The National [29/12/2016]

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Westminster diary w/b 19th December

Monday 

I discard my Santa suit and put on my disguise as an M.P. My flight is delayed again. Where are those reindeer when you need them? During the journey I bump into James Cook of the BBC. James is based in Los Angeles now but I met him a few times during the Scottish referendum when he was with BBC Scotland. He has always struck me as a decent guy, prepared to report the facts and let all sides have their say. We have a good chat about Trump and the Dakota Access pipeline protest which he covered. It was good see him. I think I must have forgotten to put the speaker on my Christmas card list as once again I don’t get taken for questions. I am trying to get some research on universal basic income commissioned so I made my pitch to get funded. Time will tell. 

Tuesday

My select committee met to discuss the publishing of our report into the Chilcot report. We agreed that more evidence should be taken and I hope that the final report will be more satisfactory. I attended the debate in the chamber regarding the Murdoch takeover of Sky and the concerns regarding the potential monopoly of the media. I attended a Westminster Hall debate on child poverty. The links between poverty, diet and educational achievement were highlighted many times. I raised the matter of a Universal Basic Income which, in numerous pilot projects, have proven to address this very issue. 

Wednesday  

Is almost entirely made up of constituency and case work but I also interview applicants for the caseworker role I require to cover maternity leave. The standard of applicant is extremely high and each would bring something to the role. I am truly spoiled for choice.

Thursday 

My constituency team and I spend a few hours at the Job Centre in Port Glasgow receiving training on Universal Credits. It’s an informative time and interesting to hear how Inverclyde took on the challenge of rolling out Universal Credits, starting with the live service in October last year and now the full service which started in November this year. It’s a huge challenge for the DWP staff. Thanks to both the Kathleen’s, Allan and Dawn for their time and commitment.  

Friday 

I had the remaining interviews to conduct for my caseworker vacancy and that along with an article and some constituency casework filled my day. In the evening I attended the Riverside Youth Band Christmas concert in Port Glasgow Town Hall. Earlier in the week, I took delivery of the Hot Tips calendars from Age Scotland. Each month the calendars look at issues to help older people get prepared for winter, stay connected in their communities and keep healthy. They are available free from my office which shall be open during the festive season on the 28th and 29th of December and return to normal service on the 4th of January. Have a great Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

 

Tele column – 23rd December 2016

The last year has seen many momentous events including terrorist attacks across the globe, the resignation of the then Prime Minster David Cameron and natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to famine and pestilence. The biggest political event in the UK and the one that will have the biggest ramifications, for years to come, was the decision to leave the E.U. While England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all voted to remain. That outcome has put the UK in a difficult but not unattainable position. Before Theresa May became Prime Minister she set out her views of a UK “in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side by side as equal partners.”   So it should come as no surprise that the Scottish government has vowed to fight to protect both the interests and the political will of the Scottish people. In Scotland there remains a strong desire to be a full and active member of the European family of nations.

The Scottish government has vowed to protect Scotland’s national interests and ensure Scotland’s voice is heard, and acted upon. The Scottish Government argues that the UK as a whole should remain within the European Single Market – through the European Economic Area – and within the EU Customs Union.

A few months ago via the Greenock Telegraph I shared with you the views of leading academics on the Brexit issue and they said that we were heading for a hard and painful Brexit. If the UK Government continues in its unwieldly way then those predictions shall come true.

It stands to reason that the proposals put forward by the Scottish Government fall short of what we consider to be the best status for Scotland and the UK – full membership of the EU. However, they are designed to mitigate – as far as possible – the real and serious risks for Scotland caused by being taken out of the EU against our will.

Once article 50 is triggered then and only then will the separation begin. It would be of great comfort if, before that event, the UK Government had published their plan. So far we have seen nothing to indicate that they have one.

2017 shall be nothing if not interesting. I wish you all peace, love and understanding in these uncertain times ahead.

Foodbank donations

I am encouraging members of the public to donate to food banks over the Christmas period, with December seeing a surge in demand for food parcels for struggling families. 

The Trussell Trust have said that demand for food parcels can rise by up to 53% in December in comparison to other months of the year.  Trussell Trust CEO David McAuley, said: “Winter is the hardest time of year for people living on the breadline; many will face stark choices between eating and heating.”

The effects of food poverty are present throughout the year, but will be more keenly felt at Christmas.  Therefore, I felt it important to provide a personal donation to Inverclyde Foodbank, earlier this month and also support the Tesco foodbank collection.

While the work food banks do is highly commendable, it is unacceptable that so many across the UK are forced to use them. The evidence is clear that the rise in food poverty over recent years has been as a direct result of the Tories ineffective and dehumanising sanctions regime.

With Christmas a time of giving, I’d encourage those who can afford it to make a donation to their local food bank and to help those struggling this winter.  My office will also be happy to take deliveries for the foodbank.

 

2017 ‘Hot Tips’ Calendar

Age Scotland, the national older peoples’ charity, is teaming up with Parliamentarians across Scotland to support the distribution of its annual ‘Hot Tips’ Calendar as part of its winter campaign.  Each month, the calendar looks at issues to help older people get prepared for winter, stay connected in their communities and keep healthy. This year, more than 20,000 copies have been produced. 

The calendar, funded by the Scottish Government, includes features from partner organisations including the University of the Third Age, Luminate and Electrical Safety First, and outlines campaigns Age Scotland are involved in, including the Charity’s Lets Get Moving Campaign and Early Stage Dementia Project. 

Age Scotland’s ‘Hot Tips’ calendar is a fantastic resource for older people and I would encourage my constituents to pop in and pick up their free copy.  With winters becoming increasingly severe in Scotland, it’s important that people prepare for what can happen, and Age Scotland’s ‘Hot Tips’ contain everything you need to know to stay safe, secure and connected.

Copies of the calendar are available at my constituency office, 20 Crawfurd Street, Greenock, PA15 1LJ or by calling 01475 720 930.

 

Broadband USO Debate [15/12/2016]

Ronnie Cowan MP

People consider broadband to be the fourth utility. Just as they turn on a tap and get water, flick a switch for electricity or turn a dial for gas, people’s lifestyle and expectations have been geared to broadband. It is not sold as a luxury, it is a requirement for entertainment, education and trade.

Few people have any real concept of the journey or technology behind water, electricity and gas before it is presented as a consumer product. It is no different with broadband. Consumers may not know the technical details of how these utilities work, but they know that dirty water is unacceptable. Broadband that is too slow fits into the same category. All the technical babble belongs to the technicians. They use it, maybe ironically, to speed up conversations. The customers, in their house or workplace, do not want excuses or apologies, they just want broadband to do the job.

We have progressed from speeds of 56 kilobits per second, which allowed us to access the first basic web browsers. We have transitioned to the introduction of wi-fi services and the rapid growth of users accessing the internet via mobile devices. We no longer live in a world where families crowd around the wireless to listen to “The Ovaltineys”. Families expect to be able to watch a movie, surf the internet, interact on social media and play games with people across the globe, all at the same time.

In 2006, BT introduced broadband services of up to 8 megabits per second. Now many homes and businesses can access 200. Ten years from now in 2026, after another 10 years of progress, will we be able to say that our technology has advanced faster than in the past 10 years? It may be difficult to predict, but we need to identify what the internet will be used for in the future.

Will the internet be used to control a greater range of household items that integrate with each other, or perhaps to experience the next generation of augmented or virtual reality? Predicting the future is not easy. Back in the 1960s, I was promised we would all have jet packs. To my eternal sadness, that did not happen. [Interruption.] I definitely did not get mine. We can only make educated guesses at some of the uses, but we can categorically guarantee that 10 megabits per second will not cut it. It shows a staggering lack of ambition and absolutely no foresight.

Scotland is proposing 30 megabits per second, Europe is working towards 30. Up and down the UK, we are still enlarging roads built in the 1960s because we never foresaw the amount of traffic that they would carry. We need to be clear sighted and understand that the broadband strategy we are developing now will affect our capabilities in 20 or 30 years.

With our current level of knowledge, we have no excuse not to build a super-broadband highway that can carry superfast broadband to every user. Importantly, it must be built so that it can be shared by suppliers and is easily accessible for upgrades. The problem is not in the laboratories, it does not lie with the technicians or scientists, it is about digging up roads. A utilities tunnel that carries all utilities and can be partitioned off so that each is separate would help.

How many times have constituents said, “Last week the electricity board came and dug up the street, the month before it was the water board, now it’s broadband. Don’t you guys talk to each other?” The answer is no, they do not. Historically, our approach has been too ad hoc, too focused on the immediate job in front of us instead of the wider needs. Over time, that lack of strategic planning has been very costly. Can the UK Government honestly say that a USO of 10 megabits is ambitious? I think we can do better. That is why I want the UK Government to take responsibility. Simply facilitating greater competition within the market will not necessarily lead to all the results we want on the ground. Many of my constituents are not getting the best possible broadband infrastructure because service providers have deemed that certain areas are not commercially viable.

My constituents expect results, and they are impatient at being left behind. A broadband USO should be something exciting—a policy that represents technological innovation and an ambitious drive towards the future. If we settle for just 10 megabits per second, I am sorry to say that the UK Government’s USO will be remembered only as an “unsuitably slow option”.

Written Question – Telecommunications [21/12/2016]

Question: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how many Emergency Service masts will be built in Inverclyde constituency; and what steps she is taking to ensure that mobile telephone services are provided by all mobile network operators on all Emergency Services Network sites. (57096)

Tabled on: 12 December 2016

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

  1. To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how many Emergency Services Network mobile masts are planned to be built in Scotland; and if those masts will be designed and built for potential multi-occupancy by all mobile network operators. (57095) Tabled on: 12 December 2016

Answer: Brandon Lewis:

In delivering the Emergency Services Network (ESN), the mobile network operator EE will deliver up to 291 new mast sites. Government will deliver approximately 230 further sites (known as the “Extended Area Services” (EAS) sites) in the most remote and rural areas of Great Britain.

For EAS sites, the principal objective is to provide coverage to meet the needs of the emergency services, but the Home Office is working with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and DCMS to identify any proposed mast locations which could improve mobile coverage in future, with a view to ensuring these are built to a specification which could accommodate multiple operators.

EE has indicated that it is delivering around 200 new sites in Scotland as part of ESN. In addition there are 104 sites in Scotland that are being considered as part of the Extended Area Services (EAS). Delivery of these sites is subject to planning permission and the acquisition of land. There are currently no new sites proposed in the constituency of Inverclyde, either by EE or the EAS as part of ESN.

The answer was submitted on 20 Dec 2016 at 17:53.