Westminster Diary 30 April

Monday

5am rise and an early flight to London.
I had an interview on Al Jazeera TV regarding the role of Prince Charles within the monarchy. It was primarily about his interference via the ‘spider letters’ and my opinion was sought because of my contribution to the constitution committee. My views were maybe not as interesting as the view from floor sixteen of the Shard where Al Jazeera are located.

The UK Government’s decision to delay the start of the building of type 26 frigates at BAE on the upper Clyde prompted an urgent question in the house and a loud and passionate exchange took place. The minister would not acknowledge that a delay would lead to redundancies.
The evening was taken up by the immigration bill which culminated in 5 votes and therefore it was midnight before I managed to wind my weary way home.

Tuesday

My select committee sat at 9am and we took evidence from the UK statistics authority and it was as interesting as it sounds. Sir Andrew Dilnot did object to my Mark Twain quote “lies, damn lies and statistics”. I visited a briefing session with the Heritage lottery fund which was extremely interesting and I hope to be seeing them soon in regard to possible funding for a project within Inverclyde. I met representatives from the Renewable Energy Forum and was pleased to hear they have 750 companies registered with them. From large household names to one man and his log. I visited a drop in event to gain knowledge and help publicise the UK Sepsis Trust. Sepsis is currently the cause of 44,000 deaths per year in the UK.

After the SNP group meeting I attended the Save the Children campaign launch in the Speakers rooms.

Wednesday

My first diary event was a meeting with Ofcom via the All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Broadband. Prime minister’s question time was the poorest I have attended. The majority of it was no more than petty point scoring between Mr Cameron and Mr Corbyn. It was neither constructive nor challenging. Following the Hillsborough inquiry report there was an urgent statement in the house during which Andy Burnham MP made an extremely moving and eloquent speech. The late afternoon and early evening were consumed by the Trade Union Bill. I then attended an ambassador’s reception for the Faroe Islands. I was interested to learn about the Islands and note that in London the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Iceland share an embassy. Take note for a future independent Scotland.

Thursday

Questions to the Leader of the House are always entertaining and can be quite light hearted. This week they were followed by an urgent question on trade unions. In actual fact it was an attack on the government abusing their powers to promote the Remain campaign in the EU referendum. The fact that it was a Conservative MP that raised the question tells you everything you need to know about the in fighting in that party. We then had a debate to highlight World Autism Awareness Week. I was proud to contribute to this debate and include contributions from Inverclyde constituents. A number of members told very personal stories of family members who are on the autistic spectrum.

Friday

Personal engagements.

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Important to raise public awareness on sepsis

Earlier this week, I attended a Parliamentary event to raise awareness of Sepsis. A life threatening and relatively unknown condition, which claims the lives of 44,000 people – including 1,000 children – every year in the UK.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can affect anyone. Young and old, fit and healthy. It arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognised early and treated promptly. In a bid to reduce deaths like these, the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST) and the Sepsis APPG are calling for both the public and healthcare professionals to be more aware of this ‘silent killer’. They are calling for the Department of Health to commit to a public awareness campaign, aimed at both adults and children solely on sepsis.

While sepsis is a condition which may not hit the headlines, it is deadly. It is a little known life threatening illness that claims the lives of 44,000 people in the UK every year, including 1,000 children.

I was keen to show my support for efforts to tackle the disease and save lives. I want to see sepsis viewed as a medical emergency and have a higher profile among medical professionals and the public. The easiest and most of effective way of doing this is the government committing to a dedicated public awareness campaign for the general population.

Tele Column – 29th April 2016

I mentioned on social media that I was encouraging the residents of Kilmacolm to register their interest in Virgin Media’s broadband. Not because I prefer it over other suppliers but because if we, as a community, can encourage Virgin Media to install their infrastructure then individual householders and businesses can benefit. It also gives the council the possibility to provide public wifi. I was challenged by a constituent who told me that there were more important issues that I should be spending my time on.

The following day I was voting to offer a safe harbour to 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees. The motion was shamelessly voted down by the Conservatives. Incidentally, the very same Conservatives that, the following evening, attended a reception for Save the Children and were happy to pose for photos. But those two examples typify the diversity of issues that MPs are involved in. Not every issue is a matter of life and death but every issue contains opportunities to help either the people of Inverclyde or the wider community in some capacity. And while we are talking about the Inverclyde community I would commend the local movement that are encouraging woman to consider the role that councillors play and it would, in my opinion, be beneficial if we had more woman councillors.

Finally, it was great to see Morton get behind the “Glow Gold” project last Saturday. The project is aiming to raise awareness of childhood cancer. Nathan Mowat who, is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, was one of the mascots for the game against Hibs and the fans held up gold cards. Another wonderful community spirited act. September is child cancer awareness month and Nathan’s family are encouraging everybody to go gold. As part of the campaign some local buildings will be illuminated with gold lights. I hope we can all get behind such a deserving cause come September.

World Autism Awareness Week [28 April 2016]

 

You can watch my full speech  here – http://goo.gl/4TtDeG

I thank the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for bringing forward this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in it and to put my full support behind the motion.

As I prepared my speaking notes, it became obvious that, while Members in this Chamber have an important role to play in raising awareness of autism, the most valuable insights will always come from those with direct experience of the condition. They are the ones who know whether services are working effectively and they know through experience what changes we should make to create a more autism-friendly society. It is, therefore, appropriate to make sure that their voices are heard in the House of Commons today. There are two people in particular that I will highlight. The first is a constituent of mine whose son has autism, and the second is Vicki McCarthy, the founder of Reach for Autism, a non-profit organisation operating in my constituency of Inverclyde.

I have a constituent who moved to Inverclyde with her six-year-old son in 2003, and her experiences raise a number of concerns. She raised a concern with me regarding an inconsistency among school staff: some worked very well with autistic children, while others lacked a basic understanding of situations that could make an autistic child uncomfortable. She also highlighted a lack of age-appropriate activities for teenagers with autism. Teenage years can be a difficult time for anyone, let alone those with autism. My constituent believes that greater co-ordination between social services and parents could lead to activities that better reflect the needs of their teenage children.

My constituent also raised concerns about the bureaucracy and poor communication of local social services. She felt that, while access to information was easily obtained through schools, contacting social services was a laborious process, with no guarantee of assistance at the end of it. My constituent summarised the situation best when she said:

“I would describe our life as one big battle for every tiny scrap of help and as someone who is naturally quite a shy person this has brought its own difficulties.”

Many parents with an autistic child will undoubtedly relate to those concerns, and we must recognise their commitment in continuing to campaign tirelessly for greater support to be made available.

One such organisation offering that support is Reach for Autism, which was established in Inverclyde by Vicki McCarthy. Reach for Autism offers a wide range of support, from teacher training to mentoring programmes. It currently supports more than 60 autistic people, including 44 children, eight young adults, four volunteers and a member of staff. It is difficult to overstate the importance of those services, not only for autistic people, but for their families. Lifeline services such as those established by Vicki can transform people’s lives.

If we invest in people with autism from a young age, we can decrease the chances of autistic people suffering from mental health problems as a result of social isolation or low self-esteem. That investment ensures that people with autism feel valued and respected, are prepared for employment and can live more independent lives.

Yet establishing and maintaining that support has been difficult. Reach for Autism has no core funding, and running costs are met entirely through donations and its own fund raising. The organisation and its vital services simply would not exist without the energetic support of volunteers and the determined efforts of Vicki. Whether it is individuals and their families or organisations themselves, those touched by autism are faced with the same obstacles: a lack of funding; a lack of certainty over future support; and a lack of public understanding of the condition.

I hope that other Members will join me in declaring that people with autism, their families and the organisations that support them deserve better than this never-ending uphill struggle. All people, including those with autism, deserve the chance to realise their full potential, and by increasing awareness we can take important steps towards becoming a more autism-friendly society. I know that I am better for my increased knowledge and would like to thank Vicki and all those who have raised my awareness and understanding.

World Autism Awareness Week Debate

Today [28/04/16] I delivered a speech to parliament highlighting World Autism Awareness Week, you can watch that here. The week events, which took place earlier this month, were an opportunity to tell people who don’t know much about autism how it affects individuals and families.

During the speech I referenced constituents who live in Inverclyde and the support they receive but also the challenges they face. REACH for Autism provide much needed support, services & opportunities for children, adults and families living with autism. I was extremely happy and privileged to be asked to speak during the World Autism Awareness Week debate.

It was important to me to raise awareness of the incredible work that REACH for Autism is doing in Inverclyde and the wonderful services that they provide. I know that I am the better for my increased knowledge of the subject.

All people, including those with autism deserve the chance to meet their full potential – and by increasing awareness we can take important steps towards becoming a more autism-friendly society.

Autism speech (3).PNG

Support for Save the Children’s Campaign

This week I showed my support for the world’s forgotten children at the launch of Save the Children’s new global campaign – Every Last Child.

The organisation reports that while progress has been made in reaching the world’s poorest children, those from discriminated groups are consistently overlooked, despite being the most at risk. Save the Children says these children are forgotten because they live on the streets, in camps or remote villages – and discriminated against because of their gender, ethnicity or a disability.

As a result, these children are being pushed further into poverty and denied the life-saving healthcare and education they need to survive and thrive. The report reveals that an estimated 400 million children globally face discrimination because of their ethnicity and religion.

“Of the 16,000 children still dying each day from preventable causes, a disproportionate number are from these forgotten groups. It is not an accident that discrimination is preventing some of the most vulnerable children from accessing life-saving services – these children are being systematically left out by design or neglect,” says Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of Save the Children.

Save the Children has launched the Every Last Child campaign which aims to put the world on track to end preventable child deaths and have every child learning by 2030. The campaign calls on decision makers at every level to ensure the barriers that prevent the poorest children from accessing life-saving services are eliminated.

I am urging constituents to sign Save the Children’s petition calling on the Prime Minister to do everything in his power to help reach every last child. I’m proud that British aid has played a critical role in preventing child deaths and that the UK boosted the ambition of the new Sustainable Development Goals to include a promise to ‘leave no one behind’.

I’m supporting Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign so that together, we can take concrete steps to deliver upon this promise and ensure all children have access to education and healthcare.

Ronnie Cowan MP 3
SNP MP for Inverclyde Ronnie Cowan at the Save the Children Global Media Campaign launch at Speaker’s House, The House of Commons, Westminster, London. 26.04.2016.

Greenspace Funding Available

I am hoping to draw attention to the Tesco Bags of Help Funding that is now open to applications. The second round of Tesco’s Bags of Help grant programme is now open with grants of £8,000, £10,000 or £12,000 available.

Grants are available to a wide range of community groups, local authorities and organisations across the country, including Inverclyde, to improve green spaces. The application deadline is Friday the 3rd of June 2016.

This is a great opportunity to get funding for greenspace community projects such as woodland walks, community gardens and sports facilities for schools.

I would encourage any projects working with green spaces to apply for this funding, you would have the full support of Inverclyde behind you.

Community Enabler Co-ordinator for Inverclyde, Emma Halliday, can provide support or advice when submitting applications. Emma can be contact on email: emma.halliday@greenspacescotland.org.uk.

Full eligibility criteria and detailed application guidance is available at: http://www.groundwork.org.uk/sites/tescocommunityscheme.

Groundwork anticipates grants being awarded to 144 successful groups across Scotland in November 2016.

Picture from Colin Campbell

 

Unemployment Continues To Fall in Inverclyde

New figures show that unemployment is continuing to fall in Inverclyde compared to this time last year. The total number of claimants (both Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit) is 221 lower than in March 2015 and 29 lower than in February 2016.

There were 305 claimants aged 18-24 in Inverclyde constituency in March 2016, 105 lower than in March 2015. (Figures for 18-24 year olds are rounded to the nearest 5.)

It is encouraging to see unemployment in Inverclyde continue to fall in comparison to this time last year. I want to see this progress continue. Employment in Scotland is at a record high – with Scotland continuing to outperform every other nation in the UK.

Picture from Rachel Andrew

UK Government Reject 3,000 Child Refugees

Last night the Conservative Government committed a shameful and inhumane act of political cowardice after rejecting calls to accept unaccompanied child refugees. The Tories voted down an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have required the UK to accept at least 3000 child refugees. The amendment was defeated by 294 votes to 276.

The UK Government has so far failed to make any clear or firm commitment to resettle its fair share of these vulnerable children. This is more evidence of the Conservative Government showing a complete lack of compassion by refusing to give shelter to children fleeing a war zone.

As a result of this inhumane act thousands of child refugees continue to struggle alone and at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse – with an estimated 10,000 children disappearing in Europe in 2015 alone, including those that have died trying to get to the UK.

We need to do our bit to protect these children, who are in desperate situations that we would never allow for our own families. These are children that have lost everything, and now need our help and sanctuary.

Photo by Bengin Ahmad

Cable my Street

Virgin Media is currently running an incentive encouraging people to register their interest in new superfast broadband. If enough people register in a certain region then they will make sure to cable their street within the next 12 months. The top ten areas with the most people registered will benefit.

Currently Kilmacolm is slipping from number 10 to number 11 in the list and so I want to draw people’s attention to this incentive in the hope that we can get enough people registered to have this area included in the scheme.Getting project lightening installed in Kilmacolm in the next 12 months would be a huge boost for the area.

Having this hybrid fibre and coaxial cable installed could see speeds of up to 200Mbps benefiting homes and businesses within the area. The council would also have the option to provide public Wi-Fi in the streets.

Kilmacolm winning this bid will benefit everyone as it gives us the opportunity to daisy chain the service to Port Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock and then Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. You can register here – http://cablemystreet.virginmedia.com/

Picture from Sean MacEntee