Edinburgh’s parks are an asset much loved by all residents because they serve as great venues for summer events. I am therefore pleased that the Council Parks department has begun to consult on an Events in Parks Manifesto. I am keen to ensure that the manifesto recognises how all parks can be used for vibrant and enjoyable events balanced with the needs of local residents and their environmental concerns.
The Post Office has written to me outlining their plans to move the Newington Post Office 274m up the A7 to 11-13 Clerk Street. One key benefit to local residents will be the enhanced opening hours on a Saturday; however I’m keen to hear your responses to the proposal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Another 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @thirdagecf
New Life for the ‘New Victoria’ (aka the Odeon?)
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
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
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
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 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 email@example.com 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
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
Saturday 11th May – Performance of Alles (All) – 2pm – Artspace, Harewood Road – Please email firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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
Watching 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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, 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/
‘Half term’ at Westminster is an opportunity to catch up with visits and events in the Constituency.
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. 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
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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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/. 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. 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