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.

UK Budget

The UK Government are threatening Scotland’s recovery with a return to austerity cuts, an extreme Brexit, and a Budget that completely failed to deliver the meaningful change and investment needed to build a fairer society.

I wrote to the Chancellor, over a month ago, to ask he make the Universal Credit uplift permanent, to take action on access to cash in our communities and to extend the furlough scheme.  Sadly, he’s failed to listen to the reasonable demands to address child poverty and there were no plan to raise statutory sick pay or introduce a Real Living Wage.

Millions of people have been left behind by the UK government throughout the pandemic – and this budget failed to plug the gaps for the 3million, including a number of people in Inverclyde, excluded and failed to deliver a commitment that full 80% furlough support will be available for as long as the devolved nations need it.

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.