Gradually easing lockdown restrictions

Scotland’s phased and careful approach to easing lockdown restrictions while continuing to suppress Coronavirus (COVID-19) has been outlined by the First Minister.

The updated Strategic Framework sets out the six tools the Scottish Government will use to restore, on a phased basis, greater normality to our everyday lives.

The immediate priority will continue to be the phased return of education, building on the return of some pupils to school yesterday. On the basis that progress in suppressing the virus and vaccinating key groups remains on track restrictions would be eased in the following order:

  • the next phase of school returns with the rest of the primary school years, P4 to P7, and more senior phase secondary pupils back in the classroom for part of their learning and the limit on outdoor mixing between households increasing to four people from a maximum of two households
  • the stay at home restriction to be lifted and any final school returns to take place. Communal worship to restart in limited numbers mindful of the timing of major religious festivals. This phase would also see the re-opening of retail, starting with an extension of the definition of essential retail and the removal of restrictions on click-and collect
  • return to a levels approach with all of Scotland moving to at least level 3, with some possible adjustments. This could mean that from the last week of April that we would expect to see phased but significant re-opening of the economy, including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers

https://www.gov.scot/news/gradually-easing-lockdown-restrictions

Back to the future

Rain often leads to flooding. That is the way in which nature has evolved and areas such as flood plains are designed by nature for this purpose. On rare occasions torrential downpours can result in rivers bursting their banks or swelling beyond recognition and causing devastation to the surrounding area.

Nature takes its course, but nature has a nice habit of monitoring and regulating itself. None of this was a problem before humans started populating the valleys and riversides. As soon as we started building, we started imposing ourselves on nature and rather than work with it we bent it to suit our requirements. In some cases, this has been done well and, in many others, badly. In Inverclyde we have five towns sandwiched between rolling hills and the River Clyde. Basic physics tells us that water runs down, not up. Instantly we can see the problem. The rainfall must go somewhere. We have established that it is going to run down towards the river but the speed with which it travels is crucial. Before there was any major construction in the area, we now classify as Inverclyde, nature had created a network of burns that carried the excess. Ladyburn, Cartsburn, Dellingburn, Westburn, Bouverie and Coves were not just locations they were active burns which formed a crucial part of our local eco system. Before we filled the hills with sheep, we had forests, peat and shrubs. They soaked up rainfall and slowed the rate at which it hit the ground. Tree canopy is an important factor. It may not look like much, but every wet leaf and branch holds rain that isn’t adding to the saturation of land. But we denuded the hills and destroyed the peatland. This increased the rate and the amount of rain pouring off the hills towards the river. And we built houses, roads and railways and in doing so we diverted and even merged burns. We tried to outsmart nature and we lost. More recently we have filled in docklands, the outcome being that the water has further to travel before making it to the river. This is most obvious when the main roads flood. Much mitigating has taken place but looking to the future, every time we Monoblock a drive, put down plastic grass, build houses, cut down trees, clear hedge ways, we are once again going to increase the volume and speed of the water. The flood prevention that we are putting in place will require upgrading, again. Or we could work with nature. Restore the peatland. Inverclyde has over five thousand hectares that could be restored. This lends itself to ecological, socio-economic and cultural regeneration. Reforestation in the right places, with the right trees, ticks all those boxes too. And it doesn’t have to be trees. Nature provides us with a vast range of plants that will retain water, encourage insect life and bird life while working in a practical and aesthetically pleasing way. We don’t need engineering marvels to resolve the problems, nature has given us all the materials and we have the skills to utilise them.

I am in discussion with Inverclyde council, NatureScot, the Yearns Stane Project, Forestry Scotland, Woodlands Trust and other stakeholders and we hope to be able to attract the funding to carry out major projects in Inverclyde. With the right commitment we can, to paraphrase ex councillor Jim Hunter, put the ‘Green back in Greenock’ and go beyond that to improve the environment, carbon footprint and even flooding in Inverclyde.     

Scottish Government – Business support

£60 million for newly self-employed, close contact businesses and driving instructors.

Two funds to support people whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic are now open to applications

Grants will be available for mobile and home-based close contact service businesses – such as make-up artists and hairdressers – as well as registered driving instructors.

The Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund, which paid out more than £11 million in vital support last year, will also re-open for a second round.

Both funds will provide £4,000 grants to successful applicants. Full eligibility details are available online.

Background

Full information on the Mobile and Home-Based Close Contact Services Fund and the Newly Self-Employed Hardship Fund

Statistics published last week showed £244 million was paid to businesses through three funds in January alone.

COVID-19 advice and funding information is available via the Find Business Support website.

Letter in Greenock Telegraph [03/02/2021]

If Councillor Wilson was to read what I have written on addiction, then he would be aware that I have both acknowledged that the Scottish Government has made mistakes and that abstinence is a valued path out of addiction. I have said that we need more rehabilitation beds and that they should be government funded. Rehabilitation and abstinence can be part of a solution to many but because there are many reasons for addiction and they are deeply imbedded within our society, the routes to recovery are complex and varied. As an elected member to Westminster it would be remiss of me if I didn’t seek to improve the situation through legislation and the legislation that requires changed is primarily the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act but we can add to that the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.  

The end game is to remove the root causes, the poverty, the trauma, the sense of a life not worth living, but immediately we must remove the stigma around addiction and treat all addictions as health issues. This can’t be done while Westminster continues to categorise drug addiction as a criminal justice matter for the Home Office rather than as a health issue for the Department of Health and Social care. 

Ronnie Cowan MP

20 Crawfurd Street

Greenock

Self-Isolation Support Grant extension

The £500 Self-Isolation Support Grant is being significantly extended to more people on low incomes.

The grant will be available to workers earning the Real Living Wage or less, as well as those in receipt of a council tax reduction because of low income.

People with caring responsibilities for someone over 16 who is asked to self-isolate, where the carer themselves meet the other eligibility criteria, can also get the grant.

In addition, the Scottish Government is lengthening the period during which people can apply for the Self-Isolation Support Grant. They will now be able to apply within 28 days of being told to self-isolate.

The changes will take effect from 16 February to allow local authorities time to change their systems and application forms, but eligibility will be backdated to 2 February. This means an additional 200,000 people will be eligible for the grant if they are asked to self-isolate.

https://www.gov.scot/news/more-people-supported-to-self-isolate

Blind faith will get you killed but learned trust can save us all

I spent three hours today at my select committee listening to evidence from experts in human behaviour and data distribution. It was fascinating. It’s one of the privileges of my job to be able to take time to ponder and be guided by experts. Based on what they said this is my take on where we are now regarding lockdown.  

As we have progressed through the coronavirus pandemic, I think it’s fair to say that we have all learned a great deal. Mistakes have been made by governments, media and individuals too. At times the challenge ahead has been daunting and the lack of an obvious successful outcome is dispiriting.  

I was of the opinion that behavioural fatigue would result in more people breaking the rules. And that more people would simply ignore the guidelines but I was wrong. Non-compliance is not increasing. Many of the people that never complied are still not complying but the good news is they are not a growing cohort. The misconception stems from the media and flaws in human nature. When the report ‘one hundred people attended a house party’ that’s a memorable event that sticks in our mind. We don’t consider the millions of people that are not attending house parties. It’s the most memorable that forms our opinion, not the most frequent. And as humans we do tend to over estimate bad behaviour and forget it’s a tiny majority. 

At daily briefings we are given the statistics, including infections and deaths and they are crucial in determining where we are and what must be done. But decisions will have been made to determine how detailed that information is. Importantly, the more detailed numbers must be available if we are to retain trust but data overload will turn people away and make them risk averse. Trying to communicate risk is complicated and we need more than just statistics we need the stories of compliance too because they underpin our own sacrifice and reassure us that we are not alone. Lockdown is tough but it’s one of the most popular policies of the last 30 years. And it will remain that way while people understand the need. We must trust our fellow citizens. The public are the solution, not the problem.  

Discretionary Fund

Background

  1. Inverclyde Council’sCOVID-19 Discretionary Fund is to provide financial support to Inverclyde businesses who have less than 50 employees and have been unable to secure any COVID-19 business grant support to date, or where they have had COVID-19 business grant support they can demonstrate that this has not been sufficient to keep them in a viable trading position.
  • Businesses can only apply once and to the Local Authority area in which their business operates.
  • Applicants will need to provide their last full years accredited accounts.
  • The Discretionary Fund is open to eligible businesses regardless of the rateable value of their business premises, and to eligible businesses who do not operate from fixed premises.
  • The Discretionary Fund is open to eligible businesses regardless of trading status, and is therefore open to businesses trading as Limited companies.
  • Grant support will not be provided if the business/individual are found to have breached any COVID-19 regulations.
  • Eligible Inverclyde businesses can apply to Inverclyde Council for a one-off grant payment of up to £10,000 for those who have not been able to secure any other COVID-19 business grant support to date, or up to £2,500 for those who have had other COVID-19 business grant support (this element of the fund will only be paid in exceptional circumstances).
  • The grant payment will normally be paid into a Business bank account.
  • Approval of a grant via the Discretionary Fund is at the sole discretion of Inverclyde Council.
  1. Where an application is unsuccessful, there would be a right of Appeal to the Council’s Head of Regeneration & Planning.

Eligibility

Only one grant is payable to a business who meets ALL of the eligibility requirements detailed below.  To be eligible for this Fund the business must:

  1. Operate within Inverclyde.
  • Employ less than 50 employees.
  • Provide their last full years accredited accounts.
  • Have not received any other COVID-19 business grant support, OR if COVID-19 business grant support has been received it has been insufficient to maintain a viable trading position.
  • Have lost business due to Coronavirus and be experiencing financial hardship as a result.
  • Confirm they have taken steps to limit business expenditure and costs.
  • Have not been found to have breached any COVID-19 regulations.

How To Apply

Applications must be made on Inverclyde Council’s COVID-19 Discretionary Fund application form, found here: https://www.inverclyde.gov.uk/covid-19/business-support

The following supporting documentation MUST be e-mailed along with the completed application form.  Failure to do so will hinder the progress of the application:-

  1. Last full year’s accredited accounts.
  • Copy of a business bank statement (dated within the last 3 months) for the account you have given details of in the application form. The Statement must clearly show the Name of the Account Holder, the Account Number and Sort Code.
  • Evidence of active trading up to 30/3.20.  Evidence can be in the form of:
  • A supplier or reseller trade account (active).
  • Valid business insurance.
  • HMRC Unique Taxpayer Reference (if registered).  If not yet registered, copy of correspondence/other details showing registration is being sought/or provide further details to explain position.
  • VAT Registration Number.
  • Marketing materials, eg business website, active social media – provide web links.
  • Other evidence of business activity (eg correspondence with customers or suppliers).

Where To Send The Application Form & Supporting Documentation

Applications must be emailed by the applicant, along with all supporting documents, to employabilityandskills@inverclyde.gov.uk

Application Assessment

Applications will be assessed by Council staff against all of the eligibility criteria.  If the applicant is eligible for the grant the Council will aim to make payment within 10 working days from receipt of a fully completed application.  A fully completed application includes receipt of all the additional information and supporting documentation requested by the Council.

https://www.inverclyde.gov.uk/covid-19/business-support

Letter to Greenock Telegraph [11/01/2021]

While agreeing with the premise of MC Barry’s letter in the Greenock Telegraph (6th January 2021), that ‘more resources are required to tackle drug problems’ and ‘This is a complex problem rooted in poverty’ I can’t agree with his claims that it’s entirely the fault of the current SNP government. The increase in drug related deaths, the increase in criminal prosecutions and incarceration, the increase in violent crimes related to the control of production and sale of illegal drugs can be traced back to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. Prior to that the ‘British system’ looked upon misuse of drugs as a health-related issue. When we made it a matter for the criminal justice system we marginalised and ostracised people who are self-medicating. We drove them into the arms of criminal gangs, and they have been paying the price ever seen. This is a U.K. wide Bill that helps to fuel a worldwide problem. The Scottish Government has acknowledged that it has made mistakes and recently has taken action to address the known issues.

However, if the U.K. parliament was to decriminalise personal drug possession then the role of our law enforcement agencies would change dramatically. Early intervention would be easier and non-judgemental. Diversion to health services would become the norm. The U.K. government could change the law to legalise Drug Consumption Rooms. They could reschedule cannabis and permit the import of medical cannabis. The scandal has been ongoing for over 50 years and it won’t be changed overnight and while I acknowledge mistakes have been made in Scotland, what we need is cross party support for change, not political point scoring. At Westminster, I am Vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform and that is where progress will be made. Individuals parties will have internal pressure groups to influence their own party thinking but only by working together will we solve the problems that has been doing damage to our community for decades.

Ronnie Cowan MP

20 Crawfurd Street, Greenock

Community Climate Asset Fund

I’m delighted to learn that a number of projects in Inverclyde have received funding from the Scottish Government, through Keep Scotland Beautiful, for addressing climate change and building a greener country.

Having worked alongside a number of the organisations who’ve received this much needed funding, I know it will bring about positive change and help towards a just transition to net-zero emissions by 2045.

I look forward to catching-up with said organisations in the future and seeing their continued progress.

https://www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/ccaf

Brexit deal vote

On Wednesday, the 30th December, the UK Parliament will be recalled to do three things. To finally agree on the creation of a virtual chamber, extend recess until the 11th January and in one day process the UK withdrawal bill by completing the second reading, committee stage, third reading, then up to the Lords for the same one, two, three and then send it off for Royal Assent.

The Conservative and Unionist UK government with the support of the UK Labour Party will vote through a deal that will risk the erosion of workers rights and protection of the environment. It will slow the recovery from the coronavirus recession, and create higher prices in the shops. This will have huge implications for jobs in Scotland and across the UK. Our economy has already been damaged as a result of Brexit, with the Warwick study estimating Scotland had lost £3.94billion by July 2020. The vote on Wednesday is to accept or reject this shambolic deal. #

I shall vote against it with a clear conscience. This will be spinned as voting for a ‘no’ deal but that’s not what the vote is for because that’s not how Parliament works. The question is very simple, do I accept this deal for the people of Inverclyde and Scotland and the answer is a resounding, no.

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde