Dame Carol Black’s ‘Review of drugs part two’

Having read Dame Carol Black’s ‘Review of drugs part two’ several times now and having listened to her present and answer questions on the report, I find myself increasingly frustrated. Not at Dame Carol Black but within myself. The inadequacies of the existing system are laid bare for all to see within the report. Crucial areas that must be addressed are explained and thirty-two recommendations are detailed. Drug treatment and recovery support, funding, commissioning, diversion, employment, housing, mental and physical health, prevention, intervention and research, this report has recommendations for them all. And it is right and proper that we tackle drug policy in this way. Patching won’t do, we need reforms on a grand scale and in the hands of the people best placed to make them effective. For too long it has been designated as a matter for the judicial system and our health services have been left to pick up the pieces. This report puts health care at the heart of the solution and should be commended for doing so.      

But apart from making recommendations there is nothing else the report or I can do and that is the frustration. Dame Carol Black has been absolutely clear that if the UK Government starts picking and choosing which of her thirty-two recommendations to implement then it won’t work, and I applaud her for saying that. Too often we make do and mend with policies that need ripped up and rewritten. And the Misuse of Drugs act 1971 is a case in point. For fifty years it has made the situation worse.  But to expect the UK Government to have a sudden blinding flash of understanding and compassion is naïve. They won’t implement many of the recommendations, they will pick a few, dress up a few others, pay lip service to some and ignore the rest. And I say that with confidence and a heavy heart.

Confidence, because the UK Government just don’t get the issue of drug addiction or harm. And while the administration of it is held within the Home Office that shall continue to be the case. And a heavy heart because as people within the drug rehabilitation community keep telling me, ‘you keep on talking and we keep on dying’.

This is not Dame Carol Black’s fault. Her remit was deliberately precise. She was not allowed to recommend any new legislation. Which effectively neuters her report. How can she be expected to identify improvements in a system which is tied up and gagged by the law if she can’t suggest changes to the law? But Dame Carol Black has a good go at that by recommending a new structure for the mechanics of government, which if it was allowed to function could within itself produce the required legislation. And I am sure Dame Carol Black would be very happy with that outcome. She feeds in all the good ideas and the UK Government put them through a mincer and come up with the solutions she proposed, implements them and take the credit. To be honest I would be more than happy if that happened. But I just can’t see it because one recommendation is the creation of a new central Drugs Unit. This unit will be placed “in whatever department or joint arrangement seems appropriate”.  Unless that department is the Department for Health and Social Care then it is in my opinion a nonstarter. The intransigence of the Home Office has been a feature of this UK Government and I can’t see that changing any day now. I expect warm words for Dame Carol Black’s report, which could be seen as progress, but I don’t expect the UK Government will do anything other than launch enquiries, form committees,  divert the responsibility and talk about budgets and constraints. The UK Home Office is where good ideas go to die.        

At the start of her report Dame Carol Black says the UK ‘Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed’.  And she is absolutely correct. So, go on Kit Malthouse, agree to all thirty two recommendations, fund them and put the power of implementation into the appropriate departments and prove me one hundred percent wrong, please.   

https://www.thenational.scot/news/19475791.drugs-deaths-uks-pick-and-mix-approach-will-lead-loss-life/

Level 0 from 19 July

People should continue to follow public health measures to protect one another as all of Scotland prepares to move to Level 0 at 00:01 on Monday 19 July.

Confirming the change to Level 0, the First Minister urged people to adhere to protective measures and sensible precautions to suppress coronavirus (COVID-19) to help create conditions that allow Scotland to move beyond Level 0 on 9 August.

From 00:01 on Monday 19 July, physical distancing in Level 0 will reduce to 1 metre in all indoor public settings and outdoors. Additionally, informal social gatherings of up to 15 people from 15 households will be permitted outdoors without physical distancing. Gatherings of up to 10 people from four households will be permitted in all indoor public settings with 1 metre physical distancing.

Other easings to Level 0 taking effect at that time include:

  • under-12s will no longer count towards the number of households that can gather indoors in public spaces and homes
  • hospitality settings can open till midnight, if their current licence permits that, and customers will no longer be required to pre-book a two-hour slot to go to a pub or restaurant but will still be required to provide contact details to assist Test & Protect
  • up to 200 people will be able to gather at weddings and funerals

https://www.gov.scot/news/level-0-from-19-july/

Scottish Government Nature Restoration Fund opens

Scottish Government has made £1 million of capital funding available this year to support projects over £20 000 value.

The application round is open until midnight 27th July 2021 – How to Apply.

News release 6 July 2021

The Fund

The Nature Restoration Fund (NRF) is a competitive fund. It encourages applications from projects that support actions that help nature recover across Scotland. The Fund has 2 themes:

  1. Making Space for Nature (urban focused nature based solutions for biodiversity and climate change); and
  2. Helping nature recover (rural focused biodiversity enhancement, climate resilience and reinstatement).

Applications are now invited for projects that support nature recovery and address climate change and/or its impacts. All projects must be completed before 31st March 2022.

Applications are invited – How to Apply.

If you have any questions about the fund, please email NRF@nature.scot in the first instance.

https://www.nature.scot/scottish-government-nature-restoration-fund

Mistrust of governments

At what point did we start to mistrust governments? At what juncture did politicians become widely derided? I suppose that depends on how old you are. For my generation it could have been Watergate or closer to home, the miners’ strike. Before that was it the Profumo scandal or the Suez crisis? The truth is it feels like there have always been reasons to mistrust politicians in the UK.  And yet in other countries trust still exists, mainly because there is a culture of transparency. In the UK we are currently experiencing a new period of openness. We know that there are issues over who paid for the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat, we know that the Secretary of State for Health benefitted from contracts handed out during the Covid crisis, we also know that UK government ministers have bullied members of staff and that senior civil servants have stepped down because of cabinet ministers behaviour. And beyond that there are a series of other allegations that for legal reasons I can’t mention. But our knowledge of these actions is not because the UK government has suddenly thrown open their doors and started to act in a more transparent fashion. It’s because of whistle blowers and they may be disgruntled individuals with an axe to grind. And that’s where the media come into play. Headlines often proclaim wrongdoings as if they are fact when they are only allegations. I often attend meetings where people speak openly and frankly. Good ideas and bad ideas can be discussed equally without fear of ridicule or retribution and that’s valuable. But if parts of those discussions are taken out of context and trailed in the media then we all end up looking foolish. We need to find a balance where private means confidential, for all the right reasons, and the machinery of government is open for scrutiny. Historically we have sought to achieve this through principles but sadly there are too many, a minority but a powerful one, that seek to abuse the system for their own aims. Elected members and senior civil servants should never use their position to line their own pockets or grant grace and favour to friends and family. And the culture that perpetuates entitlement to a chosen few while seeking to manipulate the media and avoid scrutiny is well past its use by date.   

But as I said earlier, not all countries are like this. While the OECD reports that trust in the UK government is 34.7%, Denmark, Netherlands and Luxembourg are over 70% and Finland, Norway and Switzerland sit at over 80%. I can’t help but notice that they are all small European countries that take their democracy seriously and in doing so cultivate trust and openness in their society. We can do better than be shackled to the corrupt, narcissistic, edifice of bygone days that is Westminster. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to start that journey and ensure that Scotland’s parliament grows to reflect the society around it, free from the chains that bind us.          

Age UK – Changes to benefit rates

Benefit rates change every year, and it’s often hard for older people to keep track of how these changes will affect their pension, wellbeing, home, and working-age benefits.

To help your older constituents understand how these changes will affect them, we have produced an informative guide outlining the most notable changes this year. This includes information on:

  • Increases to the new and basic State Pension, as well as increases to Pension and Savings Credit. [RM1] 
  • Changes to entitlements for council tax support, housing benefit, winter fuel payment, cold weather payment and warm home discount.
  • Increases in Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, and Widowed Parent’s Allowance
  • Changes to benefits for working age constituents[RM2] 

 To help older people find out what benefits they’re potentially entitled to claim, we also have created a helpful benefits calculator which will provide an estimate for benefits or indicate if they are eligible. It covers England, Scotland, and Wales, and is free to use.

Gambling firms donating ‘insulting’ amounts to addiction charity

The gambling industry has diverted scrutiny and criticism of itself for years by trumpeting the claim that it funds support for gambling harm.

We need a statutory levy that raises substantial amounts of money and is allocated independently of the industry. The industry that is responsible for the damage cannot be independently responsible for the financing of the education, rehabilitation and support that is increasingly required.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/apr/16/gambling-firms-donating-insulting-amounts-to-addiction-charity

Stay local from 2 April

People across Scotland can make non-essential journeys in their local authority area from Friday 2 April when a requirement to Stay Local will replace the Stay at Home rule.

Hairdressers, garden centres, car showrooms and forecourts, homeware stores and non-essential click and collect services will be able to open from Monday 5 April, subject to enhanced safety measures including physical distancing, face coverings and pre-booking where appropriate. More college students will be able to return to on-campus learning and 12-17 year-olds will be able to resume outdoor contact sports from this date.

Restrictions on non-essential travel across local authority boundaries will remain in place. People must stay within their council area for non-essential shopping and should only travel to another area for essential shopping if there are no practical alternatives. People should also continue to work from home where they can to prevent unnecessary contact that could risk transmission of the virus.

https://www.gov.scot/news/stay-local-from-2-april/

Peatland restoration fund tackles global climate crisis

Farmers, landowners and land managers across Scotland can now access a £22 million fund to undertake peatland restoration projects.

This is the next stage of the ten year, £250 million package announced by the Scottish Government in February 2020, and underlines the essential contribution that restoring degraded peatland makes to addressing the twin crises of the global climate emergency and biodiversity loss.

Peatland restoration is a key part of the Scottish Government’s goal of achieving a net-zero Scotland by 2045 at the latest.

As well as smaller projects, the 2021 funding round has been expanded also to welcome large-scale schemes over multiple years, enabling more flexible planning of projects and providing longer-term confidence to those looking to invest in people and machinery to undertake works on the ground.

https://www.gov.scot/news/peatland-restoration-fund-tackles-global-climate-crisis

Inverclyde Council – Discretionary Fund

A Discretionary fund offering Inverclyde businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic grants of up to £10,000 has reopened for new applications.

Local firms with less than 250 employees can now apply to the council for one-off awards of £5,000 or £10,000 if they have been unable to access any other Covid-19 financial support.

The discretionary fund was originally launched in January but had to be temporarily closed to new applicants due to the large volume of bids received in such a short space of time for the limited amount of money available.

It has now reopened for new applications following additional government funding.

The purpose of the fund is to provide financial support to Inverclyde firms with less than 250 employees that have been unable to secure any Covid-19 business grant support from October 2020.

Organisations that have already applied for discretionary funding do not need to reapply.

Businesses classed as arms-length organisations (ALEOS) or any which have been found to have breached Covid-19 regulations are excluded and should not submit a bid, as well as any that are in administration, insolvent, or been served with a striking-off notice.

Full eligibility criteria and application forms are now available on the Inverclyde Council website at www.inverclyde.gov.uk/covid-19/business-support.