Raising Questions Over £1.8 Billion for Digital Transformation

Today as part of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) we had an introductory session on the work of the Cabinet Office.

The committee heard from the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General John Mazoni, Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office and Chief Executive of the Civil Service in an introductory session on the work of the Cabinet Office.

I got the opportunity to ask Matthew Hancock MP about the cost of the digital transformation at Whitehall; he has estimated it will come in at £1.8 billion. This comes at a time when the Cabinet Office have reduced their staff by 20% with senior civil servants being reduced by 30-40%.

I am not convinced by the digital technology transformation budget, Westminster doesn’t have a great record of keeping digital projects on time and within budget.

Of course modernisation and the introduction of digital services are welcome but not at the expense of jobs. Losing 20% of a workforce is undoubtedly going to have an effect on the service that is provided. I am yet to be convinced that this will be a cost effective option with the best value for money for the end user.

 

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Office Open for Foodbank Donations

Our local foodbank is currently running a Christmas appeal and I am happy to be supporting them by opening up our office for donations. You can drop off any donations you would like to contribute to 20 Crawfurd Street, Greenock, Inverclyde, PA15 1LJ. All donations must be in by the 15th of December.

The foodbank is specifically looking for donations to contribute to their Christmas Hampers and will provide the basics of a Christmas dinner bus also some extra treats to make the Christmas Day special.

The foodbank are also looking for winter warmers, warm winter clothes such as woolly hats, scarves, gloves, blankets, warm socks and hot water bottles for both adults and children.

There are over 11,000 people facing crisis in Inverclyde and as Christmas approaches the foodbank is getting ready to help individuals and families struggling over the holiday period.

As well as donations the foodbank is also looking for volunteers to help out with collections on the 3rd, 4th & 5th of December in the Greenock and Port Glasgow Tesco as well as packing the Christmas Hampers on the 15th, 16th and 17th. I will be giving my time and if you have any spare time over these days I would encourage you to do the same. All the information is attached bellow.

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Raising awareness for World AIDS Day

This week in parliament you may have noticed I have been wearing a little red ribbon, this is in support of World AIDS Day on the 1st of December.

The campaign this year aims to increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education. There are over 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Globally there are an estimated 34 million people who have the virus.

Today, scientific advantages have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV.

It is shocking that some people still do not know the basic facts of how HIV is transmitted, for example 16% of people incorrectly think that HIV can be passed on through kissing, that figure is up from 9% in 2010.

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Here are some facts:

  • The number of people living with diagnosed HIV and accessing care is high and increased by 5% from 2013 to 2014.
  • The number and proportion of people with HIV on treatment and attaining viral suppression continues to increase.
  • Treatment coverage is proportionately lower in young adults.
  • There is an ageing cohort of people living with HIV with almost 1 in 6 now aged over 55.
  • People diagnosed with HIV in the UK today can have a near-normal life expectancy and live healthy and active lives.
  • HIV is not spread through day-to-day contact, touching, kissing or sharing utensils. In addition, being on HIV treatment makes people with HIV far less likely to pass it on.
  • HIV and AIDS are different. AIDS is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms. AIDS cannot itself be transmitted, nor can there be an AIDS virus, nor an AIDS carrier.

Syria Debate

Lots more information can be found here –

HIV Scotland

HIV Aware

Life with HIV

National AIDS Trust

Tele Column -27th Nov 15

Look around the world and in almost every country you will find Scots. We have emigrated from these shores to others almost since we had the capability to do so. Often it was by choice. The desire to travel and seek pastures new outweighed the need or desire to remain here. But for a huge number of native Scots the pressure to emigrate was brought upon them by Continue reading “Tele Column -27th Nov 15”

Kid’s Company [PACAC Committee 19/11/15]

On Tuesday the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) heard from Tim Loughton MP, the former shadow Secretary for Children and Families. I got the opportunity to ask Mr Loughton several questions on his dealings with Kid’s Company and its founder Camila Batmanghelidjh. I asked him about the nature of his visits to Kid’s Company and the continued decision to give Kid’s Company public funding. The Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the relationship between Kids Company and the central government between 2010 and 2015 as well as the decision of Cabinet Ministers to provide a £3 million emergency loan to Kids Company shortly prior to its closure in August. You can find the transcript of the whole session here and a video of the committee session here.

 

Trident [24 November 2015]

Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker.

Trident is a term often used to describe the UKs entire system of nuclear weapons.

Including Vanguard class submarines, Trident missiles and nuclear warheads.

Each Trident D5 missile can hold up to 12 nuclear warheads.

Each warhead has 8 times the capacity to kill and destroy compared to the bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

Each submarine has 16 missile tubes, which makes it technically capable of carrying 192 warheads per vessel.

192 x 8 if deployed as per Hiroshima equates to 61 million deaths.

With 4 submarines that is 250 million deaths.

Of course it would be far worse than that. A nuclear strike would lead to the pollution of water supplies and arable land. Live stock would die, crops would fail.

for those not initially killed by our nuclear weapons….. starvation would follow.

By arming itself with Trident, the UK Government is saying that it is prepared to inflict this fate on millions of innocent civilians if it was deemed necessary.

Madam Deputy Speaker, nobody can win a nuclear war – an exchange of nuclear weapons would lead to a level of devastation that neither side could ever recover from. Indeed the planet would not recover.

However I acknowledge that we have imposed limits on the use of these weapons.

Which will come as little comfort to the dead and dying .

But the plan is to use a maximum of 40 warheads.

Because obviously sitting in the cloistered atmosphere of Westminster playing war games, somebody decided that, 39 wasn’t enough and 41….. Well that would just be barbaric.

The only rational thought that can justify the renewal of Trident would be if one genuinely believed that the existence of the Trident system in some way, shape or form was contributing to a more peaceful world.

Since World War 2, the nuclear deterrent has not stopped wars in,

Vietnam

Iraq

Afghanistan

Falklands

And I can list 30 or so more.

It has not deterred terrorist attacks in,

Tunisia

Mali

Paris

London

New York

So if nuclear weapons have been proven to be completely inadequate in preventing these wars and atrocities ……….. Where are its successes?

What threat does Trident address and who does it deter?

Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led British forces in the First Gulf War, said,

“Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. We have more to offer than nuclear bombs.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshall Lord Bramall said,

“The first question from a military point of view is whether we still need the successor to Trident”. To this I believe the answer is unquestionably no.”

Former Defence Secretary Des Browne and Ian Kearns the former adviser to parliament on national security strategy said,

“It has become clear for example, that a set of long term threats has emerged to which deterrence, nuclear or otherwise, is not applicable.”

Former Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Portillo said,

“Britain now has a minute army and a microscopic navy. And as these have become smaller so the status symbol of nuclear weapons has become more important, or at least to some people.”

And I shall continue to quote from the former Conservative Defence Secretary in the hope that maybe, if you will not listen to me, you may listen to him.

“Our independent nuclear deterrent is not independent and doesn’t constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as an enemy.

It is a waste of money and it is a diversion of funds that might otherwise be spent on a perfectly useful and useable weapons and troops, but some people have not caught up with this reality.”

I would say don’t spend it on weapons and troops but I understand where he is coming from and that is a debate for another day.

I agree with the Honourable Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt MP) when he said, “The successor Trident programme is going to consume more than double the proportion of the defence budget of its predecessor … the price required both from the UK taxpayer and our conventional forces is now too high to be rational or sensible.”

However Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not naïve, I know there are dangers in the world – but the sort of threats we need to address will not be placated by Trident.

The UK Government has identified terrorism, cyber-crime, pandemics, natural disasters, foreign instability and foreign conflicts as our primary risks in the next 5 years. Trident will not solve any one of these issues.

In the meantime, Scotland’s coast continues to be poorly guarded and our maritime reconnaissance is poor.

I’m aware that the UK Government has finally committed to new Maritime Patrol Aircraft, but the gap in our capability will remain at least until 2020.

Westminster’s irrational commitment to Trident has also come at the expense of defence jobs in Scotland.

Between the years 2000 and 2010 cuts to military personnel in Scotland was measured at 27.9%, compared with 11.6% across the UK as a whole.

The decline continued between July 2014 and July 2015 as personnel numbers in Scotland dropped a further 9.5%.

Madam Deputy Speaker, at a lifetime cost of £167 billion it’s clear that Trident makes no economic sense.

It solves none of our most pressing foreign policy priorities and it is draining resources from our conventional forces.

Trident is not the solution, it is very much part of the problem.

This is the speech I had written however due to time constraints I was unable to get through the whole thing. You can see an exact transcript of the speech I delivered here.

You can watch the speech I delivered here.

St Stephen’s School Visit

Last Monday I had the privilege of being invited to speak with Mr MacGillivray’s S1 Modern Studies class at St Stephen’s High School.

I was asked to speak to the class on the subject of democracy and what my role as an Member of the UK parliament entails.

I was extremely impressed by the complexity of the questions I was asked, from the role of the party whip to the people that inspired me to get into politics. I have always been inspired by the civil rights movement and it was nice to see a picture of the late Nelson Mandela smiling down on the class. The class knew all about the civil rights movements that I followed when I was their age.

 

First Minister Visits Ocean Terminal

After the wonderful announcement for Ferguson Marina I caught up with our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she met with the Inverclyde Tourist Group at Ocean Terminal. There is currently a record number of passengers coming through the terminal which is a huge benefit to the local economy.

We then got to check out the branding for the 2016 Superboat Grand Prix that will be held in Inverclyde next year on the 18th and 19th of June. I hope the weather is a little brighter than today!

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£1 million grant for Ferguson Marine

Members of the Scottish Cabinet are touring round Greenock today. It all kicked off this morning when Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced a £1 million grant for Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited. This grant, awarded by the Scottish Enterprise, will secure 100 jobs as well as safeguarding a further 125.

Just last year the Scottish Government task force helped to find a buyer for the company to save it from administration. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, with an order book of £110 million, including a £97 million order for Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). CMAL have ordered the construction of two new hybrid ferries that will be the largest commercial vessels to be built on the Clyde since 2001.

It is wonderful to see such a long history of commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde being protected by the Scottish Government. I am looking forward to Ferguson Marine playing an important role in Inverclyde for the foreseeable future.