Westminster diary w/b 16th October

Monday

I delayed my departure to London so I could visit Financial Fitness along with Councillor Liz Robertson. Financial Fitness provide an invaluable service helping people negotiate their way through the trials and tribulations of modern life during these days of Conservative government austerity. With Universal Credit taking six weeks to provide the first payment, PIP assessments appeals taking nineteen weeks in Inverclyde and food bank referrals up by nearly seventy percent, Financial Fitness have a hugely important role to play in supporting those most vulnerable in our society. A quick dash to the airport was of course followed by a slow delay! I arrived in time to make the start of the select committee on transport. It was an interesting session with the Secretary of State for transport, Chris Grayling, giving evidence to the committee on his department’s priorities, the electrification u-turn and of course Brexit. I also took the opportunity to quiz him about coastguard cuts.

Tuesday

Started with the select committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC). The Institute of Government provided us with a private briefing on government bodies and their current suitability to handle Brexit. I then met with Sabrinna Valisce. She had been a prostitute working in New Zealand and had supported the decriminalisation of the purchasing of sex. Once the law was changed she witnessed the horrendous consequences. She now supports the Nordic Model where the selling of sex is decriminalised but the purchase is still illegal. It is tremendously brave of Sabrinna to tell her story and she deserves to be listened to. I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Emmanuel Cocher (consular general France). We usually only meet during the wreath laying ceremony at the Cross of Lorraine on Remembrance Sunday. This time we had time to discuss Brexit (what else?) and the special relationship between Scotland and France. After that I was up in front of the Backbench business committee with Caroline Lucas. We are jointly bidding for a debate on the treaty for nuclear disarmament that 122 countries have endorsed but not the UK. I dropped in to an event on responsible gambling and then attended a debate on the Use of devolved powers in Scotland. The debate was no more than an opportunity for the Scottish conservatives to talk down the Scottish Government and Scottish parliament. Which was a great shame as it could have been a joint attempt to improve the powers at Holyrood.

Wednesday

I started the day with the Devolved and Constitutional powers group. Most of the conversation was about the repatriation of powers from Brussels to the UK and avoiding a power grab at Westminster. I then met constitution Rob Behrens. Rob is the parliamentary and health service ombudsman and works with the select committee on public administration and the constitution, as well as being held to account by it. It’s an interesting situation. I dropped in to Macmillan’s parliamentary coffee morning and managed a slice of chocolate cake before heading to prime Ministers question time. I should have stayed for more cake. In the last year Inverclyde has received over fourteen million pounds in big lottery funding so I dropped in to their event to catch up and assure them it is being spent wisely. The main debate in the House of Commons was to pause and fix the universal credit roll out. It was an ill-tempered affair and having been roundly criticised the government then abstained on the vote. At the end of the evening I caught up with a delegation from Catalonia that had come to report on the recent referendum there. During the day I managed to squeeze in a blood test for anaemia and get a flu jab.

Thursday

First thing in the morning I travelled out to Glazier’s Hall at London Bridge where I chaired the Westminster energy environment and transport forum. It was an opportunity for politicians and business people to discuss a wide range of topics but primarily large infrastructure projects. The main concern from the business sector was a lack of long term planning from government. It was heartening to hear so many people cite the Scottish government’s good practice in infrastructure, broadband and renewables, not perfect but moving in the right direction. I caught a mid-afternoon flight home which for the young boy in the seat in front of me was a voyage of vomit, sick bags and wet wipes. I hope he is feeling better now.

Friday

I had my monthly catch up with Inverclyde Council Chief Executive, Aubrey Fawcett where we discussed a range of topics and I visited Cloch housing association (Care and Repair) with Councillor John Crowther. The remainder of the day was consumed by case work.

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Wear it Pink

 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will face it in their lifetime, and every year around 11,500 women and 80 men lose their lives to the disease. This is why I’m urging everyone in Inverclyde to take part in wear it pink on Friday 20 October. It’s such a fun and easy way to support Breast Cancer Now’s vital research, and help stop breast cancer taking the lives of those we love.

Anyone can take part in wear it pink, which brings together schools, workplaces and communities. All you need to do is wear something pink, or hold a pink event at home, work or school, and make a donation to Breast Cancer Now. Whatever you do, you’re helping the charity achieve its aim that, if we all act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live.

 

Universal Credit Debate

The UK Government say Universal Credit is their flagship welfare policy. However, it has been nothing short of a disaster – and for those it has failed so far in pilot areas, such as Inverclyde, it has been a personal catastrophe.

Earlier this week, Inverclyde Foodbank announced a 70% rise in foodbank usage this year.  They blame this on the issue of Universal Credit and people getting into debt and rent arrears, while they wait 6 weeks for a payment.

My office continues to receive contact from constituents who have been left without financial support through Universal Credit.  It’s time the UK Government listened to the concerns of my constituents, Citizens Advice Scotland, Child Poverty Action Group and others, who are calling for a halt to the rollout and the system fixed.

Lottery Funding for Inverclyde

I’m pleased to learn that Inverclyde has received over £14.6m of funding, in the past 5 years which has been provided to people and communities.

Previously, I held an event at the Beacon Arts Centre, alongside CVS Inverclyde, to allow groups and organisations to speak, face to face, with National Lottery representatives to learn what funding is available and how to apply for it.  Learning that 174 projects have been supported in Inverclyde is to be welcomed.

If you have a project idea and want to know how Big Lottery Scotland might be able to help, simply get in touch at advicescotland@biglotteryfund.org.uk or call our advice line on 0300 123 7110.

Basic income

I wholeheartedly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to establish a fund to support local authorities as they develop their own basic income schemes. The Scottish Government will also task its Poverty and Inequality Commission with drawing together the experiences of these local schemes to inform Government thinking on a Basic Income . They will provide useful data for any country in the world that wishes to build on them.

The Basic Income pilot projects are vitally important to the debate. To design, run and monitor pilots and analyse the results takes a great deal of expertise and effort but they may have the potential to shine a light on any shortcomings – opportunities and ultimately produce solutions.

I believe it’s time for the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead and fund research into the feasibility of a basic income and announce similar measures in the forthcoming UK Budget in November.

 

Westminster diary w/b 9th October

Monday 

The second day of SNP conference in Glasgow. Conference is always a good opportunity to catch up with members across the country and meet a wide range of interest groups in one day. I spoke to the motion on moving Scotland’s drug policy towards a health based approach and was pleased that the motion and the amendment to ask for the powers to manage drug policy should belong to the Scottish Government both passed. I met representatives from Scotrail. We discussed local issues, flooding, rolling stock and the policing of the Wemyss Bay line as well as the bigger picture. I then met representatives from Heathrow in my wider capacity as a member of the Select Committee on Transport. I caught the 5pm flight to London. On arrival I drop into my office and read briefing papers for the next day.  

Tuesday  

The day starts at 9am with the Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitution Affairs. With a number of new members we take a while to get to know each other and then discuss the agenda for the next session. It’s always a contentious conversation and after the politic posturing is put to bed we agree in a couple of items related to the capability of the civil service and Brexit. Amidst a day of reading, writing and emails I managed to catch the First Ministers speech at conference. In the evening I met up with a few colleagues for a meal and we discussed a range of political issues. That’s what happens when politicians socialise!  

Wednesday  

First meeting is the devolved and constitution policy team meeting and then on to a parliamentary CND meeting. Prime Ministers Question time is loud and ill-mannered. Nothing new there. Immediately after that I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Eagle. He is a cancer survivor after a stem cell transplant and his story of prejudice by employers and insurance companies after his operation is a disturbing one. These issues are being highlighted by the Anthony Nolan organisation. My third Select Committee of the week is the Procedures Committee and we discuss the recommendations from the Hansard Society to introduce a sifting committee to handle the Brexit process. The meeting is continually interrupted by voting in the chamber and we agree to reconvene next week. My second last meeting if the day is the Drugs, Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group. Finally I attend a briefing from Mike Russell MSP on Brexit.  

Thursday  

As a follow up to the Anthony Nolan event, I attended the Cancer Campaigning group event hosted by Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire. The group is made up of 56 charities as well as elected members and medical professionals. It’s a good example of politicians being given the opportunity to learn from the experts. And the perfect example of that was my next meeting when I met the extraordinary Ron Hogg, Durham police crime and victims’ commissioner. We discuss the UK government’s drug policy. Ron has spoken out in an extremely courageous but informed manner on the need for a health based approach and I look forward to working with him in the future. I caught the 5pm flight home.  

Friday

Starts with a review of outstanding casework. During the day I had meetings with Circles Network Advocacy, a post graduate student researching basic income and a local charity fund raiser. Just another varied day in the best job in the world.

 

Responsible Gambling Week

Through my activities on the All-party parliamentary group on FOBTs and visiting the National Problem Gambling Clinic, in London, I have learned a great deal about the issue of gambling related harm and its effects on individuals and their families.

I plan to attend the parliamentary reception for Responsible Gambling Week on Tuesday to speak to all sectors of the UK gambling industry (arcades, bingo clubs, bookmakers, casinos and online). 

It’s important that people who may be suffering with gambling problems seek out the necessary help and guidance.  The National Gambling Helpline can be contacted on 0808 8020133.

BeGambleAware – https://www.begambleaware.org/rgweek

Tele column – 13th October 2017

I have never been one for blind faith in anything or anyone. I question my views and those of others. By questioning myself, I either find flaws and attempt to improve or reaffirm and therefore strengthen my belief. Over the last few weeks I have listened to speeches by the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and SNP parties. Each one I have tried to listen to trying to extract good ideas and policies that I can back. It was Alex Salmond, when he became First Minister of Scotland that said “the SNP don’t have a monopoly on good ideas”. I took that at face value and believe we all have something to contribute.

Jeremy Corbyn has waited many years for his moment in the sun and is basking in it now but it was a speech to the faithful, not so surprising as it was Labour conference but it should have appealed to a wider audience than Labour Party members. Theresa May’s speech, well where do I begin. Take away the nervous cough, the faulty signage, the sheer incompetence of those around her that allowed a prankster to reach her. The actual content was poor and the delivery appalling. Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was calm and concise. It contained big ideas and at the same time policy that directly affects each and every one of us. It wasn’t triumphant in tone but managed to point out the SNP government’s successes.

Cynics will say that of course I would be more impressed by the leader of my party and I understand that but I would ask any unbiased person to measure those three speeches against the leadership maxim laid out by the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” May never got out the starting block, Corbyn came close but he seems to be stuck in third gear. He never really takes off. The shouty bits are contrived. I would say that Nicola Sturgeons commitment to a national lending bank for Scotland, a publicly owned not-for-profit energy company for Scotland, a commitment to fund basic income projects in Scotland, the re-allocation of unused council house funding to councils that need it, lifting the public sector pay cap and increasing free childcare to 30 hours a week, all show that the First Minister can lead while staying engaged with those she is leading. The way ahead is clear and the team are in place to take us there.

Anthony Nolan

Despite stem cell transplant patients often being known as “patients for life” due to the long-term side-effects of the treatment, many patients are not receiving adequate support for the physical, practical and psychological challenges they experience during recovery. According to research by Anthony Nolan, one in five are not offered any specialist care to help with their recovery, which includes access to physiotherapists, counsellors, and fertility experts.

Anthony Nolan is calling on health commissioners across the UK to urgently review the care arrangements they have in place for transplant recipients once they leave hospital, to ensure that patients and their families can continue to access vital support and services. National commissioners pay for any treatment needed by patients for the first 100 days after transplant. After this point, responsibility for funding services passes to local commissioners – in England, the patients’ local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). However, a Freedom of Information request by Anthony Nolan found that at present, fewer than one in ten (9%) CCGs have specific arrangements in place.

A number of my constituents have got in touch to bring this issue to my attention, so I know how important it is for people in Inverclyde that stem cell transplant patients and their families receive appropriate support. No patient’s recovery should be made more difficult by a lack of care and support, and that’s why I’m backing Anthony Nolan’s campaign, urging health commissioners to review the care arrangements they have in place once transplant patients leave hospital.