Herald [21/06/2016]

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Westminster diary w/b 13th June

Monday

I worked in the constituency and attended the Inverclyde Alliance meeting in the council offices. It’s a great opportunity to get a range of local bodies round the same table and exchange views. I was pleased to learn more about the Broomhill project.

Tuesday

Up with the larks and off to Westminster. There was an urgent question about the violence involving English football fans in Marseille.
I met with Forces Watch to listen to their concerns about 16 and 17 year olds enlisting in the British Armed Forces. I was unaware that the UK is the only country in Europe that enlists people under 18. It’s a conversation I shall be having with members of the Armed Forces and the MOD. I met with two MOD ministers to discuss the ordnance in the Clyde and was pleased that Penny Mordaunt MP assured me the commercial and military shipping channels are clear and importantly monitored. In the evening I attended an SNP reception for the Defence Attachés from Embassies across the European Union and NATO.

Wednesday

I had an interview with the Armed Forces TV to provide an update on the ordnance in the Clyde and off camera I took the opportunity to pick their minds about the recruiting age issue. The rest of the day was taken up by research and the evening was the EU referendum debate. Votes were at 19:00 and my flight which was scheduled for 20:30 was delayed. Despite it being a short week away, it was a weary MP that got home at 23:15.

Thursday

I visited the Inverclyde Supplier Event in the Beacon Arts centre. The event is designed to encourage local companies to tender for the work being generated by the upcoming Glasgow City Region City Deal. I also managed to attend the Inverclyde Gaelic Learners Group launch of their new heritage leaflet. The remainder of the day was spent in the office. A day in the office that went from the high of being informed my office had come out top of all the SNP MPs, and forty first out of six hundred and fifty MPs, in a survey to monitor constituency responses. To hearing the tragic and shocking news that Jo Cox MP for Batley and Spen had been shot at a constituency surgery. We are continually reminded of the risks that this job entails but no amount of security can keep everyone safe all of the time.

Friday

I started the day with a visit to the Merino Court Care home to help them celebrate Care Home open day. Continuing the theme, in the afternoon I attended the St Andrews’ lunch at Bellaire House. In the evening I was at the opening event, in the Beacon Arts Centre, for the P1 Powerboat – Scottish Grand Prix of the year.

FOBTs Inquiry

The recently formed Fixed Odds Betting Terminals All Party Group will undertake an inquiry on “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – Assessing the Impact”.

In a series of hearings, the inquiry will be taking oral evidence from the range of stakeholders in the FOBT debate from gambling addiction experts and FOBT users, to regulators, bookmaker Chief Executives and their representatives.

The inquiry would also welcome written submissions from interested parties by 31 July 2016. Using this evidence the group will publish a report setting out their findings early in 2017. Further information on the All Party Group can be found at www.fobt-appg.com.

We are fully aware of the issues surrounding problem gambling and the affect is can have on people’s lives.

The Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) All Party Group will seek to fully assess the impact of FOBTs on our society and economy. It is time for a proper look to be taken at the impact of these machines on all our communities.

Backlog for Solar Installations

The total number of Renewables Obligation Order Feed-in Tariff (ROO-FIT) applications which are awaiting accreditation as of April 2016 is 1,993.

I received the information in a written parliamentary question response from Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State at Department of Energy and Climate Change.

That almost 2,000 applications for feed-in tariffs are awaiting accreditation is both very disappointing and represents a major blow for the promotion of the renewables industry.

It is completely unfair to expect small and medium sized businesses to pay the price for the Tories’ lack of ambition when it comes to renewables – they must ensure that progress is made so that this burgeoning industry is not held back by a slow application process.

In contrast, the SNP is committed to investing in and supporting the growth of our renewables industry, such as the solar industry, and we will continue to work closely with the Solar Trade Association to progress our proposals for expanding solar energy in Scotland.

Scotland has a real opportunity to become a world leader when it comes to renewables – with the potential to boost our economy, create jobs and protect our environment.

Parliamentary question;

The Department for Energy and Climate Change has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (37604):

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, how many applications for feed-in tariffs under the renewables obligation order-feed-in tariff application process for larger systems managed by Ofgem are awaiting accreditation. (37604)
Tabled on: 19 May 2016

Answer:
Andrea Leadsom:
The total number of Renewables Obligation Order Feed-in Tariff (ROO-FIT) applications which are awaiting accreditation as of April 2016 is 1993. This includes 472 applications for preliminary accreditation, 1456 applications which have converted to full accreditation or applied for full accreditation, and 65 amendments to existing accredited installations. Ofgem aims to approve applications in under 12 weeks where all the necessary information has been provided.

Politics First [06/2016]

My article in Politics First, June 2016, on Dormant Betting Accounts.

Back in 2010 a report was prepared for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by the then Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster on the subject of dormant betting accounts. The report considered whether money from unclaimed winnings and dormant betting accounts should be used to fund improving sports provision. For those who aren’t aware, dormant betting accounts are those accounts which haven’t been touched or utilised by gamblers for years. In said accounts there could be sums of money which ‘punters’ have forgotten about, possibly due to having multiple betting accounts with different bookmakers or forgetting their log in details.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to quantify the amounts held in dormant betting accounts as the bookmakers are unprepared to indicate, partly because many of them take the money from dormant accounts and add to their profits. However, the 2010 report highlighted, for the 2009/10 financial year the Tote had unclaimed dividends for pool betting of £944k. This is only a small example of what monies could be lying unclaimed in betting accounts.

Since the publication of the report, it appears little has been done to progress the matter and the UK Government have failed to take action to legislate on dormant betting accounts and show they are serious on tackling problem gambling.

Therefore, before the Easter recess I had the opportunity to quiz the Prime Minister at the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time on the issue of dormant betting accounts. I highlighted to him that, according to the House of Commons Library, there is an estimated 280,000 problem gamblers in the UK. I was somewhat encouraged to learn the Prime Minister will be discussing the matter with the Secretary of State for Culture and I have since written to the Prime Minister to hold him to account for what was said at PMQ’s.

Alongside my question, I have undertaken a number of meetings with people from the gambling industry and those trying to support problem gamblers. My aim is to learn more about the issues and to see what can be done to support those individuals and families whose lives have been wrecked by gambling. I had the opportunity to meet with both the Chair and Chief Executive of Senet Group, an independent body set up to promote responsible gambling standards and ensure that the marketing of gambling is socially responsible. Added to this, I met with Responsible Gambling Trust and The Seeds of Change UK to discuss gambling and dormant betting accounts. The Responsible Gambling Trust highlighted they raised £6.5million in 2014/15 and expects to exceed £7million in 2015/16 from voluntary contributions from the betting industry. This funding will be utilised to support those with gambling related harm.

I believe there is also a responsibility for the Government to contribute necessary funding for research, education and treatment into gambling related harm. Therefore, I took the opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Culture during question time in the Chamber. Unfortunately, the response I received did not give specific figures as to how much the Government provides to support those affected by gambling related harm. I will be writing to the Secretary of State to press the matter further.

The issue of gambling addiction and related harm is too important an issue to pay lip service too. I will continue to strongly urge the Government to claim the money from dormant betting accounts, much like they do with dormant bank accounts. I believe this money should be utilised to support problem gamblers and raise awareness of the issues involved.

Ronnie Cowan MP
Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

Diabetes Awareness Week

Diabetes Awareness Week which runs from 12th-18th June. Diabetes Week is an annual highlight in the Diabetes UK calendar. It’s a time when we bring our supporters together to raise awareness of the condition, and vital funds for our work.

Last week, in a parliamentary debate on Diabetes-related Complications, I spoke about my sister who has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for 36 years.

Diabetes, obesity and other preventable conditions present a drastic threat for the future of our NHS, and affect millions of people across the UK.

Diabetes complicates life immeasurably. It takes the spontaneity out of everyday activities, particularly with children and grandchildren.

I am happy to support Diabetes Awareness Week and would encourage Inverclyde constituents to get themselves tested at their local pharmacy.

For more information on Diabetes Awareness Week please visit – https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Get_involved/Diabetes-Week.

Mr Cowan spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on Diabetes-related Complications on Tuesday 7th June. You can read his speech here – https://ronniecowan.com/2016/06/08/diabetes-related-complications-7-may-2016

Westminster diary w/b 6th June

Monday

Here we go again. Leave at 6am. The airport is full of cheery holiday makers, grumpy commuters and me, the man with the best job in the world. The day is pretty standard with the investigatory powers bill being front and centre. I managed to breakout and attend a seminar on the universal basic income which was very interesting. Votes took until well after 11 and it was midnight before I got home.

Tuesday

I forego my select committee as it’s a rubber stamp process and attend a briefing from the Nuclear Information Service entitled Britain’s Nuclear Weapons Factory: Past, Present, and Possibilities for the Future. It was a vision for Aldermaston without Trident and it was very positive. I dropped into a speed networking event for carers. I listened intently to their stories. Caring and compassionate people who are campaigning for better government support while supporting their own loved ones through very difficult times. I met with a representative of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon, a system designed to provide clean, renewable energies extracted from a manmade lagoon in Swansea bay. Apart from the economic and environmental sense I was stuck by how beautiful the actual lagoon was. Managed properly it will enhance marine life and support recreational water sports. I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate entitled the complications of diabetes. I am indebted to my sister for sharing her knowledge on this subject. My evening drew to a close with an off-site event hosted by the Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space group. It was hugely interesting.

Wednesday

I started the day with a meeting regarding broadband and more specifically a ten point plan for a better Openreach set out by Vodafone UK, Sky, Talk Talk, the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) and the Federation of Communication Services (FCS). Prime Minsters Questions came and went and we are no wiser. I attended the Volunteers Scotland reception. During the day there were on-going discussions regarding the failure of the website that is used to register voters. As it had failed, many people had not registered to vote in the EU referendum in time. My select committee is deeply involved as we are responsible for the constitution. The feeling is that the previously published timetable needs to be amended but this will require parliamentary scrutiny so a debate will be scheduled for Thursday.

Thursday

Starts with the concerning news that BPI in Greenock has been bought over. Time will tell if a rationalisation programme of shared services is required. I stand for questions to the Minster for Culture, Media and Sport but don’t get taken. I was going to take the opportunity for some free publicity for the P1 powerboats “Grand Prix of the sea”. The debate to change the EU referendum timetable took place but was not forced to a vote. This was followed by an important debate on carers.
Before heading to the airport for the 20:30 I dropped in to the Caledonian Club to support the Scottish artist Gerard M Burns and his exhibition at that venue.

Friday

I spoke at the Inverclyde Council Annual Carers Week event at St John’s Episcopal Church and later met with representatives of the Heritage Lottery Fund. In the afternoon I met with Skills Development Scotland to discuss a range of issues. In the evening I attended the Action for children’s sports dinner.

Tele Column – 10th June 2016

The recent good weather has been most welcome. Sunshine tends to put a smile on our faces and encourages us to feel good. Inverclyde is always a good place to work but when the sun shines, the dark nights and cold winters just slip away. This brings an added optimism and as Noam Chomsky says “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” I would ask you to take responsibility and make someone else’s future better. Please consider carrying an organ donor card. Currently there are around 560 people waiting for transplants in Scotland. Their lives could be transformed by your unselfish act. Please visit www.organdonationscotland.org for further information.

And talking about being unselfish. It’s Carers week. Across the UK there are 6.5 million people caring for an ill, older or disabled family member or friend. The economic value of the care provided by unpaid carers in Scotland equates to over 10 billion pounds each year which is nearly as much as the entire Scottish NHS budget. Three out of four carers don’t feel their caring role is understood or valued by their community. It’s time for all aspects of the community to take positive steps towards being truly carer friendly. I look forward to meeting a number of carers this morning at Inverclyde Carers Council.