Visiting HMP Greenock

On Friday afternoon I visited HMP Greenock to hear about the work they are doing within the prison.

Greenock Prison was built between 1907 and 1910 so some areas of the building are over 100 years old. The site is constantly being upgraded with new units being added to offer modern community integration and rehabilitation.

The prison works on the basis of trust and it is apparent just how much respect the inmates have for their guards. There are lots of facilities aimed to develop skills as well as giving inmates access to education.

As I was walking through, I saw prisoners learning to cut each other’s hair, working in the laundry and getting a debrief from a nativity play they had performed the night before.

Greenock has a range of offenders and is one of the most diverse in the Scottish Prison Service. They manage adult male and female offenders for those with short term sentences, long term sentences and on remand. They also manage long term males in their national Top End facility, Chrisswell House.

Greenock is generally a local community facing prison, receiving offenders predominately from the courts in Greenock, Campbelltown, Oban, Dunoon and surrounding Inverclyde and North Strathclyde areas. The current design capacity is 249 and hold on average 242 offenders per day.

The prison is doing positive things in working towards rehabilitation and community integration. During the visit the Governor said that Greenock prison is one of the few organisations that work to try and put themselves out of business and that was very apparent throughout the whole visit.

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Advice from the Ombudsman Services – The Consumer Ombudsman

On Friday the Ombudsman Services were in The Oak Mall talking about the services they offer.

  • Nearly half of pensioners are in the dark when it comes to knowing their consumer rights.
  • People aged over 65 are most likely to have a complaint about energy provision but they are less likely to complain.
  • Close to a million older people are afraid to complain when they get poor service from their energy supplier.
  • A third of those in later life ‘don’t want to make a fuss’.
  • The most common complaint is billing, followed by supply issues and poor customer service
  • Only one in seven older people who complained were satisfied, with the majority feeling annoyed and frustrated when speaking to their supplier about the problem.
  • A third of pensioners worry they won’t be taken seriously because of their age.
  • More than a third of over 65s said they had to complain several times before anything was done.

If you are getting nowhere with a complaint the Ombudsman Services might be able to help. They offer a free and impartial service to help consumers to resolve their complaints.

They have years of experience handling complaints about energy companies, communications providers and property firms. In August 2015 they launched their new online service – www.consumer-ombudsman.org to resolve complaints in sectors where there is no existing redress provision. This includes retail, travel and traders.

Before they can help you must first complain to the company and give them a chance to sort out your problem. The company usually has up to eight weeks to resolve your complaint, unless it confirms in writing that it can no longer help; this is called a deadlock letter.

If your complaint is still unresolved you can visit their website and log the details of your case. The Ombudsman are there to resolve any complaints you have appropriately. They are not there to punish firms or companies when things go wrong but their decisions are binding on the firm or company and enforceable in court.

Launching Catriona on the Clyde

I was in Port Glasgow today at Ferguson’s Marine to see MV Catriona launched on the Clyde. Catriona is the first ship to come out of the revitalised Ferguson’s Shipyards.

Just a few weeks ago during the Scottish Cabinet visit John Sweeney announced a £1 million grant for Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited and just last year the Scottish Government task force helped to find a buyer for the company to save it from administration.

It is certainly an exciting time for shipbuilding on the Clyde and a great start for Ferguson Marine. I am looking forward to following and supporting their continuing work within Inverclyde.

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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) [10 December 2015]

You can watch my speech in full here. 

I commend Conservative Members for sitting through this entire debate; if I had gold, silver and bronze medals to hand out, I would have one medal too many.

I find myself in agreement with the general principles of the motion. It is entirely appropriate for an all-encompassing agreement such as TTIP to be scrutinised by elected representatives in this House and in the European Parliament. As Members are aware, negotiations on the agreement began in July 2013. During the subsequent two and a half years it has been extremely difficult for elected representatives at any tier of government to acquire clear information about it. Holding negotiations behind closed doors rarely instils public confidence, particularly when the results of any agreement will have wide-ranging political and economic ramifications. Unsurprisingly, this lack of transparency has generated widespread public scepticism about the proposed agreement.

Drew Hendry
On that point, if the TTIP agreement is as benign as we have been told, particularly for the NHS, does my hon. Friend agree that we should get the details out into the open so that they can be debated properly in this Chamber?

I agree with my hon. Friend.

My Scottish National party colleagues, whether MSPs, MPs or MEPs, have held a consistent position on TTIP: although Scotland might benefit from a free trade agreement with the United States, we require a number of assurances before we can give the proposals our full support. First, under no circumstances can TTIP threaten NHS Scotland with privatisation. I previously wrote to the Prime Minister regarding that specific issue, as did the Scottish Government, who urged the UK Government

“to ensure that the NHS is fully and explicitly exempt from TTIP and, if that is not the case, to use its veto at the European Council to prevent TTIP progressing”.

The UK Government’s response expressed the opinion that TTIP poses no threat to the NHS. I know that my constituents will not find the assurances of a Tory Government sufficient evidence that the NHS is safe from privatisation.

Unionist Members will no doubt say that health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but I remind them that any privatisation of health services in England will have associated funding implications for Scotland. It is unfortunate that no clear evidence has been provided regarding the protection of NHS Scotland and that we are instead reliant on an assurance from the EU and the UK Government that we should not be concerned. Legal advice sought by Unite the union was quite clear in concluding that the NHS is:

“Included in the material scope of the TTIP”.

The concerns of many people in Scotland about TTIP and NHS privatisation could easily be alleviated by an explicit opt-out for the NHS in the text of the agreement. As yet that has not been forthcoming. The SNP will continue to engage and advocate for NHS Scotland to receive adequate protection.

Rachael Maskell
Would it not be better to have a positive list of what is included in TTIP, rather than a negative list of what is excluded?

I could not argue with that. Either way, we need to have the assurances in writing.

Worryingly, there are already examples of Government policy changes resulting in legal action from foreign investors, including in the health sector. We must do everything possible to oppose such a situation in the UK’s nations. I would add that the European Commission’s proposal to replace the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism with the investment court system is little more than a rebranding exercise that will not alleviate the concerns that have been raised. It is unclear to me why an entirely separate legal mechanism is required to “protect” investors from national Governments. Foreign investors should not have the privilege of a special court, and multinational corporations, like individuals, should continue to operate entirely within the existing legal framework.

For those reasons, the text of any TTIP agreement must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before the UK votes on it at European level. The Scottish Parliament must be part of that process, as Holyrood is best placed to determine the effects of any agreement on Scotland.

I have no objection in principle to free trade agreements, but it must not be free trade at any cost. The potential threat to NHS services, the transfer of powers to the private sector and the lack of transparency in the negotiation process are all areas of serious concern. It may yet be possible to reform TTIP in a positive way, but that can be done only when elected representatives have a more active role in drafting the agreement. Until the European Commission recognises these concerns, I am unable to see how any elected representative can give unqualified support to TTIP.

TTIP Debate

Today I spoke in a debate around the TTIP proposals, calling for them to come under full parliamentary scrutiny in the UK and European parliaments before being implemented.

Currently all negotiations are taking place in private. Elected members form any tier of government have found it incredibly hard to acquire clear information about the discussions.

The concerns of many people in Scotland on the issue of TTIP and NHS privatisation could easily be alleviated by an explicit opt-out for the NHS in the text of the agreement. As yet this has not been forthcoming. The SNP will continue to engage and advocate for NHS Scotland to receive adequate protection.

The Investor State Dispute Settlement also raises serious concerns. The settlement could see the authority of our government undermined by exposing it to legal action from private investors.

It is unclear to me why an entirely separate legal mechanism is required to protect investors form national governments

I have no objection in principle to free trade agreements – but not free trade at any cost.

Thank You! Foodbank Donations

A huge thank you to everyone that has brought in donations for our local foodbank. These donations will go a towards making the holiday period special for people who are in need this year.

We are still accepting donation for the Christmas Appeal until this Friday, the 11th of December.

Votes at 16

Yesterday the Government voted to block 16 and 17 year olds from voting in the upcoming EU referendum. The commons rejected the House of Lords proposal with 303 votes to 232.

The voting age was lowered in Scotland for the referendum last year and will continue, with 16 & 17 year olds voting in the Scottish Parliament elections in May next year.

The decision to lower the voting age for the referendum has left us with an incredibly politically engaged generation. Since becoming elected I have had the privilege of visiting a few of our local schools, the students I have met have impressed me with no end. I am always pleasantly surprised by the diversity of questions that I am faced with when I visit Inverclyde’s schools.

To deprive our young people from voting on an issue as big as the EU referendum is a travesty for their future political engagement.

Not lowering the voting age will also leave a democratic disparity between Scotland and the rest of the UK as young people in Scotland will be able to vote in next year’s Scottish Parliaments elections, yet find themselves without a vote in the EU referendum.

Clydeview Academy Visit

Last week [4th Dec] I got to visit the S4 Modern Studies class of Clydeview Academy. Over the course of one period I took questions on a range of subjects. We discussed refugees, lowering the voting age, the Syrian airstrikes, trident, independence and devolution.

I was also told about the great work of the Scottish Parliament in passing The British Sign Language (BSL) (Scotland) Bill. I am now looking into what is being done at Westminster to replicate this Bill.

It is fantastic to see how politically engaged the pupils are, especially with current events. It reaffirms my belief that lowering the voting age is absolutely the right thing to do.

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Small Business Saturday Success

As part of Small Business Saturday, this weekend I toured around Inverclyde’s small businesses to support the work they do within our community. I warmed up with a coffee in Café Flava and popped into The Pirate and Bluebelle Gallery to pick up some festive presents.

It is so important that we support the local businesses that populate our highstreets. During my debate in Westminster on Small Business Saturday – which you can watch and read here – I highlighted the wonderful businesses we have trading within Inverclyde and how important they are to our local economy.

I am happy to say that myself and my colleagues in the Westminster group spent Saturday sheltering from the bad weather visiting the many small businesses of our constituencies.

To make festive shopping that little easier, shops in Inverclyde will be opening later in the run up to Christmas to cater for festive shoppers, if you are our and about please consider shopping local.

The importance of small businesses should be self-evident, 99% of businesses in the UK have fewer than 49 employees, accounting for 48% of total employment and 33% of turnover. That amounts to 15 million people in the UK being directly employed by small businesses, with a turnover of £1.75 trillion. They are the drivers of economic growth, creating jobs and serving the requirements of our communities. Whether they are—in no particular order—local tradesmen, retailers, service providers or catering outlets, the benefits of small businesses extend beyond the employees that they hire.

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