Tele column – 14th April 2017

On Monday evening I attended a lecture by Brett Hennig on a Citizen’s Assembly. The idea is that a second chamber would be randomly selected from the population and employed for two years to produce legislation. It is not as radical as it sounds and similar ideas are in practice in Australia and the Netherlands. And it is not such a new idea as it was widely used in ancient Greece. Personally I can’t see it at a national level as it creates one of the fundamental problems it is trying to solve. The audience on Monday universally hated politicians, especially middle aged men. I have had more comfortable evenings.  

One problem with any national chamber is that the members, who would be pulled from all over Scotland, would need to travel to and live in Glasgow for at least three days a week, just as happens at Holyrood and Westminster. That makes it less appealing to people with a young family and single parents. Therefore, the demography of the people that is required to create a representative cross section of society is immediately reduced and you end up with people who are better placed to travel and live away from home, namely middle aged men. If the concept of a citizen’s assembly was applied at a more local level it becomes more practical. Twenty people that represent a cross section of Inverclyde employed for two years to address the issues that affect Inverclyde in a non-political non-partisan way. They would then report to the local council with guidance from experts. Whether it is national or local there are a range of ideas that need sorted but it’s a hugely interesting concept around giving citizens a voice in the sort of country they want to live in.

 

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‘Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum’

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report says any future referendum in the UK should take note of the lessons learned from the execution of the Brexit referendum, including the damage to the reputation of the Civil Service and the lack of preparation for either of the possible outcomes.

The committee report highlights the requirements for the civil service to be prepared for either outcome of a referendum.  It also stresses the need for purdah to be enforced fairly.

Personally, I see a huge responsibility on the media to balance coverage during purdah. Mark Carney has been cited as an example of an influential public figure who is not restricted by purdah and I would expect the media, when reporting comments from people in similar positions, to balance their reports with possibly opposing views.

What we are trying to provide is a system where information is delivered in an open and honest manner, allowing the electorate to be fully informed so they can make their judgement to the best of their abilities.

Read the report – https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmpubadm/496/496.pdf

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-and-constitutional-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2015/lessons-learned-from-eu-ref-16-17/ 

 

Parkinson’s campaign

Research released by the charity revealed that despite being an incurable, degenerative condition which can affect anyone, in Scotland:

  • Almost half (48%) of people are unsure, or wrongly say that it is possible to prevent Parkinson’s.
  • Four in five (83%) are unsure, or incorrectly think that there is no limit to the amount of time Parkinson’s medication works for.
  • Two in three (65%) wrongly believe that Parkinson’s medication does more than mask or ease the symptoms of the condition.

Parkinson’s UK wants to drive forward crucial developments in Parkinson’s research to pioneer more effective treatments that are desperately needed for the 11,000 people in Scotland currently living with the condition.

While great strides have been made over the past 200 years, people with Parkinson’s are still waiting for a treatment that can tackle the condition head on.

Because of this, I am supporting Parkinson’s UK’s We Won’t Wait campaign: we need a complete step change to deliver better treatments and a cure faster.

Scrap the Rape Clause

The Tories medieval two child policy and vile rape clause shows the true extent of the UK Government’s cruel ideologically driven hacking of the social security system.

The two child policy and rape clause is unworkable, immoral and has been condemned by UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  I pay credit to the hard work of my SNP Westminster colleague, Alison Thewliss MP, who continues to campaign against the introduction of such a policy.

 I find it astonishing to learn that Ruth Davidson is supporting the UK Government policy and would be interested to know if her Conservative west of Scotland colleague backs this abhorrent policy.

Any suggestion that vulnerable women should relive the trauma of being raped simply to claim tax credits is repugnant, repressive and regressive.

The future of Spango Valley – ‘Not houses’

I was dismayed to read in the Greenock Telegraph on the 6th March 2017 that the possibility of looking favourably upon planning consent for houses was being considered and even promoted by Inverclyde council for the Spango Valley site.

The valley can be split into four different areas defined by their current ownership.

Furthest West is the site being developed as the Ardgowan distillery and tourist centre. If ever we needed an example to follow this is it. On our doorstep and in fact in Spango Valley. It utilises the surroundings and maximises the natural beauty of its location. It will bring jobs to the area and fulfil the requirements of tourists from the cruise ships and beyond. They have not gone cap in hand for government (tax payers) money and they have short-term, medium-term and longterm plans thought out and costed.

The adjoining piece of land coming East is owned by Sanmina. It covers 40 acres and is a green field site.

Continue up the valley and we come to, what most people would have known as, the IBM site. In its heyday it employed over five thousand people. This site covers 70 acres. Many a local has started and even completed successful careers having taken their first job at IBM Spango Valley. But IBM have moved on from the Spango Valley and all that remains is one large shed like building that was last used as a call centre. All other buildings are derelict and require to be demolished. The land needs cleaned and returned to a brown field site. The current owner (Canmoor) are prepared to do this at their own expense.

I have been in discussion with a number of local stakeholders and businesses for the best part of a year now. We see this as a site that has the potential to spark innovation, ambition and excellence. But these things don’t happen overnight. My idea is to turn Spango Valley into a centre of excellence for renewable energy technology. This will involve a number of companies collaborating in the development of the site. As of yet Inverclyde council have not been involved in the discussion but I have kept them aware of the project and once it has been defined to a satisfactory level discussions will take place.

Finally we come to the old Greenock High School site, now owned by the Scottish Prison service. It has been cleared and levelled. It is well maintained and awaits a fruitful purpose.

The question is what can we do with this land that will best serve the people of Inverclyde. I know the council are far from making a decision and I welcome their request for proposals.

Would it be too glib of me to say, anything but houses?

The simple option to make a few bob is to build houses. The longterm future for an ambitious Inverclyde is to develop industry. It will not be easy but it is achievable. Houses in Spango Valley are not the answer. Building houses in Spango Valley in conjunction with the plans to develop six hundred and fifty houses in Inverkip would result in unbearable traffic congestion on that part of the A78. It is time we used our land correctly and stopped using a piecemeal approach across Inverclyde.

Too many sites, especially on the waterfront have been utilised inappropriately when there are other sites available. The views across the water belong to everyone and instead we are building a wall of commercial properties and housing which will someday obscure the entire coast. When that happens we will have lost an important part of our local identity.

The coastline of Inverclyde has changed shape a number of times throughout history. Mostly recently the docks that once hosted ships from across the globe have been filled in. The industries that these docks once sustained, both large and small, have disappeared. In their place we have a range of buildings that could easily have been located elsewhere within Inverclyde but instead they inhabit plots of land that should have been used to promote maritime industry. A housing estate, call centre and a bar diner could all be located away from the shore but maritime industry does by its very definition benefit from and in most cases depend upon a coastal location. There are still plots that remain to be utilised but they fall into two categories. They are either ear marked for housing or land banked as an investment with possible developers being spurned. The common land of Inverclyde should be for the common good of its citizens. The opportunities that Inverclyde’s coastal land provide should not be over looked for short term gain nor be allowed to go untapped so multi national companies can buy them up while providing no benefit for the local community.

Across from the Greenock fire station we have a carbuncle of a police station that not even the biggest fan of brutalist architecture could ever warm to. My understanding is that the cell provision is the primary reason for maintaining a building of this size with prisoners from out-with the area being housed here. We have West Coast college on Finnart street that is beyond its sell by date and can safely be added to the list of buildings that are not likely to win a beauty pageant.

It’s clear to see that over the years the utilisation of our resources, the preservation of our heritage and the development of Inverclyde as a place to live and work have not been managed as successfully as we would all of hoped. Rather than putting up signs that say come and live in Inverclyde it’s really great, we should have been talking to businesses and providing the necessary support to locate them in Inverclyde. Jobs will reinvigorate Inverclyde, jobs will increase the population and only jobs can lead to a prosperous sustainable future.

Improved 4G Mobile Coverage for Inverclyde

I welcome the news from EE that businesses and consumers in Inverclyde are now able to benefit from much-improved 4G mobile phone coverage following further upgrades in the area by EE, the UK’s largest mobile operator and part of the BT Group. 

EE has announced it has upgraded four more sites in the area, making it easier and quicker for people to get connected on their mobile phones. 

The new sites support better 4G coverage in the following areas of Inverclyde; 

–        A site along the rail line, close to Greenock Central station

–        A site along the A78 at Wemyss Bay

–        A site along the Greenock road, east of Port Glasgow

–        A site along the Port Glasgow Road, also covering some of the rail line around Bogston station

 

 

Invite to Govt Minister to Visit Inverclyde

I have written to the Minister for Employment, Damian Hinds MP, to invite him to visit Inverclyde to discuss the proposed closure of Port Glasgow jobcentre.

The decision to close one of the two jobcentres, in Inverclyde, will have a detrimental impact on a number of my constituents.

As previously stated, 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.

I have since written to the Minister for Employment to ask if he would visit Inverclyde and meet with myself and jobcentre management to discuss services in Inverclyde and the proposed closure.

 

Link to House of Commons debate on jobcentre – https://hansard.digiminster.com/Commons/2017-03-16/debates/2C54F317-D0C5-49B6-AD52-8A3F744EA126/BackbenchBusiness

The Department for Work and Pensions has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (69136):

Question: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether Ministers of his Department have plans to visit constituencies affected by the proposed closure of jobcentres. (69136)

Tabled on: 27 March 2017

Answer: Damian Hinds:

The Secretary of State and his Ministers regularly visit DWP sites across the country, including Jobcentres.

The answer was submitted on 30 Mar 2017 at 14:20.