August 2014 Newsletter

portcullisbanner_Copy.2.1.1Westminster Report

Bad IschlDomestic UK politics may have been winding down in July (except here in Scotland, of course) but internationally there has been an alarming spiral of violence. During July I was listening to Radio 4’s five minute daily slot ‘counting down’ from the Sarajevo assassination to the outbreak of World War 1. With our historical knowledge, the counterpoint of the events following the assassination at Sarajevo with ordinary news items such as suffragette demonstrations, concerts and sporting events, and Irish problems bubbling up, is poignant. But there are also frightening parallels 100 years on when so many people are facing the horrors of conflict. Many constituents have been in contact with me appalled by the grossly disproportionate response of the Israel incursion into Gaza. The killing continues in Syria and Iraq, while Ukraine remains fragile.

I recently visited the summer villa of Emperor Franz Joseph in Bad Ischl, where he signed the declaration of war on Serbia. If he, or indeed other world leaders, had known what would follow would they have made different decisions? Part of my holiday reading has been a new book on the run up to WWI by Margaret McMillan. ‘The War that Ended Peace’ and what struck me was the confidence of many political leaders that they would be able to resolve matters diplomatically as they had in previous crises. But instead they fell off a cliff. (To avoid sounding like the class swot, I had lots of lighter holiday reading also!)

‘Office time’ on Employment and Support Allowance
As I mentioned last month, people often ask why the MPs aren’t in the Commons chamber all the time to listen to and speak in debates. Although I’m one of the most active MPs in this regard – I spoke in three separate debates on social security and welfare reform over the last month (see here, here and here) – I still think it’s important that we have ‘office time’ to do research on policies that we want to see changed. One of my main focuses is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the main benefit for those who can’t work as a result of ill health or a disability – and the results of my office time were highlighted on three separate occasions last month.

My main concern with ESA is that too many claimants are being incorrectly assessed as ‘Fit for Work’ and refused benefit. Last month the Minister who was then responsible for this policy, Mike Penning (who has since been reshuffled to the Home Office), admitted that over 700,000 applicants were waiting for an assessment. At the time he tried to suggest this had been an issue under the last Labour Government, but when I looked into this, I discovered that the backlog was a mere 28,300 when the current Coalition Government took over in May 2010! I highlighted this in a letter to him on 3 July, and when I receive a response from his successor Mark Harper I’ll post it on my website.

I’ve also used my office time to write to the UK Statistics Authority over the figures the Department for Work and Pensions publish on ESA. I believe the number of incorrect decisions is being artificially supressed as only statistics on the number of successful appeals to judges are published – overturn figures for informal appeals (officially referred to as ‘reconsiderations’) to civil servants are not. Last month I secured a commitment from the Department that they will start to publish this information by the end of this year, and I issued a press release on 9 July, which was picked up by Third Force News.

Finally I followed up a debate I led on the support given to ESA applicants during the reconsideration process last month with a further letter to Mike Penning on 7 July. While people are entitled to claim ESA at a reduced ‘assessment rate’ when they initially apply, their only option during the reconsideration period – which claimants have to go through if they want to appeal – is to claim Jobseekers Allowance. In the debate the Minister claimed that Jobcentre Staff should relax requirements placed on those challenging ESA refusals so that sick and disabled people aren’t sanctioned for not looking for work. However I’ve had a lot of evidence that this isn’t happening on the ground, leaving vulnerable people without any income for periods between seven and ten weeks. I’ll post any reply I receive on my website.

News in Brief
Guide Dogs receptionOn 2 July I lent my support for a campaign by the charity Guide Dogs to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers.

Later that day I met up with my constituent Julie Rattray, who is a Cancer Research UK ambassador. CRUK are campaigning to beat cancer sooner, so that in 20 years’ time three quarters of people who are diagnosed survive.

Gordon AikmanAnd on 9 July I met up with another campaigning constituent – Gordon Aikman. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Gordon has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. He’s already raised more than £40,000 for MND Scotland – a charity that funds and promotes research into the disease and provides support to people affected (you can donate here). He’s now campaigning for more Government money for research and support, and you can back his campaign at gordonsfightback.com.

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill
DRIP BillOn 10 July the Government announced that it was bringing forward a new law to require companies like mobile phone and internet firms to retain data on when, where and with whom people communicate for between six months and two years. This sort of data is used by the police and intelligence agencies to investigate organised crime, terrorism and online child abuse.

In April the European Court of Justice declared that the EU Data Retention Directive was too widely drawn. As a result the UK regulations that permitted data retention in the UK were also struck down, despite the fact that they were much narrower and more proportionate than the Directive itself. The so-called DRIP Bill will reintroduce these requirements.

The Government announcement came such a short time before the summer recess that the bill was rushed through over just three days. This did however allow my party to secure a series of concessions, including an independent review of the legal framework governing data access and interception, extra checks and balances, and a ‘sunset clause’ that means this new law will expire in 2016.

Over 130 constituents asked me to oppose this new law, but I concluded that it is appropriate to take steps to reinstate the limited powers which were being already being exercised. This wasn’t a decision I reached lightly, and I am more than happy to discuss this in writing or in person with any constituents who remain concerned.

Sanctions Report Finally Published
Last year the DWP commissioned a report into the operation of sanctions on people receiving Job Seekers Allowance and taking part in the Work Programme. This has been long awaited but was only published on the very last day of the parliamentary ‘term’. The remit was restricted and it was not a thorough review of the sanctioning process, as called for by many including the Work & Pensions Select Committee. One of its conclusions was that some claimants lacked understanding of the process and reasons for sanctioning. This was particularly true for more vulnerable groups and those with ‘specific barriers to work.’ The DWP has accepted the recommendation for improving communications, rewriting letters etc., so hopefully they will get on with this. Some of the recommendations are only accepted ‘in principle’ which is worrying.

While better communications will help, there remains a serious concern about the circumstances in which some people are receiving sanctions, the increasing numbers being sanctioned and the financial and health impact on those affected.

Personal Independence Payment assessment review
Personal Independence Payment is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance as the main benefit to help people with the additional costs of living with a disability. PIP was introduced for new claimants in April 2013 and existing DLA claimants will begin to be reassessed in October 2015. Eventually the Government expect 170,000 people to lose all support and 160,000 to be awarded PIP at a lower level to DLA. My party and I voted against these plans when they were proposed by the current Government, but unfortunately they were pushed through.

Ministers have now launched an independent review of the PIP assessment process and anyone can submit evidence up to 5 September. I will focus on the delays people are facing before they are given a decision on whether they qualify for support, which is driving vulnerable people to real hardship. However I’d be keen to hear from constituents about their experience of the assessment process – please email me at sheila.gilmore.mp@parliament.uk.

Constituency Report

Baileyfield: Modern ‘colonies’ for Portobello?
I had the opportunity to see the proposals coming forward from Aldi and Crudens for the former Scottish Power site at Baileyfield. As many people will know, there have been a number of planning applications for this site. Initially there was a proposal for a very large supermarket against which there was a vigorous community campaign , which was successful not just at the Council’s Planning Committee but also at appeal (given that apparently most of the big supermarket chains are moving away from very large stores, Portobello was clearly ahead of the curve here). Next came an application for over 700 flats which was also refused. A third iteration with slightly fewer flats and slightly reduced height, got to the stage of a public exhibition but went no further. It featured a now fairly standard layout of large flatted blocks set amidst car parking and sterile landscaping. I remember saying at the exhibition how good it would be if the developers would look around at some examples of Edinburgh style building, like the traditional ‘colonies’ which combine density with individuality. I’ve written about colonies before, so I was pleased to see that the latest proposals are for only around 250 housing units, of which half would be flats and half ‘modern colonies’. There is of also a plan for an ALDI store fronting on the High Street (beside the Kwikfit). On the whole I think this is a lot more promising than what went before, but I realise that as with all planning issues there will be different views. The formal application has not yet been submitted.

Lochend Secret Garden
Lochend GardenThis month I had the delight of attending the AGM and Open Day of the Lochend Secret Garden, now in its third season. The range of flowers and produce was impressive. This success is all down to the hard work of the Steering committee and all the people who are gardening here. Not content with the original garden the group is extending its activities into new challenges. A strip of grass in Lochend Quadrant is being turned into ‘The Orchard’ – from plain grass (picture) to this (second picture). If you are inspired by this example, why not contact the Council to ask about doing something similar, or contact one of your local councillors?

Save our Southside meeting report
On Sunday 20th July, over 70 Southsiders attended a meeting organised by myself, the Southside Association and Sarah Boyack MSP to discuss a community response to the flurry of applications for student accommodation in the area. The purpose of the meeting was not to discuss each application but to get residents thinking about the Southside they would like to see developed. Residents overwhelmingly said they want to live side by side students, but numbers need to be rebalanced with more affordable family housing being developed. Notes from the meeting have been circulated to those in attendance, and are available on my website.

After the initial meeting many residents said they are keen to form a working group to further discuss their response, and think about how they communicate it to planners, the University and developers. Residents are due to meet again on Wednesday 20th August from 7.00pm in the Grey Room, Nelson Hall.

Lutton Court Appeal Allowed
On Wednesday morning the Scottish Government Reporter with responsibility for determining the Lutton Court appeal published his report and decision, allowing the appeal developers submitted after the Council refused the application. Residents in the area are devastated and I am hugely disappointed. This was a key test of the Council’s policy which has failed, having massive consequences for the Southside. The appeal process was conducted on paper which gives the developer much greater opportunity to make its case, while residents are unable to ensure their concerns are truly heard by the Scottish Government reporter. More could have been done to involve them, starting with having an accompanied site visit. I would like to see Planning Officials urgently review its policy and guidance on student accommodation so it can better manage the flurry of applications recently submitted.

Dumbiedykes Bus: “Use it or lose it”
Bus service 60I am delighted to announce that a new bus service, 60, serving the Dumbiedykes and Southside, will start on Monday 25th August. The service will run throughout the day Monday to Friday on a half hourly basis. After years of campaigning, residents will finally see the return of a service, which will be a real boon for the elderly and those who struggle to get up the Pleasance. The service was cut several years ago because there was insufficient usage, however community leaders are spreading the “use it or lose it” message to make sure that the service cannot be cut in the future. Those over 60 can use their concessionary card but must make sure they are ‘beeped’ onto the bus so that numbers are recorded.

Events in Parks Decision Due Soon
On 26 August the Council’s Transport and Environment Committee, will make a decision whether or not to charge market rents to commercial enterprises who use public parks, and seek to limit the length of time events can be held in a park, including the Meadows. Friends of the Meadows & Bruntsfield Links has been running a petition for much of the summer which will be submitted in advance of the meeting. As I reported last month, I share residents concern the intensive use of the park is damaging the Meadows which struggles to recover every year. FOMBL are calling for events to be limited to a maximum 15 days so that they can continue to go ahead but the park has time to regenerate. To sign the petition, head to www.ipetitions.com/petition/fombl.

Post Referendum BBC Radio 4 ‘Any Questions’ Invitations
I’ve received a bundle of invitations from Greyfriars Kirk to hand to constituents who are keen to attend the recording of Any Questions on Friday, 19th September, the day after the referendum. Doors open from 6.30pm and you can turn up on the day to see if you can get a seat at the recording, however if you would like an invitation, please email me your details.

Local Development Plan consultation begins
As I mentioned in my previous newsletter the City of Edinburgh Council recently approved the Second Development Plan. The new Development Plan Scheme is available to view online or in Council libraries. You can make written representations on the Second Proposed Plan from 22 August to 3 October 2014. For more information head to edinburgh.gov.uk/localdevelopmentplan.

Edmonstone Development
Several applications to develop the Edmonstone estate have now been to committee to be determined. Developers propose building on this land which is in the ‘greenbelt’ and is currently dangerously unstable due to the underground mine workings. One application, for residential dwellings, was refused at committee on 30 July, while proposals for a cemetery and crematorium were granted on Wednesday. I fear that the application may have been a Trojan horse to allow further development on this part of the Greenbelt.

Revised Waste and Recycling
I have received a number of enquiries about how the revisions to waste recycling service will affect them. To encourage more recycling and to make the chore simpler, most recyclables will soon go straight into your green wheelie, with a new grey wheelie being provided for domestic waste. Full details of the rollout, and the streets affected are on the Council’s website.

Awards for All Scotland Reopens for Applications
Awards for All Scotland reopened to applications on 4th August 2014. The BIG Lottery Fund in Scotland took the decision to pause Awards for All Scotland to new applications from 9th May until 4th August to focus on assessing and administering grants related to building a legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

Awards will be prioritised for projects where beneficiaries are mainly BME, disabled, LGBT, older or carers. For details on the scheme, head to biglotteryfund.org.uk/awardsforallscotland.

Dates for Your Diary

Be Arty Be HealthyWednesday, 20th August – St Margarets House (151 London Road) Redevelopment Pre-application Exhibition – from 4-8 pm – Piershill Library – for more information enter 14/02137/PAN at bit.ly/10KV9iP

Wednesday 20th August – Save Our Southside: working group meeting – from 7.00pm – Grey Room, Nelson Hall

Tuesday, 2nd September – deadline to register to vote in the referendum – details and forms available at www.lothian-vjb.gov.uk

Wednesday, 3rd September – deadline to register to vote by post in the referendum – details and forms available at www.lothian-vjb.gov.uk

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Events in Parks Manifesto consultation

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 consultation closes tomorrow (21 March) and you can read the letter of submission I have made here.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Season’s Greetings & December 2013 Newsletter

Sheila Gilmore MP HeaderSeason’s Greetings
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and joyous festive period. While we take a break and spend time with family, we must remember some friends and neighbours are less fortunate. Keep them in mind during the holiday season, especially if the cold weather sets in.

2013card1201fb0Seasons_s_Greetings_Orcadiaf8d9bd

The fantastic artwork featured here was kindly produced by the students and tutors at Orcadia Creative Learning Centre and will appear on my 2013 Christmas card. The Christmas card will now be distributed to 10,000 Edinburgh East households, spreading a bit of Christmas sparkle.

Located at Windsor Place, Portobello, the learning centre puts on an impressive range of communication based activities for young people with learning difficulties including arts, amateur dramatics, percussion and mime puppetry to encourage students to participate in interactive communication. Students attend from all over Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Orcadia and their dedicated staff and volunteers, ensure that day to day experiences for these children and young people is expressive and engaging. Fundraising is key to ensure that the centre can continue to offer these services. The trampolining room – which can be hired for children’s parties – provides a much needed income stream and this year the centre is being supported by Sainsbury’s Portobello.

The Orcadia website is currently under construction, but you can register for the mailing list at orcadiacentre.org.uk.

Westminster report
Back in May it was pointed out that the Government appeared to have run out of legislative steam with a very thin Queen’s Speech. As it turned out the most contentious Bill, on Lobbying, wasn’t even in the Speech. But the role of Parliament is also to monitor the impact of previous legislation and budgets.

Chamber

The cost of living has gone due a substantial drop in real wages for many. This has been the focus of a number of debates. The Government’s own Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has described the Government’s ‘fiscal consolidation’ as regressive in its impact, and on 19th November I asked Nick Clegg about whether he would agreed with one of the Commission’s recommendations to shift the childcare subsidy higher rate taxpayers enjoy to support low earners. Later the same day in a debate on the impact of the Government’s policies on women I made a speech where I pointed out that for low earners the increase in income tax thresholds had been cancelled out by reductions in tax credits and frozen child benefit payments.

Personal Independence Payment – More Haste Less Speed!
Disability Living Allowance is paid to help people cope with the additional costs of living with a disability. In 2010 the Government announced it was to be replaced by a new benefit – Personal Independence Payment – for which the budget would be cut by £2 billion. Initially all new claims made from last month were to be for PIP rather than DLA, but the Department for Work and Pensions announced that this would only happen in certain parts of the country because pilots showed the assessment process was taking longer than expected. I wrote for the Huffington Post about why this is happening and the impact on disabled people.

More Issues with Employment & Support Allowance
While DLA – and in the future PIP – is paid to people regardless of whether they are in or out of work, Employment and Support Allowance is the main ‘income replacement’ benefit for those who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. I’ve been concerned that too many people are being assessed as fit for work when they’re clearly unable to do so. This month I’ve discovered that figures on the number of people awarded ESA have been artificially inflated by taking into account the results of informal appeals against refusals, masking the failings in the assessment. You can read more about this on my website.

This comes on top of the Government’s failure to publish further key data in October, which was picked up by the Third Force News. The Scottish voluntary sector newspaper also published a letter I sent in highlighting the growing number of people refused both ESA and Jobseekers Allowance.

Benefits sanctions
Since their election the Government have reduced the flexibility that Jobcentre Plus advisers have in deciding whether Jobseekers Allowance claimants should have their benefits stopped and sanction periods have increased. As a result there was a sharp rise in the number of people being sanctioned when figures were published earlier this month. While I accept that people in receipt of JSA should be expected to look for work, I’ve come across several examples of people who should never have been sanctioned if common sense had prevailed. I’ve set these out, along with what I think needs to change, on my website.

Bedroom Tax
In September Ed Miliband announced that Labour would scrap the Bedroom Tax if it wins the 2015 General Election. On 12 November we held an ‘Opposition Day’ debate on this proposal, with a vote at the end. This was so over-subscribed with speakers on the Labour side that time ran out before several of us were able to speak, although I did manage to get a few interventions in. You can read the whole debate here. There was also a debate on this subject in the Commons ante-chamber Westminster Hall the week before, in which I was able to make a full speech – see here. Evidence is piling up that the supposed savings on this policy are outweighed by the additional costs, often placed on local councils. In addition to the growing costs of both paying and administering Discretionary Housing Payments (a small pot of money that comes nowhere near mitigating the worst effects of this policy), arrears of rent are causing serious problems for councils and housing associations.

BTinfographic

COSLA (the umbrella group for Scottish Local Authorities) has published evidence arguing that the cost will outweigh the saving and the Centre for Housing Policy at York University published similar evidence based on the experience of four housing providers in the north of England.

But this is one part of government policy where the Coalition is for the most part holding firm and refusing to change. There is doubt that the Prime Minister understands the impact of his own policies. At Prime Minister’s Questions on 27 November, in answer to a question from my colleague Andy McDonald from Middlesbrough, David Cameron claimed that all disabled people needing a spare room were exempt, which they are not!

The Scottish Government has now made additional money available for Discretionary Housing Payments, which although welcome, further reduces any ‘savings’ across Government. If readers know of anyone who may have been refused a payment earlier in the year, please encourage them to claim again. Forms can be found on the Council website.

Speaking out in the media
One of my many roles in Westminster is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. Michael is always on the look-out for Government waste and hypocrisy, and I often take responsibility for providing comment for the national media. So when it emerged that David Cameron used a tax cut to slash his own Downing Street energy bill by £400, I highlighted his opposition to Labour’s price freeze in the Daily Mirror and wrote a piece for LabourList. Then when the Prime Minister’s staffer Craig Oliver helped get election strategist Lynton Crosby through the back door of Number 10, I spoke in the Mirror about his links to big tobacco firms. When it emerged the Conservatives had been deleting pre-2010 speeches and press releases from their website, I popped up in the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph.

NFSPs image

Protect our Post Offices
Over the last month I’ve received over 100 postcards from constituents concerned about the future of the post office network following the Government’s decision to privatise Royal Mail. This was one of the many reasons I and my Labour colleagues opposed privatisation. It will be important that Ministers do all they can to ensure the network survives in the future. Some people use a Post Office Card Account to accesses benefits and pensions – renewing this contract would boost the network’s chances of survival significantly. For more information head to the National Federation of SubPostmasters website.

Constituency Report
Lutton Court student accommodation
In October Buile Developments Limited submitted plans to demolish the former Lutton Court Gall & Inglis printworks building, and construct accommodation for 240 students. In my submission calling on city planners to reject the proposals I referred to statistics obtained from the 2011 census which indicated that the student population here is already 49%. The additional 240 students will result in the student population increasing from 194 to 434, or 68% of all residents well above the City of Edinburgh Council’s policy requiring planners to ensure that accommodation for students is limited to 30% of housing provision in one particular area.

598Lutton

Students contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of the Southside but constituents – including students living nearby – are concerned this proposal will lead to too high a concentration. The Council’s own planning guidance acknowledges that it is not the existence of students which is problematic; nonetheless, where there is an excessive presence this places undue pressure on existing residents and community relations. The student population is highly transient and can lead to less stable communities. Edinburgh has flourished having a strong community of permanent residents in its centre and I want this to continue. There are many other uses for this site, such as affordable housing which is in such short supply. The full submission is on my website.

Fibre Broadband Rollout
I frequently receive enquiries from local residents looking to set up small businesses from home, and those who are eagerly awaiting fibre broadband to be turned on in their street. All of the exchanges which serve Edinburgh East are ‘accepting orders’ for fibre broadband which means that those who want the ultra-fast internet service can buy it if they wish to do so. The Portobello exchange was one of the first in Edinburgh to be upgraded, while others including the Abbeyhill exchange, which I recently visited, had to wait a short while until deemed commercially viable. Super-fast broadband is an essential tool for local businesses, but it is very much a necessity for families in the 40,000 households across Edinburgh East – whether it is used for homework, working from home, or simply streaming an episode of Doctor Who. At the visit engineers showed me how the powerful connections are carried across Edinburgh.

BT_ABBEYHILL_0105864b8

The Abbeyhill fibre broadband roll-out will serve 13,500 local homes and businesses when it is complete. By the end of next spring, more than 178,000 homes and businesses in the capital will benefit from the upgrades. BT has invested £2.5bn in the rollout.

Lidl Craigentinny
In September I published my submission on the plans to erect a Lidl store at the former Stratstone Land Rover showroom near to the Seafield junction. Last week members of the Development Management Sub-committee decided to reject the proposals on the basis other sites are preferable and the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated the proposal addressed a retail deficiency in the area.

Southside Advertising Success
More than a year ago Southside residents wrote to myself and Southside Newington Councillors as billboards had been erected at Holyrood Park Bowling Club, violating views of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. In partnership with Forest Media Group, the bowling club submitted applications to erect three hoardings along the road. The first was approved without objection (there is no need to notify neighbours about advertising hoardings); while the second billboard erected was larger than the Council had agreed and enforcement action was taken. The third board was found to be on located on Council land, and local Councillors have now agreed to request that the board be removed. Local residents who worked tirelessly to petition Councillors and officers should be congratulated for their hard work and persistence!

Cycle_lane

National Cycle Network Upgrade
Edinburgh can proudly say that it has a large cycling community and is a prime destination on the National Cycle Network. 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. Included 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 Council’s website, and there is a leaflet here.

SEL__7139

Recruitment and Skills Centre Launch
On 22nd November I attended the official launch of the Recruitment & Skills Centre at Kinnaird Park. The centre is a partnership between the management of Kinnaird Park (British Land), the City of Edinburgh Council, DWP and Cyrenians. Its aim is to help employers get the right people and job seekers get the jobs. Already up and running, it has helped the recent recruitment processes for the Range and River Island. Most convincingly we heard from some of the successful new employees. The Centre will also be assisting other employers such as Edinburgh Trams. It also aims to help smaller employers who often lack the time to run a recruitment process and may be wary about making the wrong appointment. There is also an exciting link with local high schools. It is so important to ensure that young people are not leaving school with neither further education or a job ahead of them.

Portobello Basics Bank Food Bank
This month I visited volunteers who run the Portobello Basics Bank, not a new form of money banking, but a Food Bank. This is staffed by volunteers every Tuesday 10.00am til 1.00pm in Wilson Memorial Church. People are referred by advice agencies, social workers and others. As well as food they are offered free teas and coffee. This help is provided on a temporary basis (normally no more than 6 weeks) but signposting and advice is given to try to resolve the underlying problem. If you are interested in volunteering or able to donate supplies contact Rev Ralph Dunn (Wilson Memorial Church) on 0131 669 6636. The work is much needed and appreciated, but the continuing growth of food banks is worrying. There are a now believed to be over 600 such banks operating in the UK.

The Prime Minister’s stock response to questions on this is to say ‘food bank use went up 10 fold under Labour’. Based on Trussell Trust figures this is true; however the original number was very very small number, times that by ten and that is still a small number. Trussell helped 4000 people in 2005, which rose to 41,000 in 2010. By 2012/13 the number was 347,000 and in the period from April to September 2013 the number was already 350,000. These numbers don’t include the growing number of non-Trussell Trust banks like the Portobello one.

Unprompted by me the Portobello volunteers described DWP ‘sanctions’ as a frequent cause of referral (see my thoughts above).

Community Connections
Do you know an older person who is lonely or isolated? Do you have time and energy to volunteer to ‘make the connection’ with someone in this position? Recently I met with people from the Community Connecting project who told me about some of the success stories , encouraging people who have become wary of going out and about alone, perhaps after illness, and who need a ‘bit of a hand’ to get back in touch with old friends and interests. The service is free in south east Edinburgh to anyone over 65 – contact the organisation at 7 West Adam Street, on community.connnecting@placesforpeople.co.uk or call 0131 558 3728. To volunteer contact the Volunteer Centre, 3rd Floor, 24 Torphichen Street.

598STOPAIDS

Student Stop Aids Campaign
On Saturday 2nd November I spoke in Edinburgh at a conference of students from across the UK who are campaigning to stop the spread of Aids worldwide. They had asked me to come along to give them tips about effective ‘lobbying’ of politicians. Their enthusiasm and commitment was impressive.

Dates for Your Diary

  • Saturday 30th November – Southside Community Centre St Andrew’s Ceilidh: Dancing, Sing-a-Long, & Hot Food B.Y.O.B.- 7.30pm —10.30pm – Tickets £8, Under 14s £5, Family £20 from Southside Community Centre
  • Tuesday 3 December – Southside Association and Community Centre Carol Service and Festive Lights Ceremony – Lights to be switched on by Sarah Boyack MSP & service led by Rev Alex MacDonald, Buccleuch Free Church – from 6pm
  • Saturday 7 December – Portobello Amnesty International showing of ‘The Echo of Pain of the Many’ – Portobello Baptist Church Café, 189 Portobello High Street – 2pm – more details at www.facebook.com/events/385606264905631/
  • Saturday 7 December – Portobello Christmas Market – Brighton Park, off Brighton Place, Portobello – 9.30am to 1pm – stallholders list
  • Saturday 7 December – Christmas Craft Fair – Craigmillar Community Arts Centre, 58 Newcraighall Road (Fort Kinnaird) – 1.00pm–4.00pm
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail