Broadband funding

Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution Derek Mackay announced  that strong take up figures mean that an additional £15.6m is being re-invested back into the programme.  

Across Scotland, more than 710,000 premises are now able to connect to fibre-based services through the Digital Scotland project, led by the Scottish Government and delivered on the ground by Openreach, BT’s local network business. 

Thanks to strong early take up of fibre broadband, BT has made available additional funding under the contract earlier than planned.  lt means that many places, such as premises currently in very rural areas or those not benefitting from any uplift in speed, as well as ‘new build’ premises built between 2012 and 2014, will now be able to get superfast broadband thanks to the programme.

Work is already under way and will be complete by December 2018 – it will mean that 97.2% of Inverclyde will have access to fibre broadband including assumed commercial coverage by this time.

I welcome the announcement that Inverclyde is to receive more superfast broadband coverage for homes and businesses thanks to the early success of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project.

As I’ve previously said, more needs to be done to improve broadband access and speeds for people in Inverclyde.  My constituents continue to raise concerns regarding a perceived lack of support from the deliverer of broadband.

Therefore, this announcement is a step in the right direction, although more support is required to ensure better broadband access and speeds in Inverclyde.

 

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Prostitution laws

Prostitution is often referred to as the oldest profession in the world. If it is, then it true to say that abuse, violence and exploitation must have been around just as long, for these are the levers used to prostitute. Indeed the current laws surrounding prostitution can punish the victim.

At SNP conference, in an attempt to improve the current situation, we debated the introduction of the Nordic Model for prostitution. This model decriminalises the selling of sex and prosecutes the purchaser. Since Sweden passed laws in 1999 criminalizing the purchaser, Norway and Iceland have passed the same laws and similar legislation has been adopted in Canada, Northern Ireland and France. The Republic of Ireland shall be doing so soon. The Netherlands is trying to undo some of the damage caused by legalisation and the Deputy Prime Minister, Lodewijk Asscher, called it “a national mistake”. There have also been attempts within German politics to address the damage done by legalisation.

At the heart of this legislation is the desire to protect and educate vulnerable people that could be prostituted. The motion at SNP conference very importantly offered appropriate support for those wishing to exit commercial sexual exploitation. Men, woman and children that are being prostituted require the protection of the law and those seeking to gain from their exploitation should be prosecuted.

In countries where the purchasing of sex has been decriminalised, industrial brothels have sprung up and people are trafficked to fulfil the demand. If you compare Denmark, which does not prosecute the purchaser, to Sweden that does, Denmark has around four times the number of people trafficked to be prostituted than Sweden despite having around half the population. There is a clear correlation between people smuggling and legalised prostitution.

This represents human beings being bought and sold and I wonder what message it sends to the younger generation growing up in these countries. While prostitution exists those being prostituted will continue to be brutalised. We should be attempting to create a society where the purchasing of a human being for sex is inconceivable. Slavery should be confined to history and has no place in today’s world. I am delighted to say that conference voted for the motion.

Westminster diary w/b 13th March

Monday

I caught my regular 7:20 flight but instead of going straight to my office in Westminster I continued my journey to the Science museum in Kensington. It was my pleasure to attend and support the team from St Columba’s, Kilmacolm who were competing in the final of the ‘Ultimate STEM Challenge. Michael, Michael, Quinn and Lewis presented their project extremely well and received a commendation from the judges for the “scientific rigour of their experimental work”. I was back at Westminster in time for questions. I wanted to get in a question about Universal Basic Income but once again I stood in vain. I did have a spring in my step as earlier on Scotland’s First Minister had announced that she would be seeking a referendum which would allow the people of Scotland a choice on the kind of future they want. Meanwhile in Parliament the article 50 amendments didn’t take long and naturally the government drove any changes off.

Tuesday

My Select Committee inquiry is into reforming the House of Lords. I suggested scrapping and electing a second chamber which reflects all the countries and regions of the UK. I don’t object to a bi-cameral system it is just that our current second chamber is too big and too London centric. I attended a very interesting all party group on the 4th industrial revolution. It was interesting to hear the input from the likes of Hugh Millward (Director of External and Legal Affairs at Microsoft) with regard to where they see the jobs market going. I can only see a workforce that will be required to be flexible and adaptable in both their approach and working hours as artificial intelligence takes great strides forward. The Minister for Digital, Matt Hancock MP, was open enough to tell us that despite his position he is a descendent of a leading Luddite that’s smashed up the Cartwright looms. It seems there is always a threat to the workforce, perceived or otherwise.

Wednesday

The industrial theme continued and I met with the ‘Industrial Communities Alliance’. They have gathered the combined knowledge, experience and views of local authorities across the UK to create a strategy that they believe can revive British industry and create a high wage, high employment economy across the UK. Prime Minister’s Question time was in parts amusing but mostly the usual slagging match between the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. I keep going in case I miss something. I feel I have invested a lot of time in this particular event but each week it’s the same dismal failure. I attended a debate on triggering Article 50 and the implications on Scottish devolution. In the evening I did an interview for the James Whale show on Talk Radio.

Thursday

My Select Committee had a private meeting to plan our approach to the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the consequences for the devolved administrations.

If we get the witnesses we want it could be both interesting and productive. My committee also presented our report on the lessons learned from the Chilcot inquiry. As a Member of the committee I was allowed to speak to the report. It is our tenth report and the work load shows no sign of letting up. I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the closure of jobcentres.

Friday

First thing is another radio interview about the Scottish referendum. The strange thing is the SNP are accused of being obsessed by a referendum but the fact is the English based media are fascinated by it and want to talk about it. The rest of the day shall be constituency work, research and writing.

Jobcentre Closure Debate

The decision to close one of my constituency’s two job centres was not put out to consultation because the distance between the Greenock and Port Glasgow jobcentre is less than three miles.

By setting up the consultation criteria in the way that they have, the UK Government have manufactured the result they wanted: namely, only 30 job- centres out of the 183 affected by the changes will be subject to consultation.

The closure decision has absolutely nothing to do with providing a Government service. Rather, it is part of the UK Government’s goal of selling £4.5 billion-worth of Government land and property by 2020-21.

One issue that may have been identified had a local consultation taken place is that the only main road between Greenock and Port Glasgow is liable to flooding at certain times of the year. It may block traffic once or twice a year, but one missed appointment is all it takes to be sanctioned.

I support the calls for closures to be suspended until a wider consultation is conducted, so that we can properly assess the impact of the decision on all our constituents.

Tele column – 17th March 2017

The Brexit process of scrutiny which involves the legislation being hammered out between the House of Commons and House of Lords didn’t take very long at all. The process known as ping pong was completed within a few hours and article 50 was put on a plate just waiting for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to serve it. Earlier on Monday, in Bute House, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had made it crystal clear that once the details of Brexit were known, the people of Scotland shall have the opportunity to vote in a second independence referendum. Given the timescale allowed for negotiations and ratification, it is fair to say that the referendum will be between autumn 2018 and spring 2019. 

We don’t know what the constitutional situation will be in Ireland by then and what border will exist between Gibraltar and Spain. The United Kingdom government has manoeuvred itself into one unholy mess and I can guarantee you they will try everything they can to keep Scotland in the UK. Last time we were made promises that were not kept. We were told if we stayed in the UK it would protect our place in the EU, we did, and it didn’t. We were told we would be amongst the most powerful devolved governments in the world. We aren’t. 

Day in day out, away from the public ear, I hear Members of the UK government talk reasonably about a range of subjects. But this falls apart when it comes to Scotland’s independence. They plead their love for Scotland. They holiday in Scotland. They own homes in Scotland. They and their offspring have or do gain from further education in Scotland’s universities. They love Scotland so much they want to keep it. I love Scotland so much, I want to set it free.

 

Jobcentre Plus Office Closures [16/03/2017]

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I certainly welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate, not least because it is the only time that anyone from Inverclyde will be afforded the opportunity to have a say on the proposed closure of the Port Glasgow jobcentre.

As the Minister will already be aware, the decision to close one of my constituency’s two jobcentres was not put out to consultation because the distance between the Greenock and Port Glasgow jobcentres is less than three miles. By my reckoning it is 2.6 miles between the two buildings as the crow flies, and 2.84 miles if one measures the actual route that one would need to take along the road network. For the sake of an additional 250 metres it is hard to understand why the UK Government would not consult on this decision so that service users could outline how the changes affect them.

Or maybe the UK Government simply do not care what service users think, otherwise the obvious course of action would have been to undertake a consultation on all closures. By setting up the consultation criteria in the way that they have, the UK Government have manufactured the result they wanted: namely, only 30 job- centres out of the 183 affected by the changes will be subject to consultation. We all know that the reality of this situation is that the closure decision has absolutely nothing to do with providing a Government service. Rather, it is part of the UK Government’s goal of selling £4.5 billion-worth of Government land and property by 2020-21.

Over the course of the previous Parliament, the DWP estate shrunk by 17%, with the Government intent on reducing the size by a further 20%. I fully appreciate the need for any Government to spend public funds wisely, but the decision to slash the number of jobcentres will most definitely have a negative impact on my constituents. The most obvious consideration is the additional travel costs that service users will face in getting to their appointments. This will barely register as small change for a UK Government Minister or indeed an MP, but it is an unwanted additional expense for someone already struggling on a low income.

Constituents will also be burdened with increased travel times, which in turn puts them at an increased risk of being sanctioned under the DWP’s draconian and uncompromising rules. Again, the Minister may say, “It’s only three miles’ difference. What’s the big deal?”

One issue that may have been identified had a local consultation taken place is that the only main road between Greenock and Port Glasgow is liable to flooding at certain times of the year. It may block traffic once or twice a year, but one missed appointment is all it takes to be sanctioned. I want to say that I support the staff of the Port Glasgow jobcentre, who are fulfilling their support roles as best they can with the guidance handed to them from ministerial level. I am aware that they have their own reservations about the closure and how it will affect their clients. In the words of Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union:

“Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair, it undermines support to get them back to work.”

A report from the Disability Benefits Consortium found that 93% of respondents to a survey of service users thought that the process for applying for PIP was stressful: 80% experienced difficulties in completing the claim form, while 82% felt that the application process had a negative impact on their health. Will Minister explain how closing one of my constituency’s two jobcentres will improve that experience for service users?

We can highlight the lack of consultation and the specific practical issues surrounding this closure. My fear, however, is that the issue highlights, once again, a more general problem—the UK Government’s complete lack of compassion or genuine concern for vulnerable people. Instead they pursue spreadsheet politics where the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

I hope that the debate will not conclude with a meaningless regurgitation of the Government’s policy. At the very least the Minister should have the intellectual honesty to come to the Chamber and admit that the experience of service users is not a consideration in the closure decision. My constituents deserve that. I support the calls for closures to be suspended until a wider consultation is conducted, so that we can properly assess the impact of the decision on all our constituents.

Lottery Funding for Inverclyde

I am delighted to learn that over £6.3m of funding has been provided by the Big Lottery Fund Scotland, to Inverclyde, since May 2015.

On Friday 1st July 2016, Mr Cowan held an event at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, alongside CVS Inverclyde to allow representatives of the Big Lottery Fund Scotland to provide a short presentation on the funds they have available to support local groups, charities and other not-for-profit organisations – ranging from small grants of up to £10,000 to large grants up to £1m

Some of the organisations, who attended the event, have since received funding include – Mind Mosaic, REACH for Autism, River Clyde Homes and CVS Inverclyde.

I would encourage more groups and organisations to check out the Big Lottery Fund Scotland website to learn what funding support could be available and my office is also happy to provide information.