After a few days pleasant
break with my two sons in St Andrews, it was full on back both in the
Constituency and in the Parliament.
John Swinney, the Cabinet
Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, moved a motion
on Tuesday on Universal Benefits.
There’s been an
interesting independent report to the Welfare Reform Committee, aptly
called ‘Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest’ which was presented on
Tuesday morning by its co-author, Steve Fothergill of the Centre for
Regional Economic and Social Research at the Sheffield Hallam
As I said in that debate,
the Report warns that Westminster’s welfare reforms alone will take more
than £1.6 billion a year out of the Scottish economy. That equates to
about £480 a year for every adult of working age in Scotland. In
Glasgow, the amount rises to £650.
Down south, in the
Cameron counties such as Hampshire, Berkshire and Cambridgeshire, people
will not feel the same pinch. The impact there will be less than £200 a
year – hardly a testament to fairness. What happened to the idea of
closing the gap between the rich and the poor?
And Labour isn’t pledging
to do anything about it should they get elected in 2015. Ed Milliband’s
“zero-based spending review” is a peculiar concept. What does that mean?
Zero for pensioners, zero for students, zero for the vulnerable, zero
for the sick and zero for the unemployed. That is what Labour has to
offer Scotland – zero.
As John Swinney made very
clear, universal benefits in Scotland are a keystone of Government
policy. Free prescriptions, free eye tests, free personal care for the
elderly, free tuition for our university students, free health care at
the point of delivery and not threatened by the creeping privatisation
that David Cameron is so wedded to down south.
And speaking of welfare
reform, I’ve been trying to work out just what the Labour-led council in
my own Constituency of South Lanarkshire is really saying about the
bedroom tax. If you’re not familiar with this so-called reform, it’s
Westminster’s great invention to try and make the most vulnerable
people, living in social housing, pay a bigger proportion of their rent.
So people who get housing
benefit and are deemed to have an extra room that they don’t need will
have around £11 or £12 a week deducted from their payment. If they have
two spare rooms, then that deduction doubles. Westminster says this is
to encourage people to move into smaller properties. That might be all
right if we had any smaller properties but since the right-to-buy was
introduced, and since councils don’t tend to build single bedroomed
properties, that option just isn’t there.
Dundee City Council took the lead by committing not to evict social
housing tenants who got into arrears purely because of the bedroom tax
and other SNP-led councils have done the same.
Signing a joint letter from Kevin Stewart
MSP and the STUC asking George Osborne to reconsider the inclusion of
the 'Bedroom Tax' in this year's budget.
At first, I though South
Lanarkshire had followed suit. I got a set of Minutes from the Larkhall
Housing Forum that said the Council did not intend taking eviction
action against tenants. Then I got another set of Minutes that had the
same Councillor Jackie Burns saying that tenants in arrears would be
A bit confused by all
this, I asked the Chief Executive of the Council for clarification. Six
weeks later, I got a reply admitting that the Minutes had been altered
by Councillor Burns. Funny how Labour can indeed re-write history.
Mid-week was punctuated
by the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher which was a hugely grand
affair costing the tax payers an estimated £10 million. I certainly
thought it all more than a bit over the top.
That said, she was indeed
a wife, a mother and a grandmother and purely at a humanitarian level,
it ought to be recognised that her family will grieve.
There was a debate in the
Chamber on Thursday about her legacy in Scotland. There was a good deal
of discussion around just how divisive and damaging her policies were,
and one of the threads was around her introduction of the right-to-buy
council housing. My colleague, Clare Adamson (Central Scotland), grew up
in Lanarkshire, “a child of Thatcher’s era” as she puts it.
I think what she said
puts it in context: “Much has been made of the supposed success of the
right-to-buy policy, which, again, sold what was already ours.
Shamefully—and unforgivably—it broke the social housing contract in
doing so. By preventing the revenue from council house sales from being
reinvested, it led to the housing crisis today, to which the new
Thatcherite solution is the pernicious bedroom tax. Despite the
opportunity that Labour had, it took an SNP cabinet secretary, Nicola
Sturgeon, to reforge that social contract when she exempted new-build
housing from the right to buy.”
We had some good news in
the Constituency too. Scottish power is opening a brand new office
complex in Hamilton that will create hundreds of jobs which I think is a
massive shot in the arm.
The new company
development at Ochil House in Hamilton will accommodate up to 900 people
in teams from a number of Scottish Power’s expanding business divisions.
As I said at the official
opening, the fact that this investment has come to Hamilton is clearly a
testament to the skills, drive and determination of local people. It’s a
great decision. Once Scottish Power fully experiences the quality of our
local workforce, I’m hoping they’ll bring even more jobs here in the
Scotland’s cancer care
services got a boost this week. It’s good to hear that the Monklands
Hospital in Airdrie has been confirmed as the new radiotherapy facility
location. I had pressed to have it sited at Stonehouse Hospital so I’m a
bit disappointed, but it’s nevertheless good to have it.
The unit will provide
state-of-the-art radiotherapy services for the West of Scotland and will
help to meet rising demand for cancer treatment over the next 10 years.
It will also mean that more people can be treated closer to home.
The facility will operate
as a satellite for the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in
Glasgow. It will be equipped with the most advanced technology to
deliver the same world-class treatment and techniques currently provided
at the Glasgow cancer centre. Around 120 patients a day will be able to
get radiotherapy treatment for lung, breast, prostate and rectal