Greenock Telegraph [30/05/2016]

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Westminster diary w/b 23rd May

Monday

Following a weekend with dinners on Friday (Inverclyde Sports Awards) and Saturday (Morton Community) and an SNP internal meeting on Sunday evening, I was rudely awakened by my 5am alarm. Fortunately this week it was a beautiful morning and a welcoming start to the week. I had a briefing from the Minister for Defence, Michael Fallon, on the ‘counter Daesh progress’. M.O.D. briefings always leave me wondering what they didn’t tell me. The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in Westminster to promote the campaign to stay in Europe along with Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas. The FM then stayed on and attended our MP group meeting. Business in the house was around the Queen’s speech. I was taken during the urgent question on the EU referendum and asked both sides to campaign positively so as to encourage the electorate to engage. Early evening I went to a session informing MPs about the puppy trade and the lack of scrutiny that leads to such poor consumer protection and risks the welfare of the puppies. After that all that remained to do was attend a drop-in with Diageo GB entitled ‘Grain to Glass’.

Tuesday

My select committee took evidence from cabinet officers and the national audit office. We were scrutinising the financial reporting models and the financial advice given and maybe not listened to by the cabinet. I attended a round table briefing on the UN open ended working group on nuclear disarmament. It was interesting to hear of the 127 countries that have signed up and the way non nuclear countries are prepared to hold nuclear countries to account of their desire to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction. The all part parliamentary group on drug policy review reported back from the United Nations office on drugs and crime. They expressed the need to move towards an evidence based drugs policy.

Wednesday

I met with National Union of Students (NUS) who have grave concerns that people will be driven away from nursing as a career if the UK government replaces the nursing bursary with loans. Prime Ministers Questions managed to be devoid of both the Prime Minister and questions as George Osborne and Angela Eagle exchanged insults. Much more upbeat was a huge lobby event organised by Guide dogs for the blind, they are trying to improve accessibility for guide dog users in a campaign named ‘access all areas’. The all party parliamentary group on FOBTs was very well chaired by Carolyn Harris MP for Swansea East and I took the opportunity afterwards to get a quick update on the Swansea bay tidal power barrage. Last event of the day was a briefing entitled ‘The Syrian refugee crisis – are we getting it right?’ It was chaired by Lindsay Hilsum who you may know from Channel 4 news. Syrian refugees told us their stories. Real people with real problems which are not of their own making having to flee their own country with young children in tow. Votes were at 7pm.

Thursday

Started with an anxious wait to see if I was lucky in the ballot for a private members bill but unfortunately I was not. I had a chat with Scott Mann MP (North Cornwall) about computer coding opportunities for people with autism. There was an urgent question about the Brain family, currently being deported and a statement on the steel industry. I spoke in the debate on the Queens speech addressing economy and work. I highlight the lack of regeneration of industry in Inverclyde after the shipyards were closed. There were votes at 5. Then a rush for the 7:30 pm flight home. But I need not have bothered as it was delayed along with many others flights.

Friday

I had arranged dementia awareness training for myself and my team. I did a quick photo opportunity with Virgin Media in Kilmacolm and dropped in to see a constituent who had experienced a positive outcome from a case they brought to my office. In the afternoon my office reviewed the last year and planned the year ahead.

Tele Column – 27th May 2016

People pay tax and governments spend it. That part is straight forward. Paying tax becomes contentious when the people paying the tax don’t like the way the government spends it. Ultimately the decision is taken by cabinet members but they have a range of experts that can be called upon to give their advice. So it was interesting to hear the views from members of the cabinet office and the National Audit Office at my select committee this week. The outcome of a three and a half or evidence session boiled down to “It is not our fault if they don’t listen” High Speed 1, High Speed 2 and Kids Company being three examples and “it is not our fault if the financial reporting system is too complicated for anyone other than accountants to understand”. The former is true the latter is not. I suggested a dummies guide for MPs and for some reason they thought I was joking, I wasn’t. Greater government transparency is required and where better to start with than where our money is spent.

The EU referendum campaign bumps along and both camps down south are trying to outdo each other with negativity. Although I support the campaign to remain in the EU I was hoping that the campaign that is being put to the electorate would have been an upbeat one that highlighted the good reasons to remain not the usual fear tactics that were deployed at the Scottish referendum. But they seem to have adopted the attitude that it worked last time so let’s use it again.

The Economy and Work [26 May 2016]

You can watch my full speech here – http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/9f604158-10a9-43d7-9b3a-e9263b961377?in=16:16:00

In the 1980s, the UK Government decided to abandon the shipbuilding industry in my constituency. The subsequent catastrophe resulted in the loss of thousands of skilled manufacturing jobs and the decimation of an industry that people could take pride in. The UK Government pulled the plug from shipbuilding without even the façade of a workable regeneration programme for Inverclyde. By 1987, companies reliant on the shipyards began closing, and the area’s male unemployment rate skyrocketed to 25%.

The IBM facility in Spango valley was highlighted as an example of the skilled, sustainable and long-term employment that could offset the decline of traditional industries. In March 1988, Margaret Thatcher visited the IBM site to champion the cause of the private sector and to explain how it would save Inverclyde in the wake of the shipyard closures.

If we fast forward to the present day, we find the Queen’s Speech promising to spread economic prosperity, but we now know that, by the end of 2016, there will not be a single IBM job left at the Spango valley site. Two other major employers in Inverclyde—Sanmina and Texas Instruments—have also recently announced job losses. The cumulative financial and emotional toll of these losses on individuals, families and the wider community is impossible to quantify.

There are successful companies in Inverclyde, but the area is still trying to set sail against the winds of economic stagnation and population decline. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Employment to ask them to visit Inverclyde to see the potential our area has to offer.

I know that many other constituencies across the UK are suffering from economic pressures, but Inverclyde seems to have suffered disproportionately for decades. We have had 30 years of economic decline, 30 years of depopulation and 30 years of UK Government indifference.

We are not looking for handouts. The people of Inverclyde are resilient and have an invaluable work ethic, but they lack opportunity. We need more than a token visit or a reactive taskforce every time a major employer announces redundancies. We need a workable plan for regeneration, and we cannot wait 30 more years for it to be implemented.

After the pain of the 1980s, the UK Government have a historical debt to Inverclyde. The Conservative Government of the time had an undesirable zeal and commitment to closing the shipyards. Sadly, that has not been matched by an equally energetic and unwavering commitment to regeneration. Some may say that this is ancient history, but my office deals with constituency cases every day that are a direct legacy of the decisions made by the UK Government in the 1980s.

I hope that the UK Government, as the only Government in the UK with the full range of economic powers at their disposal, will be part of the solution. If they are unwilling to help, they should give the full range of powers required to the Scottish Government and let them get on with the job.

Invite to UK Govt Ministers to Visit Inverclyde

During today’s (Thursday) continuation of the Queen’s Speech Debate I took the opportunity to invite UK Government Ministers to Inverclyde to discuss the issue of employment.

I’ve written to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State for Employment to ask them to visit Inverclyde and to see the potential the area has to offer.

I am acutely aware of the need to bring meaningful employment to the Inverclyde area. It’s vital that we address the depopulation of Inverclyde and ensure that we are creating the right environment for businesses to locate.

This is why I’ve written to UK Government ministers inviting them to visit Inverclyde, maybe during the Summer recess, to discuss job losses in the area and how the UK Government and its agencies are addressing the issue.

Inverclyde has struggled since the decline of our traditional industries. We need a workable plan for regeneration and we can’t wait 30 more years for it to be implemented.

So I appeal once again to the UK Government. As the only government in the UK with the full range of economic powers at its disposal, visit us in Inverclyde and let’s get around the table to discuss the challenges and opportunities.

Morrisons Foundation

I am urging charities in Inverclyde to consider applying to the Morrisons Foundation for funding support.

In the first year, the Morrisons Foundation donated £2.4m to hundreds of charities across the UK, including Children in Poverty Inverclyde who received £35,000 to purchase a holiday home to offer breaks to children and families from the local area.

I would encourage charities in Inverclyde to consider applying to the Morrisons Foundation for funding support.

Last year, over £335,000 was donated to 45 charities in Scotland, including Children in Poverty Inverclyde. I hope lots of charities will apply and end up receive financial support.

For more information please visit – https://www.morrisonsfoundation.com/faq.html

Opportunity for School visits to Parliament

I would like to highlight the opportunity for schools in Inverclyde to visit the Westminster parliament.

Places are now available for school visits to Parliament, between September and December 2016. Visits are free of charge for all schools and open to students aged 5 to 18. There is a Transport Subsidy to support the costs of visiting.

In my short time as Member of Parliament for Inverclyde, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of schools both at Westminster and here in Inverclyde. I am always struck by the real interest the pupils show in politics/modern studies and their enthusiasm to learn.

Therefore, I hope to welcome more Inverclyde schools to Westminster in the near future and look forward to the pupils questions and thoughts.

Schools can also find out more by contacting the Education Service on 020 7219 4496, emailing education@parliament.uk or via the website: www.parliament.uk/education.

Love/hate relationship with the media

Most politicians have a love hate relationship with the media. We need the good publicity to help get us re-elected and we need to get our message out so people understand our position and can engage with us. But in courting the media there is always the danger we say something out of turn or something is taken out of context. And once any media outlet has been kind enough to carry good stories it’s very hard to take umbrage if they carry a not so good story. So we dance around each other in what is neither courtship nor war dance. It’s a bit like pilot fish following a shark in a mutually beneficial relationship. It starts off as the media being the shark but as the politician becomes bigger and more powerful then somewhere the relationship changes and one morphs into the other.

At Westminster 150 people have media passes. This allows them access to the estate and into many areas, mixing freely with elected members and member’s staff. Some elected members have a very friendly relationship and meet up socially on a regular basis with journalists and broadcasters. All the big media outlets lobby parliament on a regular basis. This is an opportunity for them to talk and for us to listen. It’s really up to each one of us as individuals to decide how much we engage with the media. I am, to be honest, maybe still too reticent. After years of expressing my political opinions to friends and family and them paying little or no attention, I am still adjusting to journalists taking an interest, writing it down and then seeing it in print. That takes a bit of getting used to.

I enjoy radio. It’s a medium I feel comfortable with and I have to thank David Faller and Willie Stewart of Inverclyde Radio who graciously allowed me air time during the referendum campaign and then again during my own Westminster campaign. I learned a tremendous amount in those first interviews. I don’t have a poker face so radio is ideal for me. I can squint and furrow my brow, shake my head and look skyward, adjust my spectacles and lick my lips without looking like a mime artist with an itch. I always fancied being the early morning disc jockey, playing tunes in the wee small hours of the morning, broadcasting to shift workers and the early birds. A bit like Clint Eastwood in the movie ‘Play Misty for Me’ but without the stalker.

Of course these days we also have social media and that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. Instead of one journalist picking apart what I say there are thousands of folk, mostly strangers willing to take on that role. Social media brings with it a range of opportunities and potential pitfalls. Having a conversation in 140 characters is no way to converse with constituents and tracking conversations on multiple Facebook threads is inefficient and time consuming. Social media for me is primarily a way of highlighting events and opportunities, while keeping people informed of current issues and the business of the day.

We now have more media platforms than we have ever had before and as a result we have more bloggers and posters than you can shake a stick at. Used badly we are exposed to bullies and bores. Used wisely we can all communicate and exchange views, gain a better understanding and be more collaborative.

The above article will appear in June/July edition of Clyde Life Magazine.

UK Govt must take action on gambling related harm

The UK Government must take action to address the issue of gambling related harm.

According to statistics provided by the House of Commons Library, there are an estimated 280,000 problem gamblers in Scotland and England.

I have been campaigning for the money from dormant betting accounts to be used by the UK Government and given to assist those individuals and families who have been affected by gambling related harm.

I received a response letter, having raised the issue with the Prime Minister indicating, the Secretary of State for Culture
has taken on board the recommendations of the Use of Dormant Betting Accounts Report.

The UK Government must take the much needed action to address the issue of gambling related harm and provide the necessary funding and  support to those individuals and families that have been affected.

They cannot avoid or stall on their responsibility and commitment to provide the support for those hit by gambling related harm and distance  their links when it comes to dealing with the gambling industry.

I hope to continue to address the issue of gambling related harm by raising the matter further at Westminster and at the upcoming.

All-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals which meets at Westminster, next week.