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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
6th February 2006


Week beginning Monday 30th January 2006

Scottish European Structural Funds Forum in Glasgow first thing on Monday morning. Wow, it’s complicated stuff, but I’ve now got my head around it, and yes there are genuine concerns from those who’ve been involved in the dispersal of funds over the last few years – the allocation in 2007 is going to be so much less. However, I was a bit bemused by the talk of prioritising particular groups of folk over others when it comes to funding projects: Are the long-term unemployed the priority? Are the youth unemployed more important? Should we concentrate on skills and training regardless of age? Yes, the European Social Fund monies are less this time round and should be prioritised, but we are only talking about a relatively small amount of money in the greater scheme of things. Surely it is the responsibility of national Government to ensure that all citizens are given the wherewithal to participate fully in Society and the funding from Europe should be seen as additional to that and not in place of it. Of course, we have learned in the past that the UK Government refused to ‘match fund’ some of the European monies that Scotland could have had and that therefore it was not used.

Straight to Wishaw from Glasgow to attend the launch of Lanarkshire Health Board’s ‘Picture of Health’ consultation – contained in this is the intention to close one of Lanarkshire’s Accident and Emergency Centres, either at Monklands Hospital in Airdrie or at Hairmyres in East Kilbride. It was quite clear from the Board at the meeting that the maintenance of the three sites was absolutely not an option, and that they were inviting representations as to why either Monklands or Hairmyres should stay open. I asked what criteria would be used to ‘weight’ and analyse the responses and whether the Board already had a preferred option which they were not making public. I was assured this was not the case and that they would genuinely consider all responses, and then make a recommendation to the Health Minister. It’s a hard one – no-one wants the unit closest to them to shut down. I can understand why Cumbernauld residents feel that Monklands is the best option for them, but the idea of South Lanarkshire losing its service in East Kilbride is a huge concern for residents of East Kilbride and Avondale – East Kilbride alone has a population of over 70,000 people and surely should have a service within 10 miles. The only other such settlement which doesn’t is Falkirk, and I understand that to be a temporary situation until the new hospital at Larbert is fully operational.

I think I mentioned here before that I asked the Executive in a Parliamentary Question how many towns or cities with a population of over 70,000 do not have consultant-led emergency services within 10 miles of the town centre. Well, the answer came back that they “do not hold such a list. Anyway, I asked the Parliament’s information centre for some info and within 5 minutes I worked it out for myself! Amazing what the Scottish Government don’t know … … …, or don’t want to say … …

Early start on Tuesday morning, and a day of travelling with much time spent in my car. I’ve been learning German by CD and have these on in the car instead of the radio. I’m sure I must look very strange stopped at the traffic lights and making strange facial movements trying to get the ‘umlaut’ pronunciation correct (the CD chap says to put your lips in “oo” mode and say ‘ee’) – es ist sehr schwierig!

Anyway, first stop was at Stresswatch in Kilmarnock – concerns about future core funding and a meeting with Scottish Executive officials to discuss the forthcoming financial year. Like so many other small voluntary organisations, there is real concern about ongoing secure funding so that the client group can be properly serviced, and the Management Committee reps were really worried about being asked all sorts of financial and management questions, and having to justify their position. I, as Patron, had been asked along for a bit of moral support! I have to say though, that the two chaps from the Exec were extremely helpful and not at all ‘officious’. So, we await the decision with fingers crossed – lots to do; self-help groups to be set up, volunteers to be trained, computers to be upgraded, website to be revamped. With just one part-time member of staff, and everyone else entirely voluntary, it’s a lot of work.

Two other local voluntary groups in touch this week – one with good news and one with bad news. The East Kilbride Branch of the National Schizophrenic Fellowship has just had word that the funding application to the Lottery Funds for All Grant has been refused this time. After 28 years of good work the volunteers are now at their wits end as to how to continue offering support and advice to people with mental health problems. The Lottery Grant funding is an issue I’ve had problems with before – you see, to quote from their rules Further applications must show an important new development, or that you are doing something different from the previous application. We are unlikely to fund the same thing twice.” That’s all very well, but if something is successful, why change it? As the Group Secretary says, because of the illness involved, group members are limited in their level of strenuous activity and the use of the previous Grant was for meeting needs through taking part in arts, heritage, social, educational and other community activities. ‘Innovation’ is all very well, but not always appropriate. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to help here, whether some other agency will be able to offer some funding.

Meanwhile, another community group in East Kilbride, dealing with mental health issues through the arts, is going from strength to strength: Theatre Nemo has just received a large Lottery Grant for core funding to employ a project co-ordinator and to obtain premises, and a further grant body has also approved funding for workshops within psychiatric units. That’s marvellous, and Theatre Nemo’s dedication and commitment over the years has been immense. But, whilst many lives have been uplifted by participating, it doesn’t suit everyone, and there must still be space for small support groups who tackle problems in other ways.

Back to Edinburgh for the European & External Relations Committee, preceded by a presentation from a community group from Govan – Scotland in Europe – which holds community events locally and forges links with similar arts groups in the rest of Europe. There have been a number of exchange visits of artists, writers and musicians between Scotland and other European countries. It was a fascinating presentation, and a few of us commented on how there’s great talk of bringing Europe ‘closer to the people’, and here’s an organisation on our doorstep which has been doing that for years. They’ve got their own website at http://www.scotlandineurope.org/. The Committee meeting itself was very short because the Minister hadn’t agreed to turn up as requested to discuss his report on the G8 Summit which took place last July in Gleneagles. So that’s deferred until next meeting, as the Committee are keen to have that discussion, having twice so confirmed.

East Kilbride in the evening and a public meeting held by residents close to where Rolls Royce have applied for planning permission to build test-beds for their jet engines. Well attended meeting with Rolls Royce and the protesters both represented on the platform. This issue has been well covered in the local press and national radio, but I wanted to hear first hand from both sides of the argument. I’m not sure how much I did in fact learn that evening, but at the end of the day it’s a Council decision after facts have been considered and representations made.

Pupils from Craighead School in Hamilton visited the parliament at lunchtime on Wednesday, and we had a really lively session in the Education Centre. Craighead School is a dedicated special needs school – I visited it a while ago and I remember being stunned at both the range of disability covered, and the work carried out by teachers and staff. It was one of these visits that happen every so often, where afterwards I couldn’t get the place out of my head. I still think of it at times, of particular young people I met there. Under the Council’s school building programme, it was agreed that Craighead School should be closed with smaller units integrated with mainstream schools in the area. This caused, and causes, concern for some parents, and indeed from some of the pupils who visited us on Wednesday. I can understand the concerns, but I can also understand the philosophy of inclusion where possible. It really is a difficult one on which to come down on a particular side of the debate, and there are of course varying reports on how ‘mainstreaming’ is working in practice. Adequate resources are crucial, and some of the complaints I have heard are about the lack of ‘small group’ or ‘one-to-one’ teaching where required.

Chamber on Wednesday afternoon was on the Scottish Socialist Party’s proposed Service Tax Bill – a national tax to replace the Council Tax. We didn’t vote for it, as our policy is, yes, to scrap the Council Tax, but to replace it with a local income tax and not a national one, nor to curtail local democracy. Of course, we got all the usual SSP ranting about how we didn’t want to scrap the Council Tax etc. etc., but to be absolutely clear, their proposed Bill was not about scrapping the Council Tax, but about replacing it with something which the SNP does not find acceptable. John Swinney laid out our position clearly – electronic access at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/officialReports/index.htm, but if you want a hard copy, just let me know.

Our Cross Party Group on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the evening, well attended as always by those working at the front-line, and concerns expressed both about the UK Government’s latest proposed legislation, and about reports that asylum seekers in England are being sent to Dungavel Centre and therefore cut off from their legal representation prior to deportation. We’ll try and find out what we can, and whether in fact the same is happening in reverse. Still no details about the First Minister’s proposed ‘protocol’ on dawn raids of asylum seeker families. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly (I think that’s his correct title!) attended our meeting out of interest in the work we are doing, and it was good to have him there – the churches across the board have been stalwarts in raising awareness of Government practice, trying to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, and working to help communities and individuals.

A busy Thursday too, with a meeting and presentation about homophobic bullying in schools and the effect on youngsters who are in fact ‘questioning themselves about their own sexuality’, or who are perceived by others to be gay. Research into this, and how teachers can best deal with the bullying itself and related issues, has been commissioned by the Scottish Executive, and is due to be published soon.

Chamber on Thursday afternoon was the final stage (stage 3) of the Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill which was passed by the Parliament. Probably the most contentious Amendment up for discussion was about whether there should be ‘presumed consent’ for organ donation, and of course everyone has their own views about this. What I did find rather bizarre was that although the SNP Group had a ‘free vote’ on this Bill, and on that Amendment, the Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour appeared to be ‘whipped’! There are some things for which I truly believe a parliamentary group should not be whipped, and this was one of them. I, and a few others, voted for the ‘presumed consent’, but we were roundly beaten down – that’s democracy of course, but I wonder how much closer the result would have been had the members of the Unionist parties been allowed to follow their own consciences?

A grand time on Thursday night where I was asked to be guest speaker at the German Chamber of Commerce in Scotland’s New Year bash at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. A grand time for three reasons: first reason, thoroughly enjoyable company; second reason, it gave me a chance to try out my German for a couple of paragraphs of the speech (seemed to go down okay – maybe Germans are just very polite!); and last, but not least, I won a prize draw! Pair of return tickets from Edinburgh to Frankfurt – wunderbar! Lufthansa had donated the prize, and of course I’ll have to declare it on my Parliamentary Register of Interests – seems unclear as to whether necessary to register prizes, but better safe than sorry when a member of the Standards Committee. I am so used to being asked to draw the raffle when I’m at community events, and myself and poor Duncan having to refuse the prizes that this was a real treat, so Frankfurt here we come.

Doing the research for my speech on Thursday night I was fascinated to learn about Germans in Scotland (30,000, including 1100 students), the level of Scottish exports to Germany (Ł1.6b in 2004) and the long history between our two countries: the oldest document relative to Scots/Deutsch trade is the Luebeck letter which was issued by our own William Wallace following his victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297, and sent to the merchants of Luebeck and Hamburg advising them that Scottish ports were once again open for business. Wouldn’t it be great to send a similar letter in the near future – “Scotland, the world’s newest independent Nation, sends greetings and advises that we are open for business – come on down!”.

And so to Friday and the last bit of work for the week before concentrating on the Dunfermline by-election. A meeting with North Lanarkshire Council’s Director of Social Work to talk through some of the Council’s proposed changes to the community care structure in their area, and to focus on particular constituency cases where people are concerned about the effect of any proposed changes on their loved ones. I’ve always found the Directorate at NLC extremely helpful to deal with, and Friday’s meeting was no exception – such a pleasure to deal with professionals who recognise that in public life we’re all working to the same end, regardless of whether we work for a Local Authority or the Parliament. Yes, both elected institutions have their own particular remits, but cross-over does occur, and should be recognised when it’s the wellbeing of local residents that’s at question. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen.

Another weekend in Fife! By-election Thursday 9th – Good luck Douglas.

Linda Fabiani
6th February 2006

Email Linda at Linda.fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk


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