 2014, 7.30 pm, Circus Cafe
  • Stealing Africa – Monday 7 April 2014, 7.30 pm, Circus Cafe

More information: Anna: a.mayfield@hotmail.co.uk; Neil: guthrie.neil@gmail.com; or MatthewMatthewCrighton@gmail.com

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Upgrading the National Cycle Network in the city centre

Edinburgh can proudly say that its has a large cycling community and is a prime destination on the National Cycle Network.  We enjoy good paths and motorists who are generally respectful. Like many cyclists I still feel much can be done to make cycling easier and safer for a relatively small cost compared with the overall transport budget.

I’m therefore pleased the Council is working in partnership with Sustrans to deliver an upgrade of National Cycle Network Route 1 (NCN1) between the Meadows and the Innocent Tunnel cycle path. On the Council’s ‘Family Network’, the route is part of a network of cycle routes for younger or less confident cyclists.  More information about Cycle Route Proposal for Meadows to Innocent Path can be found on the Coucils website, and there is a leaflet here.

Please note, the closing date for feedback is Monday 16 December 2013.

 

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Save our Stations

Kezia Dugdale MSP and I are backing the Edinburgh Evening News Save our Stations campaign in response to the news that Police Scotland intends to close eight police station front desks across Edinburgh, after Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill MSP ordered a review of public counter provision.  To sign the Evening News petition against the plance, follow the instructions at http://bit.ly/1bCr94x or print and complete this petition form:

In Edinburgh East operations at Craigmillar are due to be transferred to the new East Neighbourhood Centre and there are proposals to cut the opening hours at Portobello. Kezia is formulating a response to the review and she is seeking your comments on the plans via a survey which you can complete here:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

For further information, head to http://bit.ly/1bCr94x.

 

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May 2013 enewsletter: Porty High PAN application, keeping East Coast trains in public ownership, looking at attitudes to welfare, exploring the flaws in Govts Universal Job Match and more plans for the Edmonstone Estate

Sheila Gilmore MP Header

Westminster Report

Attitudes to Welfare

The Easter period saw a ratcheting up of the rhetoric on ‘welfare’ on both sides of the argument. With increasing criticism of the bedroom tax in particular beginning to hit home, Government Ministers responded with renewed vigour.  ‘900,000 claimants who were on incapacity dropped their claims when faced with having to go for a test’ ran one headline, so by implication showing they were ‘fearties’  (not ‘fairies’ as Hansard writers once thought a Scottish MP had said when he used this word) .  If correct this would be truly big news, since that would be half of all of those on incapacity benefit currently undergoing reassessment.   But it wasn’t true – the correct figure being 19,700.  If you want to know the real picture I’ve written about this on my website – trouble is it takes much longer to ‘explain’ than to issue erroneous headlines. My response to The Telegraph is on my website, here: http://bit.ly/ZOgQOO.

That was even before we had George Osborne’s comments on the Philpott case.

In this heated atmosphere newspapers were quick to highlight opinion polls showing, for example, that around 67% of people approved the Government’s welfare reforms. The subtext being that Labour should stop opposing them because we were on the ‘wrong side’ of public opinion.  Interestingly one of these polls also showed that 63% said that no one could live on £ 53 per week. The same YouGov survey asked if the current £71pw level of Jobseeker’s Allowance was reasonable, 57% said yes and 31% ‘no’; when asked if they personally could live on this amount 44% said ‘probably’ and 48% said ‘probably not’.   The much quoted British Social Attitudes survey shows attitudes to ‘welfare’ spending have hardened in recent years, but also show distinctly increased support for helping the disabled and carers.

Table 1.2 attitudes to spending

To see more on this head to http://bit.ly/11NBG21.

Incidentally before we wrap ourselves in the belief that Scotland is different, it is worth looking at work done by Scot Cen Social Research (available at http://bit.ly/11NCkwp, published 2011)

1.    Scotland is more social democratic than England –but the difference is only modest 2.    However, Scotland has become less – not more –social democratic since the advent of devolution. 3.    As a result, the gap between Scotland and England has not widened at all. Rather, opinion in Scotland has moved in parallel with that in England, leaving the difference in outlook largely unchanged.

Attitudes are more complex and varied than the themes captured by opinion polling. It was well expressed in one conversation I had on the doorstep recently with a young working father who expressed his worry that he and his wife, with a toddler, were struggling despite both working. (Research such that from the Resolution Foundation – http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/ bears out that this is indeed the reality for many). He also said how angry it made him to see people who never seemed to work but seemed to get by better than him. But he was equally angry about what his own Dad was going through, as he suffered from emphysema and was worried that his benefits might be stopped following an ATOS test, and on top of that he was affected by the bedroom tax.

I think you could summarise this as saying that: people agree we all want ‘fairness’; we want work to be rewarded; we don’t want people who have genuine barriers to working being penalised; and we don’t see why people who live in ordinary sized council homes should be expected to up sticks after many years or lose a substantial chunk of an already low income.  They want those who play the system to be dealt with – even if many media reports exaggerate numbers, we know some exist. The fact that some of the rich also cheat through tax evasion and avoidance means that they should also be tackled; but this isn’t an excuse not to challenge the minority who are able to work but don’t even try. Afterall, the two wrongs don’t make a right.  The challenge for us as an Opposition is to attempt to develop a policy that encompasses all of that ensuring that fairness prevails.

Margaret Thatcher

Whatever you thought of her policies and performance as Prime Minister the response to her death demonstrated that she was indeed a significant political figure, one who was capable of arousing very strong responses more than 20 years after she ceased to be Prime Minister.

I didn’t go to London for the ‘recall’ session, considering it totally unnecessary. A Parliamentary sitting to allow MPs to express views was justified but it could easily have been fitted into week beginning 15th April when Parliament was sitting anyway.

Debating the Finance Bill

Most of the first week back after Easter was spent on debating the Finance Bill.  As well as a day on the ‘Second Reading’ of the Bill, two days were set aside for more detailed ‘committee stage’ debates in the main chamber.  Usually this stage of Bills takes place in a room tucked away on the Committee corridor, but it is traditional for some of the key aspects to be dealt with in a way that allows all MPs to participate. The oddest thing this week was the tiny number of Government MPs who made any effort to take part to support the budget. At the Second Reading Debate there were only 2 Tory and 1 LibDem back bench speakers, so the Opposition was left literally speaking amongst ourselves.

Finance Bill second reading

Okay so I know many people probably think that’s what we do all the time, but if we take democracy seriously, this was a very strange state of affairs. Much the same happened on the other two days. Did Government backbenchers not like the budget, or did they think it so unimportant that they found other things to do? As I said last month many commentators have said it will have almost no impact on the economy

In my speech on the Second Reading I wanted to make points about the sluggishness of the economy I gave an example of a constituent who had tried to get an increase on his 15 hour a week job to help pay the ‘bedroom tax’ but couldn’t.  I thought I’d also have a look at what jobs were available on the Government’s flagship ‘Universal Job Match’ website for someone like this constituent. I typed in ‘shop assistant’ and was genuinely shocked to discover that 57 out of 76 ‘entries’ for this type of work in the wider Edinburgh area were for catalogue delivery and selling jobs.

Universal Job Match example

Not so much back to the 1980s as ‘on the road’ back to the 1930s!  See more on my website at http://bit.ly/ZIJFQR.

Parliamentary Ping Pong

Not a new form of sport but parliamentary jargon for the process of amendments to bills being batted back and forwards between the Lords and Commons. We are approaching the end of the Parliamentary session (the new session starts with the Queens Speech on 8th May) and there are a number of bills which the Government wants to complete by then. There are a number of contentious issues where the House of Lords has passed amendments Government does not like e.g. on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board and Shares for Employment Rights. The Government managed to overturn most of these using its Commons majority on Tuesday 16th April. These will now go back to the Lords. At the time of writing we don’t know how many amendments the Lords will send back once more.

Stop the East Coast Privatisation

Trains on the East Coast Main Line – which links Edinburgh with Newcastle, York and London – have been publicly run for the last four years. During that time services have improved and profits have been retained for public benefit, rather than lost to shareholders. As a result Labour has pledged that, should we win the next General Election in May 2015, East Coast would be kept in public hands.

Stop the East Coast Privatisation

On Tuesday 26 March the Government announced its intention to privatise East Coast by February 2015. This is a cynical attempt by Tory Ministers to wreck Labour’s plan, and shows that the David Cameron and his Ministers put ideology before the needs of passengers and taxpayers. That’s why along with my fellow Edinburgh MPs Mark Lazarowicz and Ian Murray, I’ve started a campaign calling on the government to halt the privatisation plans. You can read the article I wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News here: http://bit.ly/11NEzjs.

You can sign up to my petition on my website: http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/my-work/eastcoastmainline/

There you’ll also be able to read the letter I’ve sent to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Constituency Report

April in Edinburgh

The first two weeks in April being Parliament’s Easter break, I was able to get along to a number of local community meetings and visits, as well as spending a lot of time getting around the constituency talking to people at home.

Preston Street pupils put me to the test

As part of a visit to Preston Street primary school I was asked some very challenging questions by primary 6 and 7 pupils about such things as whether it was right to bail out the banks, what would happen to the country’s debt if Scotland became independent and whether we could really afford to pay Aid to other countries. This was part of a longer visit where the whole school presented the results of work they had been doing around the Enough Food If campaign, looking not only at the food problems of developing countries but also at some of our habits at home. They had looked at practices such as supermarket promotions of ‘buy one get one free leading to many of us (myself included as I told them!) buying more than we really intended, and then possibly wasting it.   The enthusiasm for the project was infectious.

More on ‘Enough Food If’

I was also invited to meet with members of an Enough Food If campaign group at the Sacred Heart Church in Lauriston Gardens.  There was a lively and wide ranging discussion about how we could make some of the ideas coming from the campaign a reality, and especially around tax issues, both in developing countries and here in the UK.  Although there are many more things to be done, I always stress to campaigning groups the importance of demonstrating to the current Government that there is support for their commitments on aid.  There are many voices on the government’s own back benches who would like to see this cut.

Third Age Computing Fun

Third Age Computer FunAnother April visit was to the Third Age Computer Fun group which now meets in the new Craigmillar Library.  The group are delighted with the facilities here, with good wifi. This is an informal group where everyone works at their own pace with volunteers on hand to give advice. Want to find out more? Telephone 0131 346 1179, email info@thirdagecf.org.uk or tweet @thirdagecf

New Life for the ‘New Victoria’ (aka the Odeon?)

New Victoria. Credit: www.buildingsatrisk.org.uk

Those who have campaigned for many years to save the former Odeon cinema building from demolition were heartened to hear about plans for the building to be given a new lease of life as an entertainment venue.  Gerry Boyle came to the April meeting of the Southside Association to explain his plans to lease the ‘front’ part of the building, including the auditorium, for use as a cabaret venue, with both live and streamed entertainers.  Films could be shown once more.  Mr Boyle sought to reassure local residents that, while Las Vegas style entertainment might be shown on screen, there would be no gambling and no late night licences.  While for some, after all the frustrations, there was an element of ‘Believe it when we see it’, there was also optimism that finally this iconic 1930s building could be brought back to life.

End Polio Now

End Polio Now

This month I was invited to meet with the Portobello Rotary Club whose members wanted to tell me about their work supporting the End Polio Now campaign.  As a child at primary school in the late 1950s polio was the ‘bird flu’ of the day. The images that remain with me are of ‘iron lungs’ (did I see TV pictures?) and parents keeping their children away from swimming pools.  Since then vaccination programmes have been highly successful, not just here but all over the world. The Rotary is supporting the final push to make the world polio free. Fundraising is contributing to ongoing programmes targeting a few remaining areas where the disease remains a risk. One member reported on his experience taking part in a vaccination drive in India. I undertook to contact Ministers to ensure the issue stays on their radar too.

Portobello High School update

New Portobello High School

A PAN application has been submitted for Portobello High School at Portobello Park. This is nothing to be worried about, but the Council is submitting an application to renew the previous application, on the basis that it is due to expire next February.  The Council must restart the process and consult fully to ensure that planning permission is in place should the Scottish Parliament delay any decision to change the Common Good status of the park.

Make sure you submit your comments in support of the application to ensure that this procedural application is accepted.  One public meeting will be held at Portobello Town Hall on Wednesday 15 May from 7pm to 9pm, and a further workshop will be held at Portobello High School Library on Wednesday 22 May from 7pm to 9pm. For further details the background papers can be located at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu.

The Private Bill was lodged in the Scottish Parliament on 25th April. There will then be 60 days within which objections can be lodged.  A Private Bill Committee will be formed to hear evidence.  The Council is anticipating that the process will be concluded by February 2014.

Shared Repairs in Council Properties

Before last month’s debate on Shared Repairs I emailed comments to Councillors regarding the problem of mixed tenure ex-council blocks (see http://bit.ly/Xi77oh).  The Council-as-landlord seems to have stepped back from such repairs unless deemed to be emergencies, just as it has with statutory notices. I have had a number of responses which say that only emergencies will be dealt with at the moment because “At the moment, Edinburgh Council is currently reviewing its procurement and policy needs in relation to the Tenement Management Scheme and we are unable to lead in mixed tenure repair consultation”.  This has now been the issue for some months.

The most recent case I have is one where the Council still owns 50% of the flats. The most the Housing department, approached by me on behalf of a tenant, was willing to do was write to the owners asking them to organise repairs and that the council would pay its 50%.

It looks like officers have drawn too narrow a meaning on emergency, which is now affecting the Housing department’s ability to handle repairs where it is majority owner in a stair, adding further to the woes of residents who live in stairs with outstanding shared repairs. I’m taking this matter up with my colleagues in the Council.

Compost Giveaway for Green-Fingered Readers

Residents who recycle using their garden waste recycling service will wonder where this waste goes. The City of Edinburgh Council has announced it is giving away free bags at Brunstane Primary School at 3pm on Thursday 2nd May. You can claim one 20kg bag at the event, but supplies are limited so it will be on a first come firs served basis. Please be aware that the bags are heavy so please be prepared. Full details are available at http://bit.ly/ZIKLfl.

The Recycling team will be on hand to provide information on all recycling services.

Craigmillar Community Council – Edmonstone proposals

The most contentious issue at the April meeting was a proposal for new housing development on the Edmondstone estate. Although it is closer to Ferniehill than Craigmillar it falls under the remit of the Community Council, and development there has implications for the regeneration of Craigmillar. The land in question is not owned by the City Council.   Craigmilllar Community Council is concerned that giving consent build private homes here could reduce interest developing the brownfield sites in the Craigmillar area, and so affects the pace of regeneration. The site was originally proposed for use as a park, so there would be a loss of open space too. The would-be developer is stating that the land is not suitable for use as a park, and that it may end up neglected because the Council, which originally was going to upgrade the area under a 99 year lease, may not have the money to do so. The developer was suggesting that a contribution would be offered instead to help upgrade other open space in the area between Greendykes and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Medipark.

All of this is at a very early stage and there will be public consultation event held on 15th May at the Hays Business Centre (times to be confirmed) but from what I heard at the community council meeting I share the community’s concerns.

Tai chi centre

Credit: The Tiger's Mouth

An old garage in Marionville Road has been given a new lease of life as a national centre for the Taoist Tai Chi organisation, and was given a colourful opening (complete with dragon and lion) in April.  Members came from all over the UK and beyond to celebrate the opening and attend a five day workshop. Anyone interested in attending classes or just finding out more, head to http://bit.ly/17kbl0F.

Lyra Theatre Perfomances at ARTSPACE

Lyra Theatres, CraigmillarLyra Theatre would like to invite Edinburgh East residents to free two dance performances made especially for young audiences all the way from the Netherlands! ‘Alles (All)’ and No Man is an Island and My True North will be shown on Saturday 11th May at 2pm at Artspace and Monday 13th May at 7pm at Artspace.

Alles (All) features dance and drum for ages 4-7. No Man is an Island and My True North features two dazzling dance duets that push the limits of physical possibility and challenge the laws of gravity. Ages 8+. Performances are free but ticketed. Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Have your say – council consultations

Encouraging the development of co-operative housing arrangements

In 2012 the Labour Party campaigned in the local council elections on a programme of establishing more co-operative ways of running council services. These ideas were endorsed in the Capital Coalition document entered into by Labour and SNP groups on the council, and I know are supported by others too. To put some flesh on the bones of these ideas in the housing field the Council is starting a consultation on 1 May running through to July.  The document takes a wide view of what constitute ‘co operative arrangements’ from better partnership working to the provision of homes. Edinburgh East has two of Edinburgh’s three successful Housing Co-ops, Lister in the Lauriston Place area and Hunters Hall in Niddrie. Provision of much needed further housing through co-ops is hampered by the length of time it takes to set up a new co-op and the shortage of subsidy. Give your views for example on whether existing co-ops should be enabled to expand or is ‘small beautiful’ in the case of co-ops?  Other suggestions made in the consultation are whether the co-operative model could be used to set up factoring services for home owners (very relevant to Edinburgh in light of the continued discussion over common repairs.) I will be responding to the consultation in due course and will put my submission on my website. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Details of the consultation should be available at http://bit.ly/ZOfljv from 1st May.

City Centre Vision

The Council is also consulting on city centre plans, including some proposals for revised traffic management arrangements designed to make the city centre more pedestrian friendly (see http://bit.ly/ZOdZW2 ). These include making traffic one way along both Princes Street and George Street, with a two way segregated cycle lane along George Street only. Edinburgh East starts on the south side of Princes Street but the city centre affects all of us so take the opportunity to make your views known. The consultation closes on 9th May, to complete the survey, head to http://svy.mk/ZOdXNU.

Regenerating Craigmillar and Affordable Housing

Parc Craigmillar

In the debate about the future of Castlebrae Community High School I have constantly emphasised that the school is integral to the regeneration process, and that the Council should not have sought to look at the school in isolation. I was therefore pleased to hear some radio chat in advance of the Council’s Health, Well being & Housing Committee meeting on 23rd April that a Report was coming forward on affordable housing which would be emphasising the contribution of regeneration areas like Craigmillar (and Granton).

Reading the report – ‘A Business Case for Affordable Housing’ available at http://bit.ly/ZOeP57 – was a bit of a disappointment because there was no specific mention of the regeneration areas, and it was less of a detailed business case than an aspiration. What it pointed up for me was the need for much more emphasis on investment in housing from both the Westminster and Holyrood Governments.  Emphasis appears to be on expanding provision of what is called mid market rent, which is a good way from what has previously been seen as ‘affordable’ and will deliver an outcome very similar to the course being pursued by the Coalition Government, which has made clear its plan that all new council and housing association house building in England will be of homes at up to 80% of market rents’. The council is asking for comments on its Report, and I will be responding from a constituency perspective.  I’m putting together a further piece on Edinburgh’s housing options which will be on my website shortly at http://www.sheilagilmore.co.uk/edinburghs-housing-crisis/.

Dates for your diary

Friday, 26th April – SPACE Green Day – 12pm to 5pm – 11 Harewood Road – Clothes recycling, crafts, tombola and music – entry £1

Friday 26th May – Bin the Bedroom Tax public meeting – hosted by Craigmillar Coalition against Poverty – Richmond Church, Niddrie Mains Road – from 7.00pm – further details at http://bit.ly/ZIHAEm.

Saturday, 27th April – Craigmillar Books for Babies 15th Birthday Celebration – 11am-12pm – Craigmillar Library, Niddrie Mains Road

Tuesday, 30th April – Abbeyhill Student Accommodation PAN Exhibition – 2pm-7pm – Chatham Honda Garage, Abbeyhill – Planning reference number 13/00726/PAN

Thursday 2nd May – Compost giveaway – Brunstane Primary School – from 3pm – full details at http://bit.ly/ZIKLfl

Thursday 9th May – Deadline for your comments on the ‘City Centre Vision’ – more details at http://bit.ly/ZOdZW2, and the survey can be completed at http://svy.mk/ZOdXNU.

Saturday 11th May – Performance of Alles (All)  –  2pm – Artspace, Harewood Road – Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Monday 13th May – Performance of No Man is an Island and My True North – 7pm – Artspace, Harewood Road – Please email boxoffice@lyratheatre.co.uk or text 07779141655 for more information or to book your tickets.

Tuesday 14th May – Exhibition on Edmonstone plans – Hays Business Centre – times to be confirmed

Wednesday 15th May – Portobello High School PAN renewal public meeting – Portobello Town Hall – from 7pm to 9pm – full details available at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu

Wednesday 22nd May – Portobello High School PAN renewal – Residents Workshop – Portobello High School Library – 7pm to 9pm – full details available at http://bit.ly/Y40ZBu

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